sports blog by andy shenk

Keep Your Enemies Closer: Questions and Answers with an Anzhi Makhachkala Supporter

In Anzhi, Dagestan, Russian Football on March 5, 2013 at 4:24 PM

I wrote some background on Anzhi Makhachkala for Coming Home Newcastle in advance of the Anzhi – Newcastle Europa League Round of 16 tie. I’ve included an excerpt from the full interview here. 

The first leg of the Europa League Round of 16 takes place on Thursday, and Newcastle United will be traveling to Moscow to take on Anzhi Makhachkala. We reached out to Andy Shenk, an Anzhi supporter and former resident of Dagestan, to give us some background on the team. I hope you’ll find this read as informative as I did.

1. Hey, Andy. Can you explain how and why you came to be an Anzhi supporter? What are the most attractive features of the club for you?

Hey, Robert. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to chat with you. I’m very excited that Anzhi were drawn against Newcastle, given the history and prominence of your club. Anzhi really crave international media exposure at this stage in the club’s development and playing Newcastle is an excellent opportunity for that.

As for the first question… I’m American, but my parents moved our family to Dagestan (Makhachkala, Anzhi’s home city, is the capital of Dagestan) in 1996, where they ran a non-profit. I moved back to the US in 2004, but kept a strong interest in Russian football, especially the Russian national team and Spartak and Anzhi.

In 2009, I studied in Moscow for five months. That’s when my passion for the Russian league and Anzhi really took off. Anzhi gained promotion to the Premier League that season, after an eight-year absence. I didn’t get to any matches, but when I got back to the US, I continued to keep up with the team. Since 2011, I’ve been able to watch most matches over the Internet. I also saw them in the person for the first time in Moscow last fall.

I support Anzhi because I grew up near Makhachkala and identify strongly with the region. Anzhi are a lightning-rod club in Russia. Most football fans outside of the Caucasus, not surprisingly, detest the team. It’s not just about their riches, however. Ethnic and religious tension is very high in most of Russia, with Dagestan and Chechnya, two Muslim republics in the Caucasus Mountains, the focal point, due to the large number of people who have moved to Moscow and other Russian cities from the area. The Russian media and public, not surprisingly, often stereotype the region unfairly and supporting Anzhi is one way to remain united with Dagestan and, hopefully, help change people’s perceptions for the better.

I’m also attracted to the club’s commitment beyond the football pitch. They opened a youth academy in the fall, have nearly completed construction of Anzhi Arena, a beautiful 30,000-seat stadium outside of Makhachkala where tickets will cost just £2-10, and help out a number of charities, both in Dagestan and beyond. The players feature Kerimov’s children’s foundation – Give Life – on their jerseys and Roberto Carlos often holds football workshops for kids in cities where Anzhi play their away matches.

No doubt, the club isn’t perfect and charitable efforts are often simply a way of generating positive press, but for many in Dagestan, Anzhi are one of the only institutions that gives back to society without asking for much in return.

2. Can you briefly explain for those that aren’t aware why this first match will be played in Moscow instead of Dagestan?

The reason Anzhi can’t host Europa League matches in Makhachkala is mostly tied to hostile Russian and international media coverage of Dagestan. Since violence broke out in neighboring Chechnya in 1994, Dagestan has also gotten a very bad rap. In 2001, when Anzhi first qualified for European competition, their UEFA Cup opponent, Glasgow Rangers, refused to travel to Makhachkala, citing security concerns. In the end, UEFA opted for a one-match neutral site tie in Poland. Rangers, on a side note, are still quite unpopular in Dagestan and a lot of fans celebrated last year when they were dropped to Scotland’s fourth division.

So what’s it really like in Dagestan? Is it actually violent? Yes, there are some militants in the republic who attack Russian military personnel and policemen. Liquor stores and other businesses that clash with Islamic morals have also occasionally suffered threats and violence. On the other hand, random acts of violence are very rare and the threat at a football match is almost non-existent, given the immense amount of security present at the stadium.

In fact, in 22 years of playing in the Russian league and Russian Cup, there hasn’t been a single act of violence at an Anzhi match in Dagestan, not counting a few minor incidents between home and away fans. I can guarantee that the first European club to play in Dagestan will receive the most lavish reception any football club has ever received in European competition. Dagestanis pride themselves on their hospitality and will do everything they can to make a good impression.

UEFA, nonetheless, banned Anzhi last summer from hosting Europa League matches in Dagestan for the 2012/2013 season because they felt the region was too violent. In January, they did agree to send a committee to Dagestan this spring to investigate the situation on the ground (something they didn’t do when they made their decision last summer) and the club is hopeful they will be permitted to host European competition in Dagestan next season, especially with their new stadium, located outside of the city and much closer to the airport, now complete.

To read the full interview at Coming Home Newcastle, click here.

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  1. Hello Andy! Thanks for telling an interesting backstory about Anzhi. Your insights are well needed as a counterweight to the everyday media coverage.

    If you’re interested, I actually have a couple of question regarding Anzhi as well. Send me your e-mail and I’ll explain the details.

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