Dec 09 2010

Zilina v Spartak Moscow: Controversy Rules

Well, I guess nobody wanted Zilina’s Champions League adventure to end like this.  Following Slovak football, we’re never short of talking points. Zilina fan James Baxter witnessed a very unsavoury night at the Stadion Pod Dubnom and I’m delighted to post his report from the game exclusively here on Britski Belasi:

What happened on the field in Žilina last night was fairly insignificant but the evening does raise one or two questions. First, was there really no better choice of 2018 World Cup hosts than Russia? Second, what on earth is the point of having six match-officials?

Regarding the first question, after the Birmingham City-Aston Villa league cup semi-final last week had ended in crowd violence, the English media were asking whether the incidents would have any late bearing on England’s 2018 World Cup bid. The question could be seen as pointless, even motivated by self-interest, but I do think there was an attempt there to understand how outsiders might view certain aspects of English football culture. I trust that, following the antics of a section of Spartak Moscow fans in Žilina, there’ll be similar hand-wringing in the Russian media. There should even be a certain sense of relief that the trouble came too late to harm Russia’s bid.

The bare facts are that there was sporadic fighting before last night’s match and that, just three minutes into the game itself, play was held up for around 25 minutes because visiting fans were throwing flares. Some people believe that flares add greatly to the atmosphere at football matches. I respect that view but don’t pretend to understand it ;  flares are burning, explosive objects that can be especially lethal among large, concentrated groups of people. Those who throw them are showing a lack of consideration for the safety of others, those who throw them in the direction of players of their own side, as at least one Spartak fan did, need their brains checking.

Spartak Moscow fans fireworks display

While the players were off the field, some visiting fans attacked stewards and even started threatening the poor ball-boys. It was all pretty unsavoury and unpleasant. Hopefully, it will be publicised, as the Blues-Villa trouble was, and people will be aware that the country chosen to host the big event in 2018 is one that still has an unsolved hooligan problem. After all, if Russian fans can cause a meaningless Champions League game to be delayed, you dread to think what they might get up to on their own soil when large numbers of visitors from all over the world are around for a major tournament. No doubt, police and security officials on duty at last night’s game will come in for criticism. They almost certainly made mistakes but were not the cause of the trouble, since a number of away fans were clearly intent on it.

Zilina stewards flee rampaging Spartak fans / English students

After all that, a discussion of match officials seems fairly trivial. To be fair, the referee’s action in taking the players off the pitch was entirely sensible as was bringing them back on when he did. The remaining 87 minutes were, after all, played out in relative calm.  My problem, trifling though it is, is that three officials can’t seem to spot at close-range what I can clearly see from 80 yards. There was an absolutely blatant handball by Alex last night which kept a Spartak attack going. It was on the edge of the Žilina penalty area and Alex’s hand was above his head. I find it hard to credit that the referee and linesman didn’t see it but, even if they didn’t, the goal-line official must have. If he didn’t, or if he did but didn’t have the authority to draw the referee’s attention to the offence, what’s he doing there? It isn’t the first time Žilina have been on the wrong end of a non-decision from a goal-line official either. Remember the foul on Ceesay in the opening minutes of the Marseille away game? These extra officials are nothing but a waste of time and money.

As for the game itself, well (Lenka informs me) it was perfectly summed up by Milan Lesický, one of the wise old men of Slovak football, in his post-match analysis for TV : ‘Žilina did all they could, Spartak did all they needed to.’ Spartak’s ball-retention was eye-catchingly effortless during the first-half but they created few real chances except from a couple of Aiden McGeady crosses. Both coaches made a half-time substitution. Pavel Hapal’s was probably a tacit admission that he’d made an error in his starting line-up.  Pavol Poliaček, a youngster who’s shown flickers of promise but hasn’t yet performed consistently over 90 minutes, was replaced on the left of midfield by Emil Rilke. Valerij Karpin’s change was close to genius. He took off lone-striker Kozlov, pushed Alex forward from attacking midfield and Ibson from the holding position. Drinčič, the substitute, played in the position vacated by Ibson. Six minutes after Majtán had headed Žilina in front, a perfectly weighted long pass from Drinčič sent Alex clear to equalise. That goal also demonstrated a recurring shortcoming in the Žilina defence ; the tendency to leave vast open spaces for attackers to run into. Moscow’s second was another gift, again accepted without fuss. McGeady intercepted a poor pass out of the home defence and advanced before finding Alex, whose unselfish first-time pass was easily converted by Ibson. There was time for an encouraging cameo from Ceesay, on in place of the injured Jež, and for Mr Blom to rather harshly deem that an Ibson challenge on Rilke was deserving of a straight red card. Even with the Russian side down to 10 men, it was clear that, in their inability to hold a lead or even maintain equality, Žilina had lost their best chance of earning a positive result. They never gave up but the quality simply wasn’t there.

As a summing-up of Žilina’s whole Champions League campaign, Lesický’s words can’t be bettered. When the players have done all they could, they still haven’t been (quite) good enough. When they haven’t done all they could (at home to Marseille) they’ve been humiliated. They talk about learning lessons from the whole experience. Hopefully, they’ll have the chance to show what they’ve absorbed in next season’s competition.

MSK Zilina: back next season?

More importantly, and in the nearer future, I’ll be very interested in what, if anything, happens to Spartak and the idiots who, in the name of that club, made yesterday evening a rather miserable one for more than a few people.

Spartak players plea for calm

Photos from

10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Zilina v Spartak Moscow: Controversy Rules”

  1.   James Appellon 09 Dec 2010 at 10:13 pm

    Hi James,

    Excellent piece. I feel that some extra context might be useful.

    Tensions are running extremely high among Spartak fans at the moment as a result of the death of one of their own, Egor Sviridov, during a fight between Muscovites and a group from the North Caucasus on Monday.

    This has hugely inflamed nationalist tensions, and I would suppose that the Spartak Ultras, known as Fratriya, wanted to send out a message to those in Russia – fellow Muscovites, politicians and especially those from the majority Muslim republics of the Russian Federation – that they don’t take such incidents lightly.

    I think you go over the top, though, in extrapolating from the incidents in Zilina a portent for a World Cup over seven years away. Russia will be infinitely better prepared in 2018 than the authorities in Zilina were last night – and Russians themselves will know that they cannot act in this way with impunity.

    Quite the opposite – I suspect anybody who steps out of line might be in for a dose of justice, Kremlin style.

  2.   James Baxteron 09 Dec 2010 at 10:50 pm

    To Mark Gilbey,

    I’ve just read that link you posted on the Twitter feed. It’s an interesting, thought-provoking article for sure but I don’t quite see the relevance to what we witnessed in Zilina. How is a tragic death in Moscow an explanation for the beating-up of innocent people (ball-boys for Christ’s sake) and general ruining of people’s enjoyment in provincial Slovakia? Sorry if the question makes me sound thick but I’m curious.

  3.   James Baxteron 09 Dec 2010 at 11:19 pm

    James (Appell),

    Thanks for the comments. Re the context, well, see my own comment above. I’m struggling a bit to see the relevance to be honest. Certainly I find it unbelievable that some (not you I know) are offering the Moscow tragedy as some sort of justification for yesterday.

    Re the World Cup, I guess we’ll see and if we’re all still blogging seven years down the line and you’ve got it right, I promise you I’ll acknowledge the fact. Happily as well as I’d love to see Russia sort out these problems. But right now, after witnessing yesterday’s scenes, I’d be undertaking a trip there to follow a team of mine with a certain trepidation.

  4.   britskibelasion 09 Dec 2010 at 11:36 pm

    Personally, I was caught a little bit out of the loop on this one. The impression I got from the Slovak media in the days before the match was of a friendly atmosphere around town and a welcoming of the ‘economic’ boost provided from the masses of Russian visitors.

    Things obviously turned sour, and they always were going to turn sour, reading the various articles and blogs on the Sviridov story. If I’d have known about this “sending out a message” beforehand, honestly, I would have expected worse in terms of crowd trouble. I would have feared that Spartak fans would set out for real fights with people willing to take them on.

    If the message was the flares / fireworks at the start of the match, then maybe that was all that Fratriya wanted to do on this occasion because they realised that this was after all, only Slovakia. Stopping the match, grabbing the headlines certainly does send a message.

    I don’t really understand the message being sent through the violence though. Unfortunately a Youtube video (posted by Mark) has now been removed due to “UEFA copy-write” but this seemed really random and actually quite pathetic. A few people (totally inebriated – complete with rucksacks / satchels) jumping the barrier to take on (volunteer) stewards and ballboys??! And then run around on the pitch arms spread-eagle aeroplane style? Hmmmm

    Anyway, they shouldn’t have been able to get on the pitch in the first place. Obviously. This is a tricky one, it was hard to conclude which side of the fence I sit on (excuse the pun). For a meaningless match which was far from sold out, home fans can hardly be blamed for shipping their package deal tickets bought months ago for a tidy profit to a friendly compatriot from Russia. Also, we know Zilina have been all about maximising profit in this campaign, so probably Russians could even buy tickets from the ticket office. However, where does this comply with UEFA regulations concerning stadium security??

    Actually I do indeed feel that a certain (fairly significant) amount of the blame has to lie with the organisers. I went to Slovan Bratislava v Crvena Zvezda in the summer and even at the totally substandard Pasienky, they managed to get the right fans in the right section. OK the Stuttgart match ended in violence too, but this was started by the home fans and again, all fans were in their relevant section so it was quickly brought under control by the police.

    Zilina’s security people and the Slovakian police should surely have done a better job here (regardless of the warnings obviously coming out of Russia since the weekend). The exact same topic was being discussed just 2 weeks ago when Trnava fans ended up all over the ground. Luckily that one didn’t end in carnage, although looking at some of the scenes from outside the ground it did come pretty close.

    I will never condone idiots, but I have watched enough football to know that there will always be idiots and if they’re that intent on trouble they will succeed … but … Slovakia doesn’t help itself with such a lack of clear stategy / organisation when it comes to these big matches.

  5.   Mark Gilbeyon 09 Dec 2010 at 11:42 pm

    Good evening, James.

    I’m not trying to excuse what happened (you can’t).

    Certainly the death of a fan in Moscow isn’t justification for beating people up in Slovakia; I never said that it was.

  6.   James Baxteron 10 Dec 2010 at 12:17 am


    For sure – and apologies for the tone of that comment/question of mine. Looking at it again, it doesn’t read well at all. I’m slightly pissed off with myself for not knowing anything at all about the Moscow death in the lead up to yesterday, yet it seems to have been pretty common knowledge. As Dan said, if I’d known, I’d have been expecting things to happen at the game. As it was, I wrote my article with only the context I did know.

    Yet I’m still struggling with the relevance and I certainly don’t see how the perpetrators of what happened in Zilina could see their actions as an appropriate way to mark the death of Mr
    Sviridov. The fans did that in a far more effective way back in Moscow itself. Credit to them for that, no credit whatever for last night.

    Cheers for your comment.

  7.   Moodonthepitchon 10 Dec 2010 at 12:33 am


    Your passion is certainly admirable, but I don’t think James Appell is justifying the violence. I believe he’s merely adding context as to why it essentially happened. Had their “brother” not been killed this week I believe 100% that what we saw last night, violence wise, would not have happened. Obviously that does not excuse their actions, but it should have been a warning to UEFA, and to Zilina officials, to expect something of this nature. We just had an incident of this nature in Genoa not two months ago…different set of circumstances I understand, but ultimately the warning signs were there.

    Ultimately, the people at the top…UEFA, FA’s, Clubs, etc need to be “scouting” all matches for this sort of stuff. It’s not that difficult to predict.

    As for the World Cup, let’s reserve opinion for a few years and see how things go. I don’t believe the fan nature of a domestic league is any guarantee of how a country reacts when put in the spotlight, though Russia will be the ultimate test…on many levels.

  8.   Mark Gilbeyon 10 Dec 2010 at 12:45 am

    Hi James,

    No problem. I think @Moodonthepitch has said pretty much what I wanted to say.

  9.   britskibelasion 10 Dec 2010 at 1:23 am

    I totally agree with James Baxter that I struggle to see the relevance of some of the fans’ actions in Slovakia to what happened in Moscow. I have a feeling that they weren’t altogether co-ordinated (as I implied in my previous comment).

    Honestly @moodonthepitch the way the stadium was organised last night, I wouldn’t have been surprised if some ‘fan’ or other would have still entered the field of play or if there had been some clash with home fans / stewards sooner or later.

    The context provided by James Appell was obviously totally relevant, but James B never intimated that James A was justifying the violence! In fact he acknowledged otherwise.

    Great debate, I think it’s fantastic that we are discussing the issues that we are passionate about in our relevant countries [in English]. Much appreciate the input!

    Ultimately, I think we’re all pretty much on the same page here.

  10.   James Baxteron 10 Dec 2010 at 9:08 am


    ‘I don’t think James Appell is justifying the violence.’ Nor do I, my comment clearly says that, as Dan also points out. My first comment to Mark might have implied I thought he was and I was sorry it seemed to come across that way hence the later modification I made to it.

    The fact is though that, after posting my article here and a comment to one on WSC, four people (yourself included), either Russian or Russian-based, have come in to offer Mr Sviridov’s death as context. I appreciate that as well as the fact that all four clearly understand something of the causes of that death and the importance of football and Spartak Moscow to it and its aftermath.

    But, after seeing what went on Zilina, I remain highly sceptical of sentiments like this ; ‘Had their “brother” not been killed this week I believe 100% that what we saw last night, violence wise, would not have happened.’ Even if it is true (I’m not saying it definitely isn’t), I can only repeat, or paraphrase, what I’ve already said ; throwing flares in the direction of your own players, and having a go at a totally innocent club’s stewards and ballboys is a depressingly inappropriate way to honour a murdered fellow fan.

    As for the WC, I take the point that we should reserve our judgement. Yet seven years isn’t THAT long. I don’t know how old all the people on here are but time does go quicker the older you get. And how the Russian authorities go about tackling football-related crime now will have some sort of influence on the way the tournament goes, just as (and the circumstances are, admittedly, utterly different) Hillsborough and the lessons learned from it were an influence 7 years later on England’s Euro 96.

    Thanks for the comments, as Dan says, it’s been good to debate these matters.

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