This is part of a new series of posts, separate from the main blogs, in which More Than Arshavin will profile the teams which make up the wonderful world of Russian football. Teams from every league will eventually find themselves here, with the pieces shifting between historical narrative, present situation and future prospects whilst trying to capture the essence of each club. If you have a club you would like to see featured, either leave a comment or contact me via Twitter – I’d love to hear your ideas.
In the modern footballing era, it is rarely a surprise to come against fans of teams outside of the top flight who, with little prompting required, will happily tell you of their glory days, when a long-forgotten manager took them to the giddy heights of their country’s footballing system and had them competing against the nation’s biggest clubs on a weekly basis. In England, there is barely a team in the country, excluding those who currently occupy the prestigious Premier League, which cannot lay claim to a rose-tinted glorious past. Whilst some of these can be attributed to little more than sporting nostalgia, the likes of Leeds United, Nottingham Forest and the two Sheffield clubs all boast large fanbases, rich histories and the many other ingredients needed for a top flight football team.
However, more often than not these reminisces are without foundation in the real world. In the case of Leeds, catastrophic financial mismanagement led to a spectacular fall from grace, and it is difficult to see how the present team could survive in the Premier League. AS Monaco, Champions League finalists as recently as 2004, recently struggled to avoid relegation to the third tier of the French game, whilst fellow finalists Stade de Reims only regained their top flight status in 2012. All across Europe, teams that once played at the highest level find themselves scattered across the league system, longing for their day to come again.
In Russia, this phenomenon is both more and less pronounced, depending on how strictly you apply the criteria. Of course, European finalists and indeed title challengers are not something which the Russian Federation and Soviet Union before it possessed a great deal of – outside of Moscow, the republican capitals and the more recent arrivals of St Petersburg and Kazan, few teams have threatened to seize the country’s top prize. However, the top flight as a whole was made particularly fluid by the regionalisation of the second tier and collapse of the USSR, and whilst the former has since been scrapped, the latter still resonates today, ensuring a number of once proud clubs scrabbling around elsewhere.
Examples are not hard to find – Rotor Volgograd, title challengers found recently in the Second Division, are the clearest example, but of the 20 teams which took part in the inaugural Russian Top League season in 1992, just nine of them still ply their trade at the highest level 20 years later. It is an astonishing figure, perhaps representative of the chaos which characterised the 1990s in Russia, and FC Tyumen are one of a number of number of clubs who embody that spirit of uncertainty, fluidity and upheaval.
Founded in 1961 as Geolog – just one of eight monikers the club has adopted in its half century of existence – the side from the oldest Russia settlement in Siberia faced a slow rise up the Soviet league system, finally reached the second tier First League in 1987 after 25 years spent being moved from one regional league to the other and trying to outdo their fellow Siberian teams in consecutive promotions. Whilst other clubs may have made more rapid progress, the Tyumen side went about their business in a manner which seemed to defy the abundance of changes swirling around – not once in the entire Soviet period did the side suffer relegation.
Their second tier status at the time of the Soviet Union’s demise granted them immediate passage to that first Russian top flight season, taking their place in the Top League alongside such the nation’s biggest sides, the likes of Spartak, CSKA and Dinamo Moscow all forced to make their way eastwards for away games on the Tura River. Much to the disappointment of the local fans, their inconvenient geography could not compensate for what was undoubtedly one of the weakest squads in the division, and Dinamo-Gazovik, as they were then known, slumped to the bottom of the table and stayed there for the duration.
The Dinamo-Gazovik name would prove itself to be synonymous with that of a yo-yo club – playing under the banner for five years, the Tyumen side were promoted and relegated twice each, establishing themselves as a club unable to find their place in the new nation’s system. However, the bi-annual thrill of the top flight was eventually replaced by something far more sobering – the 1998 season, played as simple FC Tyumen, saw the club pick up just eight points from 30 games, shipping 89 goals and being laughed out of the Top Division. It was a blow Alexander Ignatenko’s men would never recover from, and the following year Tyumen were again relegated, finishing two points behind Volgar-Gazprom Astrakhan and finding themselves condemned to regional football, Ignatenko long gone and the new boss unable to undo the devastation of the Top Division catastrophe.
Rather than bounce back under Nikolai Vorobev, Tyumen instead failed to gain promotion for two straight seasons, resulting in a situation which saw the club effectively dissolve into a sports school – whilst the situation lasted just only for the 2003 season, Tyumen’s voluntary drop into the amateur league and decision to play with a youth team would have lasting consequences. Financial and other considerations allowed the seniors to play the 2004 season but promotion was rejected, and only after another dominant campaign the following year did the club once more move into the third tier of the Russian game.
There they have have remained ever since, regular top half finishers amongst the other Volga-Ural sides in a region which seems to have undergone something of a resurgence in recent years. In the 2010 campaign they missed out on a First Division spot by a single position but no fewer than 10 points to Gazovik Orenburg, and that remains their only glimpse of promotion.
Today, the current squad contains one player whose career so far seems to mirror the unorthodox path take by his club – Russo-Estonian striker Nikita Andreev, whose own journey has taken him from leading the line for Levadia Tallinn and a trial with CSKA as a teenager, to warming a Spanish bench with Almeria’s B team, before finding himself the main goal source for his Siberian side. Whether Andreev will be able to settle as his club have finally done remains unknown, however what is apparent is that the odds of a Tyumen return to the top flight are even more far-fetched than the 23 year old’s quest for full Russian international honours. Counting themselves as one of Russia’s fallen ‘giants’ is about as much as they can hope for in the current climate, and all things considered, for a club of Tyumen’s status that is far more than most would have expected back in 1961.