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 Ingush narrative, to borrow a term from the world of historians, is one filled with persecution, violence and problems. Ever since the Mongols swept in and sacked the regional capital of Maghas in 1239, the people now known as the Ingush have seen tribal conflicts and ethno-religious hostilities prevent anything resembling stability to take hold. Such a statement is simplistic, and does not even begin to scrape the surface of the complex world of Caucasian clan histories, but the notion itself is not inaccurate.
By the early 1800s, the Ingush lands had been fully conquered and colonised by the Russians, who garrisoned the region as part of a long and drawn-out war in the Caucasus which many would say continues to this day, and which has sown the seed of discontent for generation after generation in the troubled North Caucasus region. In the Soviet era, after being promised the return of their historic lands, Stalin’s regime then used the Nazi invasion of the USSR to deport an entire nation, the Ingush people being rehomed in Siberia, Central Asia and the Russian Far East, where their ‘conspiratorial’ tendencies could not affect the Soviet war machine. Only in 1989 were the Ingush fully rehabilitated by the Soviet leadership – 16 years after hundreds were killed protesting against the resettlement of their homeland by Russian and Ossetian families.
In the early 1990s, things did not improve. A break with Chechnya and an attempt to build bridges with the all-powerful Russian Federation led only to war as Ossetian nationalists attempted to purge their population of ethnic Ingush. The Beslan school massacre, which left almost 400 dead, saw around 500 Ingush caught up as hostages. As the first Russian-Chechen War began, Ingushetia became embroiled yet again – first as refugees fled over the regional boundaries, and secondly as hard-line Islamists joined the rebel cause. Ever since, despite the attempt to stabilise the region led by then-president Ruslan Aushev – a Soviet war hero of the Afghan campaign – the authorities in Moscow have viewed Ingushetia with a suspicious eye, with counter-insurgency operations frequently interrupting day-to-day life in the region.
It is not surprising then, that in a region plagued by corruption, dispute and unending hostility from the powers-that-be, sport has taken something of a back seat. While in many cases sport can be used on a macro level to bring together communities, tackling the myriad problems faced by the Ingush, competitive and organised sport cannot provide the answers. Respite perhaps, but not solutions.
As a result, sporting prowess within Ingushetia – one of Russia’s poorest regions, to add to its growing list of issues – is not something which has developed widespread. While the North Caucasus have an international reputation for their skills on horseback, and in some spheres on the wrestling map, team sports have taken a back seat. Football barely penetrated the region officially during the troubled Soviet years, and only after the formation of the Russian Federation did Nazran, the second largest city in the region behind the capital Magas, have a team to call its own.
When Angusht, then simply ‘Ingushetia,’ were formed, they took part in the short-lived Third League, making their debut in the 1994 season and impressively earning promotion the following season, narrowly missing out on the title to Olimp Kislovodsk in what quickly developed into a two-horse race for the championship. Not content with simply plying their trade at a regional level, Angusht would go to finish in the top three twice in their first half-decade up.
However, as football in the south of Russia grew into something more than a mere sport – many teams using their geographical identities to express political or national solidarity in the face of Moscow – Angusht began to struggle to maintain their rapid progress. In the end, their gradual approach failed to pay dividends – promotion in 2005 meant they would be the first ever Ingush team to represent the region in national footballing competition, but the following year ended in embarrassment.
Over a 42 game season, Angusht managed just three victories, losing no fewer than 35 times and picking up just 13 of a possible 126 points. Remarkably, the Angusht front line managed to outscore two other sides – both of whom were unsurprisingly relegated – but the most damning statistics came in the goals against column, the club shipping 105 goals on their way to last place and an immediate return to the regional league.
With the club humiliated, financial ruin followed. The budget over-extended by travelling around the vast nation, Angusht collapsed in on themselves, and were forced to fold. It would take two years for them to re-emerge from the amateur ranks as FC Nazran, with promotion to the Second Division coinciding with a name change back to Angusht.
Four years later, the story could well be on the verge of repeating itself. Steady progress in the Second DIvision South – 16th, 10th and 7th before an unexpected title success ahead of regional giants Chernomorets Novorossiysk – has been followed by an unsurprisingly poor showing the First Division, with relegation imminent and little likelihood of a great escape.
Their demise will come as little surprise given their constant struggle to attract players from outside of their immediate catchment to the club, with the vast majority of their squad consisting of youngsters who have spent their entire professional careers in and around Angusht. When faced with the option of joining any of the newly-promoted sides, experienced veterans and young talents alike are understandably choosing to head elsewhere – whether the Moscow region, any number of provincial capitals, or even the Russian Far East – instead of taking the risk of settling in Ingushetia.
With an unavoidable problem in the way of their progress – and one with no end in sight, perhaps the best Angusht can hope to achieve is to battle away in a bid to eventually survive in the First Division, and to hope that the conveyor belt of local talent continues to supply them with enough quality to establish themselves as a fixture in the second tier. Given their circumstances, even that would be a laudable achievement.