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The Surprising History of Russian Football

We have come a long way since 1893, when the first football match was played on Russian soil, sandwiched between tug of war and horse racing. The game caused only laughter and confusing questions. Who would like to ride in the mud in white? At first, the answer was simple: only the British citizens who brought it. British imports. At the very beginning, football existed in Russia only in the form of groups of homesick British emigrants waiting at the docks of St. Petersburg for crews of ships arriving from Britain to provide enough people for the warring parties. The man who turned football from a strange oddity into a national sport was the Scot Arthur Macpherson, who became the founder and president of the All-Russian Football Union from 1912 to 13. In the pre-revolutionary era, football was first captured by Russian factories, which created teams for their workers to distract them from drinking vodka on weekends. But the Orthodox Church, which already suspected the possible harmful effects of this decadent European pastime, was shocked to see people running in shorts. The first Russian players had to make their own shorts that reached the ankles. Immediately after the 1917 revolution, the situation turned against this "bourgeois" sport. Clubs were captured and turned into public services and cafes. MacPherson himself was arrested in 1917. Two years later, his body was found under a pile of 40 others in a Moscow prison.

After the initial anti-bourgeois campaign ended and the Soviet government began to promote sport, football became a form of entertainment for workers. Each government department created its own team: CSKA for the army, Lokomotiv for the railroad ... even the secret police intervened. Today, their club is one of the most recognizable names on the Russian football scene: Moscow Dynamo.

Unhappy with the political dimension of sports, one man decided to shake up the status quo. And in 1934 the most successful club in the history of Russia, the Moscow Spartak, was born. Named after Spartak, the rebellious slave who became the gladiator of the Roman legend, Moscow Spartak was known as the "team of people." Its founder Nikolai Starostin also played on the team with his three brothers. Starostins quickly became the greatest football stars of their time.

However, the astonishing success of the football army of the rebels Nikolai Starostin also subjected them to the verification of the highest powers of the Soviet Union. In 1942, the four Starostin brothers were arrested and sent to Siberia. They were accused of conspiring to blow up Lenin's mausoleum and kill Stalin. The allegations were suspiciously soon after their patron, the head of the Komsomol youth organization, Alexander Kosarev, lost political support.

Fortunately for Nikolai Starostin, the guards at the labor camp where he was sent were staunch supporters of Spartak. He was given a certain level of protection and was asked to organize football matches in prison. And then, by personal order of Stalin's football-loving son Vasily, Nikolai was brought back to Moscow to live with him in his house.

After his political rehabilitation, Starostin returned to Spartak as his manager, taking them - and Russian football - to a level playing field with the rest of the world. His less fortunate brothers remained in the Gulag for the duration of their imprisonment.

In June of this year, the Federal Security Service of Russia finally declassified some materials in the case against the Starostins, indicating that the evidence against them was obtained by torturing their close friends, family and colleagues. Despite this, in order to make claims to the brothers, the charges had to be reduced. Instead of attempting to kill Starostins, they faced a number of bizarre accusations, including theft of a van filled with factory goods, embezzlement and propaganda of the values ​​of “bourgeois” sports.

Those days seem solid in the past. In the centenary of the Russian Football Union, Putin and FIFA leaders raised their points to MacPherson, a 19th-century Scottish industrialist who brought football to millions of Russians.

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