While their counterparts in Kiev and Donetsk might guzzle Baltika or Obolon by the bucketload, fans of FC Dnipro Dnepropetrovsk eschew alcohol for a fit lifestyle and beer-free support of their favourites. Before Tottenham arrive for their Europea League fixture, Peterjon Cresswell visits the place that used to make space rockets for the Soviet Union and finds an oligarch-run operation desperate to break into Ukraine’s top three.


Having trekked beyond the Arctic Circle, out to a bizarre Stalinist corner of eastern Europe and further east to an obscure Russian stadium whose host club no longer exists, Tottenham now venture to the industrial vortex of south-east Ukraine.

Few European campaigns could have clocked up as many air miles or thrown up as many logistical obstacles as Spurs’ in the Europa League this season.

Thursday sees the Lilywhites travel to a country still in the grip of political chaos, to a city where streets and squares are still named after Lenin and Marx: Dnepropetrovsk.

The Europa League clash also sets manager Juande Ramos against his old club, and offers a shop window to Yevhen Konoplyanka, the three-time Ukrainian Footballer of the Year who nearly signed for Liverpool in January.


For the 2,000-3,000 hard-core Dnipro fans who gather in sectors 8 and 9 of the North End (‘Severnaya Tribuna’), members of the DSG, UZ44 and Rechnoi Flot (‘River Fleet’) ultra groups, support is a serious matter. ‘We differ from most of our European counterparts by promoting a healthy lifestyle, exercise and no beer,’ said one. ‘We train together, we play sports, we shun drugs and alcohol. We have even formed our own rugby team.’

Fans here are well organised, setting up a professionally run souvenir store, ’12 Igrok’ (‘12th Man’) at ulitsa Pushkina 1, within a short walk of the stadium.

The recent significant unrest across Ukraine has had one surprising side-effect. The usual fan rivalries – in this case, between Dnipro and Metalist Kharkiv – have been set aside for now. ‘For the sake of our country, we have all declared a truce,’ said the Dnipro fan.

The intrepid band of Spurs fans will be allocated sectors 28 and 29 in the Yuzhnaya Tribuna, the South Stand. The stadium, built on the Stalinist-era Metalurh one just the other side of Chkalova ulitsa that runs parallel to focal prospekt Karla Marksa, is a short walk from I.M.Lenin Square. Tram No.7 runs from the train station – alight, of course, at ulitsa Lenina.

Made rich during the decade when Leonid Kuchma, a former aeronautical engineer here, was president of the country either side of the millennium, Dnepropetrovsk embraces all the clichés of a post-Soviet oligarchy. Gleaming edifices built with new money loom over a landscape of industrial pollution and urban decay.

One such oligarch, Ihor Kolomoyskyi, a graduate of the city’s Metallurgical Institute, is chairman of local club Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, whose recently built stadium, the Dnipro Arena, contains a branch of Kolomoyskyi’s own Privatbank. Said to be worth over $6 billion, on Ukraine’s rich list Kolomoyskyi stands behind Viktor Pinchuk, a fellow Metallurgy graduate from Dnepropetrovsk and married to former President Kuchma’s daughter – and Rinat Akhmetov.


While Akhmetov took over the dominant Shakhtar Donetsk, after previous club president Akhat Bragin was killed by a bomb placed under his seat at the stadium, so Kolomoyskyi made FC Dnipro his powerbase.

Having undergone several name changes (‘Steel’, ‘Dynamo’, ‘Metal Worker’) in early Soviet times, the flagship club of Dnepropetrovsk became Dnepr after the polluted river that flows beside it. With internationals such as locally born Oleg Protasov and Oleh Taran, Dnepr twice won a strong Soviet League in the 1980s.

Still playing at the Meteor Stadium, built by the local company who built Soviet space rockets, Dnepr surprisingly failed to repeat their success of the previous decade when Ukraine became independent in 1991 and a much weaker national league formed.

Almost always fourth, occasionally third, behind Akhmetov’s Shakhtar, Dynamo Kyiv and rivals Metalist Kharkiv, Dnipro thrice made the Ukrainian Cup Final only to lose to Donetsk every time.

The opening in 2008 of the €40 million Dnipro Arena failed to push the club into the very top bracket, its 31,000 capacity even too small for it to host Euro 2012. Dnipro currently stand behind Shakhtar, Kharkiv and Kyiv in the Ukrainian League – fourth.