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."
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