Football comes to war-torn Chechnya

As the Russian Premier League kicks off this weekend, rival clubs gear up for on-field action in a war-fatigued land.

updated: March 11, 2008 17:33 IST
  • Total Shares


They may not be Manchester United, Real Madrid or AC Milan but Terek Grozny have big dreams.

The problem is that when you're an ambitious football club based in the heart of war-torn Chechnya, where around 150,000 people are believed to have died in fighting in a 14-year independence battle, few of your league rivals are particularly eager to pay a visit.

But that's the dilemma which the Russian Premier League has faced in the build-up to the new football season which kicks-off this weekend.

Terek won promotion back into the Russian Premier League last season. They had already played in the top flight in 2005 but were relegated after one season.

Back then, the squad was Chechen in name only as the team trained and played their home games in the southern city of Kislovodsk in the neighbouring Stavropol region because Grozny was considered too dangerous.

But Terek has been given permission to play their home matches this season in the Chechen capital after the Premier League commission recognised conditions in the volatile republic met strict requirements.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov welcomed the decision, saying the republic's security forces would guarantee the safety of both the visiting players and their supporters.

"Our police can ensure the safety of visiting teams and their fans," pro-Moscow Kadyrov said.
"The Chechen republic is just a region of Russia like any other and people live here in peace like in any other region of the country.

"I can give a 100-percent guarantee that there are no terrorist threats here. I'm confident that the ability to see Premier League matches will be the most precious gift for our people."

In the mid-1990s, the war in Chechnya made holding sports competitions in the rebel republic impossible and the local club, which was founded in 1946, was disbanded.

In 2001, after years of war, the Kremlin decided that the situation in Chechnya was stable enough to allow the local team to take part in the domestic football championships.

The club, named after the river that runs through the Chechen capital, was restored and took third place in the third division in their first season.

But the fans demanded more and soon a squad of veterans, including some former Russian internationals, joined the club, relegating most players of Chechen origin to the bench.

The appearance of these skilled players boosted the squad's performance, and Terek soon won promotion to the second division.

In 2004, Terek made history as they became the first-ever second division side in post-Soviet Russia to win the national cup, beating Samara 1-0 in the final.

That victory gave the Chechen side a place in the UEFA Cup where they saw off Polish club Lech Poznan in the qualifying round.

Now Terek are ready once again for the Premiership.

Commentators attribute the success of the Chechen side to the club's friendly atmosphere and team spirit created by manager Leonid Nazarenko along with encouragement from the Chechen government.

Players of different nationalities now feature in the Chechen side. Although they do not all speak the same language, much now depends on how they understand one another on the pitch.