Spartak Moscow

Spartak Moscow: A History of the People's Team in the Workers' State

Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 368
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    Spartak Moscow
    Book Description:

    In the informative, entertaining, and generously illustrated Spartak Moscow, a book that will be cheered by soccer fans worldwide, Robert Edelman finds in the stands and on the pitch keys to understanding everyday life under Stalin, Khrushchev, and their successors. Millions attended matches and obsessed about their favorite club, and their rowdiness on game day stood out as a moment of relative freedom in a society that championed conformity. This was particularly the case for the supporters of Spartak, which emerged from the rough proletarian Presnia district of Moscow and spent much of its history in fierce rivalry with Dinamo, the team of the secret police. To cheer for Spartak, Edelman shows, was a small and safe way of saying "no" to the fears and absurdities of high Stalinism; to understand Spartak is to understand how soccer explains Soviet life.

    Champions of the Soviet Elite League twelve times and eleven-time winner of the USSR Cup, Spartak was founded and led for seven decades by the four Starostin brothers, the most visible of whom were Nikolai and Andrei. Brilliant players turned skilled entrepreneurs, they were flexible enough to constantly change their business model to accommodate the dramatic shifts in Soviet policy. Whether because of their own financial wheeling and dealing or Spartak's too frequent success against state-sponsored teams, they were arrested in 1942 and spent twelve years in the gulag. Instead of facing hard labor and likely death, they were spared the harshness of their places of exile when they were asked by local camp commandants to coach the prisoners' football teams. Returning from the camps after Stalin's death, they took back the reins of a club whose mystique as the "people's team" was only enhanced by its status as a victim of Stalinist tyranny.

    Edelman covers the team from its days on the wild fields of prerevolutionary Russia through the post-Soviet period. Given its history, it was hardly surprising that Spartak adjusted quickly to the new, capitalist world of postsocialist Russia, going on to win the championship of the Russian Premier League nine times, the Russian Cup three times, and the CIS Commonwealth of Independent States Cup six times. In addition to providing a fresh and authoritative history of Soviet society as seen through its obsession with the world's most popular sport, Edelman, a well-known sports commentator, also provides biographies of Spartak's leading players over the course of a century and riveting play-by-play accounts of Spartak's most important matches-including such highlights as the day in 1989 when Spartak last won the Soviet Elite League on a Valery Shmarov free kick at the ninety-second minute. Throughout, he palpably evokes what it was like to cheer for the "Red and White."

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6616-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Some Words on Usage
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    On September 30, 1939, the members of the Soviet Union’s most popular soccer team, Spartak Moscow, prepared to take the field at Dinamo Stadium, where they were to play the semifinal of that year’s national cup competition. Currently in first place in the USSR’s domestic league, they faced their closest rival, Dinamo Tblisi, the pride of the Georgian Republic and favorite team of Lavrenti Beria, the powerful and notorious head of the secret police. As the two teams walked out to begin the match, the scene seemed no different from thousands of others. Yet this confrontation was unlike any that...

  6. 1 Spartak’s Roots: Futbol in the ’Hood, 1900–1917
    (pp. 10-41)

    Recollecting his tour of duty in prerevolutionary Moscow, the British diplomat Robert Bruce Lockhart mused about the relationship between football and the upheaval he had so recently witnessed. Had Russian workers played and watched soccer as avidly as their British comrades, he wrote, the Bolshevik Revolution might never have occurred at all.¹ It seemed as if Lockhart had read the writings of prewar socialists on what they thought to be the pernicious influence of the game. Certainly he agreed with his political opponents that there was a connection between sport and politics, but Lockhart’s conclusions were precisely opposite those of...

  7. 2 Before There Was Spartak, 1917–1935
    (pp. 42-77)

    Between the revolution of October 1917 and the outbreak of civil war in April 1918, the Bolsheviks moved cautiously to implement the promises on which they had based their political victory: land, peace, and bread. The Decree on Land, issued on the second day of Soviet power, addressed the peasants’ demands. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany, signed in the spring, seemed to deal with the matter of peace. Bread turned out to be another matter. Even further down the list of things to do upon seizing power was a revolutionary policy for football. If there were only a few...

  8. 3 The Battle Is Joined, 1936–1937
    (pp. 78-113)

    The names of the French businessman Bernard Levy and the Russian émigré scholar Nicholas Timasheff do not usually appear in the same sentence, but one man touched off the most profound change in Soviet football history, while the other helped explain it. That moment came in May 1936 with the creation of a professional football league modeled after similar leagues in capitalist countries. Knowing both Spartak and Dinamo were planning January tours against French worker teams, Levy invited a Soviet side to play his powerful Racing Club de France in Paris on New Year’s Day 1936.¹ By doing so, he...

  9. 4 On Top and Bottom, 1937–1944
    (pp. 114-135)

    As the league season wound down in the fall of 1937, the Starostins sensed that the political stakes of their rivalry with Dinamo had been raised substantially. Decades later, the great sportswriter and passionate Spartak fan Lev Filatov learned from Andrei Starostin just how intense the pressure really was. On a sports tour through the provinces, the two men wound up sharing a room in one of the USSR’s less glamorous hotels. Filatov did not give the time or place, but his description of the circumstances was vivid. They had returned to their room after dinner when the power failed...

  10. 5 The Golden Age of Soviet Soccer: Spartak in Eclipse, 1945–1948
    (pp. 136-162)

    For many, the truest picture of the USSR in the years after the Great Fatherland War has been the dystopic fantasy that George Orwell elaborated in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). As Abbott Gleason has noted, “No book was of greater importance in establishing the idea of totalitarianism (and its visual dimension).”¹ The totalitarian model, developed by Western scholars early in the cold war, equated the Nazi and Soviet regimes, focusing on their use of police terror to invade the most intimate aspects of their citizens’ lives in order to realize full acceptance of their ideologies. Certainly, the USSR’s self-presentation in those...

  11. 6 Spartak Resurgent, 1949–1952
    (pp. 163-194)

    Life in the USSR began to stabilize in 1948 as the most immediate tasks of reconstruction were accomplished. This improvement on the domestic front occurred just as the international scene was growing more complex and dangerous. Cold war tensions increased with the Soviet rejection of the Marshall Plan and the failure of peace treaty negotiations concerning Germany. Those moments were followed by the blockade and subsequent airlift of Berlin. These changes in the international situation weakened Zhdanov’s position and played into the hands of his rivals. By 1949, Malenkov and Beria, with their new ally Mikhail Suslov, had made a...

  12. 7 Thaw, Change, and Resurrection, 1953–1956
    (pp. 195-230)

    Nick Hornby has lamented the great length of a soccer season. This fact alone, he wrote, has meant most people die without knowing their team’s final place in the standings. Such was the fate of Joseph Stalin, who expired on March 5, 1953, a month before league play began. If truth be told, the “greatest friend of Soviet physical culture” couldn’t have cared less. His interest in football was at best episodic, limited to the sport’s possible political uses. Beria, whose relationship with Stalin had deteriorated in the year before the leader’s death, was another matter. By mid-June, the dictator’s...

  13. 8 Good-bye, Golden Age, 1957–1964
    (pp. 231-256)

    By the end of 1956, a still-divided party leadership began to understand the limits of its willingness to entertain the demands and dangers of the reform process. Articulate complaints from intellectuals and students, occasionally violent worker unrest, and trouble in Eastern Europe were all threatening the ultimate stability of the system. Such arch-Stalinists as Vyacheslav Molotov and Lazar Kaganovich were still in positions to undermine Khrushchev’s political power. Old rival Georgii Malenkov, while no longer prime minister, remained in the party. As a result of Khrushchev’s decentralizing policies, thousands of functionaries had already been required to leave the comforts of...

  14. 9 Uncertainly Ever After, 1964–1991
    (pp. 257-302)

    Life under Leonid Brezhnev and his immediate successors (1964–1985) was profoundly different for Spartak. The great dramas of triumph, tragedy, and resurrection were now over. The high politics of the Kremlin were replaced by the local politics of ensuring support from the Moscow authorities. The Brezhnev years did not turn out to be particularly kind to Spartak, but the club’s difficulties were not the result of decisions from above. In the sixties and most of the seventies, Spartak’s record was one of mediocrity interrupted by the occasional unexpected success that kept the family romance alive. The Golden Age was...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 303-306)

    When the Soviet Union died, it took with it a thousand great jokes. For whatever reasons, post-Soviet humor seems to have suffered a serious irony deficiency. One of the few good lines to emerge from the years after the collapse is the answer to the question “What was Communism?” Communism, it turns out, was the “shortest historical transition from capitalism to capitalism.” Much the same could be said for Spartak. What started as MKS in 1922 soon became an enterprise and is today a fully professional football club. In between, however, the team assumed a variety of forms. While the...

  16. Appendix 1 Team Records, 1922–1991
    (pp. 307-307)
  17. Appendix 2 Annual Results
    (pp. 308-309)
  18. Appendix 3 Edelman’s Spartak Hall of Fame
    (pp. 310-310)
  19. Abbreviations
    (pp. 311-312)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 313-336)
  21. Index
    (pp. 337-346)