Manuel Veth –
It has been a nervy time for all Spartak Moscow fans. The club is currently first, six points ahead of Russia’s two most successful clubs of the last ten years: CSKA Moscow and Zenit Saint Petersburg.
Normally, this would suggest that Spartak are firmly in control of the title race. But Spartak are a bit of a different club since they were taken over by the Russian oil tycoon, Leonid Fedun, in 2004.
Before Fedun became the owner of the club, Spartak had won nine out of 12 possible post-Soviet championships. Since Fedun took over, Spartak have been without a single Russian championship. In fact, the only two titles Spartak has won during Fedun’s reign were the 2006 Russian Cup and the 2007 Russian Super Cup.
The silver cabinet has remained empty under Leonid Fedun
Other than that, the silver cabinet has remained empty for the club that sees itself as the peoples’ club—but even that title seems to have faded away in the last few years. Lack of success and comical incidents involving Fedun’s ownership of the club meant that Zenit and CSKA seemed to pass Spartak as teams that have captured the hearts and minds of most Russian football fans.
Football fans like success and, when a study in 2014 determined the most popular teams in Europe, it was Zenit, and not Spartak, that was named the most popular club in Russian football. At the same time fan loyalty can be fleeting.
Most neutral football fans pick and choose teams depending on which club is capturing their heart at the moment. This can be either through continued success, or when an underdog takes the world by storm—Athletic Bilbao, and Borussia Dortmund are two examples.
In Russia, it was certainly true that the likes of Zenit and CSKA were capturing the neutral masses. Success has this effect and both clubs were, after all, not only dominating the league, but were also victorious in Europe.
Does this mean that they had truly surpassed Spartak as the peoples’ club? The answer is most likely not. In truth, Spartak is still the club that can mobilize the masses most effectively in Russian football.
This is evident when one takes a look at the recent attendance numbers in the Russian Football Premier League. Here, Spartak are dominating the table with an average attendance of 30,000 visitors per game.
Furthermore, Spartak fans regularly turn the newly built Otkrytiye Arena into an emotional cauldron. This was especially evident on matchday 21 of the Russian Football Premier League.
In fact, Spartak’s game against Orenburg on Monday night displayed the fears, the hopes, and the passion of Spartak supporters. Spartak had taken a quick 2-0 lead against Orenburg, and appeared to fight off the pressure that CSKA Moscow, who had beaten Krylia Sovetov Samara, and Zenit, who had beaten Rubin Kazan, had put on them early on the matchday.
Can Spartak Moscow overcome the Leonid Fedun curse?
But then the infamous Leonid Fedun curse seemed to strike; Orenburg scored two quick goals, and equalized. For a moment it seemed that Spartak were going to not only throw away their victory, but also perhaps even lose the game against relegation candidate Orenburg.
The fear was evident in the stands and, for a short moment, even on the field. But, this season. Spartak Moscow have Massimo Carrera on the bench. The Italian has managed what no Spartak manager has been able to do since Oleg Romantsev left the club—to install confidence and persistence.
The Italian pushed his team forward from the sideline and, in the fifth minute of extra-time, Spartak found the winner through Dutch superstar, Quincy Promes. The stadium exploded and the cameras captured images of Spartak fans crying on the stands.
Promes and the players on the field, in the meantime, were in each others arms. Carrera was celebrating as though Spartak had just secured the title. In reality, there are still nine games to go in the Russian Football Premier League, and Spartak still have to play CSKA and Zenit.
At the same time, the general feeling was that the curse had been lifted off the club. Spartak did not falter, and we might very well look back on matchday 21 one day, and determine that Spartak’s last-minute winner against Orenburg was the moment that Spartak finally had overcome the curse.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and podcaster for WorldFootballIndex.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.