National champions every season since 2014, FC Astana are not only a new force in the Kazakh game but a relatively new club entirely. In fact, the Blue and Yellows were not even created in Astana, the equally recently anointed capital of Kazakhstan, but in the former football powerbase of Almaty.
With Astana’s main team, three-time title winners between 2001 and 2006, in dire straits, the idea was mooted to form a new club from the merger of two similarly struggling ones in Almaty: Megasport and Alma-Ata.
Under construction was the $185 million Astana Arena and the capital needed a credible football team to put in it.
With the backing of Kazakhstan Railways, this new club, Lokomotiv, was duly moved to Astana – specifically, to the Stadion Kazhymukan Munaitpasov, home of venerable FC Astana, demoted in 2008 for non-payment of transfer fees.
Lokomotiv Astana made their league debut in March 2009 and won the Kazakh Cup a year later, under former Mönchengladbach midfielder Holger Fach. By now they were playing at the newly unveiled Astana Arena. In 2011, Lokomotiv became FC Astana, FC Astana became FC Astana-1964 – then folded in 2014.
Their usurpers went from strength to strength. The turning point came halfway through the 2014 season with the arrival of former Levski Sofia and Bulgarian national coach Stanimir Stoilov. With former Újpest favourite Foxi Kéthévoama in scoring form, FC Astana romped through the second round of the campaign, beating all five opponents at home with a combined scoreline of 21-2.
In Europe, Stoilov’s Astana surprised Hapoel Tel-Aviv and AIK with 3-0 wins but fell before the group-stage hurdle. A year later, their Champions League debut was marked by a shock 3-1 victory over experienced Maribor. Facing an away-goals loss to HJK Helsinki before a near 30,000-capacity crowd at the Astana Arena, the Kazakhs snatched victory from the jaws of defeat thanks to a stoppage-time strike from Russian defender Yevgeni Postnikov.
Another vital late goal from Serbian international Nemanja Maksimović opened the way to the Champions League group stage at the expense of APOEL Nicosia. Facing Benfica, Galatasaray and eventual finalists Atlético Madrid, Astana were by no means disgraced, coming away with four draws.
In the league, the defensive midfield stability of Roger Cañas proved vital as Astana successfully defended their title, again thanks to a strong second round.
A chaotic stoppage time of two red cards and a 92nd-minute penalty at Celtic Park ended Astana’s hopes of repeating previous Champions League progress.
Despite a 4-1 defeat at home to Kairat Almaty, Astana won a third straight title in 2016, equalling the record of Aktobe between 2007 and 2009, and bettering the brace by now forgotten Astana-64 in 2000 and 2001.
Leading the league again in 2017, and overcoming Legia Warsaw in the Champions League, Stoilov’s men seemed set for another memorable autumn. Another unfortunate reverse at Celtic Park scuppered hopes of further Champions League riches but, with Kairat in disarray, a fourth straight league title should provide another opportunity in 2018.
The new national stadium for Kazakhstan in the country’s new capital, the Astana Arena attracted the city authorities help create a football club as permanent tenants. This club was FC Astana, who share the 30,000-capacity arena with the Kazakh national side, whose major fixtures take place here.
Like so much of the architecture in Astana, the stadium is striking in design, a swooping ellipse usually set against clear blue skies. Beneath a retractable roof, two tiers of seating surround an artificial surface, the goals oriented north-south. The best seats are in the West Stand, while the East Stand runs alongside the main avenue of Qabanbay Batyr.
Due to the distances involved, even for domestic fixtures, travelling support tends to be pretty minimal. Visiting supporters are usually allocated sector SW in the South Stand, Южная трибуна, nearest the West Stand. The loudest home fans tend to be in sector N4 immediately behind the north goal.
If you’re coming directly from the airport, then you’re in luck – city buses Nos.10 and 12, and Express bus No.100 both call at bus stop No.155 for the Astana Arena before heading on to town, frequency every 10-15min.
Coming from town, the No.10 is the most direct service through the city centre, setting off from the main train station, and stopping by the City Court, along Respublika Avenue, and near the Bayterek monument at Ministlikter ulitsa. The No.12 also calls at Bayterek.
The stadium is about ten stops from the city centre, allow 15min. Services for both the Nos.10 and 12 go back into town until 11pm.
A taxi to/from the city should cost around 3,000 tenge/€7.50 but agree a price beforehand.
Average crowds for FC Astana are around 5,000 but a big European fixture can nearly fill the stadium. Visiting clubs and national associations have their own ticketing arrangements and means of distribution.
FC Astana sell tickets online through Ticketron, Russian-language only.
Tickets are also sold on the day from the касса in the stadium concourse.
For the match with Celtic in August 2017, prices were set at 1,000 tenge/€2.50 behind the goal, 1,500 tenge/€3.80 for seats towards the ends of the sideline stands and 2,000 tenge/€5 for the best ones over the halfway line. Students and children are charged half-price.
The pricing structure is similar, invariably cheaper, for domestic fixtures. For national games and European ties with more at stake, admission rises by at least 20%.
The club has two stores in the city. The most central is on the third floor of the 7-Continent mall at Kenesary 40, the Life Football shop, unit 312A on the information maps. The other is the Everest sports store in the Azia City mall at Abylay Khan 27/3, third floor, unit 23, open daily 10am-8pm.
In each you’ll find a reasonable selection of replica shirts, T-shirts and sweatshirts.
There’s no outlet at the stadium. Match-day stalls and vendors offer a basic range of Astana scarves.
There are no bars or restaurants in the immediate vicinity of the stadium complex.
One solution might be to pop into the nearby Hotel Alau – that’s the one topped by a bizarre triangular shaped structure seemingly made out of shopping baskets – where the brightly coloured bar serves bottled beers and spirits.