A bemused Russian press first reported football being played in 1868 by British Residents of St Petersburg, the Tzarist Capital which provided Russia’s ‘Window on the West’. The British ‘colony’ centred their sporting and leisure activities at the Imperial River Yacht Club on Krestovsky Island but had to rely on crews from visiting British ships to provide opposition teams. Interestingly British sailors were reported as early as 1860 playing football in the Black Sea naval base of Odessa.
The body of ‘Mad Monk’ Rasputin was recovered beneath river ice near the island in December 1916 and in recent times the finger of suspicion for his murder has been pointed at the British Secret Intelligence Service.
St Petersburg’s first football club ‘Viktoria’ surfaced in 1894 with English and German players to be joined by the ‘Scottish Circle of Amateurs’ – ‘English Football Club’ – ‘Germania FC’ and ‘Gloria’ with their teams drawn from the various diplomatic missions and ex-pat business communities.
A major break-through came just two years when a Frenchman first published the rules of the game in Russian leading to the formation of ‘SPORT’ (St Petersburg Circle of Amateur Sportsmen) the first Russian team followed by ‘Petrograd’ (old name for St Petersburg) who were beaten 6-0 on Vasilievsky Island, in October 1897, by the mainly English ‘Ostrov’ (Island) team.
By 1901 the city’s first league was born mainly of ‘works’ teams from the huge weaving mills. Management encouraged the move as a distraction to the normal heavy drinking of their workforces on Sundays when factories closed.
And to prove there’s nothing new under the sun The Auld Enemy battles, which began in 1872 at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground in Glasgow, were re-enacted in St Petersburg with the predominantly English ‘Nevsky’ team from the Neva Spinning Mill pitted against the exclusively Scottish ‘Nevka’ whose team worked in Sampson Weaving Mill.
Indeed, in 1901, the Nevka Scots won the first-ever St Petersburg Football League Championship. Their line-up in the first league match against ‘Viktoria’ – which had a mix of English, German and Russian players – was: Sewell, Gilchrist, Sharples, Crompton, Fletcher, D. Hargreaves (capt), Gerard, Haines, F. Hargreaves, Small, Boyle.
In 1903 the stage was set for the first International Football Incident when ‘Sport’ protested vigorously that no Russian had ever been picked to play in a representative St Petersburg XI. (Shades of Craig Levein can’t but spring to mind).
Tension simmered that year until a game between Sport (Russian) and Nevsky (English) when a Russian player was sent-off and banned for a year for his reaction to a vicious English tackle and attempt to choke him. Outraged Russian MSM called on the Russian teams to leave the League to form their own and thundered: ‘This year we have Sharples the throttler! In future we shall probably have Jim the stabber and Jack the Ripper! Match reports will be crime reports’. I wonder if ‘Jimmy’ was a Scot :)
By 1904 the three-team ‘Foreign’ League was joined by three Russian teams in the shape of Sport, Petrovsky and Nationsaly and an uneasy truce prevailed until 1908.
But feelings again boiled over after an English player was sent-off and the aptly named ‘New Times’ local paper blasted him for not just a blatant infringement of football rules but for breaching: ‘Rules of normal civility adhered to by educated people’.
His ‘crime’ wasn’t reported but it must have been a shocker and with a name like ‘Monroe’ I reckon he was a Scot anyway :) The local paper reported Russian fans ‘hissing’ him off while the English support ‘made a terrible din and clamoured for his return’. Later that year ‘Sport’ became the first Russian team to win the St Petersburg League’s Aspeden Cup – originally donated by an English businessman.
It was all too much for the three foreign teams who quit the St Petersburg League in 1909 to form the ‘Russian Society of Amateur Footballers’ in a move that was echoed by the Moscow ex-pat teams. Russian teams ignored the new grouping and concentrated on building their own teams and leagues and by 1911 the ex-pat breakaway crumbled and they joined the Russian Leagues.
But, from that moment on, the ‘Foreign’ teams never won another Russian Footballing Championship and the home-grown teams grew stronger and spread throughout All of the Russias. More importantly the aristocratic basis on which Russian football was originally based started to take-on a much more working-class hue with the arrival of native players from the factories enthusiastically supported by fellow workers who saw that the all-conquering foreigners could be beaten.
THE SCOTTISH FOUNDING FATHER OF RUSSIAN FOOTBALL
Arthur McPherson, a timber merchant and stock exchange dealer, was born in St Petersburg of Scottish parents and was the leading light in promoting football as chairman of the city’s football league in 1903-1905 and 1912-1913. He was also Founder President of the Russian Football Federation from 1912-13. Sadly he was imprisoned following the 1917 October Revolution and died two years later in jail from typhoid.
Amazingly McPherson had also formed the Krestovsky Lawn Tennis Club; was first chairman of the All-Russian Lawn Tennis Union and his sons were among the first Russian tennis champions – a recent graduate of their old club is the well-known champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
The new Zenit Stadium, currently being built on Krestovsky Island island will help host the 2018 World Cup in Russia and provide a direct link back to the very beginnings of football in the country. I can assure my Blue Friends that I tried hard to establish whether the ‘Nevka Scots’ were one of the local predecessor teams which formed Zenit but failed – the mystery as to whether they were Calton or Bridgeton weavers remains unanswered.
There is another piece of shared Scottish/Petersburg football history: The 2007-2008 UEFA Cup Final – I haven’t given the result in case it offends some of our more sensitive blog brethren :)
There’s a decent-enough Biog on McPherson at:
I missed the story earlier this year and was really pleased to read how Vladimir Putin hailed McPherson in January this year at a celebration dinner mark the Russian Football Union Centenary attended by FIFA chief Sepp Blatter and UEFA boss Michel Platini.
His grandfather Murdoch who hailed from Perth, was an engineer and part-owner of a Clyde shipyard, and emigrated to St Petersburg in the late 1830s after building a yacht for the Russian Imperial Family and in 1856 he founded the world-famous Baltic Shipyard which built some of the Russian Navy’s best-known ships.
The Scottish mill workers in St Petersburg were the sons of Scottish weavers possibly from Strathaven, Condorrat, Bridgeton and The Calton who supported the radicalist upsurge which followed the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 and led to the brutally suppressed 1820 Rising in their native land with the execution of weavers’ leaders: James Wilson, Andrew Hardie and John Baird whose martyrdom helped fuel the later Chartist and Socialist Movements. Others were killed in clashes with troops and more weavers transported to Australia.
St Petersburg’s English weavers came mainly from Lancashire with their own history of oppression rooted in the slaughter by mounted dragoons at Peterloo in Manchester.
All-in-all it doesn’t surprise me that Russian mill workers in St Petersburg were extremely active in the city’s pivotal revolutionary activities leading to the overthrow of the Romanov regime by the Bolsheviks. Female mill workers were extremely politically active in St Petersburg and women were known to spectate at football matches in large numbers and actually play the game as well.
Paisley Tartan Army have an excellent piece on the 1820 Rising at: http://www.thesonsofscotland.co.uk/the1820rising.htm
There’s no doubt that football has always been important to St Petersburg but possibly never more so than during the bloody 900 day Siege of Leningrad (St Petersburg) when the embattled defenders showed their total disdain for Nazi attackers by holding a football tournament in May 1942. The Russian death toll is unknown although estimates claim up to 1.5 million may have died.
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