sports blog by andy shenk

Serges Deble Brace Gives Khimki Hope

In At The Game, Russian Football on May 16, 2013 at 9:29 AM

My first Russian football match outside of Moscow – a second-division clash between Khimki and Spartak Nalchik in a northwest suburb of the Russian capital. Click here or at the end of this excerpt to read the entire article at Russian Football News.

You can’t ask for much more from Russia’s Football National League (FNL), the first tier of competition beneath the Premier League. On Tuesday, two former RPL clubs, Khimki and Spartak Nalchik, clashed on a sunny evening outside of Moscow in a match with both promotion and relegation implications.

Khimki, most recently in the top flight in 2009, welcomed Spartak Nalchik, relegated last spring, to Rodina Stadium in downtown Khimki. This sleepy bedroom community, population 200,000, located on Moscow’s northwest fringe, has a surprising amount of athletic tradition.  One of Russia’s top basketball clubs, also named Khimki, play here, while nearby Khimki Arena has served as a temporary home for football clubs Dinamo and CSKA while bigger stadiums are being built in Moscow.

Khimki did play in the 18,000-seat capacity Khimki Arena its final year in the top flight, but have been forced to move to the much cozier Rodina due to financial constraints and lack of interest.

About 800 fans came out to the game against Spartak Nalchik, dropping between 100 and 200 rubles per ticket ($3.50 – $6.50). I, however, wasn’t one of them.

Caught up with work until a little after 5 pm, I needed to take the metro across town, hop on anelektrichka, Moscow’s popular suburban trains, and walk about a mile from the train station to the stadium. With kick-off scheduled for 6 pm, I figured I’d catch the end of the first half at best.

After a solid start to my trip – I bought my train ticket at 5:40 – the journey began to unravel. Ticket in hand, I somehow bungled my way into the wrong train station (three different stations connect to the Komsomoskaya metro), then spent five minutes trying to figure out how to exit.

Moscow’s gotten smart – passengers can only enter and exit the platforms with a valid ticket stub – so I’m still not sure how I entered Yaroslav station when my ticket was marked for Leningrad. A station attendant helped me sort it out and off I went, slipping onto a 5:56 train bound for Khimki just moments before departure.

But, unlike the Spartak match on Friday, where anyone could have just followed the sea of red-white scarves and rows of policemen from Sportivnaya metro to Luzhniki Stadium, I couldn’t find the slightest sign in Khimki that the local club was fighting for FNL survival just a few minutes from the train station. Still only 20 minutes late, I figured I could make it to the stadium on the half-hour, if only I knew the way.

Families with baby strollers packed the park to my right as I headed down what I thought was the right street. Fifteen minutes later, the sidewalk turned to a dusty path and Khimki appeared to be at a dead-end. Mistake #2.

I do speak Russian, but I hate asking for directions if I’m alone. So I retraced my steps, veering this time through the park near the train station. The Intenational Tennis Center gave me brief hope – but the local pitch wasn’t here either. My watch read 7:00 pm by the time I admitted defeat and returned to the train station.

Immediately, I saw what I should have noticed 40 minutes before. An overpass, crossing the train tracks a few hundred yards down from the station, fitted perfectly with the vague map in my head.

The overpass served one of Khimki’s central avenues, clogged by traffic. At the end of the street, Rodina Stadium glistened in the evening light, and I wearily made my approach ten minutes later.

Mumbling to the ticket office guy, “I don’t need a ticket anymore, right?” I headed to the gate. The stadium steward was a bit confused when I told him I didn’t have a ticket, but as I turned away to go back to the ticket box, he relented and waved me through. Nobody even looked at my black backpack or patted me down. Instead, I wandered down several sections to midfield, before a second steward asked for my ticket and told me to just take a seat.

Two hours of travel and 70 rubles on transportation had bought me 30 minutes of Russian second-division football. A fair trade, all in all.

Continue reading at Russian Football News.

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