Having scrambled through the mass of drab winter coats nuzzling their way through the exit from the Prospekt of the Bolsheviks metro, I skidded across the churning black ice floes on the sidewalk toward the lar’ki (food stands) clustered around the metro like Conestoga wagons around a pioneer encampment. I grabbed a Bochkaryov Krepkoe (“strong” beer, meaning 8% alcohol content) and some fried cabbage and made my way to the “Ice Palace” stadium for the local hockey club’s first post-season match, against Moscow rivals Spartak.
There awaited the tightest event security I’ve ever seen. Various siloviki — a word The New York Times prints as is because it’s such a Russian concept that it can’t be translated — snapped their batons and struck grim poses near every exit, bathroom or sketchy corner. OMON, the paramilitary police force that enjoys free reign to “correct” citizen behavior, which incidentally often gets its kicks by rounding up sketchballs in parks and giving them the terrorist treatment, was out in force, marched by in tight formations in full riot gear. In short, the kind of completely egregious, atavistic show of force that lingers on in Russia like a bad habit.
On the other hand, however, there was no massive brawl between SKA and Spartak fans after Petersburg lost the game 2-1. Siloviki literally surrounded the small section of Moscow fans toward the end of the match, not allowing anyone to leave the section during the final minutes, or even as the SKA fans filed out after the final buzzer. It looked like a giant piece of installation art — a red mass jumping up and down within a ring of olive green.
I’ll freely admit the Moscow fans were hardcore enough to possible take on a vastly superior number of SKA supporters. Throughout the game, the noises eminating from their section sounded like a Zulu camp before a battle — a stream of strange chants and cries rung out in time with a large drum one fellow kept banging the entire game.
SKA fans, in comparison, had all the cheering power of a grandma with a voicebox, but did have one real winner: “Vodka, SKA and only pobeda (“victory”)!” And it was indeed the only victory left to clame as they filed out of the stadium, back toward the metro and the lar’ki.