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Of Russian origin: Spartak

The people's team

Spartak is a soccer club in Moscow known as narodnaya komanda (the people’s team). Its colors are red and white.

The club was founded in the 1920s. At first, it united workers from the food and tobacco factories. The most active participants of the team, known at the time as Pischevik (food maker), were the workers of the Moscow meat-processing plant, which gave the club its other nickname – myaso (meat). The name is still popular among today’s fans who wave red and white flags with pictures of belligerent-looking pigs during games while shouting: “Who are we? We are Meat!”

All roads lead to Rome

In the 1930s the team became one of the Moscow’s top squads thanks to the great game organization of the four Starostin brothers. One of them, Nikolay Starostin, a man with great charisma, became fascinated with a book on Spartacus, the leader of a slave revolt in ancient Rome.

In Soviet Russia Spartacus was seen as an example of the successful fight for the good of ordinary people, so when Starostin suggested that the club be called Spartak, the Communist Party officials in charge of sports did not object. Nikolay Starostin also invented the emblem for the club – a rectangle with a red and white stripe and the letter “C” (Russian S) inside. He remained the chairman of Spartak until his death in 1996.

Spartak's rivals

Spartak had tough rivals. CSKA had serious backing from the Army. Dynamo Moscow was the favorite of the police and KGB. Dynamo teams from Kiev and Tbilisi became the symbols of Ukraine and Georgia respectively. Even small Torpedo Moscow got its funds from the Moscow ZIL plant – a producer of trucks as well as luxury cars for top officials.

Spartak, on the other hand, became a symbol of challenge against the large state institutions. And little-by-little it became the club with the largest number of fans in the USSR - as many as 15 million according to unofficial estimates.

The team won several titles and cups in the 1950s and 1960s. The most legendary players of Spartak at that time were Nikita Simonyan (1950s) and Gennady Logofet (1960s).

In 1976 Spartak finished the season in 15th place. This meant relegation to a lower league. Immediately after the end of the season some ministers appealed to the leadership of the country to let Spartak stay in the top division, taking into consideration its previous achievements. 

However, common sense prevailed; many people were afraid of setting a dangerous precedent that would violate fair play principles and Spartak was demoted. A year later however, the club made a comeback to the top division.

And what a comeback it was! Right after the relegation, Nikolay Starostin invited Konstantin Beskov, a former Dynamo player, to coach the team. Fans did not welcome the move, as Dynamo Moscow was one of the principal Spartak rivals. 

Stars of Spartak

Команда ветеранов Спартака (Photo from Spartak veterans team (Photo from

But the new coach managed to keep the best players from the old lineup (including defender Oleg Romantsev who would become Spartak’s most successful coach in the 1990s) while enlisting the players that became the key to the future success of the team – Yury Gavrilov and Georgy Yartsev.

The latter was already 29 and before joining Spartak he enjoyed a quiet life in the city of Kostroma on the Volga River. Gavrilov and Yartsev became the striking force of the team that would win the 1979 championship. Following this victory Beskov was invited to coach the Soviet national team and in June 1980 he brought the USSR to victory over Brazil in Rio – an achievement few teams can boast of!

In the 1980s, it was time for another Spartak star to shine – Fyodor Cherenkov. The modest player from a worker’s family with a unique striking talent became an idol for millions. Unfortunately he could not keep up with the competition for a place in the Soviet squad in the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

The tragic match of 1982

On 20 October 1982, Spartak played a home UEFA Cup game against FC Haarlem from the Netherlands. The stands of Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium were already covered with snow and ice. For most of the game Spartak led 1-0. Some people headed early for the exit. Only one gate was open.

When Spartak scored the second goal two minutes before the end of the game some fans tried to return to the stadium to cheer with the team and collided with other fans who were on their way out. Official reports say that 66 people died and 300 were injured in the chaos that ensued.

However, the authorities hushed up the tragedy. There was only one paragraph about the accident three days later in a sports newspaper. But fans from all clubs still come to Luzhniki stadium every October to commemorate the tragic event.

From strength to strength

Болельщики Спартака (Photo from Spartak fans at stadium (Photo from

By the end of 1980s Spartak clinched two more national titles. In 1991, after the collapse of the USSR, Spartak lost many of its rivals – top teams from Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Uzbekistan didn’t want to compete in the Russian Championship and created their own leagues.

Unlike other Russian clubs, Spartak managed to keep up the squad and began recruiting the best players from Russia as well as from former Soviet republics. Under coach Oleg Romantsev (1992 –2001) Spartak won nine Russian titles and reached the semifinals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1993 and the UEFA Cup in 1998.

Going private and downhill

Romantsev was also behind the privatization of the club, which brought the enterprise some of the income from ticket sales and merchandising. However, at some point he started to ignore the opinion of specialists and supporters. During a press conference when challenged by fans over his management methods, Romantsev made the huge mistake of responding: “Spartak is not the ‘people’s team’ - it’s mine.”

Тренировка Спартака, лето 2011 (Photo from Spartak team during trainings. 2011 (Photo from

After Spartak clinched its ninth consecutive national title in 2001, the quality of the game, as well as the management started to go down the hill – Spartak could no longer compete with the best clubs. In the 2002 European Champions League Spartak lost 5 out of 6 games with a 1-18 goal difference. The team’s biggest disgrace was a 5-0 loss to Liverpool. Romantsev was forced to quit.

Refueling the engine

In 2003 the team was purchased by Lukoil – one of Russia’s biggest oil companies. One of its vice-presidents, Leonid Fedun, has the largest stake in the club. It was Fedun who supervised the acquisition of top players and it is thanks to his efforts that the team is now back on the list of top Russian clubs. For three years in a row, from 2005 to 2007, Spartak was ranked second in the league.

In 2009, after an uneventful season, the bosses of the club appointed Valery Karpin, a Spartak star in the 1990s, as the present acting coach. The quality of the game has greatly improved and attendance at the stadium is on the rise – 20 thousand spectators at a regular game is a very good figure for the Russian league. Fans now have a reason to be confident that a new era of “red-and-white-success” is at hand.

Written by Oleg Dmitriev, RT