sports blog by andy shenk

Conversation with Spartak Fanatic Amir Khuslyutdinov

In Russian Football, Spartak on July 6, 2013 at 8:07 AM

Read the entire article at Russian Football News.

Amir Khuslyutdinov, aka “The Professor”, has been involved in Spartak fan support and hooligan culture since 1977, only a few years after the first organized fan movements in the USSR took root. Still active in the Spartak community, Amir’s 35 years of football fanaticism span several generations, from the twilight years of the Soviet Union to economic ruin in the early 90s to the more and more Westernized society of the 21st century.

Khuslyutdinov talked with me about football hooligans’ values, classic confrontations outside the stadium, conflict with the police and the government and his thoughts on where Russian football is headed today.

We spoke following last week’s Spartak – Dynamo Kiev friendly in Moscow. Unfortunately, the conversation was not recorded, so I have reconstructed his words based solely on my notes from the evening. 

When did Spartak fans first organize?

The first wave began in 1972. Some say it started even earlier, but they’re lying.

Did fans have any political motives?

No, we have never been political. We’re against politics. People can do what they want outside of the stadium, but we’re united inside the stadium.

When did you begin going to Spartak matches?

I went with my father a few times, then started attending matches by myself when I was 12, in 1977.

What were the early years of the Spartak fan movement like?

The team’s popularity boomed in 1977. Spartak had dropped to the 2nd division the year before, but people kept coming. Old Lokomotiv Stadium, which seated 30,000, would sell out. Spartak was so popular that their 2nd division games were shown on national TV.

There was just a buzz about the team around town. People would sew their own flags and bring them to the stadium. Hardly anyone in the media talked about it, but there was one article published in Yunost’ (A cultural magazine for Soviet youth) that gave a fair look at what was happening. It was titled “Passions around Spartak” and came out at the end of 1977.

Anyway, we were promoted at the end of that season and won the league in 1979.

What was your relationship with Ukrainian fans like, especially Dynamo? Did you always have a conflict with them?

First of all, we didn’t call all of the Ukrainian fans “khokhly” (A derogatory term for Ukrainians), just the fans in Kiev. People from Kharkov were “kharki”. In Odessa they were “odessity”. And, originally, we were friends with Dynamo. We would meet them at the train station in Moscow and protect them from CSKA fans.

But in 1982 they beat up some of our younger fans in Kiev and we never forgave them for that.

Amir then continued to share about Dynamo and their team in those years.

Dynamo was a detestable team. The other Ukrainian teams knew that they couldn’t take points in Kiev. And if Dynamo needed it, they were supposed to help them secure a draw on the road, too. As a result, the league even introduced a limit on draws…The first eight counted, but after that neither side would earn a point (The limit remained in effect until 1988, increasing to 10 draws in 1980).

The Ukrainian party boss, Vladimir Shcherbitsky, would always help Dynamo out. They didn’t play fair and they didn’t play exciting football.

How did the Soviet government respond to the fan movements?

Pressure started to increase. People would be questioned and threats were made that they would lose their jobs or fail to graduate from university. The golden age of the Spartak fan movement is considered to be from 1977-1981. But starting on November 15, 1981, a wave of terror began which lasted until 1986. In 1982, as you probably know, the tragedy at Luzhniki took place (At least 66 Spartak fans died in a massive crush following a UEFA Cup match on October 20, 1982. The Soviet press barely mentioned the incident). For several years, the police would regularly come into the stands for no reason at all, just for singing or for displaying fan club symbols.

Road trips in those years were small, nothing like they are today. Usually 200-300 people would attend away matches, sometimes as few as 30 people would be there. The biggest crowds would travel to St. Petersburg, up to 1,500.

It was difficult for me, too, especially once I was working a job. Once in 1987 (Amir was 22 at the time) I asked my boss for time off to attend a match in Kharkov. He wouldn’t give it to me, saying I needed to come in that day and the next. Well, I arranged for a taxi to pick me up after work and take me straight to the airport with a few friends. We just made it to the match in time, then returned on an overnight train to Moscow. When I dropped the match program on my boss’s desk the next day, he told me that if I cared about it that much, he wasn’t going to stop me in the future.

The younger kids had it a lot worse. If you were under 16 and traveling without parents, the police could simply pick you up and hold you until someone from home came to get you. Some kids were kept in orphanages like that for up to three months.

Continue reading at Russian Football News.

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