The Hard Core
Images of the fans who followed Zenit St Petersburg as they won the Russian championship in 2010
In 2010, Zenit St Petersburg became Russian champions for the second time, their Ultra group celebrated its 30th anniversary and Russia was named as host of the 2018 World Cup. A momentous year ended with Ultras taking to the streets to protest against the government of Vladimir Putin.
In total, around 5000 Zenit fans consider themselves Ultras. Some are individuals, some are part of organised groups, some make banners, some concern themselves with singing, some are devoted to arranging choreography, some travel by train, some travel by bus, some drink heavily, some espouse far-right ideology. For all, devotion is the key: those who travel to the most away games are the most respected.
Ultras often graffiti walls, marking their territory and challenging or taunting rivals. Tattoos are common, a way for fans to prove their identification with the cause. On the terrace, the rule is that the team must be supported constantly, whatever is happening on the pitch. Drunkenness during the game is discouraged, chatting or whistling outlawed as chant-leaders orchestrate the songs and displays of flares and banners. The banners have a special status: rival groups will try to steal banners, bringing themselves glory and their opponents disgrace.
The title was won on 14 November. With Zenit 1-0 up at home to Rostov, news came through that CSKA had only drawn at Spartak Nalchik, meaning a win would secure the title. As Zenit scored a further four goals in the second half, fans, many of them topless despite the cold, began breaking down barriers for a triumphant pitch invasion in which the ‘lucky’ goal nets were stolen as souvenirs. Luciano Spalletti, Zenit’s Italian coach, joined the Ultras celebrating on the pitch.