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Know Your Enemies: Spartak Moscow

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Liverpool face Spartak Moscow for the first time since 2002. Maybe it’s time for a refresher course.

Steven Gerrard and Baye Aly Ibra Kebe Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Spartak Moscow can trace their roots back to 1922 when the Russian Gymnastics Society was renamed the Moscow Sports Circle, and expanded to include football. The team, which would become the most successful Russian side to date, gained its “Spartak” moniker in 1935 after the rebellious Roman gladiator and slave Spartacus (which is admittedly pretty badass).

Perhaps it goes without saying, but politics dominated all aspects of life in the Soviet Union, and football allegiances were no exception. CSKA Moscow was the army’s team. Dynamo Moscow was the team for the police (secret and otherwise). And Spartak was the people’s team. Naturally, the state authorities did not take kindly to Spartak, and its founders—the four Starostin brothers—faced persecution, up to and including time in a Gulag for the eldest, Nikolai.

Besides being known as “The People’s Team” they are also referred by the fans as “The Meat” and as the Red-Whites, due to their traditional red shirts, with a single white hoop across the chest. This is reflected in their simple diamond, red and white crest with a “C” in the middle (“Spartak” is spelled “Спартак” in Cyrillic). The crest was also courtesy of the above mentioned Nikolai Starostin. Over the years they have experimented with variations including black shorts, white shorts, black socks, white socks, red socks, red and white hooped socks, etc. The kit we’ll see tonight has red shorts and white socks to accompany their traditional red and white shirt.

Above the crest, you will see four stars, one for every five titles won by Spartak in the Russian Premier League and the Soviet Top League. From their first Soviet title in 1936 to their most recent triumph last year, Spartak has racked up 22 top flight titles, the most among Russian sides. Their 2017 title marked the end of a 16 year title drought. As fellow fans who wish to see their lengthy title drought end, we raise our vodka glasses to you. Spartak finished runners-up an additional 16 times, and have a combined 13 Russian and Soviet Cups to their name.

Unsurprisingly, Spartak Moscow have had quite a bit of European involvement over the years, although they are still looking for their first piece of continental silverware. Their best showing in the Champions League/European Cup came in 1990-91 when they were eliminated by Marseille 5-2 on aggregate in the semi-final. (Marseille lost the final on penalties to Red Star Belgrade. It was, shall we say, a different era.) The Red-Whites made the quarter-finals on two other occasions, 1980-81, and 1995-96, losing to Real Madrid (who would go on to lose to a certain side from Merseyside in the final) and Nantes, respectively. Spartak had two more European semi-final appearances in the 90’s, losing to Antwerp 3-2 on aggregate in the now-defunct Cup Winner’s Cup in 1992-93, and 4-2 to Inter Milan in the 1997-98 UEFA Cup (now Europa League).

The stadium 1,100 intrepid Liverpool fans will be traveling to (along with the team, hopefully) is Otkrytiye Arena, opened in 2014. For almost the entirety of Spartak’s history they were without a home to call their own. That finally changed in 2014, with the opening of the 45,000 seat venue, Spartak Stadium, now called Otkrytiye Arena because of their sponsorship deal. From the outside it looks like a poor man’s Allianz Arena. The stadium will feature prominently in next year’s World Cup.

A special thanks to FCSM, our resident Spartak fan and expert! Maybe he can explain the whole meat thing, because I’m at a loss.