Rangers expressed their dismay at having to play their UEFA cup third round tie in the war-torn state of Anzhi situated right next door to Chechnya. Kevin O'Flynn reports on the harsh realities and possible implications
Few football fans had any idea where Dagestan was a few weeks ago when the draw was made for the UEFA Cup third round, let alone who Anzhi Makhachkala were.
Now Rangers chairman David Murray could probably go on a lecture tour to publicise the dangers of the little republic less than a hundred miles from Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. Kidnappings, bombs, a nasty war down the road, uncomfy beds and bad toilets (the last two according to one Russian paper’s reports of Murray’s worries) made Rangers move hell and high water to avoid coming to Dagestan. If it weren’t for the postponement of European ties after the attacks on America they would now be expelled from Europe.
UEFA come out worst of all from the farce. It was obvious that there was a security problem with Anzhi last year when they qualified for Europe. Their home games could easily have been moved without fuss to Vladikavkaz or Novorossiisk then, rather than leaving the decision until now, which made it look like a convenient ploy to keep a biggish western club in the tournament.
Apart from the war going on next door in Chechnya, the republic in the southern Caucasus is plagued with mafia problems; the mayor has used up his cat’s lives and more after surviving 12, at last count, assassination attempts. A week before the scheduled game a bomb on a railway line missed blowing a passenger train to smithereens.
But I confess my sympathies are with Anzhi and I think Rangers would have been safe. Scared, maybe, but safe for what would have been Makhachkala’s biggest game in their short history. Founded in 1992, Anzhi have been a more attractive version of Wimbledon, leaping out of the Russian second division, up the first and making a grand debut in the premier league last season, when they finished fourth.
Hundreds of thousands of people tried to get tickets for what would have been the first leg at Makhachkala’s Dynamo stadium. It is seen as one of the hardest away games in the Russian league, but more because of the small ground and passionate fans than for any life-threatening reasons. Security is always tight – and there have never been any problems – and if Rangers had come they would have a large armed police escort at all times.
It would have been an easy arrangement to make as Anzhi isn’t just a club. The president of the club also happens to be the prime minister of the republic and Anzhi’s budget of around $7 million takes a hefty wedge from state coffers. Not that Dagestan can exactly spare the money. It is the second poorest region in the country and the amount spent on Anzhi is said to equal or surpass the republic’s education and health budgets.
Playing at home Dagestan might have had a chance for a respectable draw. Anzhi have sold may of their best players who did so well last season, and their inspirational coach Gadzhi Gadzhiev retired for health reasons. The only bright spot is Ilya Tsymbalar, the former Spartak and Russia international, who is back after more than a year out of the game.
Rangers’ appeals to UEFA have deeply angered the club and Russian football generally, and fuelled the paranoid notion that European chinovniki (bureaucrats) are out to get Russia. Cowards, ungentlemanly, a disgrace. You name it, Rangers have been called it, with even the Dagestani prime minister getting in on the act. For some reason, the Dagestanis expected better than the constant campaigning by Rangers. The anger is real, though.
From WSC 177 November 2001. What was happening this month