- Official language: Russian
- Interesting features: East Slavic, rich literary history, notoriously difficult (six cases, five moods, four voices)
Football in Russia was and, to a certain extent is, bound up with issues of state-patrons, centre-periphery relations and good old filthy lucre.
And while the language of football is marked by these things, we shouldn’t forget that it’s also lusty, intriguing and unlikely to leave you indifferent.
Who speaks what
For such a large land mass, it’s unusual that Russian has only slight variations across the whole country, although players from areas like Chechnya and Dagestan do speak with accents. There is also an unfortunate animosity between fans of ‘traditional’ Russian clubs and these ‘upstarts’ from the North Caucasus.
A cracking old Soviet expression, although not exclusive to football, is Su’diu na mylo – lit. “send the referee to be made into soap”. You can say this of anyone you think is useless, and it’s analogous to the English “only good for the knacker’s yard”.
A more recent fashion is to use English terms as a kind of snobbery, to show your vast knowledge of the international sport. While some bemoan the loss of the rigid, Soviet-era certainties that went with literary Russian, the economy of the English language is a factor here. Compare the standard Russian ‘poluzashchitnik’ with the English loan-word ‘hav-bek’ (half-back) or ‘napadaiushchii’ and ‘forvard’ and you’ll see the attraction of what some refer to as “Ruglish”.
We’ve written before about the honour of having your name become the byword for a move, moment or other part of the game. On reflection, Aleksandr Kerzhakov would probably rather that honour had passed him by.
The forward was having a particularly tough Euro 2012 (7 shots, all off target), and the wags at the Guardian live updates began using his name as verb: to Kerzhakov – to miss an apparently unmissable chance. You just can’t predict the internet, and for reasons unknown this caught on in Russia.
Kerzhakov’s reaction, to be fair, wasn’t bad (Ed. better than his reactions in the box!!?1!?!). With a shrug, he said that he was sorry the English language was so lacking in vocabulary that it needed to use his name in this way.
Given recent history, Ukraine would be a heated match-up. The two haven’t met in a while, but a match that still sticks in Russian craws is the 1-1 draw in 1999, which stopped them qualifying for Euro 2000. Russians know Ukranians as khokhly, referring to the khokhol – a traditional and not-unhilarious haircut.
And then there’s long-term state rivals Germany. The word for “German” in Russian is nemetski which means “people who can’t speak”. Incidentally, the root of the word also means “stupid” and “inarticulate”. Nemetski was originally the word that was used for all foreigners who couldn’t speak Russian, however as most foreigners in Russia at the time were Germans, the name stuck with them.
The Russian language has a healthy enjoyment of puns around players’ surnames. Beresytskiy, for example, is known as Bereza, meaning “birch-tree”. This is because he is big, strong and not so very bright.
Going back a few years, Andriy Arshavin became known as chipsoed (“crisp eater”) after becoming the squirrely little face of Lays crisps.
Songs they sing
You’ll hear plenty of cries of Vperyod, Rossiya (“Let’s go Russia”), as well as its more controversial cousin Russkie, vperyod. This last one means “let’s go Russians”, but in this case Russkie (“Russians”) refers to the nation of Russia. Although popular with the ultras, many supporters are less keen as Russia is a multinational country and Sbornaya (the national team) has been represented by several nations: Samedov is Azeri, Dzagoev is Ossetian and Guilherme hails from Brazil.
And finally, a couple of chants we’re likely to hear against England:
- Ot Moskvy do Britanskikh morey, Russkaya armiya vsekh silney: “From Moscow to the British Sea the Red Army is the strongest”
More rhythmic in Russian than English, this is an updated version of a 1917 revolutionary song. It refers to the Red Army (Krasnaya armiya) rather than the Russian Army (Putin’s Russia can be quite nostalgic about its past). As well as getting the patriotic juices flowing, the chant is used by CSKA Moscow fans, which is not surprising given their historic connections as the club of the Soviet army.
- Angliya – parasha! Pobeda budet nasha!: “England is a shithole/piss-can! Victory will be ours!”
A good honest insult, this one. Parasha is not directly translatable but refers to an old and craptacularly disgusting Soviet-era toilet. It’s undoubtedly offensive, but not necessarily personal: the easy rhyming set-up means that it can be cheerfully appropriated to any opponent’s name.
With thanks to Dr. Jeremy Morris of the University of Birmingham, Alex Jackson and Grigory Vasukov at the University of Manchester, Ilya Sokolov of Russian Football News, Manuel Veth at Futbolgrad and Marc Bennetts.