Throughout the Soviet era, Lokomotiv were regarded as the fifth wheel on the motor of Moscow’s football. While Dynamo, Spartak, CSKA and Torpedo all won the Soviet title, the Railwaymen never did better than a second-placed finish and a couple of cup wins.
That all changed in the post-Soviet years. Russian Railways remained the team’s direct sponsor and benefactor while other clubs were left to struggle for funding – a struggle that almost sank Torpedo. A stable financial footing, coupled with the coaching skills of former skipper Yuri Semin, saw the club turn into a powerhouse around the turn of the 21st century.
The club also broke new ground off the field, opening an impressive modern arena in 2002 and becoming the first team in Russia to play in a stadium designed purely for football.
Semin, now in his 60s and coaching at Mordoviya Saransk, is pretty much ‘Mr Lokomotiv’. A long-serving club captain, he went on to become an even longer serving head coach, presiding over the awkward lurch from Soviet to Russian football and ultimately delivering a team that could win the big trophies for the first time in the club’s history. Admittedly his touchline demeanour can, at times, resemble an elderly drunk railing against the pigeons that flock to his park bench – but his reputation in these parts is beyond question.
Not surprisingly, whenever the managerial position falls vacant (as it does with alarming frequency these days), every sports journo in Russia scrambles to call up Yuri Pavlovich to ask if he’d be interested in going back. Inscrutable to the end, Semin tends to respond ‘Never say never’, with a twinkle in his eye.
Under Semin progress on the field saw Russian Cup wins in 1996, 1997, 2000 and 2001 before that long awaited national championship was delivered at last in 2002 and repeated in 2004. The Red-and-Greens also made an impact in Europe, with many fans still lamenting the controversial red card for Dmitry Loskov in a last-16 tie against Monaco in 2004. Without Loskov, Loko suffered a 1-0 defeat on the night and went out on away goals to the eventual finalists. Lokomotiv also missed out on the 1999 European Cup-Winners’ Cup final after losing on away goals to Lazio in the semis.
More recent European outings have been less successful, though. 2014 brought a 4-1 humbling at home to Apollon Limassol, prompting the dismissal of head coach Leonid Kuchuk. A 2011 shoot-out defeat against Lausanne, then of the Swiss second tier, was another painful blow to the fans.
In fact, in recent seasons the team has slumped back towards its traditional mediocrity, with only Russian Cup wins in 2007 and 2015 to raise a smile among its fans. Apart from that, the Lokomotiv Stadium has been a more intimidating place for its own players and coaches – not least in the shape of recent club president Olga Smorodskaya. A rare woman in the male-dominated world of Russian football, Smorodskaya came under intense criticism as the club has slipped down the league, hiring and firing coaches on an almost annual basis under her stewardship.
Opened in 2002, the Lokomotiv Stadium was the first designed specifically for football. With its steeply banked stands close to the touchlines, it has the feel of an English ground and, when the ultras in the South Stand are in full cry, it can be an intimidating venue.
The current ground is the third on this site. The first was built in the 1930s by the Union of Electrical workers and was called the Stalinets, or Stalinist stadium. It held 30,000 spectators beneath imposing colonnades that topped the stands and provided an ideal place to hang banners showing Lenin, Stalin and the heroes of the day. Like many things associated with Stalin, it survived the war years but not the Khrushchëv era. It was replaced in the 1960s with a typical open concrete bowl, straight from the no-frills school of Soviet functional architecture and similar to hundreds of other stadia all over the USSR.
That ground, the first Lokomotiv Stadium, remained in use until the 1990s with only minimal changes, such as replacing the wooden benches with plastic seats. In the 1990s the club decided to upgrade, with construction work funded by Russia’s Ministry of Transport. The new stadium was unique in Russia in that it didn’t have a running track around the edge. Its modern façade, higher than most other stadiums and seemingly slung between four huge triangular pylons – which coincidentally form the approximate shape of a Russian letter ‘Л’ for Lokomotiv – caused a stir when it was unveiled. Some critics claimed it was more like a flying saucer than a stadium.
However the new design proved successful and the stadium was used to host several international games, including the Euro 2004 Qualification play-off against Wales, won by a goal from Loko’s own Vadim Evseyev. It has also staged Russian Cup finals and served as a stand-in stadium for other Moscow teams when needed. Anzhi Makhachkala played some of their Europa League games there in 2011-12, but ultimately moved to Saturn due to clashes between fans of Moscow’s teams and visiting supporters from Dagestan.
With home fans in the south end, and away in the north, neutrals can usually find a reasonably priced ticket in the sideline East (‘Vostochnaya Tribuna’) Stand or flanking the VIPs in the West (‘Zapadnaya Tribuna’).
In common with all Russian games, the teams come onto the field to the sounds of the ‘Football March’, a rumbustious Soviet ditty composed by Matvey Blatner. In addition to the national anthem, there’s also an airing for Lokomotiv’s club hymn, a would-be stirring song about how the stars of the team are ‘writing on the pages of history in letters of gold’. It’s not always easy to keep a straight face.
Because Lokomotiv’s most successful period came relatively recently, local rivalries are not as intense. Lokomotiv fans are often stereotyped as weedy teenagers and young girls looking for posters to put on their bedroom walls.
Behind the main stadium, the so-called ‘Small Arena’ is used to host reserve Loko-2’s games in the third tier. It was once called into action as an emergency venue for a Dynamo-CSKA game after problems with the pitch at the Arena Khimki. It’s mostly used as a training field these days. Loko’s youth team usually plays its games at Perovo, in the eastern suburbs.
Getting to Lokomotiv’s stadium couldn’t be easier. Simply take a northbound train on the red metro line, get off at Cherkizovskaya (the second from last station) and the ground is right next to you.
While Lokomotiv have gone to the effort of producing a professional version of their website in English, for tickets, it’s Russian-only. As attendances hover around the 12,000 mark most of the time, availability isn’t a problem, and you can buy on the day. The South Stand (Yuzhnaya Tribuna) is the main the fan sector and tends to sell out fast for big games. The upper tiers are rarely used elsewhere in the stadium.
You’ll pay 700-1,000r in the East Stand, Vostochnaya Tribuna, and in the corner areas of the main West Stand, Zapadnaya Tribuna.
Lokomotiv have three official stores. Two are at railway stations, Paveletsky (Entrance 3, ground floor, open daily 9am-2pm, 3pm-9pm) and Kazansky (central waiting room, open daily 9am-2pm, 3pm-9pm), and one near the stadium (B Cherkizovskaya 125, daily 11am-8pm), to the left of the ticket office.
Tour & Museum
In theory, the two-floor Lokomotiv Museum, between sectors 12 and 13 in the North Stand (‘Severnaya Tribuna’),opens Tue-Fri 10am-6pm (admission 150r). In practice, turning up at random when there isn’t anything else happening at the stadium can elicit a look of surprise from the security guards and your chances of getting in depend on whether there’s anyone actually around to open the doors. If they do, you’ll see a few trophies on display around the ground floor then, upstairs, a mural display in chronological order with Russian texts and black-and-white photos tells the story of Lokomotiv Moscow. Classic old shirts and video films make any visit worthwhile for the non-Russian speaker.
Stadium tours (400r) take place at weekends or before home games, at noon, 2pm and 4pm depending on kick-off time. Tours meet in front of the steam locomotive that stands in front of the stadium and include a visit to the dug-outs, the dressing rooms, the media centre and the club museum.
Some supporters gather at the Loko Pizzeria, a large bar/restaurant behind the South Stand just set back from the main road of Bolshaya Cherkizovskaya. Framed colour photos of Loko action are displayed around a smart, modern interior also featuring several screens for TV sport.