Moscow has a total four football clubs in the country’s top flight – the Russian Premier League. Throngs of the capital’s population turn up every week to cheer on CSKA, Dynamo, Lokomotiv and current champions Spartak in stadiums scattered across Europe’s largest city.
But aside from those local supporters of their domestic sides, in the city’s center a group of Muscovites convene regularly to cheer on a team playing 1,610 miles away.
The team are Liverpool FC and the group go by the name ‘The MosKopites’. The name is a play on words and amalgamation of ‘Moscow’ and ‘Kopite’ – a slang term for a Liverpool fan.
The MosKopites meet for every Liverpool match without exception at John Donne, one of Moscow’s many English-imitation pubs situated about 3 miles immediately southeast of the Kremlin on Leo Tolstoy Street.
The location, in the group’s own words, “is the place where the ‘Moscow Reds’ get together to immerse themselves in the Liverpool atmosphere, happily pass the time with a pint of good ale, chant, supporting our team.”
Founded in February 2015, the MosKopites are one of two official supporters groups in the Russian capital. They were formed as a breakaway faction from Liverpool’s other official Moscow supporters group, the Russian Reds, after an acrimonious split.
The group are prevalent on social media, such as Facebook and the Russian version – VKontakte – where they publish information on matches.
“We are Moscow supporters of English football club Liverpool. We mix passion with a wish to support our favorite team, through thick and thin,” their home page description reads.
“We sing, talk, and gladly meet with those who have a connection with Liverpool.
“Travelling to Liverpool games in Russia, in Europe or at Anfield, we give the love of our Moscow heart to the team.”
RT Sport went to watch a the Champions League Group E opener with Sevilla with the group at their John Donne hangout.
The host, Viktor, is a young man “difficult to confuse with others,” and approaching the pub it is easy to see why: among the rabble of red jerseys at the pub entrance, his is the one emblazoned with ‘MosKopites 96’ on the back, a reference to the 96 Liverpool fans who were killed in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
Viktor, a Muscovite of 25, extends his hand and greets me with a sturdy handshake, revealing a Liver bird – the symbol of the city of Liverpool – etched on his inside forearm, and leads me inside to the building’s back room, where more red shirts are clustered around tables.
As far as the plethora of British-style bars in the Russian capital go, John Donne probably bears the closest resemblance to its inspiration. The room is only dark on account of its mahogany interior, lit by five different screens mounted on its walls, which are themselves adorned by an array of memorabilia.
One scarf in particular catches the eye – it bears the images of Liverpool managers past and present, from Bill Shankly through Kenny Dalglish to Jurgen Klopp, with the quote “Success has many fathers.”
Adjacent are portraits of players and an ‘Anfield Road L4’ street sign nailed above framed shirts from cup finals in Istanbul and in Cardiff, propped up across from Rome ‘77 and Wembley ‘78 banners – markers of two European Liverpool successes.
The MosKopites group are prevalent on social media, particularly on Facebook and the Russian version VKontakte – where they have over 2,000 members. Around about 30 pack the pub for the match versus Sevilla, which I’m told is quieter than usual.
For the group, their love for Liverpool is harbored from afar. But given the distance between the two cities, the question must be posed: why Liverpool? For Viktor, the reason is sewn around the crest on his shirt – Dortmund 2001.
“The UEFA Cup final Liverpool-Alaves. I myself loved Michael Owen and back then there were stars like no other in the team,” he explains.
“Liverpool attracted me because there are no fans that create such a rush, such an atmosphere like they do. Liverpool fight to the end, like in Istanbul, like not long ago against Dortmund. Even if they lose, the team has character.
“We have a beautiful anthem – You’ll Never Walk Alone,” Viktor’s voice trails off as he raises his sleeve to reveal a second tattoo: those exact words, before repeating them in Russian.
“We have history, a great history, including winning the European Cup five times. That’s why I chose Liverpool.”
Other Moscow natives tell a similar story, of supporting a team in a foreign, far-off land, but the upcoming game versus Spartak Moscow on Tuesday, September 26, throws up a chance for the group to watch their side just seven stops on the Moscow Metro from their pub – at Spartak’s Otkritie Arena, one of the 12 designated Russia 2018 World Cup stadiums.
Spartak and Liverpool last met in Russia in 2002, also in the Champions League group stage, with Viktor’s hero Owen netting a hattrick in Moscow as the Reds recorded a 3-1 victory, three weeks after a 5-0 demolition at Anfield.
Viktor will be there, as will most of the Muscovite Liverpool following.
“It turns out that there are enough fans of Liverpool, as you can see, we have a big enough community, really big in fact. I went to Kazan, for the Liverpool-Rubin match (in 2015), with a big Liverpool following from Moscow.
“We created this thing – the MosKopites. Everything is cool, so the more people creates a better atmosphere, like here there is a lot of Muscovites but they support Liverpool.”
Viktor has watched Liverpool in his native country before, but his main dream is clear and for the moment remains unfulfilled.
“I have one main dream, that should come to fruition this winter, or even this autumn, to go to Anfield. It’s my only dream to get to Anfield. I hope it materializes, to get to the Kop.”
Liverpool’s match with Spartak was under threat of being played behind closed doors after UEFA opened disciplinary proceedings when a rocket was fired from the Spartak section of the stadium towards the referee during their Champions League group game with Maribor on September 13.
However, UEFA decided to bar Spartak fans from buying tickets for their November 1 tie against Sevilla in Spain, as well as being fined €60,000 ($72,000). The incident created hysteria among some observers. One journalist called the act “attempted murder.”
The MosKopites also count an authentic Liverpudlian among their ranks in Shaun Wright, a 28-year-old English teacher from Wavertree in the city of Liverpool. It was his idea to name the group ‘MosKopites’.
Shaun, himself married to a Moscow native, cannot speak highly enough of the Russian fans who share the passion for his club.
“When the draw was announced of Liverpool versus Spartak, I was happier for the guys more than I was happier than myself,” he says.
“I’ve seen Liverpool on however many occasions at Anfield and I knew I would get a ticket to the Spartak game. But for these guys, to go and see Liverpool live is a dream of dreams because they’re as passionate as anyone in the world.
“For me, it’s good financially that Liverpool are coming to Moscow. But I was happy for these guys emotionally because they don’t have to get visas to see the game. They will have the honor of putting on the shirt and looking at the team and saying: ‘we are the MosKopites.’”
Since the fixture was announced, Shaun has shown his pride in Liverpool by wearing his team jersey on the city’s metro and around town without confrontation from locals.
“You hear these horror stories but I’ve worn my top around town about three or four times since the draw. I’m just having a bit of fun with it. I’m not anticipating getting beaten up!”
Viktor is one of those locals. He says that there is a deep and clear understanding held by the Liverpool-supporting Russian fans in regards to English football fandom and supporter culture, especially in regard to history and tragedies.
“I wear the number ‘96’ on the back of the shirt in memory of the fans who died in the Hillsborough tragedy,” he says.
“It means an awful lot to me, as it does to every Liverpool fan. Mothers, fathers and children died who were there that day in that stand.”
On Tuesday, Viktor, along with the hundreds of Russians who support Liverpool, will gain a chance to share in their passion for English football under one roof.
by Danny Armstrong for RT Sport