RPL Stadiums: VEB Arena

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On 10 September 2016, CSKA vs Terek opened the CSKA Arena, now the VEB Arena.

Football during daylight hours

On the initiative of Marshal Andrey Antonovich Grechko, a stadium named after Grigory Fedotov - the first Soviet football player to score 100 goals in the USSR championship - was built on 3rd Peschanaya street in 1961. In Soviet times it hosted CSKA reserve team matches, and although the main team also played there, they did so rarely. Back then, the Armymen’s played at the Luzhniki and Dynamo stadium, but in 1978 CSKA moved to the Fedotov stadium for two years while the country’s main arenas were closed for reconstruction before the 1980 Olympics.

In 1994, CSKA hosted Spartak Vladikavkaz in the Russian Cup. The match was remembered for CSKA’s victory, and riots in the stands for which the stadium received a ban. After that, it was closed for reconstruction, and three years later the arena became the main one for CSKA. But the facility still did not have full lighting, and it was not possible to install lighting masts due to the nearby airfield, so matches were held only during daylight hours.

In May 2007, the first stone was laid on the site of the Fedotov stadium, and in December construction of the VEB Arena began. Initially, the stadium was supposed to be built by 2009, but the deadline was postponed first to 2010, and then to 2013. In 2010, construction of the stadium was temporarily suspended until the club bought the land from the Ministry of Defence. In May 2014, CSKA President Evgeny Giner said that the first match would take place in the spring of 2015, but the dates were shifted several times. The first official game took place on 10 September 2016 against Terek Grozny. The Armymen beat their opponents 3-0. In that match, Lacina Traore scored not only the first goal in the arena, but also his debut goal for the Red-Blues.

“We wanted to make skybridges, but we didn't manage to implement this idea”

The VEB Arena is a whole complex that includes a children's and youth sports school, the first club museum in the history of CSKA, restaurants, cafes, a branded merchandise store and a hotel - guests can watch the games directly from the windows of their rooms. Four towers are attached to the arena from the corners, one of which is an office with 38 floors. Externally, it resembles the UEFA Cup, which was won by the club in 2005. Embedding offices in a stadium is a unique solution. "I saw a couple of examples in Germany, but in a different ratio, of course. Offices and hotels occupied, say, 10% of the site's area. Here they occupy 60%,"- said the stadium's architect Dmitry Bush in an interview with the "Five corners" blog on Sports.ru.

In 2015, Evgeny Giner said that the design of the stadium would allow one to make a sliding roof. They wanted to implement the idea later, but in 2019, CSKA General Director Roman Babaev said: "There won't be a roof for sure, we would almost have to rebuild the stadium."

The stands are tilted at a high degree, so there are practically no ‘dead zones’ in the stadium. They are designated by the four letters of the club’s abbreviation C, S, K, and A, and are covered under the roof. There are no running tracks at the stadium, which allows fans to be closer to the pitch. There were even ambitious plans to seat some fans directly under the roof itself, but the idea could not be implemented due to fire safety requirements.

"At first, we planned that some seats would go up under the roof," said Bush. "We wanted to make the so-called ‘skybridges’ that appeared in American and European stadiums a little later in the late 2000s. These are places where spectators watch football almost vertically, from on top of the action. But due to the strictness of our fire regulations, the idea could not be implemented. Maybe then the stadium would have been even more interesting from the point of view of the interior."

Key RPL match: CSKA 2-1 Spartak (12 August 2017)

The first derby at the VEB Arena in April 2017 ended unsuccessfully for the hosts. Spartak beat CSKA on matchday 26, and became champions ahead of schedule in the next one.

Four months later, the Armymen again hosted the Red-Whites. This time though it didn’t end in favour of the champions: by the 83rd minute, Spartak led thanks to a goal from Mario Pasalic, but then conceded twice in two minutes, from Georgi Schennikov and Vitinho.

Since then, CSKA have hosted Spartak twice more at home and always scored points, with a 1-1 draw in September 2018 and a 2-0 win in June 2020. On the next RPL matchday, the Moscow derby will be held at the VEB Arena.

Key Match: Zenit 2-1 Lokomotiv, Russian Super Cup (7 August 2020)

The VEB Arena could get its first major match back in 2016. The Russian Super Cup fixture between CSKA and Zenit was due to take place at the new CSKA stadium, but by that time the arena had not been completed, and the game was moved to the Lokomotiv Stadium.

The VEB Arena hosted the Super Cup in 2020, as RPL and Russian Cup champions Zenit met league runners up Lokomotiv. The Railwaymen’s new head coach Marko Nikolic had a chance to win his first trophy in Russia. However, Zenit not only won their third trophy in a month, but also inflicted the first defeat in Russia on the Serbian. The winner came courtesy of a beautiful long-range shot by Magomed Ozdoev, who played for Lokomotiv from 2010 to 2014.

“I want to play beautifully in the new arena”

One of the first to share his impressions of the new stadium was CSKA graduate Igor Akinfeev, who has been playing for the main team since 2003. "I've been with CSKA since I was four and a half years old, so I've been waiting for the stadium for a particularly long time," the goalkeeper said as he shared his impressions in an interview with the club's press service before the first match at the new stadium. “I saw a lot of layouts and projects, and now the arena exists not only on paper and in electronic sketches. The construction is completed, and I want to believe that from now on, CSKA fans and football players will have a real fairy tale."

The team visited the new stadium a month before the first official game in August, when the players met with fans at the arena. "When you walk through the tunnel to the pitch, you get goosebumps," Akinfeev recalled. “At this moment, you experience an indescribable feeling! And this is despite the fact that so far only one of the four stands has been ‘sounded’. What if there are thirty thousand people? I'm sure it will be even more fun and cool!”

Lacina Traore hadn’t scored for the army team, but for the first time he did it in the opening match of the stadium: "I think that every CSKA player would be happy to be in my place. To score the first goal in a new arena is great." His teammate Alan Dzagoev said at the time: "We are finally home, this is our home stadium. The new arena has a great surface, you want to play beautifully, score goals, win, and give great pleasure to the fans." And Mario Fernandes was as happy with the new arena as any of his teammates: "It's done! We've been waiting for this for so long, our wishes have finally come true. It’s a great stadium, with a great atmosphere. CSKA have found their new home."


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