FC Gandzasar (literally “Treasure Mountain”) were formed as recently as 2002 and hail from the Southern Armenian city of Kapan close to the border with Iran. Gandzasar joined the Armenian First League in 2004 and won promotion in their second season. At the same time Kapan’s other club, Lernagorts, were struggling and after a failed merger with Ararat Yerevan, they instead entered a partnership with the White Eagles using the name Lernagorts-Ararat Kapan. While they finished 7th in the league of nine teams Lernagorts packed up and their place in the Armenian Premier League went to Gandzasar who had been thumped 5-1 in the play out game with Shirak.
Gandzasar’s home stadium, the Kapan City Stadium was opened in 1963 and was also home to Lernagorts before their demise. In 2013 Gandzasar opened a new training facility on the edge of Kapan, however, lack of facilities at their home stadium means that for this season at least the club are forced to play their home games at the Vazgan Sargsyan Republican Stadium in the capital, Yerevan, a six hour drive away.
Gandzasar have progressed steadily in the Armenian Premier League and before this season their best campaign came in 2011 when they finished second, seven points adrift of champions Ulisses. The 2012/13 Europa League competition saw the Bears progress past the first qualifying round stage for the first time. They defeated Faroese side EB/Streymur on the away goals rules but in the second qualifying round Swiss side Servette proved way too strong for them and Gandzasar lost 5-1 on aggregate.
This season Gandzasar have been challenging reigning champions Alashkert all season but slipped behind in the league table when Alashkert won 1-0 at the Republican Stadium in early May. Tonight’s game against Pyunik gave Gandzasar the opportunity to close the gap in the table to three points. The hosts duly took the lead just before half time when Gegham Harutyunyan found the net with ease. In a tense and nervy second half performance the Bears dropped vital points when Alik Araqelyan levelled for Pyunik.
Despite free admission there is a spartan crowd at the Republican Stadium which holds almost 15,000 people. The stadium was built between 1933 and 1935 under the auspices of architect Koryun Hakoyan. It was then known as the Dinamo Stadium but after major renovation in 1999, including a new roof, it became known as the Republican Stadium (Hanrapetakan Stadium). However in October of that year, the Armenian Prime Minister and a number of other politicians were assassinated in an attack on the parliament and the stadium was officially renamed as the Vazgan Sargsyan Republican Stadium in his honour.
It’s a very beautiful stadium with neo-classical colonnades curving seductively around the arena. The external fascia of the main stand is a real architectural treasure. The modern roof could have looked incongruous against the classical lines but instead it has a beauty of its own which compliments the older parts of the stadium. With the Hrazdan Stadium out of commission all of Armenia’s international matches are now played at the Republican Stadium. It was Armenia’s 2003 match against Spain which produced the stadium’s record gate of 16,000. In my opinion it is one of the most architecturally important stadiums in Europe and a visit comes highly recommended.
Saturday May 20th – Armenian Premier League
FC Gandzasar Kapan 1 (Harutyunyan 44)
FC Pyunik 1 (Araqelyan 71)
Att: 300 (at Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium) .
Admission free, no programme