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.
The city of Perm, despite its somewhat amusing name, is unfortunately not one of Russia’s most happy-go-lucky conurbations. Indeed, it has developed something of a regrettable reputation as venue for all kinds of grizzly murders within Russia, perhaps the worst committed in 2009, when three men were charged with killing another with hammers and knives, before selling the parts of his body that they decided not to eat themselves to a kebab shop. Apologies to those whose appetites may have been ruined by that tale.
For a brief period of history, 1940-57 to be exact, the city was named after Vyacheslav Molotov – Stalinist protege, signatory to the non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany and two-time People’s Commissar/Minister for Foreign Affairs who unwillingly gave his name to the primitive incendiary cocktail favoured by rioters the world over. With Molotov holding such a high-powered and important position within the Soviet Union, it was only right that his city’s football team bore a particularly Soviet moniker. Although ‘molot’ itself is the Russian word for ‘hammer,’ those in charge of football in the city instead opted for Krylya Sovetov, a name now associated with Samara but glorious in meaning – the Wings of the Soviets. When Molotov was banished to Mongolia as ambassador under Khruschev, the city regained its old name, and its footballers played under a new banner – Zvezda, the star of Perm.
However, Zvezda Perm never reached the heights of Soviet football, nor do they exist in the modern era. 1995 was the last year of their 50 year lifespan, a handful of near misses in the second tier their greatest achievements and unnoticed outside of their immediate surroundings. By the time of their disappearance from the professional game, they had slipped harmlessly down into the regional Russian Second Division, and in the same year their natural heirs breezed past them on their way to far surpassing the modest record of the old club.
Amkar Perm only came into being in 1993, and it took a further two years for the club to negotiate the awkward combination of the amateur leagues and Russia’s notorious professional licensing regulation before being allowed in the Second Division. From humble beginnings – the name ‘Amkar’ is a typically Russian stump compound which combines the two main products of the team’s original fertiliser factory – came a lightning start, and in the 1995 season which saw Zvezda drop out of the Second Division, Amkar marked their debut year by finishing runners-up in the same competition. Two more top three finishes followed, and in 1998 they romped to the title and promotion, dropping just seven points all season and netting 100 goals en route.
One of the main architects of their rapid rise was striker Konstantin Paramonov, who netted 30 goals in their promotion campaign to go with 34 in the 1996 season. Arriving in the First Division so soon, there were some doubts as to Amkar’s suitability for the second tier, but they were immediately dispelled – with Paramonov leading the league’s scoring charts once more, Amkar finished a solid 6th, ready to push even further. Although he would never reach the 23 goal heights of that first year in the First Division, he remains the club’s all-time top goalscorer, top scoring for Amkar every year from 1996-2003. A local player who had previously played for Zvezda, he is one of Russian football’s great examples of hometown loyalty – even today he remains involved with Amkar’s reserves.
In a cruel twist of fate, Paramonov’s shooting boots failed him just as Amkar reached the big time. Enjoying another superb season in front of goal, his clinical finishing fired his club to the top of the First Division, and after threatening to do so for the previous five years, Amkar finally improved on their previous best 4th place finish, taking the title ahead of Kuban Krasnodar to surpass Zvezda’s greatest achievement after just a decade of existence. Faced with Premier League defences, Paramonov struck just four times in the next campaign, Amkar finishing two points clear of the drop but a long way up the table in 11th.
Amkar remained safe from relegation, controversy and excitement until 2006, when manager Sergei Oborin, who had led the club since its inception, fell out with the owners over its future. A former goalkeeper with 300 appearances for Zvezda to his name, Oborin oversaw Amkar’s rapid rise through the leagues only to leave over a boardroom disagreement, eventually taking over at Krylya Sovetov Samara and Sibir Novosibirsk before disappearing from the managerial game at the end of 2008. Despite his achievements, his achievements remain unknown beyond Perm.
The next year, new boss Rashid Rakhimov was brought in along with players such as Bulgarian winger Georgi Peev and Montenegrin Nikola Drincic, lifting them to 8th place before being lured away by Lokomotiv Moscow. Enter the enigmatic Miodrag Bozovic, the Montenegrin manager whose disregard for tactical detail seems to stand at odds with his insistence on fluid, attacking football. For a brief spell in 2008 they topped the table, but the midseason sales of goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov and defender Alexei Popov – an academy graduate who returned after struggling to break in to the Rubin Kazan side – were the catalysts for their unlikely challenge to fade. Still, the season was a remarkable success, Bozovic leading his men to the Cup final, where they would lose to CSKA on penalties, and 4th place. Europe beckoned, but Bozovic left after yet more disagreement – a feature of his managerial reigns – and a backward step looked inevitable.
Defeat to eventual runners-up Fulham before the group stage ended any hopes of an extended European campaign, and new manager Dimitar Dimitrov failed to maintain the over-achievement of the previous year. With Amkar fighting relegation after two thirds of the season, Rakhimov was called back in to rescue his former club, succeeding with a 13th place finish was dropped by a single position the following year.
The 2011-12 campaign saw the return of Bozovic to Perm, and an excitement in the stands as a result. However, this time there would be no miracle, Amkar ending an comfortable 10th before seeing the Montenegrin up sticks and head to Rostov. Today Amkar sit as one of the Russian Premier League’s most unremarkable sides, rarely making the news unless in the event of a shock win over a title challenger. Without the backing of a Zenit, CSKA or Anzhi, it remains unlikely that they will ever be able to repeat the successes of 2008, and yet every year they remain far enough above the relegation zone for worries to be minimal. For a league in which stability can often be a concept rather than a reality, Amkar are a blessing in disguise – with their rapid rise out of the way, fans and observers alike know roughly what to expect from the side, and there is a lot to be said for consistency in Russia.