By David McArdle –
Throughout the Soviet Union, art was an effective propaganda tool for the state. Across the spheres of literature, visual art and performing art, messages were conveyed clearly and unambiguously. Though not always seen as an artistic pursuit, football did not escape this all-pervading form of order, with football emblems highly representative of the area, or more importantly the industrial unions or sport societies, with which the teams were indentured.
Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union edging towards its quarter of a century anniversary, the legacy of these visual representations linger, especially amongst Russian clubs and clubs from former Soviet republics now regarded as Russian satellite states. One artists’ movement – Russian Constructivism – left a particularly distinctive legacy in this regard. Geometric, experimental and rarely emotional, the Constructivists’ designs would often produce artwork broken down to its simplest form. However, not all clubs have chosen to acknowledge their recent past, with some designs a clear expression of their trajectory away from their Soviet heritage.
What clubs from the post-Soviet space appear to have more in common than not though is that meaning still prevails over marketing and while several European sides have been hypnotised by US-based sports in surrendering their heritage to robust forms of branding and advertising – the unquenchable Red Bull Salzburg, for example – post-Soviet sides appear, for now at least, to have remained true to themselves (past, present, and/or future).
Founded in 1937 as Neftyanik, meaning ‘oil worker’ in Russian, Neftchi Baku PFK are regarded as Azerbaijan’s most successful club both during and after the Soviet era, with its nickname in Azeri, Xalq Komandası (Nation’s Team), supporting this notion. Minimalistic in design with a mono-focus on Azerbaijan’s abundant oil supplies, Neftchi’s emblem falls crudely into the Constructivist category.
“There is no present and future without the past”, claims FK Ventspils’s website, a clear justification of its status as a club spawned from a merger between FK Venta and FK Nafta, the former a leading club in Latvia in the 1960s. Despite Latvia’s uneasy relationship with its Soviet past, Ventspils’s crest exhibits an unemotional and uncluttered design. Now a weighty force in Latvian football having been crowned champions of the top division on five occasions, the club’s emblem – the anchor – represents the town on the bank of the River Venta.
Named after the Carpathian Mountains, FC Karpaty Lviv’s logo makes a clear and unmistakable reference to their city’s proud and multifarious pre-Soviet history. The earliest known emblem of the city, used by the magistrate in 1359, featured a lion in front of the city gates, which was then modified by the Soviet authorities after the city was annexed by the Soviet Union in the wake of the Second World War. In a spur of creativity, a hammer and sickle was inseminated into the centre of the design, which was promptly chiseled out of the city’s coat of arms following independence from the Soviet Union on July 5, 1990. Regarded as one of the main cultural centres of today’s Ukraine, FC Karpaty Lviv encapsulate the city’s Ukrainian spirit which often fluxes between welling pride and rampant nationalism.
The fierce wolf is said to be a sacred animal for the Dacians, an Indo-European people, who were the ancient inhabitants of Dacia – an area located in and around the Carpathian Mountains and west of the Black Sea. As such, the wolf appears to perfectly embody the ferocious levels of barbarous pride found on FC Dacia Chișinău‘s website, according to which, only “if you are wise, stern, just, reasonable and strong built, know the history of your homeland and love your country, you are a true Dacian”. The badge combines the colours of the Moldovan tricolor, with their official website pointing out to the unenlightened that, “the football at the top of the logo is painted in blue and yellow. But just a few know that this also includes the magic circle of the Dacians, the lucky symbol of this people…”
Described as the “spiritual descendant” of the Soviet clubs from Sevastopol such as Chaika Sevastopol, FC Sevastopol, after the completion of 2013–14 Ukrainian Premier League season, ceased to exist due to the 2014 Crimean Conflict. Their crest represented the bell of Chersonesos, which can be found in Chersonesos Taurica, Crimea, an ancient Greek colony founded approximately 2,500 years ago in the southwestern part of the Crimean Peninsula. It was later confiscated by the French, before being solemnly returned. The club has since applied for a Russian license under a subtle new name, SC Black Sea Fleet.
Nicknamed ‘the Cossacks’, FC Metalurh Zaporizhya’s crest resembles the opening credits of an Atari video game and seems to be based on stylistic merits rather than anything remotely substantial (in keeping with this theme, Ukraine’s 2010 Eurovision contestant Alyosha is also from Zaporizhya). Formed by a steel production company in the 1930s, Zaporizhya have competed in Europe twice, losing to Leeds United 2-1 on aggregate in the 2002-2003 season. Almost a mainstay in the Ukrainian Vyshcha Liga since its inception in 1991, Zaporizhya’s conception as the factory team ‘Stal’ still has reverence due to being sponsored by one of the largest steel production companies in Ukraine, Zaporizhstal.
David McArdle is a PhD candidate studying Central Asian studies in the UK but is currently a resident of Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan). Originally from Greenock (Scotland), travels through Eastern Europe and the Balkans as an undergraduate precipitated his obsession for the region. Having also lived in Belarus and Georgia, David’s other (non-footballing) passions include kitsch 80s music and Russian literature. You can follow David on Twitter @FrunzeAlba