FansVoice: Petr could never have imagined when growing up in Samara, Russia, that many years later he would return as a supporter of the Socceroos. His journey from Russia to Australia and his passion to bring together fans from around the world, culminated in an epic 3 years of supporting both the Matildas and Socceroos , from Confederations Cup 2017 through Russia 2018 and France 2019. Hear his story…
The Early Years
I am a Russian Australian who grew up in Samara, Russia, studied in the US for 7 years (mostly St. Louis, Missouri) and then moved to Australia in 2006 (my wife is Australian). I lived for 9 years in Sydney first but have now settled in Melbourne. We have two daughters, 8 and 10, who are turning into football fans. I work as Director of Project Management at an Australian company Appen that provides training data and services to AI and machine learning developers around the world.
I grew up in a working class neighbourhood in a Khruschev-era housing complex – a rectangular set of grey five-storeyed buildings with a yard in the middle that had a sports pitch. In summer we played football on this dirt pitch and in winter it was hosed down to create a skating rink where we played ice hockey. I started playing football when I was five years old and never stopped. I never played at a high level and was never coached. But I played in the yard pretty much every day and at school whenever I had an opportunity. I followed our national team (USSR and then Russia), my home city club Krylya Sovetov Samara and also Spartak Moscow who were great in 1990s and played well in the European tournaments.
My First Football Memory
My first vivid memory of watching football was during the Euros in 1988 when the USSR had a really strong team that went all the way to the final. We lost in the final to Holland and that crazy volley that Van Basten scored is etched into my memory.
But I got interested in football five years earlier, when I was five years old. My mother is an archaeologist and I used to go to archaeological digs with her. Our groups, which consisted mostly of university and school students, lived very simple lives in tent camps, worked at the dig during the day and played football every evening. I was very attracted to the game and tried to play but the older boys were worried about my safety and would only very occasionally allow me to stay in goal. But I got hooked then and played ever since.
I never had any plans to leave Russia. First I went to the US as an exchange student for a year in 1994-95 and then I went there again to continue my university education in 1999. I studied English and American literature and was planning to become a university professor at my alma mater in Samara, so going to the US was meant to be a means of getting a solid education and gaining financial independence. But my life took a completely unexpected turn when I met my future wife who is Australian at Washington University in St. Louis and I that’s how I ended up in Australia.
After playing with the local kids and at school, I started organising amateur teams at my university in Russia and then at the two universities in the US. When I came to Australia, I immediately signed up with the local club (Macquarie Dragons) and played with the same team for nine years. We won a couple of premierships and a championship together and we still remain good friends.
I also organised a mixed team at work. Our Dynamo Appen team played for 7 years in a corporate tournament in Chatswood. I was the only person who played football regularly, but I managed to create enough interest to put together a team of male and female players of all ages. I am quite competitive, so it was scary to start with such an inexperienced team but we did quite well and eventually won three championships.
When I moved to Melbourne, I found a club within a week. The old boys team at La Trobe University Soccer Club were very welcoming and at the end of my first season I was elected to the committee. Now I am the treasurer at the club and am enjoying both playing and organising.
I started supporting the Socceroos just before I came to Australia. I was impressed with their performance at the 2006 World Cup but I didn’t really understand the significance of that achievement until much later. I followed the Socceroos on TV mostly but when they played their final qualifier for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, I organised my Macquarie Dragons teammates to go to the game together. We were in the active support area and I still remember well that rainy and nerve-wrecking night and the elation when Kennedy scored the winner that took us to Brazil. I have also been a big supporter of the Western Sydney Wanderers since their inception and was a season ticket holder while I lived in Sydney.
I got seriously involved in Australian football only a couple of years ago. Joe Gorman’s The Death and Life of Australian Soccer was a major influence. It opened my eyes to the multicultural roots of football in Australia and began to appreciate its history a lot more. I was also very keen for the Socceroos to play in Russia and got very emotionally invested in the team during the qualification. I flew to Sydney for to the final qualifiers against Syria and Honduras and brought a number of my friends to those games. But when it turned out that the Socceroos would play in my home city of Samara, my involvement got to a whole new level. It felt like two very important but distant parts of my life and identity were coming together through the World Cup, so I wanted to do something special.
I decided to create a page about the Socceroos on Facebook and its Russian equivalent Vkontakte to introduce the Socceroos to the Russian fans. I wrote some posts but also did video interviews with Australian football personalities like Ned Zelic, John Didulica, Adam Peacock, David Squires and others. As part of that project and with the help of Andrew Howe I discovered the only Russian who played football professionally in Australia and interviewed his family. Joe Gorman helped me write and publish the story of Nick Sokoloff on The World Game website and it received quite a lot of interest ahead of the Russian World Cup I also wrote some posts for the Australian fans about the host cities and shared some travel tips with them.
But my most significant involvement with football in Australia has been via Aussie Supporteroos – a community of football-playing fans of Socceroos and Matildas (aussiesupporteroos.org). Before the World Cup in Russia I created a Facebook group and invited Australian fans to play some friendlies against Russian fans and supporters of the Socceroos rivals – France, Denmark and Peru. The response was very positive and these fan friendlies turned out to be incredible events.
Our match against the French fans in Kazan turned out to be the first fan friendly of the World Cup in Russia and it drew huge media interest with at least a dozen TV crews present. After going down 2-0 in the first half, we scored six unanswered goals in the second. That night we celebrated at a bar and my now good mate Matt Dawson came up with the team name – Aussie Supporteroos. We then played a tournament in Samara, Cosmos Cup, which my old school friend help organise, a match in Sochi against Peru, participated in the Fan World Cup in St. Petersburg and played two games on the Red Square. In total, we played 11 friendlies against fans from 10 countries during the World Cup in Russia.
Playing football friendlies in Russia was such an exciting and memorable experience, that I decided to organise similar matches in France during the Women’s World Cup. It turned out to be a lot more challenging because I had almost no connections in France but it turned out to be very rewarding in the end. Aussie Supporteroos were a very inclusive community from the start (in our first match our youngest player was 12 and the oldest was 64) but we took it to another level in France. Many female players participated in our friendlies in France as well as several families, with the youngest player being only 5 years old. We played against the local ultras in Valenciennes, a team of nuclear and other scientists in Grenoble, the American Outlaws and a police team in Lyon. Matt Dawson and I are really keen to keep this community going and we’re planning to organise fan friendlies linked to Socceroos and Matildas qualifiers as well.
Travelling for Australian Football
I first travelled abroad to support Australia in 2017 – back to Russia for the Confederations Cup. I followed the Socceroos to Sochi, St. Petersburg and Moscow. Then I attended all of the Socceroos matches during the World Cup in Russia and took my wife and two daughters to see Australia play Denmark in my home city of Samara. This year I travelled to France and supported Matildas in all of their matches there.
Most Memorable Fan Experience
It’s really hard to pick just one fan experience. Watching the Socceroos play Germany in Sochi during the Confederations Cup is memorable because it was their first match on Russian soil. Similarly, the match in Kazan against France during the World Cup was also historic. The fan march to the stadium in Grenoble and Matildas win over Jamaica in which Sam Kerr scored four goals was probably my favourite memory of the Women’s World Cup in France.
But Aussie Supporteroos matches have a special place in my heart: the very first friendly in Kazan against France, Cosmos Cup tournament in my home city, matches against Russia and Spain in the Red Square, the first friendly in France against the Valenciennes ultras, the match in Lyon against the American Outlaws.
As for my football mates, I first discovered some very special Aussie fans during the Confederations Cup in Russia and I’ve kept in touch with many of them since then. I loved travelling around Russia during the World Cup with my friends Joe Gorman and Jesse Walker. But I would especially single out the two fans who have been the most enthusiastic supporters of Aussie Supporteroos – Matt Dawson and Tobias Ortner. They have been instrumental to organising the games and recruiting more players for our team. Finally, although I don’t know them well, I really enjoyed meeting people like John Didulica, Andrew Howe, David Squires, Paul Mavroudis, Les Street, Fatima Flores, Brodie Wales, Anthony Siokos and Craig Foster.
Most Memorable Experience
The most memorable game is certainly the Socceroos match against Denmark because it was played in my home city of Samara and I was able to take my two young daughters and my wife to this game. The result was somewhat disappointing but I will remember all the details of that day and the game for the rest of my life and I hope that so will my daughters.
My Passion for Russia
I am very passionate about Russia as all of my family and almost all of my school and university friends still live there. I also plan to return there some day. Although I was a supporter of Putin during his first two terms as president, I see that Russia has been on the wrong course for many years now. I protested the invasion of Crimea at the Russian Embassy in Sydney (even though my mother was born in Sevastopol) and I am passionately against the Russian meddling in Eastern Ukraine. The level of corruption is hard to imagine for Australians and political freedoms are being curtailed with greater force and violence every year. The amount of xenophobic propaganda in state media is sickening as well. I monitor the political situation in Russia very closely and support at an opposition politician Alexey Navalny (both via social media and with regular donations). I really hope the current regime will end sooner rather than later so that Russia can start on a democratic, progressive path once again.
The Future of Australian Football
I would love to see a second division set up in Australia and a promotion-relegation system and believe that’s the only way to heal the cultural split in the Australian football community that occurred when “new football” was separated from “old soccer” with the formation of the A-League. I would also like to see a strong W-League with a longer season and greater attendance. Finally, I would love to see smaller, purpose-built football stadiums like the new WSW ground because atmosphere in such smaller grounds is more likely to be great and bring more fans to football matches. Oh, I would love the Matildas to be world champions and have accomplished this feat on home soil 🙂