The curious story of Sheriff Tiraspol
If you ask your friends if they know Pridnestrovie, it is likely that 9/10 of them would respond negatively. Conversely, if you ask 10 football fans about Sheriff Tiraspol, most of them would answer 'yes'.
The team may be involved with Moldova, but belongs to ... Pridnestrovie (known as Transnistria)! Confused?
The unrecognized state of Pridnestrovie is 'de facto' independent from Moldova from September 2 1990, when it declared its independence. With help from Russians, Cossacks, Ukrainians volunteers, and the 14th Russian (formerly Soviet) army, defeated the Moldovan forces during the War of Pridnestrovie. So while there is a ceasefire in 1992, the European Council recognizes the Pridnestrovie region as "frozen conflict" and it's self-determination is up to nowadays disputed ...
However, approaching the newly and very nice new stadium of Tiraspol team, you forget that Moldova is the country with the lowest income in Europe.
The 15,000 capacity stadium, completing by 8 auxiliary courts, a 8x8 training field and a luxury hotel, reserved for the team before matches.
Founded in 1997, Sheriff has won 11 of the 12 championships in Moldova and has given more than 50 matches in the qualifying groups of the Champions League. Outside «Sheriff Stadium» you can find the flag with the hammer and sickle, a flag of the USSR and the flag of Transnistria (Pridnestrovie), red and green with a gold hammer and sickle.
The 'self-proclaimed' Republic of Transnistria, which took its name from the Dniester River on the border of Moldova and Ukraine and is the shelter for several traffickers and gun dealers, while the humanitarian organizations have marked the place in their "black list", concerning human rights cases... At the same time, anyone can see on the streets statues of Lenin. The "country" has its own currency, the "Transnistrian ruble" and also it's own border police.
Sheriff is the only legitimate exportable 'product', with the Russian militia to accompany her within Moldova, since Russia is the only country that recognizes Transnistria and trading with.
Founder and president of the group is Victor Gusan, has unknown origin and identity and a controversial background... In 1993, Gusan built the «Sheriff corporation», which dominated the local economy, so Sheriff Tiraspol was born four years later.
Even with money of dubious origin, Sheriff is the richest club in Moldova and has managed to attract enough talents from Serbia and the countries of Africa.
"In fact, everyone fears Sheriff. They have won 11 championships, but after the 6th title, they stopped to celebrate about it. For Sheriff, the championship title is almost a formality. Their fans are crazy. On the stadium they shout "Russia, Russia" like they are Russians.
In an away game this year against Academia, where Sheriff won easily 4-1, the organized supporters arrived with police escort to the stadium and throughout the match was singing propaganda songs against Moldova and also singing the Russian national anthem.
The borders of Moldova and Transnistria are like an old eastern bloc. Strict police officers with shaved heads and uniforms with the hammer and sickle, searching the vehicles and hopefully give you a visa for only three days. Foreigners must wait 24 hours in the police to get a visa.
However, Sheriff Tiraspol continues to live with the dream of participating in a European tournament, as the inhabitants of this strange country still believe in union with 'Mother Russia". In a referendum on 17 September 2006, the voters of self-proclaimed Republic have voted 93.1% in favor of independence from Moldova and union with Russia (which does not border the region). The truth is that Russia will not accept the union with Transnistria in the near future...