In focus: Russia’s oldest stadium

Kaliningrad, Russia’s Western-most city, is a unique place. Until 1945, it was the Prussian city of Königsberg. Claimed by the USSR after World War II, it was renamed in honour of Mikhail Kalinin, a figurehead Soviet head of state under Stalin. Its Prussian heritage was largely obliterated: what survived British bombers fell to Soviet planning. Even the fine cathedral, burial place of Immanuel Kant, was left in ruins for decades.

But not the football ground. Built in the late 19th century, it claims to be the oldest surviving football ground in Russia, having hosted VfB Königsberg games in the old German National Championship in the early years of the 20th century. Today, it’s the home ground of Baltika Kaliningrad, strugglers in the National League, Russia’s second tier and it is slightly notable as one venue for the longest-distance match-up in any national league: Baltika vs Luch-Energia Vladivostok, Baltic vs Pacific, separated by 6,331 miles or an estimated 126 hours of driving. For the visit of Volga Nizhny Novgorod in the summer of 2015, we took a three-hour flight from Moscow.

The Baltika Stadium’s long-term future is in doubt. Kaliningrad is a host city for the 2018 World Cup, and its new stadium, once opened, could spell the end for a small piece of sporting history.

Interested in Russian football? Groundhoppers’ new e-book, Snow on the Seats, gives a personal journey around the country and its stadiums. Written in the build-up to the 2018 World Cup, it offers a glimpse at how Russia, and its football, has changed in the run-up to the tournament. Available for download to Kindle devices and a bargain at £3.49, it’s a unique primer for this summer’s excitement. Find it here

baltika stadium 2
Kaliningrad’s Baltika arena, the Western-most football ground in Russia.
action 7
A goalmouth scramble as Baltika (white) take on Volga in a second-tier Russian League game.
The stadium was built when Kaliningrad was Konigsberg, and part of East Prussia. Under the Third Reich, a Nazi eagle crowned the tower in the main stand.
main stand
The main stand today. The tower is still there, but a mobile phone mast and an advert for the local nuclear power station now stand on top.
A Baltika flag flutters in the breeze.
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Not a typical half-time tea hut: grilled pork ‘shashlyk’ kebabs at the Baltika Stadium.
baltika ultras
A handful of Baltika ultras have little trouble avoiding the attentions of a smartphone-toting cop.
volga ultras
Four ultras, three cops. An away fan in Russia could get lonely.
Old-school Soviet floodlights.

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