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.
Moscow is a vast city, one of the largest in Europe, and its sprawl is unfathomable to those brought up anywhere outside an equally huge metropolis. With the bulk of the city contained by the nightmarish MKAD motorway, a multi-laned, 80 mile circle of danger, Moscow is home to almost 12 million residents, making it one of the continent’s biggest cities and certainly one of the busiest in rush hour, which can take all day if you happen to be rushing towards one of Moscow’s four main airports.
To confine Moscow to what sits inside the MKAD is entirely arbitrary however, and completely ignoring the many suburban satellites which have developed from centuries-old outposts to commuter hubs, cheaper alternatives to the centre, and a way for those moving into the city to access its many commodities without sacrificing a more provincial pace of life. For all intents and purposes, these satellite towns are a part of the city at large, a fact represented by their administrative inclusion in Moscow Oblast, colloquially known as Podmoskove – the area outside the MKAD which still provides home to some 7 million people.
In the sporting world, a handful of these cities are well-known. Khimki has a football team which has played in the Premier League in recent memory, and the same applies for Ramenskoye, which was represented by the now-defunct Saturn. Fans of Russia’s other sporting passion, ice hockey, will be familiar with the names of Mytishchi and Chekhov – the homes of KHL teams Atlant and Vityaz respectively. Able to sustain professional sports teams in their own right, it is clear that the Oblast’s lesser lights are far from provincial backwaters.
They are also, as if the names above are not convincing enough, a hive of sporting activity. Without leaving the realms of football, it is not too difficult to produce an abundance of clubs from the area that have at some point left their mark on the national stage. Indeed, the oldest professional football club in Russia, Znamya Truda Orekhovo-Zuevo, hail from one of the more remote parts of the Oblast, around 50 miles to the east of the city.
One such settlement which has yet to fully acquaint itself with national sporting competition is Dolgoprudny, a town situated just a couple of miles north of the MKAD barrier and which takes its name from the town’s own pond. Home to around 90,000 inhabitants, Dolgoprudny has existed in some form for at least 300 years, and today is home to the famous Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, which over the years has housed no fewer than seven Nobel Prize winners. Given its prolific accomplishments in the scientific world, it is perhaps understandable that the town has been unable to balance achievement in education with sporting success.
However, in recent years there has been something of a change to the fortunes of Dolgoprudny’s local football team which suggests that the town may soon be able to join the list of Moscow Oblast clubs to have played at a truly national level – that is, in the top two tiers of the Russian game. Until 1998, the town had no footballing representation at all, the locals instead relying on southwestern neighbours Khimki or one of the larger Moscow sides for their dose of the beautiful game.
This was a problem identified by the town’s government and, as is often the case in provincial Russia, it was they who established FC Dolgoprudny with the help of enthusiastic local sportspeople. For three years the club would take part in local, Oblast-wide tournaments with little on the line, and in 2001, the year after clinching the Moscow Oblast Cup it was decided that Dolgoprudny were ready for the next level, and the national championship for amateur sides.
In theory, the jump between the two levels should not have been too large – regionalisation at the amateur level is such that they never had to leave their oblast for an away game. Dologoprudny proved the theory to be accurate, finishing their debut season a comfortable 7th in the second tier of amateur football in their region. Two more years would pass with equally middling results, before a sudden turnaround in 2004 saw the new club explode into life. Of their 34 matches that year, Dolgoprudny failed to win just seven, racking up a goal difference of +106 in the process. Remarkably it was only enough for the runners-up spot, but promotion beckoned all the same.
It would take an immediate relegation and re-promotion for Dolgoprudny to establish themselves in the top tier of Moscow Oblast’s amateur football league, but in 2007 the time from the north of the capital survived in the top group at the second attempt. In the following three seasons, a remarkable display of consistency saw the club finish in 12th place each time, with point totals of 29, 31 and 29. It appeared that Dolgoprudny had found their place.
However, their story was far from over, and they would not remain content with life at the wrong end of the regional amateur standings. The squad was reinforced, the tactics refined, and a new lease of life injected into the players on the field. For fans of the still young side, memories of the 2004 season sprang to mind as Dolgoprudny took their division by storm. In the extended 2011-12 campaign, the club won 35 of their 42 matches, dropping just 15 points all season and being defeated just once in league play. Again the goal difference broke the century mark, and with licensing arrangements settled quickly, the next step became clear – Dolgoprudny would turn professional.
They did so in time for the 2012-13 season, competing in the western zone of the Second Division alongside established lower league sides such as Textilshchik Ivanovo, Spartak Kostroma and the Orekhovo-Zuevo representatives previously referred to as the oldest professionals in the land. The change in scenery was as dramatic as it was unexpected, and Dolgoprudny could count themselves as a ‘genune’ football club.
Professionalism meant changes, even more so than the sudden jump from 12th to 1st in the amateur leagues. Their home stadium was revamped and brought up to scratch, a whole host of professionals were brought in to supplement their existing talent – amongst the incoming names was former Ukrainian youth captain Andrei Proshin, who had made Premier League appearances from Rostov just a year earlier – and Andrei Meshchaninov, himself a prolific striker in the lower leagues, was handed the managerial reigns with one-time Albert Borzenkov as his assistant. Their reserve team, to whom competition had been very much conceptual at this point, entered the same amateur league that the first team had first won just eight years previously. All of a sudden, football became serious.
A bright start to the Second Division season, coupled with the presence of one or two noticeably weaker clubs in their division, ensured that FC Dolgoprudny will continue for the foreseeable future as a professional club, provided there are no financial mishaps along the way. Whilst they are unlikely to follow in the footsteps of Khimki or Saturn in reaching the Russian game’s top table, any leap in quality such that which they showed between 2010 and 2011 could yet see them reach the First Division, no mean feat given the number of clubs who try and fail each year. The Dolgoprudny story comes with a clear message – Moscow’s suburbs may seem insignificant, but they are packed with potential. Only time will tell how much of it is realised.