Last night I was invited by a friend to attend a soccer (henceforth referred to as football) match held at the Vasken Sargsyan stadium in Yerevan. They were local Armenian rival teams: Pyunik versus Mika. Pyunik won in a shut-out match: 3-0. The team’s Kevork Ghazaryan scored the first two goals, while the final goal was struck by Karlen Mkrtchyan.
Both teams are apparently owned by Armenian oligarchs who seem to have a benevolent passion for football. There was no entrance fee to access the stadium (which was originally built in the 1930s and renovated only in the last 10 years)—in other words the match was open to the public. Out of approximately 15,000 available seats no more than 2,000 were occupied, which I thought was bizarre since admission was free. The players on Team Mika are not only Armenian but are from other countries as well, like Brazil, Spain and Tajikistan. A total of eight teams comprise the Armenian football league, all of which are based in Yerevan except two--one in Gyumri and the other in Kapan. This season Team Pyunik has not lost one of the 10 matches it has played thus far.
Most of the fans were men which isn’t a surprise, sitting seriously while smoking like fiends and munching on sunflower seeds. Some of them were behaving just as people would typically do at a sporting event that I’ve attended in Boston, although nowhere near as rowdy, by shouting out complaints to the team to move up the field, pass the ball, and so forth. There was a group of kids sitting in the rows behind us who were hilarious (one of them towards the end of the game claimed that the whole Mika team was off-sides, which had me roaring) and made the experience quite lively. On the far left side of the stadium were several rambunctious kids beating on drums and chanting “Pyunik” every five seconds in syncopation. On the far side--which was nearly deserted--of the stadium was a lone group of fans, perhaps 12 in total, dancing and singing in support of Team Mika.
I remember the first time I attended a football match, a FIFA championship qualifying game between Armenia and Ukraine back in 2002, they were selling lahmejune (called lamajo here), sunflower seeds and popcorn in the stands. There was no vending last night, just good old-fashioned highly entertaining football. Also at that 2002 match the playing field was chewed up and the grass was scorched. But last night’s field was pristine, gorgeous. So it seems there is quite a bit of activity to raise interest in Armenian football once again. The only thing needed now is 13,000 additional football fans to shake that stadium to its foundations.