Known locally as the Stadion Saint Petersburg and more familiarly as the Krestovsky Stadium after the island it stands on, the new home of Zenit St Petersburg was delivered in time to stage the Confederations Cup of 2017 – way over deadline and way, way over budget.
Also referred to as the Zenit Arena, this 68,000-capacity dome replaced the former Kirov Stadium, the Soviet-era bowl that could once hold 110,000 people. A statue of Sergei Kirov, head of the Leningrad Communist Party murdered in 1934, still stands outside.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the Krestovsky took ten years to build, work having been instigated in 2007. The Kirov itself required an inordinate amount of earth and sand to be deposited on this marshy land at the far western tip of the island, overlooking the Gulf of Finland.
From the initial groundwork in 1932, the Kirov required 18 years to complete, although in between there was a brutal Siege of Leningrad and the death of more than one million citizens, mainly from starvation.
The curtain-raising match in 1950 between local teams Zenit and Dynamo came at a time of great urban rebuilding, although it would be a long time before the metro even came anywhere near here.
Home club Zenit maintained a top-flight presence without tearing up any trees, failing miserably in Europe whenever the rare opportunity arose.
Relegated after the first year of the Russian League in 1992, Zenit attracted low crowds and the Kirov, despite use as a venue for the Olympic football tournament of 1980, made less and less sense.
In 1994, Zenit moved to the smaller Petrovsky, former Lenin, Stadium. Backing came from Gazprom, and silverware duly followed. Long a white elephant, the Kirov was demolished in 2006.
In 2009, Russia formally submitted its bid to host the World Cup, either 2018 or 2022. The decision had already been made to build a new arena where the Kirov had once stood, although the financing arrangements were then left with the City of St Petersburg when Gazprom pulled out.
Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa had died around the time that the project first broke ground, but left in place a plan for a futuristic dome that would dominate one fifth of the island, from Victory Park to the waterfront.
Above a two-tiered bowl, a retractable roof and a retractable pitch come into play during the long, bitter winter. Back in the day, Zenit players would have to play home games in indoor arenas or down south until late spring. Here, though, there is no running track and the stadium can be easily adapted for concerts.
A snow-melting feature amid the roof membranes of hot air allowed the opening game to take place between Zenit and Ural Yekaterinburg in April 2017, with much of the city still iced over.
For all that, it’s hard to see how more than $1 billion could have been spent on infrastructure alone, even allowing for fluctuations in the rouble, the departure of original contractors Avant and various law suits flying about.
Capacity for the 2017 Confederations Cup was set at 64,000, as it will be for the World Cup. Only 50,000 witnessed Russia’s debut here, a 2-0 win over New Zealand, and 57,000 the final between Germany reserves and Chile.
For Zenit games, average gates are 44,500, easily the best in the Russian Premier League. Distance dictate that only Moscow clubs will bring any significant away following, placed in a corner of the upper tier stretching from the edge of Sektor A to halfway along Sektor B behind one goal. From the outside, this is nearest pedestrianised Yachtennyi Bridge. Visiting supporters fill blocks A215-A218, then from B201-B205 or up to B209, depending on demand.
The so-called Fanatskyi Virazh of Zenit fans covers the lower tier behind the Sektor D goal, blocks D101-D111. The best seats are in 1XBet Sektor A and Rossiya Sektor C along the opposite sideline.
The nearest metro station is Krestovsky Island (Крестовского остров) on the purple M5 line, four stops from the Sadovaya/Sennaya Ploshchad’/Spasskaya exchange station, three from central Admiralteyskaya. The problem is that not only is the station 2km/25min from the stadium, but the authorities tend to limit its use on high-risk match days.
When it’s working, and it’s a summer evening, walking from the station through Park Pobedy to the stadium is pleasant. If it’s a cold winter’s eve, it’s a no-no.
Free shuttle buses run from three other metro stations – but even they don’t go all the way to the stadium. From Chkalovskaya (Чкаловская), the stop before Krestovsky Ostrov, shuttle bus S6 runs to the corner of Morskoy prospekt and Prozhektornaya ulitsa, behind Krestovsky Ostrov metro station. The other two shuttles, the S3 from Petrogradskaya (Петроградская, blue M2) and the S4 from Vyborgskaya (Выборгская, red M1), take 15 and 25min to reach Krestovsky Ostrov bus stop on Yuzhnaya alleya, near the fountain, a 15min walk to the stadium.
Regular city bus No.14 also runs to this stop from Vyborgskaya, the No.10 from Baltiyskaya station.
The main ticket offices are still at Petrovsky Stadium and the Zenit’s city-centre store at Nevsky prospekt 20 – see Zenit for details.
The Krestovsky is surrounded by parkland and waterfront, which several bars and restaurants use to full advantage.
Two minutes away, rustic brewhouse/restaurant Karl und Friedrich dates back to the time when Peter the Great provided land for a local German pastor to set up his sons in business here – both were graduates of the brewing school in Munich. A vast beer hall is complemented by a huge garden where live music is staged. Expect pork knuckle, schnitzel and sausages, and house beer by the half- or whole litre.
Alongside, lakeside Russian Fishing is just that, a cosy cabin where fish kept in the adjoining waters are served. There’s a huge vodka selection to wash it all down.
Across pedestrianised Yachtennyi Bridge in the Piterland shopping centre and water park, Papasha Klauss is a huge, German-style brewhouse/restaurant with fabulous views over the stadium and Gulf of Finland beyond. It’s worth reserving a table on busier match days. In summer, a beach bar extension operates.
In the same complex, Sasha’s Bar is more swish, and blessed with equally great views. Closest to the stadium, Bar XxxX, part of nationwide chain conceived by two mates at a ski lodge in Korobitsyno, is a convivial indoor spot whose beach bar opens for the summer season in early June. DJs spin, bands play, beer and cocktails flow. Throw in a barbecue menu, and there could be few better options for a pre-match drink before striding over the bridge to the Krestovsky.
Also in the vicinity are a branch of O’Hooligans Irish bar, with tons of TV screens, at Primorsky prospekt 137, and another German-style beer hall, Maximilians Brauhaus, in the Merkuriy Centre at Savushkina 141.