One of the top derbies in the RPL ended well before halftime after repeated acts of hooliganism posed a threat to the players of the home team. The singing crowds at Moscow's Arena Khimki rejoiced as the Blue-and-Whites showed a good game against Zenit St. Petersburg. Kevin Kuranyi and Aleksandr Kokorin were frequently closing in on the box; the former forced Malafeev into a save several times. The guests were giving up quite a lot of set pieces, making their manager Luciano Spalletti absolutely livid, despite his team's technical prowess. It was on a set piece indeed that Zenit conceded, after Bruno Alves brought Kokorin down in the worst of places. Vladimir Granat delivered a brilliant free kick that bounced off the pitch and into the net. Despite the home field advantage, it was clear that the match might have been nearly equal, had it not been cut short by a petard thrown at the Dynamo net. Though the smoke-filled projectile narrowly missed goalkeeper Anton Shunin, it didn't take long for another to be aimed at him, forcing the referee to suspend the match. Unfortunately, the pyrotechnic came within inches of the keeper's face, blinding him with thick smoke. Shunin was hospitalized after having acquired problems with both his vision and his hearing. The keeper received chemical burns to the cornea and eyelids, as well as a conjunctive infection in both eyes. In addition to hearing loss, he acquired an ear infection.
It is likely that both projectiles were thrown by the same person, and an unnamed female suspect at Arena Khimki has already been identified. But the fact that it takes so long to find the culprit raises questions. "What's so hard about equipping the stadium with cameras and removing the usual bastard from the crowd?" asks Andrei Ponomarev.
It's not the first, nor, sadly, the last time that the Russian game has suffered from acts of hooliganism. Earlier this year, Dynamo's match against FC Torpedo Moscow in the 1/16th of the Russian Cup was stopped less than ten minutes into the second half after hooligans consistently threw pyrotechnics onto the pitch at Eduard Streltsov Stadium, ignoring pleas from both team's skippers. Recent cases of hooliganism in the RPL include various projectiles that were either thrown randomly or targeted referees. Of course, hooliganism directed at a particular team in a derby carries a certain layered history. The Dynamo-Zenit derby is a fairly recent rivalry that began in the 80's. In 2010, both teams were penalized for insulting chants, and just last year, Dynamo's games with Zenit were plagued with fights and insulting banners.
At some point, the question of who is to blame for the incidents needs to be addressed. Hooliganism in football has been around for just about as long as the game itself, its presence tainting every nation involved. The English Premier League, however, has been devoid of pyrotechnics, albeit an incident in January 2010 during the Birmingham Derby. The aftermath of the Carling Cup match that gave Birmingham a 2-1 win over Aston Villa was a projectile-filled battle involving supporters of both sides and leaving a total of 14 people injured. Yet the incident occurred after - not during - the game. The other notable difference is that the occurrence had a riotous character and wasn't isolated to a few individuals. The reason England has been able to avoid such violence on a regular basis is due to various changes in legislation. Section 2A of the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985 states that "a person is guilty of an offence" if he is in possession of "any article or substance whose main purpose is the emission of a flare for purposes of illuminating or signalling". Likewise, the introduction of the Football Spectators Act in 1989 ensured that every single spectator would be identified. Yet it wasn't until after various fatal disasters that the Act was introduced. It is unfortunate that the law is somewhat diluted in Russia. The respective clubs, rather than the country's legislature, are responsible for dealing with the non-respectable supporters. It's complete nonsense, considering this isn't a club issue.
It is ironic that the motherland of football has been so successful with ridding its fields of hooligan violence while the nations that acquired this disease have not. Again, the problem has a legislative nature. There have been and always will be hooligans. As Bill Bufford writes in Among the Thugs, hooligans "do it for the same reason that another generation drank too much, or smoked dope, or took hallucinogenic drugs, or behaved badly or rebelliously". It's that adrenaline drive, and it's one of the reasons that we as civilized football fans need the support of the law.
Russian Premier League - 16th Match Week
Saturday, November 17, 2012, 7:00AM ET
FC Dynamo Moscow vs. Zenit St. Petersburg - 1:0*
Venue: Arena Khimki (Moscow)
Referee: Alexei Nikolaev (Moscow)
1:0 Vladimir Granat (27')
7(5) : 4(3) shots (on goal)
0:2 yellow cards
0:0 red cards