With Dynamo’s season already over and EURO 2020 postponed until next summer, Ukrainian football fans have a lot of reasons to set domestic rivalries aside and root for Shakhtar in this year’s revamped Europa League finals.
Good football is good football
Ukraine’s most famous itinerant football team – Shakhtar Donetsk – is now in its seventh year away from the friendly confines of Donbas Arena in Donetsk. The team has called several stadiums home since, including Arena Lviv in Western Ukraine, Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium and, most recently, Kharkiv’s Metalist Stadium. This week, the team played in an empty Olympic Stadium in Kyiv to land a spot in the 2020 Europa League quarterfinals – exactly 146 days after beating Germany’s Wolfsburg in the first leg of their Round of 16 matchup.
The reason for the delay, of course, was the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic that has brought societies around the world – including the world of sports – to a grinding halt. Picking up where they left off in March (a 2-1 victory in Wolfsburg, Germany), the Ukrainian Premier League champions booked their spot in a one-of-a-kind Europa League finals tournament with a convincing 3-0 win in Kyiv. Instead of the standard home-and-away battles for the quarterfinals and semifinals, teams will play each other single game, winner-take-all games in a mini tournament that begins next week in Germany.
So, why on earth would a born and bred Dynamo Kyiv supporter ever support hated rivals Shakhtar Donetsk? Well, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.
Dynamo is done
Well, let’s be clear – rivalries in Ukraine are far different than those in the UK or US. Whereas you’d be hard-pressed to find an Arsenal supporter rooting for Chelsea after their own team was knocked out of a European competition, or a Jets fans swapping into a Giants hat for the NFL playoffs, Ukrainian football fans often support other Ukrainian teams in European competitions. John Marshall, the owner of Hungarian Second Division’s Vac FC, was dumbfounded when he observed Dynamo fans heading to Kyiv’s pubs just moments after being knocked out of the 2015 Europa League quarterfinals to cheer for FC Dnipro in a separate quarterfinal match-up. “They’d never do this in Britain”, he said, “or even in Hungary.”
It’s like cheering for half the national team
For Ukraine’s sports-starved football fans, having a team to root for is important. After Dynamo capped a forgettable 2020 Premier League campaign with a thrilling Ukrainian Cup win in penalty kicks, there’s not a lot of football left on the calendar. Many fans were looking forward to EURO 2020 this year, where the Ukrainian team had designs on making a deep run. Many of those same national team players suit up domestically for Shakhtar – so, Dynamo diehards are used to cheering for them. It’s like cheering for the other half of the national team! After all, good football is good football. So long as Shakhtar isn’t beating up on Dynamo, or making it more difficult for the boys in blue and white to win a domestic or international title, there’s no harm in cheering for the rivals. It’s surely easier now than before…
Bridging the East-West divide
As much as continually denying Dynamo domestic titles and prestigious Champions League berths, the Dynamo – Shakhtar rivalry was born out of the pre-EuroMaidan, East-West Ukraine paradigm. Shakhtar represented the Russian-speaking, blue collar, Eastern Ukrainian fans, while Dynamo was the talisman for the Ukrainian-speaking, white collar, capital elites … or so the story goes. However, since Shakhtar was forced out of their digs due to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, the team has become more of a statement of succeeding through difficult times – as well as a reminder that there is unfinished business in the East. With Dynamo done for the season, and Shakhtar embarking on an extraordinary Europa League journey, now is the time for Dynamo fans to let go of any baggage and openly support Shakhtar.
Until they lose.
Then it’s back “Go Dynamo Go!”
Shakhtar plays Basel (Switzerland) on 11 August at 22.00 in the Europa League quarterfinal in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. The winner will play the winner of Inter Milan (Italy) – Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) in one semi-final. Other teams in contention include: Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers (England), five-time champion Sevilla (Spain), and FC Copenhagen (Denmark)