It all sounded normal at first, as Russian soccer commentator Vladimir Nikolsky called a game between lower-tier teams Torpedo Vladimir and Tekstilshchik Ivanovo over the weekend, but things would get very weird in the second half.
“Penalty! That should be a penalty!” Nikolsky, who also is the press attache for Torpedo, shouted after Tekstilshchik’s goalkeeper knocked down a rushing Torpedo player in the penalty box.
Referee Pyotr Miroshnichenko, however, either saw things differently or, worse, purposely made an incorrect call, and instead of awarding Torpedo a penalty kick, he made the visitors settle for a free kick outside the box.
Nikolsky wasn’t happy.
“What’s wrong with you, man?! That’s a penalty!” an irate Nikolsky shouted. “The foul happened in the box, so why is that not a penalty kick? What is this magic? . . . That should even be a red card! . . . This [kind of refereeing] is the shame of Russia soccer. And you can fine me for saying that. This is an absolute disgrace.”
Things would get even worse in Nikolsky’s eyes after the free kick was taken and a Tekstilshchik defender swatted it away with his arm.
“HANDBALL!” Nikolsky shouted, as Miroshnichenko waved it off and allowed play to continue.
“A DISGRACE AGAIN!” he continued, repeating, “This is the shame of Russian soccer.”
Nikolsky paused for a few seconds, then made a radical decision, uttering his last words of the match.
“Go ahead and watch soccer without commentary. Goodbye,” he said simply and walked out.
The remaining 25 minutes of the game played out with only the background din of the spectators as its soundtrack. It ended in a draw. While there was plenty of talk about the failed calls, it was Nikolsky’s decision to leave in a huff that made national headlines, including on Russian cable news station Russia Today, which later interviewed the former commentator.
“I do not regret my words,” Nikolsky told RT, noting this wasn’t the first scandal of this type in which Miroshnichenko has been involved.
“Last year, also in October, we played against Dynamo-2 in Khimki [near Moscow],” he said, recalling the previous incident involving Miroshnichenko. “For most of the match, the score was 0-0, but in the 88th minute, Miroshnichenko awarded a dubious penalty to Dynamo.”
“Perhaps [Miroshnichenko’s errors] are a combination of circumstances, but I do not know why he refs our matches like that,” he added.
The league, however, has a suspicion that Miroshnichenko’s strange calls may have something to do with match-fixing, and has promised to investigate what happened.
“We will raise the issue of refereeing, including this match [with Russian soccer’s governing body],” Russian Professional League President Andrei Sokolov said in a statement to RT. “We will send materials to the department with a request to evaluate the work of this arbitrator.”
“As for the commentator,” Sokolov added, referring to Nikolsky, “we’ll let the club decide what to do.”
It does not appear Nikolsky will be fined or punished for his behavior, as there is no rule requiring matches at this level to employ commentators even if they’re aired on television. Plus, Torpedo President Valery Puzanov agreed with Nikolsky’s assessment of the match.
“I was at the stadium, and I was also watching the broadcast online and heard Vladimir Nikolsky’s comments,” Puzanov said in a statement to RT. “If I were in his place, I would have spoken out even more harshly! . . . Nikolsky did everything right.”