Saul Pope –
It was around a year ago when rumours appeared that second tier Dinamo St. Petersburg, the city’s oldest club and founding members of the Soviet Supreme League, would be moving to Sochi. When such rumours appear in Russian football – with its largely small fanbases and resultant lack of grassroots firepower – it is only a matter of time before they become fact.
In June 2018 it was announced that Dinamo would become FC Sochi and play home fixtures at the World Cup venue Fisht Stadium from the 2018-19 season. In a hard, cold business sense, things have gone rather well. Sochi are in the playoff positions in the Football National League; with second-placed Tom Tomsk looking unlikely to want their automatic promotion berth, it’s possible that Sochi will gain promotion to the Premier League this season. A perverse kind of local derby – Zenit St. Petersburg facing off against the ashes of their former city rivals – will become part of the fixture calendar.
Then again, a genuine Dinamo v Zenit derby could become reality once more – earlier this month Dinamo were reincarnated once again. The news has all but bypassed the mainstream, with the excellent Russian non-league Twitter feed @RUSNLF picking up that FC LAZ Luga of the St. Petersburg Championship were being renamed to play as Dinamo St. Petersburg for the forthcoming amateur season. The St. Petersburg Football Federation website lists Dinamo in the championship’s Top League (Russia’s fifth tier), and the new season starts in May.
Dinamo St. Petersburg merge with FC LAZ
On the LAZ Luga VKontakte site (which ironically includes the line “a sporting city with a big future” in its description) the announcement was made thus: “Dear football fans, from 8th April 2019 the men’s FC LAZ team will cease to exist due to the side amalgamating with Dinamo St. Petersburg Football Club.
The players, coaches and management team will keep their roles. This is a unique opportunity to become part of a great side from the banks of the River Neva, where our players will be able to prove themselves on the football pitches of St. Petersburg and the North West region…We have taken this decision as we believe the players are ready to play at a higher level!” The post is accompanied by six likes and solitary comment – which questions the wisdom of amalgamating with a club which has few resources.
As a fan of all St. Petersburg football and having a particular soft spot for Dinamo (I was there when they beat CSKA Moscow in the Russian Cup in 2002), I’m pleased to see them back – but the way things have happened sits a little uneasily. Have Dinamo not done what Sochi did, only at a different level: cuckoo-like, snatched the league berth of a successful team, aided by a compliant internal structure who talk up the benefits of an amalgamation which is actually a takeover?
The situation, though, is different in that it is not Dinamo’s facilities that are craved, but rather their brand and their history. From the perspective of an amateur footballer currently at LAZ, it is likely that they would prefer to pull on a shirt with the iconic ‘Д’ on it every week, and represent a club that has been a not inconsequential part of the Soviet and Russian football landscape for almost a century. Dinamo in the St. Petersburg Championship also adds a little extra style to the league, as well as garnering more interest from casual amateur football fans such as myself.
Will it last?
The obvious question, given the stop-start nature of Dinamo’s post-Soviet history, is whether this is destined to be another failed tilt at the professional game. Professionalism seems unlikely in the immediate future, given that it would have been possible for Dinamo to make preparations for entry into the third tier Professional Football League instead of entering the regional championship.
That they haven’t done this suggests there is no substantial financial backing – though maybe there is a sponsor on the horizon who’s asked someone to start thing up via a season in the amateur game. Certainly the LAZ announcement hints at greater ambitions – but any right-minded fan should treat with trepidation a mooted return of Dinamo to professional football.
It is good to have Dinamo back, without question – even though an old club taking a newer club’s spot is only marginally better than when it happens the other way round. And with every iteration of Dinamo that appears, the original club drifts a little further away – it’s not a successor as such, but rather a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy.
Never mind – there’s Dinamo vs Sertalovo to look forward to on 8th May. I’ll be watching if I can find a link, all the time crossing my fingers that this won’t be yet another fleeting appearance from Dinamo on the Russian football stage.
Saul Pope has been following Russian football since the mid-nineties, and first saw a live game in 1998 (Zenit St. Petersburg vs Shinnik Yaroslavl’). He has been contributing to When Saturday Comes magazine for over a decade, with a particular focus on social, economic and political issues surrounding the game in Russia and, to a lesser extent, Ukraine. He has a particular passion for teams in and around St. Petersburg. A fluent Russian speaker, he graduated from the University of Surrey with a Master’s degree in the language. He lives in the UK, but travels back to Russia on a regular basis. You can follow Saul on Twitter @SaulPope.