Zenit Win Lifts, and Pours, Spirits at Home

ReutersZenit captain Anatoly Timoshchuk touching the UEFA Cup on display as the team arrived home Thursday evening.
Staff Writers

ST. PETERSBURG -- One man set the door of his ex-wife's apartment on fire, teenagers swung on the flag holder in the front of the Japanese Consulate and a deputy speaker in the State Duma even confessed that he had been taking bets.

Although it paled in comparison to the carnage in Manchester, England, where police said they were "sickened" by fan violence, the home reaction to Zenit St. Petersburg's victory in the UEFA Cup final Wednesday night was lively enough.

As soon as the final whistle blew on Zenit's 2-0 victory over Glasgow Rangers, thousands of fans hit the streets in the hometown of the country's president, prime minister and a good number of their subordinates.

President Dmitry Medvedev was the first to send his congratulations to the hometown side and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who watched the game at home on television, followed up with a telephone call to the club's Dutch coach, Dick Advocaat.

On Thursday, Medvedev described the victory as "fantastic."

A number of senior officials decided that watching on television wasn't good enough. First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko and Alexei Miller, the CEO and acting chairman for Zenit's generous sponsor, Gazprom, joined 10,000 Russian fans making the trip to Britain for the match.

They congratulated the players and coaching staff in the dressing room as Zenit fans continued celebrating in the stadium and across the city.

Advocaat's elation, however, was mixed with more somber comments. He said after the game that he feared Zenit would fall victim to its own success, with top European clubs ready to prize away top assets like Russian playmaker Andrei Arshavin.

"It will be a problem now," Advocaat said, Reuters reported. "There is no doubt that some players will go."

The atmosphere was only positive at St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Airport on Thursday evening, as a large contingent of fans greeted the players as they arrived home, getting off their plane in their warm-up gear and carrying the cup.

The celebrations in Manchester were tarnished, however, by street violence, in which a Zenit fan was stabbed, and clashes between football hooligans and the police. Six Glasgow fans were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the knife attack. The victim was not seriously injured, The Associated Press reported.

Police were clearly angered by the fan violence, in which 42 people were arrested and 15 police officers injured in clashes in downtown Manchester.

"A minority of thugs have overshadowed what should have been a great occasion," Justine Curran, assistant chief constable for the Manchester Police, said Thursday, the news agency reported. "I've watched them commit damage, assault my officers, and I'm really sickened and disappointed."

In the wake of the violence, newly appointed Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said Thursday that extra police would be on hand for next week's Champions League Final between Manchester United and Chelsea in Moscow.

Dmitry Lovetsky / AP
Zenit fans celebrating the club's victory in a St. Petersburg pub after the final whistle sounded Wednesday night.

Mutko, who attended the UEFA Cup final and flew back to Moscow overnight, said 6,000 police officers and additional troops from the Interior Ministry will be on hand for Wednesday's match, which is likely to be attended by almost 50,000 English fans.

Via a live video feed to London, he called on visiting fans to behave while in Moscow.

"I urge you to respect our customs and the people who live in the city," Mutko said, AP reported. "In football there is always a winner and a loser, and I ask the losing fans, who will obviously be disappointed, to behave."

It wasn't long after Wednesday's win before the congratulations started to pour in from all around the country.

The Russian Orthodox Church was one of the first to weigh in, calling the victory a sign of the country's revival.

Late Wednesday, Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, said the game showed that "Russia is regaining ... energy, hope for a better future and for its own rightful place in the world," Interfax reported.

Lawmakers started chiming in Thursday morning.

Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov called the victory a triumph for all Russian sports, while Duma Deputy Speaker Oleg Morozov described Zenit's play in the final as "Mozart-like." He then confessed to be running a little "bookmaking at home," saying he had come out a winner "this time" by predicting the result.

Among those sending congratulations was Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, whose countryman Anatoly Timoshchuk is Zenit captain.

Spontaneous celebrations with fans parading through the streets or honking their horns as they drove around were reported in cities across the country.

Even in Moscow, where Zenit is a traditional rival for local clubs, some 40 percent of Wednesday's television viewers watched the game, according to a Gallup Media report, Interfax reported.

While the celebrations were generally peaceful, some jubilant fans did find their way into police reports.

One fan in Belgorod, after heavy toasting of the victory with friends, decided to take a break from the revelry to set fire to the door of his ex-wife's apartment.

He then returned to join the "raving crowd of Zenit fans" on the street, only to be apprehended, a Belgorod police spokesman told Interfax.

Fans in Perm also engaged in some heavy alcohol consumption before converging on the city's main street to hold an impromptu march, only to be stopped by local police, the UralPolit.ru news web portal reported. Thirteen of the would-be marchers were arrested, a police spokesman said.

Fans in St. Petersburg were also keeping up, with the manager of one sports bar in the northern capital saying beer sales Wednesday night were double the average, Interfax reported.

But unlike in Perm and Belgorod, there were no football-related arrests reported in St. Petersburg itself, with the Japanese Consulate's broken flag-holder the only damage reported.

There was still a party atmosphere, however, as thousands of fans poured out onto the streets at 1 a.m., with about 2,000 gathering on Palace Square. Police temporarily stopped the traffic on Nevsky Prospekt to make way for the crowd in an atmosphere resembling New Year's Eve celebrations.

With many wearing blue-and-white Zenit scarves and waving flags, fans hugged and kissed each other, drank beer and champagne, and shouted, "Zenit -- Champion!" at passing cars. Drivers repeatedly honked their horns in noisy celebration.

Interfax reported that a group of fans went to the Kempinsky Monika 22 hotel, where Advocaat lives, and shouted "Thank you, Dick!"

On Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt, drivers parked cars adorned with Zenit flags in a row, opened their windows and exchanged high-fives with people walking along the pavement. Nearby, a belly dancer from a local restaurant came outside and performed with a Zenit scarf -- much to the delight of the crowd, the majority of whom were young men.

"It seemed like there was complete unity between all the people who went out onto the streets last night -- and across the country," said student Stanislav Shchetinin, 22, his voice hoarse after hours of screaming.

Shchetinin, who watched the game with four friends at home and later celebrated outside until 5 a.m., said he was "delighted by the atmosphere in the streets."

"People were so friendly and polite to one another, they offered each other beer and hugged," he said. "It didn't matter what nationality they were, Russians, Africans or Arabs. Everyone congratulated each other."

"I think soccer is one of those phenomena that can unite the country better than anything else," he added.

Denis Gabrush, 36, who has been a Zenit fan for 20 years, said Thursday that he had not yet recovered from Zenit's victory.

"What Zenit did in this UEFA championship was really heroic, in the kind of way that I remember from Soviet times," said Gabrush, who watched the game in a bar and later celebrated on Nevsky Prospekt.

Zenit is only the second Russian side ever to lift a European trophy, after CSKA's 2005 UEFA Cup victory.

"The 2005 CSKA victory was something of a false dawn for Russian football," Marc Bennetts, the British author of "Football Dynamo," a new book about Russia and soccer, told RIA Novosti. "Zenit could go on now to challenge the Champions League."