Twice Kazakh champions, and cup winners in 2014, Kairat represent the former capital of Almaty. The leading club from what was a Soviet republic in the USSR, Kairat flew the flag for Kazakhstan from the 1950s onwards, but in recent years have been overshadowed by compatriots Astana and Aktobe.
Based at the same stadium for nearly all of their history, the Soviet-style Ortalik (or Central), Kairat still have echoes of their origins as a railway side, Lokomotiv, formed shortly after the death of Stalin.
Although outshone by the likes of Almaty sides Dinamo, Spartak and ADK when it came to winning silverware at republic level, Kairat came into their own in the 1970s and 1980s. Twice winning the Soviet Union’s second flight, Kairat were regular performers in the Supreme League, then one of the strongest in Europe.
‘The People’s Team’ provided two players for the USSR national side, both defenders: Seilda Baishakov in the 1970s and Yevgeni Yarovenko in the 1980s. But it was the lesser-known Vakhid Masudov who, as player-coach, led Kairat to the double in the inaugural season of independent Kazakh football in 1992.
Masudov would return to the Ortalik three times but, bereft of European competition, Kairat trod water for far too long in the 1990s.
Shortly after the Kazakh FA decided to break from Asia and align itself with UEFA, Kairat won a second league title in 2004. Goals from Arsen Tlekhugov helped Kairat to a first crack at the Champions League, an agonisingly late defeat to Petržalka right on 120 minutes.
It took Kairat until 2014 before they actually won a European tie, against Kukësi of Albania.
Shortly afterwards, led by Vladimir Weiss, in charge of Petržalka back in 2005, Kairat claimed a sixth Kazakh cup by thrashing Aktobe 4-1.
Scorer of two goals that day, Ivorian Gerard Gohou, then notched a vital one to open the scoring at the Marakana in July 2015, Kairat coming away from Red Star Belgrade with a 2-0 win. Gohou also scored another on 45 minutes in the next round against Alashkert in Yerevan – though Kairat had gone to Armenia with a 3-0 win at the Ortalik under their belts.
Gohou is currently the leading goalscorer of the summer-season Kazakh league. Close on his heels is young Serbian striker Đorđe Despotović – a loan from Red Star Belgrade.
Built as a multi-sports stadium in the classic Soviet mould in the 1950s, the Central (or Ortalik) Stadion still retains its running track and Khrushchëv-era appearance. Heroic statuary still flanks a Neo-Classical entrance.
Home to Kairat and, on many occasions, the Kazakh national side, whose name is spelled out across a bank of seating, the Central is an open bowl close to the centre of town. Rugby and winter sports are also staged here.
With a capacity of nearly 24,000, it comprises one main, roofed stand and open seating around it – Kazakh football is played, like in much of the former Soviet Union, from spring to autumn.
The main, West Stand is the Zapadnaya Tribuna (Западная трибуна), with the Vostochnaya (Восточная трибуна) opposite. Home fans gather in the Yuzhnaya, South Stand (Южная Трибуна) nearest Satpayev Street.
Depending on numbers – bear mind that distances are vast in Kazakhstan and Kairat have no top-flight city rival – visiting supporters are allocated part of the Severnaya (North Stand) (Северная трибуна) alongside Abai Avenue. Gate 1 give access to sectors 27 and 28 nearest the East Stand, Vostochnaya.
Fans of Soviet kitsch will be delighted to hear that the nearest metro station is both named and fashioned after the famed space station of Baikonur. The cosmodrome of Sputnik fame lies deep in Kazakhstan’s desert steppes.
Film of rockets taking off keep you entertained as you wait for your swish new train – the metro was only opened in 2011 – and admire the décor straight out of the film ‘2001’.
Baikonur is on the red line 1, recently extended as far west as Moskva.
Several buses run to the Stadion stop, including the No.92 direct from the airport. The stadium is also a 10-15min walk from focal Republic Square.
For domestic matches, tickets are affordable at a few euros each – those in the main West Stand (Zapadnaya Tribuna) will be more expensive. For international fixtures, visiting fans should arrange tickets through their own clubs or national associations.
The club currently has no online sales. Tickets are available on the day at the Kassa near the main entrance, cash only.
There’s a large FC Kairat store at the stadium, where you can buy branded tracksuit tops (KZT10,790/€51), replica shirts (KZT5,000/€24), scarves (KZT2,500/€12) and frilly pennants (KZT500-1,500/€2.40-€7).
Right by the main entrance, the modern-looking Kairat Sport Bar has TV screens inside, seats outside and is suitably wrapped in yellow and black. There’s a full menu with plenty of fish dishes.
A short walk from the stadium on the other side of Satpayev Street, Kamelot at Bukhar-Zhyrau Boulevard 37 is more a bar than a Mexican restaurant, and late-opening too.