World Cup 2018 City Guide: Volgograd

Volgograd at a Glance
Population: 1.025m
Stadium: Volgograd Arena
Number of matches: 4

Tunisia – England
Nigeria – Iceland
Saudi Arabia – Egypt
Japan – Poland

Due to its history, Volgograd is an iconic city inside of Russia. During the Soviet era it was known as Stalingrad, and it was here the Soviet Union won one of the most important victories during the World War II. On the football pitch, the city of Volgograd has also endured great victories, although local pride Rotor Volgograd is far from former glory.

 

The World Cup Stadium

Volgograd Arena

The new Volgograd Arena will host the city’s games in the World Cup. The stadium is currently being constructed and has a capacity of 45,000, although the capacity for the World Cup will be lower; by how much, is unknown. The city will host four group stage games in the competition with England’s fixture against Tunisia being the highlight.

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Apart from four group games, Volgograd will not be hosting any other matches. The stadium is built at the site of the previous Central Stadium at the foot of the Mamaev Kurgan complex, placing it right in the centre of the city. The stadium will be accessible by the Volgograd Metrotram, as it has a station at the site of the stadium. The Central Stadium was built in 1962 as a multi-purpose stadium in 1962 and had a significantly smaller capacity of 32,000. The stadium cost about $280m to build and is designed to resemble basketwork.

The construction of the arena had its hitches as well. In 2014, a few unexploded bombs from the Battle of Stalingrad were found, and the entire area had to be thoroughly swept for more such items. A minor fire also broke out due to a welding accident, thankfully nobody was injured. Other than these events, the construction of the stadium has been relatively smooth.

The current target capacity is 45,568, costing 13.6 billion Rubles as of early January 2018. Rotor Volgograd will be playing in the stadium after the World Cup is over.

 

Volgograd’s History

Volgograd is best known for its role in the Second World War when the city was named Stalingrad, however, it has had a long and storied history since its founding in 1589 as Tsaritsyn. Documentary history of the founding of a fortress and surrounding village by the first military governor of the region, Grigory Zasekin. Sary-Su, the fortress named in Tatar for “Yellow River” was the historic central locale to protecting the southern border of the Tsarist Empire, but due tot he central location to the Caucasus in the south, Kiev to the west, Siberia east and Moscow north, the area became a nucleus of the Empire’s southern trade. The agricultural area of the Central Black Earth region is the most fertile in Russia then and today, and thus was part of the bread-basket of the Empire.

From 1589 to 1991 the city was a strategic, agricultural and cultural centre, with the former two dwindling due to the dawn of the digital age and period of post-history. From 1807-1900 the population of the river-port grew exponentially from 3,000 to 84,000. Rail first reached the town in 1862, it’s the first theatre opened in 1872 and cinema in 1907.

The city, however, is most famous and eponymously named as Stalingrad. It was renamed after Joseph Stalin in April 1925 to officially recognise his vital logistical and leadership role in the defence of the city against the Whites in the Russian Civil War from 1918-1920. The city was developed from an agricultural and trading centre to a heavy industry powerhouse due to the aforementioned favourable locale. Transshipment by rail and river was easily accessible and these twin reasons of tactics resulted in the targeting by Adolf Hitler early on in the planning of Operation Barbarossa in 1940.

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The Battle of Stalingrad had the greatest casualty figures of any single battle in the history of warfare (estimates are between 1.25 and 1.8m), and its result had a pivotal impact on the outcome of the war itself. The battle became a personal struggle between Hitler and Stalin, as both saw the enormous propaganda value of the city, each keenly aware of the onomastic namesake.

The war meant that the city was destroyed and had to be rebuilt. The huge The Motherland Calls statue on the top of the Mamaev Kurgan hill signifies this contribution and is the tallest free-standing sculpture in the world. It was captured and re-captured eight times by each side during the fighting, and at one point over 90% of the city was in German hands.

In 1945 the Soviet Union awarded Stalingrad the title Hero City for its resistance. Great Britain’s King George VI awarded the citizens of Stalingrad the jewelled “Sword of Stalingrad” in recognition of their bravery.

Reconstruction started in 1946, beginning with the building of the famous monument. ‘Volgograd’, the city’s name comes from the name of the river Volga, which is the longest river in all of Europe. It was renamed in 1961 by Nikita Khrushchev as part of a period of de-Stalinisation within the nation, in an attempt to reduce his huge “cult of personality” by the party.

However, the city is actually officially denoted as “Hero City Stalingrad” for nine days a year;

  • February 2 – The end of the Battle of Stalingrad.
  • February 23 – Defender of the Fatherland Day.
  • May 9 – Victory Day.
  • June 22 – Rhe start of Operation Barbarossa.
  • August 23 – The start of the Battle of Stalingrad.
  • September 2 – Victory over Japan Day.
  • November 19 – The start of Operation Uranus (counterattack)
  • December 9 – Day of the Fatherland’s Heroes.

 

Football in Volgograd

Volgograd has two football clubs. Olimpia and Rotor Volgograd. The former is in the fifth tier of Russian football while Rotor plays in the FNL, the second tier. Rotor was a force to be reckoned with in the mid-90s and finished second in the Russian Championship twice (1993, 1997). Although the club has never won a top-level trophy, it has won the Soviet First League and Soviet/Russian Second League once and thrice respectively. Olimpia has never reached such heights.

READ MORE: Déjá Vu all over again – Rotor Volgograd Reborn

Rotor’s post-Soviet history has been plagued with financial troubles. The club lost its professional license in 2005 and was accused of financial misconduct in 2013. This meant that the club had to play in the fourth division and had to make their way up from there. Fortunately, Rotor has revived themselves to some extent. They won their zone of the third-tier Russian Professional League last season and are currently in the FNL, albeit they are last in the league.

Rotor has also had some decently successful UEFA Cup campaigns. Their win on away goals in the first knockout round of the competition in 1995 against Manchester United is the club’s most famous result. Rotor drew 0-0 in Russia and then drew two-all in Manchester, giving them the victory on away goals. The club also reached the final of the Intertoto Cup in 1997 but lost to Guingamp of France.

The club has an uncertain future and must be propped up by the regional government once again to survive, whether or not this is in the FNL or PFL. Ironically, due to the structure of nation’s second division, relegation may in actuality persuade those in charge at a regional level to invest, as running a club in the regionalised structure is much more manageable. The stadium will not be reduced after the tournament, due to the historic status of the city itself, however, one must worry that long-term the Volgograd Arena will become a white elephant due to the perennial struggles of football within the city.

 

What to do in Volgograd

Volgograd has many monuments, most of them being related to WW2. The Mamaev Kurgan monument complex featuring the Motherland Calls statue is a must-see. The many museums and memorials spread across the city also provide a great insight into the history of the city. Various ruins are also to be found in Volgograd, giving you an idea of the destruction caused in the historic Battle of Volgograd.

Volgograd and the Motherland Calls statue. Source: Администрация Волгоградской области

On the more peaceful side of things to see, the parks and cathedrals in Volgograd are another great attraction. Visiting the city without checking out the stunning views of the Volga would be criminal, so make sure to head over to the many points and bridges built for the same. The Don river also flows through Volgograd but is overlooked due to the presence of the Volga.

After being rebuilt, Volgograd is full with boulevards, grand buildings and typical Soviet architecture. Walking around these peaceful boulevards and streets will be a delight for those interested in getting to know the city.

Accommodation and food should also not be a problem. There is a large number of good hotels in the city including  Hilton, Radisson and a few quirky locally-owned, and there definitely will be special offers floating around for people in town to see the World Cup. Trendy restaurants and cafés are also easy to find in Volgograd.

If you have any questions about Moscow or the World Cup, feel free to contact us on Twitter (@Rusfootballnews), on Facebook or simply leave a comment beneath this article, and we’ll get back to you as quickly as possible.

Author: Hanu Trivedi

I went to Russia once and got mesmerised. Support CSKA and Real Madrid. Quite optimistic, I don’t know if that’s good or bad when talking about Russian Football.

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