I wrote this blog post, and the others in this series, beginning on November 30th 2021. It does not indicate my favouring Russia over the Ukraine in the war currently being waged on the latter’s territory.
In any case, I have written about sport in the old Soviet Union in the late 1960s, not the situation today. Indeed, I would argue that Russia today is an infinitely worse country to deal with than the old Soviet Union used to be. The only situation I could compare present day Russia to would be the Germany of Hitler and Goebbels, where the population were hypnotised into believing what they were told to believe. Anyway, here we go…….
Three, perhaps four lifetimes ago, I was at school, at a country grammar school in west Leicestershire. From 13-17, I studied Russian there, a subject that I always loved. I was also a huge football/soccer fan, and accordingly, I had a collection of hundreds of football programmes. These are the little booklets that are on sale before the match with all the details of the teams, the fixtures to come, the top goalscorers in the league and so on.
Those two hobbies came together when I wrote a letter to a Russian First Division team who were then called Zenit Leningrad, asking them if anybody there would like to become my penfriend, and exchange football programmes with me. Here’s the team badge:
A little while later, I received a letter from a Russian gentleman who, just like me, was a lover of football and a programme collector. His name was Oleg Soloviev and his surname meant “nightingale” in Russian. The team used to play at what was then called the Kirov Stadium, a vast bowl with 100,000 seats.
I sent Oleg English and Scottish programmes and he sent me Soviet ones. I say “Soviet” because in those days many of the teams had Soviet names, as we shall see. Oleg was the man in charge of Zenit’s Youth Team and he travelled widely around the USSR in connection with his job. I still have some of the programmes he sent me, although only a small fraction. When I left home to go to my first job, my mother threw out my entire programme collection because I didn’t live there anymore. This type of action, which, incidentally, discarded well over a thousand pounds worth of footballing treasures, was by no means rare at this time and there were other young people I knew who suffered from it. It was all part of the “Bring ‘em up tough but with deeply rooted complexes” method of child care, so beautifully captured by Philip Larkin in this oh-so-true poem
One small difference from English programmes was that in the Soviet Union, the home team was always printed second. This is shown in this particular programme which is of a design used by Zenit Leningrad for a number of years. At the top is the word “футбол” or “football” and the next word is “стадион” which means “stadium”. Perhaps you can spot the name of the man that the stadium was named after, namely “Kirov” or “Кирова”.
Other recognisable things are the kick-off time at the bottom, namely 1600 hours and the day “21 июля” or “21 July” in the middle of the ball.
The teams are going to play a friendly match, the lower team is “Зенит Ленинград” aka “Zenit Leningrad” and the two word opponents are “Сборная” which is “international (team” and “Японин” or “Japan”.
The next programme concerns two teams which still exist nowadays. “Шахтëр Донетск” or “Shakhtyor Donetsk” versus “Зенит Ленинград” aka “Zenit Leningrad” . The game actually took place in the 27th year of the USSR Championship, 1965 (bottom), on April 21st (top right), at 1800 hours (bottom) .
Here are the two teams, both set out in a daring 4-2-4 formation. “Зенит“ obviously means “Zenith” and “Шахтëр” means a “coalminer”. Донетск /Donetsk is now in the Ukraine, in the Donbass region, famous for its coal and iron ore.
That same team of Shakhtyor Donetsk/”Donbass Coalminers” is the away team in the next encounter, against “СКА Ростов” which is “SKA Rostov” “SKA” stands for “Sports Klub of the Army”. Rostov is a very large city and the stadium hosted five games in the 2018 World Cup. This link will take you to some pictures of Rostov’s beautiful buildings.
The game kicked off at 1700 hours (bottom) on July 1st 1971 (middle left). The large yellow letters say “кубок СССР по футболу” which means “Cup of the USSR in football”. It is the 30th tournament (top left, with “30-й турнир”). Underneath the big yellow letters it is revealed that the game is the “матч ¼ финал” or “quarter final match”. Rostov, though, have never been a very successful cup team. Just under the right hand yellow pentagon it says “35-й кубковый матч СКА”. So, if this is Rostov’s 35th cup match, and the cup competition is now thirty years old, then they must have only ever won five cup ties.