When the 2018 World Cup rolled through Sochi, it left a void – regular football.
The eye-catching Fisht Stadium, a venue for the Russia national team, hosted six World Cup fixtures last year – including the quarter-final between the hosts and eventual finalists Croatia.
Once the showpiece tournament packed up and departed the seaside holiday resort, it left behind a 48,000-seater stadium initially built for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Desperate to make use of the world-class facility, St Petersburg's second team were controversially relocated 2,300km to Sochi – rebranded from FC Dynamo Saint Petersburg to PFC Sochi ahead of the 2018-19 Russian National Football League season.
PFC Sochi are the fourth Sochi-based club to emerge in the past 15 years – Zhemchuzhina Sochi the first to spring into existence in 1991. They were also the last team to feature in the Russian Premier League (1999) prior to PFC Sochi's promotion last term.
Now, Sochi finally have a professional team competing in Russia's top flight for the first time in 20 years.
"Such a big city like Sochi should have a team in Russian Premier League. The weather here is sunny almost the whole year, plus there is no real winter with snow and frost – ideal conditions for playing football 365 days per year," PFC Sochi CEO Dmitry Rubashko told Omnisport. "In addition, as a World Cup legacy we have great infrastructure in the area with natural and artificial fields."
"When we got the message about the club's transition, we didn't completely realise what it brings with it," added deputy general director for development Andrey Orlov. "I came to Sochi with one small bag, thinking that it's just for a couple of days. Finally, I spent about two months here before things were really settled and processes were managed.
"However, we were jumping between two stadiums [Sochi Central Stadium – where Brazil were based for the World Cup – and Fisht] for about four months."
Sochi is a picturesque and unique city, the Black Sea and Caucasus Mountains providing a stunning backdrop. But its attempts to be a football town have struggled, and for a number of reasons – the popularity of ice hockey, Formula One and not to mention Sochi has a status as a vacation town, with residents coming and going.
"The club already have many partners, new ones are about to come. We are fully supported from the city and locals. We do everything for the club's bright future in a long-term perspective," Sochi president Boris Rotenberg said.
Director for development Aleksandr Kim added: "Football is the game for the fans. To attract fans to the stadium is on the top of our priority list. First and foremost, attending a game should be convenient. For this purpose we are developing transport infrastructure around the stadium: during the last year we cooperated with car-sharing, public bike and scooter companies and worked closely with the city administration to make transportation to the stadium and back more convenient.
"Additionally, we created special space for children of the supporters in the stadium, where parents can leave their kids on matchdays. We see many positive references back to this initiative. Entertainment is also an important part of our matchdays. We steadily grow and invite new partners; create new interactive activities and lotteries. As a result attendance gets higher. Last year the average attendance was about 4,000-5,000 spectators. Now it increases to 10,000. I am pretty sure it gets higher when the team performs better."
"The Russian Premier League have been waiting for Sochi for many years. South, sun, no snow – it's just a dream for the fans, players and coaches," Kim continued. "In addition, one of the greatest stadiums in Russia. It is a travel dream for many Russian supporters. Attending local matches you can easily combine football with normal vocation travelling to Sochi."
The move away from St Petersburg had no negative affects last term as Sochi finished runners-up to step up to the Russian Premier League.
Sochi – using the World Cup training base in Adler – are now going head-to-head with the likes of powerhouses Zenit, Lokomotiv Moscow, CSKA Moscow, Spartak Moscow and Dynamo Moscow.
While the Leopards – who saw head coach Aleksandr Tochilin resign on Wednesday – only have three wins from 16 matches to be five points adrift of safety, they have long-term plans.
"We have big ambitions. It is our first season in the Russian Premier League. Firstly, we need to focus on each game separately. To get on the pitch and to win. We have to win every game and go up in the standings," Rotenberg said.
"We are a stable club. It is the place where the players can feel confident. They can get the basis, which gives them broad perspectives to grow faster. All our players have something to prove. It is a chance for them to make a step forward. We already cooperate with local football schools.
"Our final aim is not just to build a club, it is bigger: we plan to build a system. The academy, which consists of plenty teams of different ages. And certainly the players should have perspectives to transit from one team to another."