PFC Sochi: The Climbing but Controversial Club

FC Sochi | Russian Football News

Prior to the announcement at the 119th International Olympic Committee meeting in Guatemala City on 4th July 2007, it is fair to say not many people outside of Russia or other former USSR countries heard of the city of Sochi. Yet on this day, the IOC confirmed Sochi as the winning bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, beating off South Korea’s Pyeongchang (which would host the 2018 Winter Games) and the Austrian city of Salzburg. Just over three years later, in December 2010, Sochi received further international attention after being included in Russia’s ultimately successful bid for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Sochi is not a Footballing City

Despite its location by the Black Sea and the city’s status as the beach resort capital of Russia for many years, Sochi does not have a history of football. The first attempt at establishing a football club post-USSR was in 1991 with the establishment of Zhemchuzhina Sochi. This club had a seven-year stint in the RPL between 1993 and 1999 and folded twice, in 2004 and again in 2011 after being temporarily reformed in 2007.

After the original dissolution of Zhemchuzhina Sochi, FC Sochi 04 were formed in 2004 as their replacement, they reached as high as the third tier of Russian Football, the PFL, before folding in 2009. Finally, in 2013, a third club FC Sochi 2013 was formed and reached as high as the PFL before deciding in 2017 to take a one year break to change strategy and refurbish their stadium. As of yet, FC Sochi 2013 are yet to return to professional football and are still on their break.

Given Sochi hosted six matches during the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the newly constructed Fisht Stadium, which also hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics, there was the problematic situation as highlighted above of not having a tenant for the new stadium post World Cup. However, help was on the horizon and it was to come from Northern Russia and more specifically St. Petersburg.

READ MORE: World Cup 2018 City Guide – Sochi

Dinamo St. Petersburg Relocation

This help was provided via Dinamo St. Petersburg. Originally the biggest St. Petersburg club prior to the arrival of Zenit as a force in first Soviet and then Russian football in the 1980s, Dinamo had been undergoing a revival of fortunes in recent seasons and finished sixth in Russian football’s second tier FNL at the end of 2017/18, just two places below the promotion-relegation playoffs. Then the news broke in late May after the conclusion of the season that Dinamo would be relocated to Sochi and renamed as PFC Sochi.

On the pitch, Dinamo’s move to Sochi did not have a detrimental effect on the club’s performances. PFC Sochi, coached by Aleksandr Toschilin, a former one cap wonder for the Russian national team and former Dinamo Moscow player and youth team coach, are currently lying in third place in the FNL. Five victories and two draws in the last seven games have propelled them into a promotion/relegation playoff position. PFC Sochi are rapidly gaining ground on secondplaced Tom Tomsk and are strong favourites to overhaul three-point gap before the end of the season and claim the second automatic RPL promotion place.

Dinamo - Sochi - Relocation

Russian Football’s MK Dons

Whilst PFC Sochi in their very short existence are experiencing success, the circumstances around their move from St. Petersburg to Sochi were very controversial and appalled many football fans in Russia. Sixteen years earlier in England, after an initial rejection, an appeal process saw Wimbledon FC based in Merton, South London, relocated to Milton Keynes, a new city formed in the 1960s based 60 miles north of London who had no professional club at the time of the relocation and eventually renamed Milton Keynes Dons.

This move caused understandable outrage amongst football fans of all clubs at the time in England. Wimbledon FC fans understandably did not support the relocated club 60 miles north in Milton Keynes, refusing to travel to Milton Keynes for home matches and decided to form a new phoenix club, AFC Wimbledon in 2002 following the relocation. To this day, supporters of football clubs across England still resent the above events with considerable numbers refusing on principle to visit Milton Keynes Dons’ stadium for away games and refer to Milton Keynes Dons not by their official name, but as Franchise Football Club.

In an interview with RFN amidst the announcement of the move, Dinamo fans expressed their own similar disatisfaction:

An Official Statement of the Ultras Dinamo SPb addressed directly to the General Director of Dinamo SPb, Dmitri Rubashko:

The active fan community of Dinamo (St. Petersburg) are surprised and worried by the rumours which are circulating in the news about the possible move of the football club to Sochi. During the last three years the team has gained influential sponsors, the results give us all hope that one of the oldest teams in Russia will return to the elite division in the near future.

We don’t understand the point of this move. If a new stadium in Sochi needs a team, a more logical option would be to move there FC Kuban Krasnodar, which is located in the same (Krasnodar) region. We hope that sanity will prevail and FC Dinamo with its youth squad will remain in St. Petersburg and will write new glorious pages in our legendary club’s history.

Roman Grigoryev, the leader of fan association White Movement.

READ MORE: Dinamo SPb relocating to Sochi? Analysis and Fan Reaction

Performances Up, Attendances Down

Whilst Sochi is achieving short-term success by being placed high up in the FNL and on the brink of an historic promotion to the RPL, there are many questions already being established about whether or not Sochi can be sustainable long-term.

The main reason is simply due to poor average attendance figures. Recent statistics for the FNL show that Sochi, out of the 20 teams in the Russian second tier are averaging per game 3,266 spectators after 14 home games so far. This average is the 7th highest in the league, which at first does not sound too troubling, however, scratch a little deeper and it is a concern.

Of the five clubs in the FNL with stadiums used during last summer’s World Cup, Sochi have the lowest average attendance. The club is way behind Rotor Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod who are averaging 19,965 and 17,749 spectators respectively. Another concerning statistic is the average crowd size as a percentage of stadium capacity. For PFC Sochi, their average attendance so far this season means their stadium is only on average at 6.8% capacity.

It must be stressed that attendances at the other clubs with World Cup stadiums in the FNL have dropped in recent weeks and months with the cold weather across Russia potentially being a factor in this drop. However, in Sochi, average temperatures between November to March hover between 9 to 15 degrees Celsius. Considerably warmer in comparison to Moscow and other Russian cities, therefore, the weather cannot be used as an excuse for Sochi’s poor attendances.

The outside of Sochi Stadium
The outside of Fisht Stadium in Sochi before the 2017 cup final between FC Ural and Lokomotiv Moscow | Andrew Flint/RFN

Can Sochi become sustainable in the long-term?

Whilst the attendances at PFC Sochi have been disappointing in their first full season since relocation from St. Petersburg, the club’s hierarchy are potentially pinning their hopes on a promotion to Russian football’s top flight to stimulate crowd and sponsorship growth.

It is worth noting that Sochi are owned by billionaire oligarch Boris Rotenberg who was the owner of Dinamo St. Petersburg when the decision was taken to move them to Sochi. It is hard to estimate FNL team budgets, however, one would expect PFC Sochi to have one of the highest if not the highest budget in the division.

Should Sochi earn promotion, one would expect a considerable budget to be available for the RPL. It could even be the sixth highest in the RPL next season behind the current “Big Five” of Russian Football. Therefore, expect them to be busy in the summer transfer window acquiring players not just with the aim of survival, but with the aim of pushing for a Europa League qualification spot. A winning side does not always guarantee huge attendances and sponsorship, however, as the saying goes “winners are grinners”. Fans and sponsors could be inclined to get on board supporting and sponsoring a successful Sochi in the RPL.

Promotion would also bring the giants of Russian football such as Spartak, Zenit, CSKA and Lokomotiv to the Fisht stadium next season. Sochi’s hosting of the Winter Olympics in 2014 saw the construction of several winter sports facilities in the nearby resort of Krasnaya Polyana. The city is therefore now both a Summer and Winter resort city. With RPL matches taking place in autumn and spring and not just summer, fans from Moscow and Piter could be tempted down in numbers to have a weekend’s break in Sochi. Furthermore, it is likely that many football fans in Sochi could support one of the big Russian teams, so potentially expect crowd increases from these locals.

Graveyard for Local Sports Clubs

Despite the potential factors highlighted above, many remain sceptical about whether PFC Sochi will be successful in attracting large crowds long term to the Fisht stadium and building on the World Cup legacy.

Sochi is despite now being a year-round resort city, still a resort city. Resort cities worldwide do tend to comprise of many residents who temporarily work in that specific city during a certain season and then once that season has finished they then return to their hometowns.

PFC Sochi is the fourth attempt to establish a successful football in Sochi as aforementioned above. Attempt number four hints that Sochi is a dead horse that is continually being flogged when it comes to football. 2018 saw a fine performance by Sbornaya in reaching the Quarter Finals of the World Cup and the subsequent boost football got in Russia as a result of this performance. Yet despite this, Sochi’s average crowds are less than 10% the capacity of their stadium and the local public unlike in Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod appear uninterested in supporting their local team despite them having a successful season.

Part of the reason for this apathy could come as a result of unease amongst locals by the relocation of Dinamo St. Petersburg to Sochi in the first place. Many perhaps feel that if a club from Sochi was to reach the top flight of Russian football, they will have done it having spent their entire history based in the city and having climbed throughout the whole of the Russian football pyramid. Or even football fans in Sochi could still hold a sentimental attachment to their former club Zhemchuzhina Sochi. Prior to the relocation, an ultra leader from the former Zhemchuzhina Sochi stated along the lines of “If they don’t name the new club Zhemchuzhina, we won’t be supporting it”

Finally, it is worth noting that other sports are also struggling to attract supporters to stadiums and arenas in Sochi.

Since their foundation in 2013, the city’s hockey team, HC Sochi, like their football counterparts have struggled to fill the 12,000 capacity Bolshoy Ice Dome, a venue constructed for the 2014 Winter Games. The club plays in the Kontinental Ice Hockey (KHL) league, the second best league in that sport worldwide. For the 2018-19 KHL season so far HC Sochi only averages 5,113 spectators per game and the arena is operating at only 42.6% capacity.

Sochi therefore based on the average attendances for the city’s football and ice hockey teams could be labelled in sporting terms the Russian Florida. The reason for this is that a wide variety of sports teams based in Florida struggle like the teams in Sochi do in attracting high attendances to their stadiums and arenas.

Fisht Stadium in Sochi, Russia
Loko v Ural in the 2017 Cup Final | Andrew Flint/RFN


When RFN broke the news on rumours of Dinamo St Petersburg’s relocation to Sochi, we stood firmly with Dinamo and their fans, insisted that they remain based in St. Petersburg and completely opposed the relocation to Sochi.

Already there is substantial evidence hinting that establishing large attendances and a following for PFC Sochi to make them sustainable in the long-term is a difficult challenge. However, whatever your opinion on PFC Sochi and their relocation from St Petersburg, one of Russian football’s most controversial clubs is likely to be coming to the RPL next season. Developments in the Black Sea city should make for interesting viewing.


Author: Richard Pike

Wigan Athletic season ticket holder whose first memories of Russian football were TV highlights of Spartak’s 4-1 victory against Arsenal in the 2000-01 Champions League. Huge fan of the Russian Premier League, other mid-ranking European leagues and the English Football League


  1. Great article. Really eye-opening.

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