The Miners dominated the 2016-17 campaign and notched a tenth title, their first since being forced out of their $400 million Donbass Arena in 2014.
Up until then, Shakhtar had been league champions five times running and won the UEFA Cup in 2009. Given the first-class facilities of their superdome, a semi-final venue for Euro 2012, and with huge financial backing from owner/oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, the club could justifiably lay claim to being the most successful and developed in Eastern Europe.
The declaration of the Moscow-backed Donetsk People’s Republic in the spring of 2014 changed all that.
Shakhtar, already crowned champions, played their last home league game of 2013-14 at Cherkasy.
As conflict broke out and artillery damaged the Donbass Arena, Shakhtar based themselves in Kiev, playing most home games in Lviv – a distance from Donetsk equivalent to London and Geneva.
After finishing runners-up to Dynamo Kyiv for the next two nomadic seasons, the Donetsk side eventually reclaimed the now stunted 12-team league in 2017. Captained by the evergreen Croat Darijo Srna, Shakhtar also beat Kyiv to win the double, the cup final taking place at the club’s makeshift home of Kharkiv’s Metalist Stadium.
Though a return to Donetsk seems a long way off, at least Shakhtar are now within 250km of their roots and fan base. Starting out in 1936 as Stakhanovets, after the local record-breaking miner, the club played its last game in the Soviet league two days after the Nazi invasion of 1941, against Traktor Stalingrad. When they emerged after the war, they were Shakhtyor, the Russian (rather than Ukrainian) term for ‘miner’.
Shakhtyor were a decent force in Soviet football, winning the cup twice in the early 1960s and early 1980s. Occasional top-three league finishes saw further European competition.
In the free-for-all following Ukrainian independence, businessman Akhat Bragin became club president, before a bomb placed at the stadium killed him in 1995. Rinat Akhmetov then took over. Perennial runners-up to Dynamo Kyiv, the rebranded Shakhtar won their first title in 2002 and picked up steam with the arrival of Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu, Croatian flankman Darijo Srna and key Brazilians Fernandinho and Luiz Adriano.
Playing European ties in Kiev before the Donbass Arena was unveiled, Shakhtar overcame Spurs, CSKA Moscow and, in an epic all-Ukrainian semi-final, Dynamo Kyiv, to reach the 2009 UEFA Cup Final. With Fernandinho sacrificed as a defensive midfielder, Lucescu’s men outthought Werder Bremen in Istanbul to win the trophy, the last UEFA Cup before the Europa League was introduced. Fittingly, it was loyal captain Srna who provided the cross for another Brazilian, Jádson, to score in extra-time.
Unveiled on Miner’s Day in August 2009 with Beyoncé singing to a full house of 52,000, the Donbass Arena embraced Shakhtar’s Stakhanovite past rather than ignore it. Inspired by the actual surrounding backdrop of slag heaps, banks of seating displayed sloping shapes in signature orange and black.
With regular appearances in the group stages of the Champions League, opponents including Arsenal, Juventus, Chelsea, Manchester United and, in the quarter-finals of 2011, Barcelona, Shakhtar Donetsk had the world at their feet.
After 2014, Shakhtar still managed to qualify for the Champions League and, despite the unavoidable sales of star South Americans and the odd disastrous result – a 7-0 whitewash at Bayern springs to mind – again came good in Europe’s second competition. Eduardo of Arsenal and Croatia fame was tempted back to star in a run to the semi-final of the Europa League in 2016.
That spring, Mircea Lucescu ended his silverware-laden 12-year stint at Shakhtar by winning the Ukrainian Cup. His replacement, Paulo Fonseca, left his comfort zone of Portugal and re-energised Shakhtar to win the domestic double, overcoming two agonising defeats in Europe, losing on penalties to Young Boys Berne and falling to a last-minute spot-kick by Celta Vigo.
In the group stage of the 2017-18 Champions League, Shakhtar attracted healthy gates at the Metalist Stadium for impressive wins over then Serie A leaders Napoli and revived Dutch champions Feyenoord. Though attendances for domestic fixtures remain scant, Shakhtar still have quality on the pitch, garnering praise from Pep Guardiola after his City side gained a hard-earned win over Donetsk in Manchester.
Another Ukrainian title seems likely in 2018 – though not a return to Donetsk.
Stadium, tickets & shop
Opened on Miner’s Day, August 2009, the futuristic Donbass Arena was most impressive indeed, 52,000 people sat in comfortable intimacy around the pitch. Inspired by the actual surrounding backdrop of slag heaps, banks of seating displayed sloping shapes in signature orange and black, an attempt to embrace Shakhtar’s Stakhanovite past rather than ignore it.
With a first-class museum, decent fan café and club shop, the Donbass, a semi-final venue for Euro 2012, was an object lesson to any ex-Soviet oligarch on how to build a soccer empire behind the old Iron Curtain.
That was until artillery started falling on it in 2014.
What happens to the Donbass Arena now is unclear. Donetsk is capital of the self-proclaimed, Moscow-backed People’s Republic, and it’s unlikely that football will be played here for some time.
The club also offers Russian-only online sales but for league fixtures, availability is hardly an issue. Ticket prices are cheap for the quality of football you’re watching. Away fans are allocated sectors 30 and 31 in the corner of the South End closest to the East Stand.
For all enquiries, email email@example.com.
Merchandise is offered online or around the Metalist Stadium on match days.