#ЧМ2018 culture

World Cup 2018: A football fan's guide to Ekaterinburg

10:28 PMGoalChatter

The first in a series on the host cities of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

by Aleks V @aleksvee

  Read in English      читать на русском

Fast Facts
Founded: 1723
Population: 1.4 million
Distance to Moscow: 1755 km

Football clubs: FC Ural (Russian Premier League)
Founded: 1930

World Cup stadium: Ekaterinburg Arena
Built: 1957
Reconstruction: 2006-2011, 2014-2018

For football fans in Ekaterinburg, “there's only one way to rock.” Russia's fourth-largest city, which will host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, has only one professional football club: FC Ural.

Vitaliy Belov became a fan in the mid-90s when he moved to Ekaterinburg to study. “At the time, the club was called FC Uralmash,” Belov recalls. “It was owned by the factory of the same name.”

Ural, which competes in the Russian Premier League, has been playing its home games at SKB-Bank Arena since 2014, when Ekaterinburg Arena (originally the Central Stadium) shut its doors for four grueling years of World Cup preparations.

Dmitriy Gladilin, a fan since 2008, and fellow fan Vasiliy Vorontsov say the most memorable game in the club's modern era was in August 2011, following the stadium's first reconstruction.
Photo: Vladimir Zadumin (via @FCURAL)
“Ural was down 0-2 against FC Khimki at half time, but in the end won 5-2,” Vorontsov explains. “The match was played on the 288th anniversary of the city of Ekaterinburg. It was surreal.”

Belov's favorite game thus far was the home win over Lokomotiv Moscow in the 2007 Russian Cup. “Back then, Ural played in the First Division, so eliminating a Premier League leader was a special occasion. We snatched a 1-0 victory in extra time.”

Ural has never won the top league title nor the Russian Cup, although it did come close to winning the latter. The club reached the final of the Cup for the first time in history in May 2017, losing to champions Lokomotiv, 2:0.

The Bumblebees have had their share of notable players over the years, from former Tottenham Hotspur striker Roman Pavlyuchenko to one of the country's current top forwards, Fyodor Smolov. But one of the most memorable signings was Zambian attacking midfielder Chisamba Lungu. The first African player in Ural's history, he spent seven years at the club, tallying eight goals and 14 assists in 151 appearances across Russia's top league and cup.

Lungu bid farewell to Ekaterinburg in August 2017, joining Turkish club Alanyaspor, but remains a fan favorite.

“When Lungu played for Ural, his fellow countrymen, who studied at our universities, came to games to support him,” says Vorontsov.

Louder than a locomotive
FC Ural fans (Photo: Leonid Obruchnikov, via @michalych_ekb)
Like many clubs in Russia's top flight, Ural has a distinct and welcoming fan culture steeped in tradition. “My pal Andrei yells louder than a locomotive,” Belov notes. “The players hear him and look around. But more often, the referee.”

Fans are an integral part of any club, and Ural's masthead takes note. Belov recalls a half time tradition: “Before the reconstruction of the Central Stadium, the military band of the Ural region would perform at the break. It was thrilling entertainment. The conductor, a military man we called Colonel, energized the crowd by dancing and jumping. I hope this tradition will return with the reopening of the stadium.”
Fans who can't make it to away games meet at pubs to cheer on the team. Many supporters call the bar Televizor their HQ. Craft beers, affordable prices, and cozy, old-school vibes make it a popular spot. A group known as Kuzmichi meets at Three Fat Men, a pub with a calm atmosphere frequented by locals.

Grassroots buzz

Ural fans' support goes beyond the pitch and the pubs. Mikhalych, project manager of the Bumblebee Fund, tells how a topic on the club's official forum quickly grew into a crowdfunding initiative.

“In the summer of 2013, an Ural fan on our forum opened the topic of organizing and celebrating the team's top players with a supporters' prize. Another fan proposed using a knit bumblebee as the award. The idea was accepted, and since then, the supporters' prize has been given to FC Ural's best player of the month and the season.”
Most great ideas need cash to get going, “so at some point, a fundraiser was announced. And the fans responded. Money began to arrive, sometimes from anonymous donors.”

“This season, we're also aiding the efforts of Kuzmichi of Ural, a group aimed at supporting the club at both home and away games,” Mikhalych explains.

When asked about his duties as the fund's project manager, he channels Frank Sinatra – “Getting a kick out of life” - before admitting he doesn't really have any. “The project is informal,” he says. “Yet, since I collect contributions from supporters for it, I am responsible for completing it the way it was originally announced.”

Organizing the supporters' award is no easy task. “Aside from making the prize itself, around 40 polls must be held on the official FC Ural forum, so there is no doubt as to the legitimacy of the results.”
Ural goalkeeper Yaroslav Godzyur accepts his Player of the Month award in August 2017. (Photo: @FCUral)
The making of the knitted bumblebee is a tale of its own, according to Mikhalych. “My wife and I once estimated it takes around three weeks, working evenings and weekends, to create one. All the knitters who have ever participated in the project are people who devote a lot of time and effort to supporting their favorite team. And they're not always from Ekaterinburg. For instance, this season, some of the prizes were knitted by a girl from Lipetsk (a city in Western Russia over 1,700 kilometers away from Ekaterinburg).”

He is certain the project “will help create a team spirit and, accordingly, achievement of worthy results.”

A tale of two continents

Mikhalych became a fan “out of regional patriotism,” and it's not hard to see why. 295 years of history have shaped Ekaterinburg's landscape and architecture.

“The most unique characteristic of the city is the Europe-Asia border,” says Vorontsov. “There is nothing else like it.

“There's also an unfinished TV tower in the city center. It's been that way since the early '90s. Alas, there are reports it might be taken down before the World Cup, so tourists and fans won't be able to see one of the symbols of our city.” The abandoned tower is currently the city's tallest structure.

Both Mikhalych and Gladilin recommend a visit to the Yeltsin Center, which the former says is “probably as popular as Ganina Yama and the Church on Blood in Honor of All Saints, and will see many visitors [during the World Cup].”

“There are a lot of places in the city that can leave a vivid impression,” Mikhalych adds.

Gladilin points to the Red Line, a pedestrian tourist route in the city center with 35 historic places to see. Short on time? Take a trip to the Vysotsky Business Center, the second-tallest building in Russia outside of Moscow, with an observation deck on the 52nd floor, and the Press-House Loft Bar and Gallery, where various print publications were once produced. The bar has everything from art to live music, and will air games during the World Cup.

“Ekaterinburg is the best city on the planet, with a rich history, culture, and extraordinary people,” says Belov. “Come and see for yourself.”

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