FC Zenit’s transition from the old, but beloved, Petrovsky Stadium is coming to an end. The club played its last match of the season there against FC Anzhi Makhachkala on Saturday, 8 April. Zenit’s quaint Soviet home on the Neva River is set to move upstream, to a towering 21st-century colossus on the shores of the Baltic Sea.
Endearingly called ‘Petrovich’ by local fans, Petrovsky Stadium has been the site of Zenit’s greatest triumphs in Russian and European football. It first hosted games of the team in 1936 but largely played second fiddle to the bigger Kirov Stadium on Krestovsky Island in the Soviet period, after the latter was opened in 1950.
However, since 1994, Petrovsky became the irreplaceable home stadium for the main football club of St Petersburg. Soon enough, it became the host of the most illustrious period in Zenit’s history, seeing the team collect 14 major trophies.
One of those trophies was the 2008 UEFA Cup, the road to which featured a 4-0 semi-final thrashing of German powerhouse Bayern Munich at Petrovsky. Another historical day at the stadium came in November 2010, when Zenit won the Russian championship after a 5-0 victory over FC Rostov. Zenit’s notoriously riotous ultras decided to celebrate the event bare-chested in the blizzard that day, prompting then-head coach Luciano Spalletti to join them.
Time for change
Despite the apparent good fortune brought by the ageing Petrovsky, with its Stalinist columns and chamber-like atmosphere, the drawbacks of the old stadium became increasingly apparent as the club’s ambitions grew. Built in 1925 and with a capacity of just under 22,000, it paled in comparison to the ultra-modern arenas of Zenit’s new competitors in the UEFA Champions League.
Additional discomfort was brought to fans in 2011 when winter matches were introduced to the Russian football calendar to put it in sync with the European calendar. This led to matches being played in December… in an open-air stadium on the banks of a frozen Russian river. Temperatures often dropped below -10 degrees Celsius and a red ball was used to distinguish it from the snowy expanse of the pitch. One common way to survive was to cover your body with newspapers or to put plastic bags under your clothes.
A new football stadium for Zenit has been in the works as early as in 2004. More than a decade later, the club and its fans are more than ready to move to their newly built home on Krestovsky Island. Most importantly, it appears that the stadium is also ready to accept them. The retractable roof, modern infrastructure, and 68,000 capacity of the new arena are set to serve as a symbol and a foundation for the rising success of the football club from St Petersburg.
The last match
The last match at the Petrovsky Stadium began with 13 minutes of silence for the victims of the 3 April metro bombing in St Petersburg. In the silent stands, Zenit’s ultras unfurled banners to honour the victims. The game was tinged with the collective grief of a city in the wake of a tragedy. In a symbolic act of support just days after the attack, the entire Zenit squad took the metro to lay flowers at the makeshift memorial at Tekhnologichesky Institut. Additionally, the club redirected all profits from the game Saturday to the victims of the bombing. It should be noted that the visiting side, Anzhi Makhachkala, also visited the memorial upon their arrival to the city, and sent funds to the victims. After the minutes of silence ended, fans raised blue hearts reading #спасибо петровский (#thank you Petrovsky) to support their team one last time at the beloved stadium.
On the pitch, events unfolded badly for the home team. After conceding a goal in the first half, Zenit was reduced to 10 men after defender Nicolas Lombaerts was shown a direct red card for a last-ditch tackle in the 50th minute. Zenit came back after Alexander Kokorin equalised in the 73rd minute, but that was the extent of the miracle that day. As a result of the 1-1 draw, the gap between Zenit and first-place Spartak Moscow increased to 8 points. Next week, Zenit will take on their first-placed arch-rivals in Moscow, in what is set to be a critical game for determining this year’s Russian champion.
As fans said their goodbyes to neighbours and stewards upon exiting the stadium, the most common phrase was: “see you at our coming victories at the new stadium!”
The first home game at the new stadium is scheduled for 22 April and will be against FC Ural Yekaterinburg.