By: Martin Williams
Buildersâ tea. Real bacon. Scouse. Geordie. Cockney. Brummie. Rugby. Cricket. Match of the Day. The things that expats miss are wide-ranging and sometimes bizarre, especially to the Muscovite population. Especially when it comes to sport. So, it was with great pleasure that I discovered Russian Toffees, an Everton supportersâ club in Russia.
My first experience of Evertonians in Moscow was immediately after my arrival, when internet research for local places to watch the game led to links to Evertonâs youth team playing at Khimki Stadium. Eventually, a day too late for the first game but in time for the second, I managed to find a small ground in Khimki â not exactly Khimki Stadium! â and was shocked to see Everton kits on half of the supporters. Once Iâd met a few of the lads, chatted about the football and saw one guyâs Everton tattoo I knew that I should find out about this supportersâ club.
I should be honest. Even though I had lived in several other countries before, I had never considered joining a supportersâ club. My views about them were never very favourable before I met the people here. Lots of âwackyâ flags about places that I never thought would ever be Evertonian hotspots had never really inspired me. So was it really like that, and how did it all start? I spoke to Andrey Selesnev, Chairman of the Russian Toffees and inspiration to the many Russian Evertonians, to find out.
So, Andrey, how does a Russian man in Krasnodar approaching his mid-forties find himself in charge of a supportersâ club for a team based about 3,000 kilometres away?
When I was 12 or 13, I started to learn English at my school. My teacher asked me to translate an article into English. In the Soviet era, we were able to buy only the Morning Star, a newspaper of the British Communists. I opened the sports page and saw a picture of a goalkeeper hitting the ball. It was Neville Southall from Everton. It was the beginning of my support for Everton. I think it was in 1985. Therefore, I have supported Everton for 30 years.
Living so far away, it must be difficult to get to matches. Have you got some good memories that you can share with our readers?
I am a very happy Everton fan. The first match that I saw on TV was the FA Cup final in 1995 where we beat Manchester United 1-0. My first match at the Old Lady was in 2005, Everton beat Manchester United 1-0 again. Duncan Ferguson scored a great header.
Iâm sure all this is great for the single guys who travel all over Europe, but how does it fit in with being a family man?
My son also supports Everton, so I think itâs good! Flights, visas and hotels make it expensive so I can only afford one or two trips to England each year.
Finally, how can people find out more about following Everton in Russia?
Thereâs a Vkontakte group called Russian Toffees with over 7,000 members, or they can send me an email at [email protected].
When I spoke to Everton, I quickly realised that Andreyâs friendly personality and easy-going attitude to the supportersâ club mixes perfectly with the clubâs view. Evertonâs main aim for supportersâ clubs is fan engagement. From as far afield as the USA, Australia, China and Russia, the people at Everton use the opportunities available to help international supporters engage with the club. Thereâs an international supportersâ club strategy with dedicated contacts and signed merchandise available for special events. The people at Everton donât ask for anything from supportersâ clubs except for the chance to help passionate fans from afar. They basically want to give fans the best opportunities to be fans.
And it works. There are no meetings. We donât write songs. But when we are randomly on a train going to matches in Lille and hear Russian people speaking, we know we will have friends in common. Or that we will meet fellow Evertonians from home who will just swap stories and have fun. Or maybe my passable Russian can help the guys in Kiev get the bill quickly so we can make it on time to the game. And obviously, matches in Russia, like last year in Andreyâs adopted hometown of Krasnodar, are great events.
For these reasons, I can feel just at home here as when Iâm walking down County Road to the match. Well, almost.
With thanks to Russian Toffees and Everton Football Club for their input to this article.