The true face of Zenit St Petersburg, concealed from me for a week, walked in on his tiptoes and hidden under a hoodie.
A 23-year-old, out-of-work car mechanic with ‘34’ tattooed on his arm — the shirt number worn by Vladimir Bystrov, a right winger no less — was willing to break the strict code of silence among the hardcore fans of Europe’s most racist club.
He spoke fast in Russian, occasionally making a cut-throat gesture with his scarred hands.
He predicted a hostile atmosphere inside the Petrovsky Stadium for Liverpool’s Europa League match against Zenit, with racism at its ugly core.
‘There may well be monkey noises aimed at Liverpool’s black players,’ said our informant, speaking on condition of anonymity.
‘Monkey noises do happen. There are thousands of fans in the ground — some could make the noises, some will not. Some might throw on a banana skin, some will not.’
Those chill words, uttered on the top floor of the Galeria shopping mall just off the Nevsky Prospect — the high street of this grand city ‘made out of nothing by a Tsar who wanted everything’ — ended a five-day search for a real Ultra.
All week I asked where I could meet one and was told to try the SBG bar, which is painted in the white, dark blue and light blue colours of Zenit down to the urinal pipes. But on the several nights I called in, there was only the odd unremarkable customer sipping beer and dragging on those Russian cigarettes that grab passive smokers by the throat. The trail was running as cold as the water that turned into ice blocks at the end of the drains just above St Petersburg’s slushy pavements.