Thirteen straight titles coupled with several participations in the Champions League, the achievements of BATE Borisov would be the envy of almost any big-money club in Europe.
Instead, this is a works team for a tractor parts factory, a club only founded in its current form in 1996. Their successes – which include a memorable 3-1 victory over Bayern Munich in 2012 – have financed the demolition of the modest Haradski (‘Municipal’) Stadium and construction of a new national arena, the 13,000-capacity Borisov.
The flagship club of the industrial hub of Borisov don’t need to travel to Minsk to host European football.
A BATE Borisov had existed in Soviet times, operating at local level and winning a modest smattering of state silverware in the 1970s. By the 1980s, they had folded.
BATE were reformed by a young Anatoli Kapski, a football enthusiast who had previously worked in the office of Repair Factory No.140 in Borisov.
Then in his twenties, Kapski put his faith in a little-known coach, Yuri Puntus. A system was put in place, youth teams feeding the first team, under the same tactical system overseen by Puntus.
Picking up players from the recently defunct FC Fomalgaut, Puntus led the first team up two divisions in two years to the top flight.
Bringing in a young Alexander Hleb and striker Vitali Kutuzov, both from Minsk, BATE then won the league in only their second season in the top flight.
Kutuzov later went to AC Milan, Hleb to Arsenal, but as key players went abroad, it was down to the likes of goalkeeper Yuri Zhevnov to keep BATE in the top three – aided by Kapski’s policy of constantly bringing young players through.
In Europe, BATE started with a 12-1 aggregate defeat to Lokomotiv Moscow on their debut in 1999. It took closer battles with Milan, Dinamo Tbilisi and Rubin Kazan before BATE found their stride. Players such as midfielder Dzmitry Likhtarovich and defender Alyaksey Baha also found their feet at this level.
After Puntus bowed out in 2004, in the interregnum BATE finished fifth in the league. Kapski put his trust in ex-BATE player Viktor Goncharenko as coach. In 2006, BATE started an unbroken run of title wins, goals coming from former Saratov forward Gennadi Bliznyuk. Along with strike partner Vitali Rodionov, Bliznyuk shared top league scorer status in 2008.
That year, BATE made their debut in the Champions League, with Goncharenko its youngest ever coach, against… Real Madrid. Unphased by either Real (0-1, 0-2) or Juventus (2-2, 0-0), BATE beat Everton a year later in the Europa League group stage.
By 2010, BATE had brought in Brazilian attacker Renan Bressan, whose goals sealed the titles in 2010, 2011 and 2012. It was Bressan, Rodionov and Alyaksandr Pawlaw who scored the three goals that famously beat Bayern 3-1 in the 2013-13 Champions League, aided by a returning Hleb and captained by the veteran Likhtarovich.
While still dominant at home, notching a tenth straight title in 2015, BATE made the Champions League group stage in consecutive seasons, winning home legs against Athletic Bilbao and AS Roma in 2014 and 2015.
As for Kapski, the book-balancing factory official who took a tractor-parts works team from the third division to Bayern beaters is still overseeing BATE Borisov after more than two decades.
Opened on May 1, 2014, the Borisov Arena replaces the 5,000-capacity Haradski Stadium that served BATE from the 1990s onwards.
Set on the western edge of town, just off the main inner ring road that skirts the river and city centre, the Haradski bore the Russian-language Gorodski its entrance. This was a municipal sports ground of two simple stands, one uncovered, hugging the touchlines.
Designed by Ljubljana-based OFIS Architects, also responsible for the distinctive Ljudski vrt in Maribor and other contemporary designs around Slovenia, the €40 million Borisov Arena is equally unique.
A sweeping, futuristic exterior, dotted with Dalí-esque holes, backdropped by greenery, is wrapped around a multi-coloured interior of 13,000 seats. The press are allocated spaces in the West Stand, VIPs in the East, along the sidelines. Also in the East Stand are a restaurant and bowling alley. The North and South Stands are behind each goal.
As in Maribor, the stadium interior is characterised by its sweeping roofs. Outside, fans gather in a large public area lined with kiosks.
The stadium is on Gagarina, by the junction with prospekt Ardzhanikidze/Ordzhonikidze. From Borisov station about 2.5km away, take bus Nos.4, 11 or 12, or similarly numbered marshrutki, running along arrow-straight prospekt Revolyutsii, just past the Lenin Monument, to Ordzhonikidze.
A taxi shouldn’t cost more than a couple of euros – agree a price beforehand.
Tickets are set at around 15,000BYR – less than €1.50 – and available at the stadium on the day. Advance sales and information should be available at the BATE club office, close to the train station, at praspekt Revalyutsii 16.
BATE souvenirs are sold at the Fan Shop at the Borisov Arena, open on match days.
Right by the stadium, Café Gol is a fans’ bar decked out in BATE scarves on the ceiling and posters on the wall.
The Irlandski Pab at Vatutina 32A, offers Guinness, Kilkenny, Czech Gambrinus and grilled dishes from 3pm to 3am, served amid football-related and standard Irish paraphernalia. There’s a pool table, too.