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It´s raining… apples?

James Appell | 08 September 2010

On Friday Russia opened their qualifying campaign for Euro 2012 with a leisurely 2-0 win away to Andorra. In the week after allegations of match-fixing and racism dominated Russia´s sporting headlines, Russians must have been happy to have a positive result to talk about.
It´s raining… apples?

Ever heard the one about the Russian football fans and the Andorran farmer?

International week often yields up a few jokes - Wayne Rooney being the, ahem, ´butt´ of them this time around - but few are quite as surreal as one anecdote which found its way into the Russian press this week.

On Friday Russia opened their qualifying campaign for Euro 2012 with a leisurely 2-0 win away to Andorra. The match, pitting UEFA´s largest country by population against its fourth-smallest, was played in the sleepy Pyrenean principality´s Estadi Communal d´Andorra la Vella.

And Stuttgart striker Pavel Pogrebnyak ensured there would be no upset, scoring both goals for Russia in new coach Dick Advocaat´s first competitive match in charge of the national side.

In the week after allegations of match-fixing and racism dominated Russia´s sporting headlines, Russians must have been happy to have a positive result to talk about.

Unfortunately, however, a 60-year-old Andorran farmer named Pepe had other ideas.

It all started when Pogrebnyak scored a penalty to give Russia a two-goal lead in the game. TV cameras didn´t catch it, but as the players celebrated a bizarre hail of soft fruit, especially apples, rained down on the Estadi Communal´s pitch.

Eye-witnesses spotted this unusual precipitation and captured it on camera - you can hear the person filming laugh and shout “yabloki na pole!” (“there are apples on the pitch!”) - and some of the Andorran players can be seen picking up the offending items and throwing them off the pitch.

It turned out that Russian fans lacking tickets to the match inside the 850-seater stadium had instead climbed a hill overlooking the field, clambered over a fence and broken into farmland belonging to farmer Pepe.

Not only that, but to keep themselves well-nourished during the 90 minutes, they raided Pepe´s farm for fruit and vegetables, amounting to a third of his apple crop. As well as throwing some of the unwanted fruit onto the field of play, said fans left discarded alcohol containers and cigarette butts throughout Pepe´s 80 square metres of potato fields.

“I don´t mind that the Russians ate my apples,” Pepe told Russian newspaper Sovetsky Sport when they caught up with him the day after. “They´re tasty after all. I myself would have told polite guests to help themselves. But they behaved like barbarians.”

Without condoning this behaviour, I hope you readers can probably see the funny side of this story.

But it´s one which creates more bad headlines about Russian fans, in a month in which a bunch of Lokomotiv Moscow supporters have copped some real (and justifiable) flak for their banner apparently aiming racial abuse at West Brom forward Peter Odemwingie.

Having spent plenty of time mixing with Russian football fans, their behaviour can often seem rather paradoxical.

On the one hand, visitors to Russia´s football stadia can often witness first-hand some pretty vile racial abuse. The sight and sound of 40,000 Spartak Moscow fans aiming monkey chants at Dynamo Kyiv´s Guinean striker Ismael Bangoura during a Champions League qualifier in 2009 still chills me to the core.

On the other, it´s rare to hear bad language of the kind which has become a staple even in sterile Premier League grounds. You simply don´t hear swearing emanating from the terraces like you do in the UK. “Forward Russia, we´re with you” is a favourite chant at international games, along with “Hail Russia!” - which all sounds rather parochial.

Even when riled swearing is generally a no-no. Russian fans don´t sing “the referee´s a w*nker” - they sing “referee to soap”, which though relatively benign actually refers to the Soviet-era habit of taking away social undesirables, killing them and making soap out of their body fat.

Still, the upset caused by the throwing of farmer Pepe´s apples has moved Russia´s footballing authorities to action.

The head of the Russian Football Union (their FA) Sergey Fursenko admitted that the behaviour of the fans in Andorra left a lot to be desired.

“Unfortunately they were our - Russian - fans,” he said. “It is up to us to educate them, over and over again. What else can we do? Just as water wears away a rock, hopefully over time the behaviour of Russian fans can begin to change for the better.”

Russia midfielder Sergey Semshov - who incidentally was the target (along many of his teammates) of abuse from the invaders up on the hilltop - was similarly unimpressed.

“This [incident] is suggestive not only of the fans´ relationship with footballers, but also of their general intellectual level,” Semshov rather pithily told Sovetsky Sport.

And Dick Advocaat also threw his weight behind possible sanctions for those involved, admitting: “This sort of incident doesn´t do the fans any favours.”

RFS head Fursenko intends to compensate farmer Pepe for his losses, and the Andorran may even be the guest of honour in Moscow for the return fixture next autumn.

For some in Russia, at least, the story isn´t a joke at all.


James Appell is a respected member of ITV.com's football writing team and has a penchant for all things Eastern European.

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