Tonight, for the first time in more than a decade, top-flight Russian football will be played in Grozny, capital of war-torn Chechnya.
Terek Grozny, the city’s professional football team won promotion to the Russian Premier League last year and, after years of playing in exile, have finally been granted permission to play their home games inside of Chechnya.
The match between hosts Terek Grozny and visitors Krylya Sovietov Samara has attracted so much attention that the match will even overshadow this weekend’s match between last year champions Zenit St Petersburg and runners up Spartak Moscow.
To celebrate, Chechnya’s Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov has announced that tickets for the match will be free to home fans, who will be able to take their first look at the inside of Grozny’s rebuilt 10,300 seater stadium. He’s also promised that Chechen fans will show “the real meaning of Chechen hospitality.”
Terek fans might be celebrating, but Leonid Slutsky, the Samara coach doesn’t sound entirely convinced the decision to host games in Grozny was a good one, though.
“If the FA decided that Terek should play their home games in Grozny, then so be it. I just hope they don’t change their mind a few weeks later and we would be the only ones who had played in Grozny.”
Chechnya is safe
Samara’s travelling fans will understandably be nervous ahead of tonight’s game – two wars in 15 years and an ongoing low-level insurgency aren’t exactly reassuring.
But Vladimir Putin, Russia’s outgoing President, has a lot riding on this game, as bringing Chechnya back into Russian society has been one of the key promises underpinning his eight years at the top. Any trouble tonight would reflect badly on him.
The Guardian newspaper reports that the Kremlin put heavy pressure on the Russian FA to allow Terek to host home games in Grozny, and demonstate that peace and stability has returned to the one time rebel capital.
You can bet that the police and army will be out in force today, and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is confident that the game will go well.
“I can give a 100-percent guarantee that there are no terrorist threats here. I’m confident that the ability to see Premier League matches will be the most precious gift for our people.”
Terek’s Troubled History
Formed in 1946, disbanded in 1994, and re-formed in 2001, Terek Grozny have had a troubled history. But not a history entirely without success.
For much of the past two decades, Terek have been forced to play their home matches in exile, in Pyatigorsk. But since reforming in 2001, Terek have gone from strength to strength.
The high point of the club’s history surely came in 2004, when Terek Grozny stunned Samara to win the Russian Cup. The victory gave them a slot in European football’s prestigeous UEFA Cup. Sadly, after a qualifying round victory against Polish club Lech Poznan, Terek found the Swiss team FC Basel too strong for them in the first round.
2004 also saw Terek promoted to the Russian Premier League for the first time – an astounding feat for a club that was only in its fourth season since re-forming. Sadly the Premier League proved too tough for Terek during 2005, and they were relegated.
But two more seasons in the Russian First Division have given them the opportunity to build a solid, competitive side who, especially in front of their own fans, will be hoping to do stick around in the Premier League for quite some time.