Oleg Romantsev: Russia’s Brian Clough

ussr romantsev

Oleg setting his players a fine example of how to keep in top condition for professional football.

“I played a joke on the players once,” recalled Oleg Romantsev, Spartak Moscow’s legendary 90s manager, speaking in 1998. The [last game of the] season had ended and we were on a charter-plane back to Moscow. I was sat on the last row, playing cards, and could see the flight attendants preparing the champagne.

“So, I pulled on this joke rubber apron someone had bought – it was in the shape of a woman’s breasts – and took a tray of glasses. From the rear of the plane I came first to Egor Titov [club captain and star midfielder]: “Champagne?” “Yes,” he replied, without looking, but as he turned I stuck the breasts into his face. In horror he raised his head and saw me. Egor fell into hysterics while I continued through the cabin. It was a huge success.”

A HARD MAN TO PLEASE

Yet Romantsev (a Russian Ferguson/Clough/Lobanovskyi figure all in one) was, at least 95 per cent of the time, a very different character as a manager.

Indeed, he was the classic disciplinarian, forever barking at his charges, screaming at them, demanding everything they had to give and then a little more.

Romantsev was not even a carrot-and-stick kind of manager – he didn’t much care for carrots, literally: “I grew up on potatoes, bread and milk. The cult of the meal is something I never did… For me food is a necessary process of introducing into the body proteins, fats and carbohydrates.”

And in a way, that is Romantsev in a nutshell: simple efficiency. Anything that cannot contribute to the overall good should not even be countenanced. They may as well not exist. “I did not really need my wife’s wonderful cooking,” he said.

Romantsev would set about his task as manager with an obsessive zeal, often pouring over his squads’ every mistake, usually ignoring any positives from their performances.

By doing so he created an atmosphere of heightened tension where no player felt that they could ever relax – unsurprising, maybe, for a man who, legend has it, only ever slept a maximum four hours per night and would read five books every day.

And that same player who was laughing so hysterically at Romantsev’s tomfoolery that night in the plane, Egor Titov, is the same man who told Marc Bennetts (author of Football Dynamo) that the reason he, arguably Spartak’s best midfielder of the 90s, never left the Red-Whites despite strong interest from Bayern Munich, was because, “Honestly? I was afraid to go to Oleg Romantsev’s office and tell him I was leaving.” Titov’s laughter was, perhaps, rather more than a little nervous.

Indeed, Romantsev was an intense, unbending, morose, difficult and eccentric character, often all at once.

A classic tale is one that tells of a Russian journalist approaching Romantsev, smoking a cigarette all alone next to the team bus, and asking him for a few words. “What?! Can’t you see I’m talking to the doctor?” snarled the manager in reply.

 

THE SPECIAL ONE (Mk.I)

Despite tales of rubber breasts, Oleg Romantsev was mostly an extremely stern and frankly rather intimidating, chain-smoking, omnipotent kind of presence. Omnipotent being a particularly apt word.

He ascended to the role of Spartak manager in 1988, landing the championship at his first attempt. By 1993, after a second league title the previous year, he was elected by the players as president of the club when former chairman, Konstantin Beskov, fell out with Nikolai Starostin – Spartak’s founding father. He then went on to win the 1993 championship in his dual role.

Now in a unique position of strength (the only person who could sack Romantsev was Romantsev) and with three championship titles in four seasons, he set about creating what some critics have argued as the greatest club side Russia has seen, certainly the greatest the Russian league has ever seen.

And he did it with a ruthless develop-and-sell policy, based on an extraordinary nose for spotting talented youngsters from all across the former USSR, that could put Fergie to shame. According to Jonathan Wilson in, Football behind the Curtain, “at one point, player sales accounted for 70 per cent of their [Spartak’s] annual budget.”

Great Russian players like Valery Karpin, Dmitry Alenichev, Viktor Onopko, Igor Shalimov, Dmitry Radchenko and Sergei Rodionov all starred for Romantsev’s early teams, before being sold to western European teams in order to help fund the Red-Whites’ next incarnation.

Egor Titov, Ilya Tsymbalar and Andrei Tikhonov (who actually both left Spartak due to fallouts with Romantsev), the Dmitrys Khlestov and Ananko, and Vladimir Beschastnykh’s were the few that lasted most of Romantsev’s 15 years at the helm.

Over those fifteen seasons, he amassed nine league winners’ medals (in addition to the one he won as captain of Spartak in 1979) including three in a row from 1992-1994, twice by 11 points, and then one every year for the five seasons between 1997-2000.

And really that should read six seasons, for a Romantsev squad in all but formality won the 1996 Championship too. The man himself (who had also been Russia manager since 1994) was on national team sabbatical, with Euro96 in mind, at the time, but his number two, Georgi Yartsev, stood in for him that year, landing top spot by virtue of a playoff game with Alania Vladikavkaz.

Combined with an ability to constantly build and re-build his sides, cashing in on his stars to create constant revenue at a time when Russian clubs were still struggling to get to grips with the new fangled idea of capitalism in sport, Romantsev also implemented notoriously harsh training sessions.

Usually held in camps, these infamous sessions are known as “sbori” in Russian and inspire icy dread in even the most hardened Russian pro. But under Romantsev, the sbori became an even more fearsome beast that, according to numerous Russian journalists, resembled something from a Special Forces regime.

 

EVENT HORIZON

To use the old cliché, Spartak were ruled by an iron fist. Only, it turned out that Romantsev was mortal too and on Thursday 19 June 2003, the untouchable man was sacked.

For many a year since taking up the reigns at Spartak, Romantsev had been marked as the chosen one. Starostin even referred to him as ‘Golden Boy,’ and upon Starostin’s death in 1996, Romantsev inherited Spartak Moscow lock, stock and barrel.

But the honour was really a terrible burden for just one man – even if that man was Oleg Romantsev. And, with being national coach to boot, Romantsev’s health was already nose-diving as the millennium approached.

In 2000 one of Russia’s biggest oil companies, LUKoil, agreed a landmark sponsorship deal with Spartak (who’d previously declined any affiliation to the increasingly numerous and wealthy super businesses backed by oligarchs grown rich from ‘gangster capitalism’) and Romantsev sold his stock to Andrei Chervichenko – LUKoil’s senior director.

For the next three years Chervichenko became the object of Romantsev’s mounting ire, often accusing the new chairman of not respecting Spartak, all at a time when Romantsev’s long-assumed drink problem became an open secret: “The once genius trainer descended into an alcoholic haze, detached from reality and the players around him,” wrote Bennetts in Football Dynamo.

For a while the results kept coming. Just about. Romantsev’s ability could still pierce the vodka-fug and he managed to bring home league titles in the first two years under Chervichenko.

But where once the margins between first and second were great (twice between 1992-1994 Romantsev won the title by 11 clear points), Spartak were now scraping over the line.

But once Romantsev assembled a group of journalists on the eve of the 2003 Russian Cup Final to announce that Chervichenko had been trying to throw the result for $1.5m, Romantsev had crossed the line finally and fatally.

 

RETURN FROM EXILE

After his sacking Spartak had six managers in six years. It’s said that Russian footballers can only perform if someone brings a strict order to their life, the more rigidly imposed, the better.

True or not, what cannot be disputed is that none of those six managers won a single title between them to ease the passing of a man who won nine – plus four domestic Cups, won a club record 401 games as manager and reached the semi-finals of the European Cup (1990-91), the Cup Winner’s Cup (1992-93) and the UEFA Cup (1997-98).

 

 

Alex Jackson
footymatters.com

Advertisements

The Bugle Chronicles: No. 64

bugle dastardly

bugle dastardly2

The People’s Club and the Starostin Brothers

ussr spartak fans

The people’s team do not belong to one class of Moscow society, nor to any particular area, nor even to one home ground, but to the memory of the most dedicated figure in the history of Russian football.

It was the vision of Nikolai Starostin that the city should have a team which could operate independently of political interference. Having helped to create Spartak from the Moscow Sports Club that had been based in the Luzhniki Park since the early Twenties. Starostin then coached the team. and even managed to play one match in the club’s first Soviet championship win in the autumn of 1936. His three footballing brothers, Alexander, Andrei and Pyotr, also played for the team and for the USSR.
Officially the club was affiliated ro the Moscow food producers’ co-operative, but
Starostin ensured that Spartak’s relationship with the authorities was, at best, ambivalent. He would spend much of the next six decades combing the country for young talent and coaxing it away from other, more politically favoured, clubs.

ussr spartak dynamo ticket

Starostin’s resolute stance against the KGB (represented by Dynamo Moscow) and the Red Army (CSKA Moscow) cost him dear – he spent ten years in Stalin’s gulags after being charged with “the promotion of bourgeois sport”, and was released only after the personal intervention of the dictator’s son, Vasily.

Nikolai Starostin died in February 1996, shortly before his 94th birthday. But his legacy lives on. Spartak’s nationwide popularity, reputation for attractive football and freedom from any rusting state authority have helped them face the modern age.

Backed by Gazprom, the huge state gas and oil company, Spartak won the first three Russian titles after the break-up of the Soviet Union, and took part in three consecutive Champions’ League campaigns. Indded, they went on to win all but one of the Russian league titles between 1992 and 2001.

In 1995/96, under coach Oleg Romantsev (later the dub’s president), Spartak shocked everyone by taking maximum points to top their group, only to sell four key players – goalkeeper Stanislav Cherchesov, defenders Viktor Onopko and Vasiy Kulkov, and forward Sergei Yuran – in the winter break and fail at the quarterr-final stage.

A cut in sponsorship funds from Gazprom had forced Spartak to hit the seiling trail. Bur for once, the club found political influence operating in their favour when, just before their Champions’ League exit, the mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, issued a decree enabling the team to sign players from outside the city without paying local tax. Their squad suitably reinforced on the cheap, Spartak mounted a fine blindside run to win back their Russian title from Alaniya Vladikavkaz, beating the provincials 2-1 at a play-off in St Petersburg in November 1996. .

With their spiritual home, the Luzhniki stadium, considered unfit for their return after reconstruction, Spartak’s fans had to follow their club to Lokomotiv Moscow – as the “Spartak We Love You” graffiti on the Dynamo ticket-office wall testified. They mulled around in the east (vostok) stand overlooking the opposition goal mouth, with the harder element in sector A, and continue to provide the team with the best support in the city.

None of that popular favour counted for a thing in June 1997, when Spartak’s director-general Larissa Nechayeva was murderee at her dacha outside Moscow. Both Nechayeva and her personal manager were shot in the head, victims of a gangland assassination which, it was reported, may have been connected to Spartak’s reluctance co sign away TV rights.

For Spartak. it seemed, refusing to play the game according to the rule. would aways carry a bitter penalty – no matter which ideology was running Russia.

 

 

The Rough Guide to European Football: Cresswell and Evans

ussr lenin statue

The statue of Lenin outside the Luzhniki, a ground that bore his name during the Communist era: “The stadium sparkled during the 1980 Olympics, the Russians proving they could put on a show as good as anything the capitalists had ever done (although they never quite matched the tastelessness displayed at Los Angeles four years later.
But on a bitterly cold night in 1982 the Lenin Stadium saw the darker side of mass physical culture. Spartak were 1-0 up against Haarlem of holland in the UEFA Cup when sections of the crowd started to leave down an icy ramp. Spartak then scored a late goal, and as those leaving, having heard the cheers, tried to turn back, a fatal crush ensued… The incident went unreported in the Soviet Union for the next seven years, despite leaked reports in the west which spoke of around twenty deaths. Then came Glasnost and with it more openness in the reporting of Soviet accidents. In 1989, Sovietsky Sport, the official government sports newspaper, telling the story for the first time in the Soviet press, put the death toll at sixty nine.”

Inglis: The Football Grounds of Europe

 

The Starostin Brothers

ussr starostin

The celebrated Starostin brothers were notable football personalities of the past century. In the 1930s, they came to play leading roles in “Spartak”, the most popular of all Soviet soccer clubs.

The eldest of the four brothers, Nikolai Starostin, a football and bandy (a form of ice hockey) player, captained this country’s team in both sports. Born in 1902 in Moscow’s historic district of Presnya, Nikolai studied at the Mansfield Brothers commercial college, where he developed interest in football. His professional skills of a book-keeper came in handy when he managed the Spartak Sports Society. After the death of his father in the typhus epidemic in 1920, Nikolai supported his family, playing soccer in the summer and bandy in the winter. However, interest in football prevailed.

He later recalled, “We were soccer aficionados, who spoiled for a fight. We were eager to come out on the pitch and play another game. The stadium became our second home.”

Nikolai began his football career playing for the Moscow Sports Circle, later called Krasnaya Presnya. The team grew, building a stadium of its own, supporting itself from ticket sales and playing matches across Russia.

As a high-profile sportsman, Starostin came into close contact with Alexander Kosarev, Secretary of the Young Communist League, who was seeking to expand his organization’s control in the field of sports. In November 1934, Kosarev charged the Starostin brothers with organizing and developing a new group, which, after heated debate, was named Spartak – in honor of the Roman rebel slave and gladiator, Spartacus.

Nikolai Starostin is also credited with the creation of the Spartak logo – a horizontal red-and-white rhombus.

Nikolai played for the team, earning a reputation of a fearless forward, one of the fastest in Soviet football.

After retiring as a player, Nikolai Starostin took on the responsibilities as head of the new group. His brothers – Alexander, Andrei and Pyotr – also played for Spartak, becoming acclaimed football masters. Alexander was also Spartak’s first captain.

Their two sisters, Klavdiya and Vera, who played volley-ball and bandy, were Spartak’s avid fans.

Each of the Starostin brothers had his own vision of the game, and they often disagreed on how it should be played, but their adherence to ethical, honest football remained unchanged. As did their loyalty to Spartak, the team they devoted their lives to.

When in the 1970s Andrei Starostin was offered the position of chief of the Locomotive Moscow team, his elder brother, Nikolai, said: “We found ourselves in Spartak, we became well-known footballers here, and we must not quit it.” Andrei Starostin thought it wise to follow his advice.

From the very onset, the elegant combination play practiced by Spartak won the hearts of many football fans here. Its most formidable opponent was Dynamo Moscow run by the Soviet secret police.

The Dynamo-Spartak rivalry became the bitterest in the history of Soviet sports. In 1938 and 39, the ‘red-and-whites’ won both the Soviet national league and cup, much to the annoyance of Lavrenty Beria, the head of the secret police, who was also the president of Dynamo.

A keen footballer in his youth, Beria had played against Nikolai Starostin in the 1920s, suffering a humiliating defeat. Dynamo’s patrons were outraged by Spartak’s successes and, in a very large measure, by the popularity of the Starostin brothers, especially Nikolai, whose methods of running Spartak were considered similar to that of an entrepreneur of a Western sports club.

In the late 1930s many of their friends and associates were swept into the purges, including Alexander Kosarev, Spartak’s most influential supporter. Nikolai Starostin later recalled that in 1939 he expected to be taken away any moment.

For some reason, Soviet Prime Minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, refused to sign an arrest order, but three years later Georgy Malenkov, a Soviet Politbureau member, did. The four Starostin brothers were arrested in 1942, facing accusations of involvement in a plot to assassinate Joseph Stalin and also of ‘anti-Soviet statements’ and ‘doubts about Soviet victory in the war against Nazi Germany’. These charges were later dropped.

Following two years of interrogation at Lubyanka, the Starostins were found guilty of ‘lauding bourgeois sports’ and sentenced to ten years of hard labor. During their time in the gulags, the skills of the Starostin brothers were highly sought after. They were invited to coach local soccer teams in the Soviet minor leagues. Under the circumstances, soccer became a means of survival for them. Nikolai Starostin later wrote in his memoirs: “I naturally regret the lost ‘camp’ years… Yet, strange as it may seem, everywhere I went the soccer ball was always out of Beria’s reach. Even though the notorious police chief had once been a player himself, he was never able to defeat me.”

Following Stalin’s death in March 1953, the Starostin brothers were released, and their sentence declared illegal. In 1955 Nikolai Starostin returned to Spartak and presided over the club until his death in 1996 at the more than mature age of 93.

Back in the 1930s, there was a funny joke about “Spartak” and its founders, the Starostin brothers. “Spartak” plays in a tournament abroad. A local journalist asks: “Who is playing at right back?” “Starostin is,” came the answer. “Who’s center half then?” “Starostin.” “And next to him?” “Starostin again”. “And right wing?” “Starostin,” came the answer again. “Oh, I see”, the journalist says.

“Starostin” in Russian means ‘footballer’.

Euro qualifiers Update

An update to our article in NTV 259 (subscriber issue) on what lies in store when the Champions League qualifying rounds get under way next month.

 

UEFA’s latest stitch up to help the top four leagues in Europe means that this season’s Champions League qualification rounds will finish with six teams entering via this route instead of the previous ten. Essentially, this means it will be even harder than usual for Celtic to hit paydirt come August.

With the attention of the football world focussed on some trivial kickabout taking place in Russia during the summer, the big news is that there will be a mini league to decide which of the four teams ranked in the bottom four places will get to be knocked out in the first round proper.

The draw for the preliminary round will take place on June 12th. The venue for the final is yet to be decided but keep an eye on your local park just in case. All of Europe will be holding its breath as the following names are pulled from their Kinder Surprise plastic egg cups:

Champions League Preliminary Qualifying Round
Semi-finals on June 26th
Final on June 29th

euro 18 1 prelim

With the minnows lying in wait in round 1, the road to Madrid starts here for the plankton of European football. For three of them that road will quickly take a sharp detour off a cliff.

Lincoln Red Imps are back after a brief hiatus when they lost their title to Europa FC having won the Gibraltarian championship fifteen years in a row before that. For details of their relentless march to supremacy on their quintessentially British rocky outpost in the Med see NTV 227. Suffice to say their domestic record will be the envy of nobody bar supporters of Sevco.

It’s doubtful that the Imps will be quite so dominant against any of their potential opposition in this competition, although they might not be overly intimidated at the thought of a trip to Andorra to play Santa Coloma, the only Andorran side to have won a match in Europe (any match) and the only Andorran side to have kept a clean sheet in Europe.

The San Marino championship was won by La Fiorita. They will  be knocked out before mid July.

The numbers will be made up by FK Drila who won the unlikely branded Football Superleague of Kosovo. Drila’s ultra group is called The Intellectuals. Don’t be fooled. They’re nutters.

Take your pick out of those four but my money’s on the Imps to qualify, with the Drila Killas to cause the most mayhem.

 

Champions League First Qualifying Round
The draw for the first qualifying round will take place on June 19th.
1st legs on July 10/11: 2nd legs on July 17/18

euro 18 2 round 1

Celtic enter at this stage in the qualification process.

There may be no easy games in Europe these days (copyright Captain Cliche) but this is as near as it gets. There’s not much to worry about in the unseeded half half of this draw other than the usual caveats about teams who are already well into their season in July and those where travelling huge distances is involved. Ideally this round will be a quick hop across the Irish sea or else a nice kickabout against the Dudes from Dudelange.

Preferably we’ll avoid the assorted eastern European outfits and their right-wing bonehead followers.

Winners go through to Champions League Q2. Losers go to the Europa League qualifying round 2.

 

Champions League Second Qualifying Round
The draw for the first qualifying round will take place on June 19th. Eagle-eyed readers will note that this is directly after the draw for round 2.
1st legs on July 24/25: 2nd legs on July 31/ August 1.

euro 18 3 round 2

This round is split into two sections: the Champions Path and the League Path (for league non-champions).

 

We are assuming throughout this post that all of the results go according to seeding. This is unlikely, but because of the timing of the draw, if a lower seeded team wins then they take the coefficient of the team they beat into the next draw.

That said, this is a rough guide to the standard of team that lies in wait. And there are plenty of them that are probably best avoided at that time of year, some of whom we’ve toiled against in recent seasons. Give us the New Saints!

Winners through to the third qualifying round. Losers to the EL Q3.

 

Champions League Third Qualifying Round
The draw for the third qualifying round will take place on July 23rd.
1st legs on August 7/8: 2nd legs on August 14.

euro 18 4 play off

This round is split into two sections: the Champions Path and the League Path (for league non-champions).

Assuming we have made it past Q2 this looks like the first of our August cup finals. Definitely no easy ties in this round.

Losers from the Champions Path through to the Europa League Play-Off Round. Losers from the League Path through to the Europa League Group Stage (I would have thought it should be the other way round but I don’t work for UEFA).

 

Champions League Play-Off Round Round
The draw for the Play-Off Round will take place on August 6th.
1st legs on August 21/22: 2nd legs on August 28/29.

euro 18 5 play off

This round is split into two sections: the Champions Path and the League Path (for league non-champions).

And so, after six crucial games  before our domestic league has even started we come to our Champions League final (if we have made it this far).

Losers from both Champions Path and League Path enter the UEFA Europa League group stage.

Whatever way up you look at these ties it’s going to be a mighty achievement (and we’re going to need some luck along the way) to get into the Champions League group stages this year and in the future. I trust Brendan and the board have started planning for this already.

 

Meanwhile, a total of 215 teams from all 55 UEFA member associations are expected to participate in the 2018–19 UEFA Europa League.

Scotland is ranked 23rd amongst the European associations, one below Israel and one above Cyprus. This entitles us to three participants in the UEFA Europa League. Those clubs who placed third and fourth in the SPFL will enter the competition in the first qualifying round along with another 92 clubs: 86 enter at this stage and 8 will have qualified from the preliminary round.

There are so many possible outcomes still to be decided in terms of qualifiers, but our gallant contenders will be seeded in the first round draw.

Coeff          Ranking         1 below                       1 above
Aberdeen          4.000           236                AIK Solna SWE           Nomme Kalju FIN
Hibernian         3.725*          267 T.            Zhodino BLR               Hearts SCO

Rangers FC         3.725**        265                St Johnstone                 T Zhodino BLR

* actually 1.000
** actually 0.250 The national coefficient bumps it up slightly

 

Q1 ties are due to be played on July 12th and July 19th.

Q2 sees the draw split into two halves: The Champions Path, for those clubs dropping out of the Champions League qualifiers, and the League Path. All of the Scottish clubs will be in the League Path at this stage, assuming Celtic safely negotiate the early round in the CL.

The third Scottish club, Aberdeen, enter at this round.

Also entering stage left are some of the lower placed teams from the higher ranked leagues. Scottish clubs will be unseeded.

Worst case scenario in terms of opponents for the Scottish teams would be the likes of Sevilla, RB Leipzig, Burnley, AC Milan or Rennes. Even mid-ranked teams in this round come from Portugal, Russia, Ukraine and Belgium.

Q2 will be played on July 26th and August 2nd.

Any Scottish clubs that have survived this far are now joined in the league path by CSKA Moscow, Sporting Lisbon, Gent, Feyenoord, Olimpiacos and a whole load of others of a similar standard. The unseeded half of the draw is where the Scots will be placed.

These ties will be played on August 9th and 16th.

To qualify for the group stages of the Europa League and the chance to win a wee bit of pocket money, one further round must be negotiated with ties to be played a week after Q3 on August 23rd and 30th. A total of 42 teams play in the play-off round: The ten Champions Path winners of the third qualifying round, and the six Champions Path losers of the 2018–19 UEFA Champions League third qualifying round, along with the 26 League Path winners of the third qualifying round.

If you are a club chairman and you are pinning your financial future on a good run in Europe you should have everything crossed that the draw is kind. If it isn’t, a Scottish club might have to play the following sequence of matches and in order to get to the UEFA Europa League group stage they would have to win every tie:

July 12th Q2 Progres Niederkorn LUX h
July 19th Q2 Progres Niederkorn LUX a
July 26th Q3 Sevilla ESP a
August 2nd Q3 Sevilla ESP h
August 9nd Q4 Sporting POR a
August 16th Q4 Sporting POR h
August 23rd PO Feyenoord NED h
August 30th PO Feyenoord NED a

If you think this scenario is even remotely possible then you are either HG Wells or a member of Dave King’s Barmy Army.

Euro Sceptic

 

 

 

Edouard Streltsov – The Russian Pele

Another fascinating chapter in Russian football in the build-up to the World Cup.

ussr streltsov 2

In the game of soccer, some writers and journalists called him the “Russian Pele”. Was he better than Pele? In some ways, maybe; he could score a goal from anywhere on the soccer field no matter how tough the defense of the opposing team was. Some soccer personalities say that Streltsov could have become a brighter star than Pele had he been given the chance to play in 1958. The universal truth of football says that there are always lots of talented players who do not win titles – so why was Streltsov special?

The rise of the young star

Eduard Streltsov was born in Perovo on the outskirts of Moscow on July 21, 1937. His father was a carpenter and his mother worked at a nursery. The family broke up soon after Eduard was born, living from hand to mouth as his mother was constantly suffering from heart problems. However, that did not stop Eduard from revealing his soccer talent. At the age of 13 he joined the “Frezer” soccer team comprised of players that worked at a factory that produced milling cutter devices. Many of his teammates were stunned to see the youngster in shabby clothes with a wooden suitcase turn up to practice. Soon afterwards, he became one of the team’s key strikers.

Three and a half years later, the authorities of the ZIL automobile plant (famous for its trucks and limos) signed the 16 year old striker for their “Torpedo” team that played in the USSR’s top football league.

In 1955 Streltsov made his debut on the USSR national team. He made his first “hat trick” by scoring three goals during a friendly game with Sweden in Stockholm, contributing to the 6-0 Soviet victory.

Olympic champion without a medal

The next year in 1956, Streltsov played for the national team during the Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. In the semifinals he scored a crucial equalizer goal against Bulgaria. Four minutes later Boris Tatushin sealed the road to the finals for the Soviet squad. Streltsov did not play in the finals though; the coaches of the national team decided to have equal representation from the top clubs in the league: it would have been an offence for the Army team to have less representation on the national squad. The USSR won 1-0 and became Olympic champions.

Streltsov was also awarded the title of champion, but not the medal; they were given only to the participants of the final game.

In 1957, soccer fans all over the Soviet Union were able to witness “Streltsov’s 100 days”. From July 21st until October 26th he managed to score 22 goals for “Torpedo”. The squad placed second in the league. At the end of the season, Eduard was ranked the number 7 player in Europe by the French media. Many admired his fine touch and extraordinary football intelligence. The bosses of the winning side Dynamo Moscow (a club that was traditionally controlled by the police and security services of the USSR) offered him the chance to join their team. Eduard refused. He didn’t know at that time that he would have to pay a high price for his loyalty.

Before one game for the Soviet squad, Streltsov sustained a light injury. Nevertheless, he asked the team’s doctor Oleg Belakovsky to do everything possible for him to stay in the game. The next day Streltsov, managed to score a goal. Right after the game the senior coach of the USSR team Gavriil Kachalin said to Eduard: “Guys with two healthy legs can’t play the way you did with one”. Grigory Fedotov, Eduard’s idol during his school years, once told the talented soccer player: “You know, I also used to play well but not the way you do…”

ussr streltsov
Strelstsov (left) with Lev Yashin

Jail instead of the World Cup

In May, 1958, the whole country was waiting for the World Cup in Sweden. Fans hoped that a 20-year-old Streltsov would be the star of the tournament along with the promising youngster Pele from Brazil. It seemed to everyone that Eduard would soon have the whole world at his feet.

After one training session, Streltsov and his teammates Boris Tatushin and Mikhail Ogonkov went to a party at a dacha belonging to Eduard Karakhanov, a military officer who had just returned from a tour in the Far East. There were some girls invited. After having a nice time out on the beach and having lots of vodka, Streltsov was seen leaving with 20-year-old Marina Lebedeva, whom he had just met. The following morning he was arrested on rape charges.

According to the football experts, Streltsov confessed, apparently after the police promised him that he would be allowed to play in the World Cup. When Nikita Khrushchev, the head of the Communist Party at the time, heard about the affair he immediately ordered Streltsov sent to jail. The police and the KGB were set against the player who refused to join their Dynamo club earlier. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, though he was never proven guilty. The Soviet team without Streltsov at the World Cup lost to Brazil 0-2 and barely made it to the quarterfinals where they were defeated by the host Sweden, 0-2.

Many say Streltsov was set up. Others say that the incident was a result of Streltsov’s refusal to marry the daughter of Ekaterina Furtseva, the Minister of Culture at that time. Eduard was sent to a forest prison camp 600 miles to the northeast of Moscow. He was lucky that the warden was a football fan. Thanks to Streltsov, his prison camp team was the football champion in that area.

Return to the field

Despite problems with his health (especially his kidneys), he returned to “Torpedo” in 1963 after his release. By that time the team had become the USSR champion. He managed to pick up most of the skills he had lost. But the Communist Party firmly banned him from participating in the 1966 World Cup, where the USSR ended up in the semi-finals. The explanation was simple: according to their logic, a former prisoner had no right to play for the national team.

In 1967 and 1968 he was named Soviet Player of the Year. It was at that was the time he was finally included in the Soviet squad to play against the World Champions England at Wembley. That game ended in a 2-2 draw. Streltsov was one of the best on the field. He often confessed in his interviews that the pitch at the London stadium was “the best he’s ever seen”.

Streltsov retired in 1970. However, he soon realized that everyday life without soccer was a waste of time, and so Eduard became a coach on the “Torpedo” children teams and played for the USSR veterans’ squad. But even in the 1970’s, fathers all over the country rushed to the stadium with their children to show their children what a great man Eduard was. The author of this article saw three goals from the veteran Streltsov from the middle of the field – a rare spectacle even in modern football.

Streltsov died from throat cancer in 1990. He is buried at the “writers’ corner” in Vagankovskoye cemetery in Moscow. With his passing also went the last chance to actually reveal the truth of what exactly happened back in 1958. The alleged victim, Marina Lebedeva, was spotted at Streltsov’s grave in 1997, laying flowers the day after the annual ceremony on the anniversary of his death.

In 1999, “Torpedo” built a monument to Eduard Streltsov right at the entrance to the stadium that bears his name, the name of one of the greatest footballers of the 20th century.

Even the International Football Federation (FIFA) included Eduard Streltsov on their list of the top 50 football players of the 20th century, forever securing his place in football history.

ussr streltsov statue

 

 

 

 

Written by Oleg Dmitriev, RT

No More (Cult) Heroes: Stephane Mahe

cult mahe 2

 

An occasional series where we look back at some of our more offbeat hooped heroes of recent years.

Thanks to a combination of Hugh Dallas and the tabloid press Stephane Mahe will probably be recalled in Scottish Football lore as the bloke who caused a stooshie during an important Celtic v Rangers game because he was a nutter. Another injustice to compound that which he suffered in the above match.

Signed from French club Rennes in 1997 by The Perm he certainly provided a contrast with the player whose position he filled. In his first season he appeared to tethered to an invisible rope which confined him to a patrol up the left wing which went no further than the halfway line. It was clear that Jansen preferred his defenders to defend in their own territory rather than in the opposition penalty box, like Tosh McKinlay.

He made his debut against Berwick Rangers in the second round of that season’s League Cup and thereafter claimed the left hand berth of a back four featuring Boyd, Stubbs and Rieper. A miserable 24 goals were extracted from that defence in 36 league games. The mantle of the Sieve was temporarily cast aside.

November 1998 saw Mahe pick up a red card in his first appearance against Rangers. Those in favour of crude racial stereotypes – that is most of the Scottish hacks – would probably put this down to the Frenchman’s Gallic temperament getting the better of him on the big occasion. But the truth is that one of his yellow cards was for a foul on Laudrup (‘nuff said) while the other was for an unavoidable handball which Willie Young decided was deliberate.

He finished that season with a League Championship and League Cup medals having made 36 appearance and scored one goal, a shot from the edge of the box after he’d cut in from the wing against Dunfermline at East End Park in a tense 2: 1 win in the Scottish Cup.

Apart from the red card against Rangers a mere five yellows besmirched his disciplinary record.

Under Jo Venglos Mahe retained his place in defence and was one of our more consistent performers that season.

Then along came Dallas.

It’s true that Mahe threw a wobbler at the match official, but in his defence it must be pointed out that his fuse was lit following an elbow in the mush which Pooh Dallas ignored, choosing instead to book the Frenchman for dissent. The second booking was for a fairly innocuous challenge, and that signalled the removal of the pin from the hand grenade inside his noggin.
Another season of manful performances under John Barnes, his third Celtic manager in as many years, couldn’t persuade Our Favourite Martin that Mahe would be anything other than a bit part player. He managed 13 appearances in O’Neill’s first season – without a booking in sight may I add – before he retired from football altogether and signed for Hearts.

Personally I liked Stephane Mahe. Quite soon after he signed he did an interview for Scotland on Sunday and he seemed genuinely appreciative of the support he got from the fans.

In return he never gave less than his all when wearing the Hoops, even if he wasn’t the most brilliant foreign import ever to swing through the Walfrid’s revolving door.

I’ll finish with a question. Who said of Mahe: “Stephane Mahe? I’ve never had a moment’s trouble with him. He’s a wholehearted player and sometimes he does dive in too quickly, but more often than not he comes out with the ball. I’m impressed with his ball control going forward.”?

Give in?

It was Jim McCluskey the referee in an interview with Tom Campbell.

“What’s that?” I hear you cry, “The same Jim McCluskey that refused to give Celtic a penalty at Ibrox when Mahe was blatantly tripped in the box by Kanchelskis?”

Yep, the very same. McCluskey did admit in the same interview, “No excuse. I got it completely wrong.”

Truly, when it came to referees, he was more sinned against than sinning.

cult mahe

Tales from the Crypt: Gordon Smith

An antidote to that Graeme Speirs article.

 

It is with great pleasure that I announce the induction into the crypt of the world’s vainest football pundit, the sport’s worst administrator and a man notable for being completely rubbish at everything he’s ever attempted – Mr Gordon Duffield Smith.

Old Smudger may not be as obviously repulsive as any of the John McClellands or Tommy McLean but for unremittingly rotten service to the sport his admission is well deserved. A man who’s playing career included what is almost certainly the most famous miss in the long history of the FA Cup and whose career as an administrator with both the SFA and Craig Whyte era Rangers are landmarks in ineptitude and embarrassment.

Gordon Smith first came to my attention in the late summer of 1977 when he signed for Rangers from Kilmarnock for a fee of £65,000. I wasn’t really that bothered – I was more concerned with trying to make out I was a Punk Rocker and also with the imminent departure of Kenny Dalglish from Celtic to care about this skinny, slightly oddly coiffured new dud.

He did quite well in his early months at Ibrox scoring a lot of goals in his first few weeks of what was to prove a horrible season for Celtic. As Rangers dominated the Typewriter Loyal pressed their new hero’s claims for elevation to the Argentina bound national team but in one of the few clever moves of that bizarre campaign manager Ally MacLeod ignored the cries for Smith to be included. It is, though, a cause of regret for me that the biggest fiasco in Scottish Football until the glorious events of 13th February 2012 did not have some contribution from the pock-marked narcissist.

Smith may have missed out on that debacle but his career was soon in obvious decline, derided by many of his own team’s supporters as being a timid waster who, like some extra from Mr Benn, disappeared from games ‘as if by magic.’ It is a fact that he was in Rangers’ starting line-up the night the ten men of Celtic came from behind to beat them 4-2 but his contribution to an evening of high drama was not a significant one.

My last clear memory of him as a Rangers player that season was from a couple of months before when playing against Cologne in the Mungersdorfer he was clean through on the goalkeeper and struck his shot so arrogantly that Archie McPherson proclaimed ‘he’s done it!’ only for the ball to skitter past the goal and on to the track behind the goal.

It was the shape of things to come in Smudgerland.

Punted by Rangers to Brighton and Hove Albion in late 1979 he made a surprise return to Rangers in time to play in the League Cup Final against Celtic in December 1982. Less surprisingly to Smith-watchers Celtic won that trophy for the first time in eight years with Smith’s only effort on a wretchedly wet afternoon being his admittedly successful attempt to leave not a hair out of place on that sculpted Barnet.

After three games he was back in Sussex where he played a bit part in the Seagull’s surprise run to the FA Cup Final. But in the final he achieved ‘legnedary’ status missing a fantastic chance to seal a last minute upset win over Man United when he poked his shot straight at Gary Bailey.

It probably wasn’t the sitter it was made out to be (although having looked it up on You Tube it is actually pretty bad and he had had a feeble miss a few minutes earlier) but his poor control of a perfect pass from Michael Robinson and weak shot, that abject failure to grab a real chance of glory, are what makes that famous miss so celebrated. Smith’s playing career fizzled out and that apparently was that.

But in 1995 still with the immaculate coiffure and now complete with a condescending manner suggesting he’d missed his true vocation as a headmaster who gullible nitwits in the media would consider to be ’progressive’ but who was viewed with distaste and suspicion by the teachers, students and parents who actually had to work with him on a day to day basis, here was old Smudger dispensing (actually not very) bon mots at the prompting of either Dougie Donnelly or Rob MacLean on Sportscene.

Although not as likely to mangle the English language as, say, Derek Johnstone or Gordon Dalziel, it took a few weeks for the penny to drop that his contributions were both banal and incredibly biased in favour of one of his former clubs. I have dim, alcohol (and possibly other chemically induced) visions of him standing beside a table moving counters about in a feeble attempt to persuade us he had some tactical insight but my memory may be playing tricks on me.

Whatever, his contributions for BBC Scotland were not amongst the finest things aired by the Corporation. And yet they obviously impressed somebody.

March 2007 saw the SFA without a Chief Executive. Somebody inside Hampden had been impressed by Smith’s appearances on the BBC and he emerged as first candidate and then appointee for the role.

Jaws dropped – especially amongst Celtic supporters.

Where previously the SFA had merely appointed Rangers sympathisers such as George Graham and Jim ‘Farry’ Farry to the post, choosing an actual former Rangers player – one with no obvious qualifications for such a position – seemed to be taking things too far, especially as a few weeks before the Scotland manager’s job had gone to another ex-Ranger (Mcleish) instead of the man who had been the previous two managers’ assistant who was an ex-Celt.

Bizarrely, just a few weeks into the job Smith was writing in some book about Rangers that there was currently ’an agenda’ against his former club.

It was not an auspicious start. Bungled managerial appointments, embarrassing press conference, an ambivalent response to the behaviour of two (then) Rangers players following first an all night drinking session and then an unsubtly loutish display by the same duo were just the highlights of a disastrous three years in office. Stewart Regan may be nobody’s idea of a top executive but compared to Ol’ ‘Smudge’ he’s Richard Branson.

A year or so later Smith has been pontificating away on the Beeb and in the pages of the Daily Getworse before he is appointed Director of Football at Rangers by Mr Craig Whyte. Given Smith’s woeful track record alarm bells should have been ringing in the ears of Rangers’ fans when this particular appointment was made but amidst their euphoria in the summer of 2011 few bothered.

When the whole edifice crashed in February 2012 Smith was just one of many who had been in some position of authority at Ibrox who claimed to have known nothing of what Whyte had been up to. Duff and Phelps failed to impress in their role of Administrator but even they sussed out that Smith was useless and so it was that the failed striker, droning pundit and failed executive was one of the few actually sacked by the administrators.

Since then like the proverbial bad penny he has returned to the airwaves giving those who listen his supposedly expert and impartial views on football. Like the club he served with such lack of distinction he shows no sign of contrition or embarrassment for past failings.

Semi-articulate but still biased and wrong about just everything to do with his former club Smith is a worthy admission to the crypt.

And I hope he reads this and is annoyed by it – the narcissistic, pompous, sitter missing twat that he is.

 

JIM PAYNE

crypt smith 2.jpg

He looked like Moira Anderson. Many would argue that he played like her as well.