In the informative, entertaining, and generously illustrated Spartak Moscow, a book that will be cheered by soccer fans worldwide, Robert Edelman finds in the stands and on the pitch keys to understanding everyday life under Stalin, Khrushchev, and their successors. Millions attended matches and obsessed about their favorite club, and their rowdiness on game day stood out as a moment of relative freedom in a society that championed conformity. This was particularly the case for the supporters of Spartak, which emerged from the rough proletarian Presnia district of Moscow and spent much of its history in fierce rivalry with Dinamo, the team of the secret police. To cheer for Spartak, Edelman shows, was a small and safe way of saying "no" to the fears and absurdities of high Stalinism; to understand Spartak is to understand how soccer explains Soviet life.
Champions of the Soviet Elite League twelve times and eleven-time winner of the USSR Cup, Spartak was founded and led for seven decades by the four Starostin brothers, the most visible of whom were Nikolai and Andrei. Brilliant players turned skilled entrepreneurs, they were flexible enough to constantly change their business model to accommodate the dramatic shifts in Soviet policy. Whether because of their own financial wheeling and dealing or Spartak's too frequent success against state-sponsored teams, they were arrested in 1942 and spent twelve years in the gulag. Instead of facing hard labor and likely death, they were spared the harshness of their places of exile when they were asked by local camp commandants to coach the prisoners' football teams. Returning from the camps after Stalin's death, they took back the reins of a club whose mystique as the "people's team" was only enhanced by its status as a victim of Stalinist tyranny.
Edelman covers the team from its days on the wild fields of prerevolutionary Russia through the post-Soviet period. Given its history, it was hardly surprising that Spartak adjusted quickly to the new, capitalist world of postsocialist Russia, going on to win the championship of the Russian Premier League nine times, the Russian Cup three times, and the CIS Commonwealth of Independent States Cup six times. In addition to providing a fresh and authoritative history of Soviet society as seen through its obsession with the world's most popular sport, Edelman, a well-known sports commentator, also provides biographies of Spartak's leading players over the course of a century and riveting play-by-play accounts of Spartak's most important matches-including such highlights as the day in 1989 when Spartak last won the Soviet Elite League on a Valery Shmarov free kick at the ninety-second minute. Throughout, he palpably evokes what it was like to cheer for the "Red and White."
Robert Edelman is Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of Spartak Moscow: A History of the People’s Team in the Workers’ State, which was supported by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and published by Cornell University Press; it was the winner of the 2009 NASSH Book Award and the 2010 Reginald Zelnik Book Prize as well as being named a Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title. He is also the author of Serious Fun: A History of Spectator Sports in the USSR, winner of the North American Society of Sports Historians Book of the Year.
Robert F. Baumann:
"Once in a while, a study appears that justifies including the history of sport among those topics that warrant serious scholarly attention. Robert Edelman has written such a work. This history of Spartak football club offers a superb blend of social, institutional, and cultural history alongside a thoroughly fascinating account of the development of what Edelman justly describes as Russia's most popular team.... It is a splendid piece of investigative research that could only have been compiled by someone thoroughly enthralled with his subject over many years. Combining archival study with personal interviews and reviews of journalistic accounts, Edelman has produced a book of scholarly substance that is readable and, at times, highly entertaining."
Andrei S. Markovits, University of Michiganco, author of Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism:
"Robert Edelman has written a gem of a book. Letting his fine skills as a historian of the Soviet Union and Russia shine and bringing to bear his expertise about sports as a simultaneous vehicle for conformity and opposition, Edelman offers us a page turner not only about a Soviet and Russian soccer club but also about the lives of everyday people in this world about which we have actually known very little. This book is a wonderful read for anybody interested in culture and identity, well beyond the confines of Russia and soccer."
"Fans of Spartak Moscow would have you believe that their club almost single-handedly defied the state machine.... Edelman's book is a heroic attempt to sift through the legend and arrive at... the truth.... With fascinating... descriptions of attending matches in 1930s Moscow... this is great work of research on a great club."
Book Award Committee, North American Society for Sport History:
"This is an ambitious and very well-documented story, merging culture, identity and politics, ideology and the state with the history of Spartak, Moscow’s leading soccer team, reminding us that politics often has a sporting edge, and providing a sophisticated, subtle and nuanced analysis of the club’s relationship with the state as well as the fans’ relationship with the club. Edelman shows how Moscow soccer could simultaneously be a vehicle for conformity and also opposition, most obviously by showing how support for Spartak, the people’s team, contrasted with that for Moscow Dinamo, the secret police team.... Edelman examines developments from multiple perspectives, drawing on social, cultural, and political history, as well as aspects derived from the more recent interests in body culture."
"Edelman homes in on the most popular Soviet sport—soccer—and the sport's most popular team—Spartak Moscow. The author traces Spartak's story from its working-class origins in prerevolutionary Moscow to the post-Soviet 1990s, but this is more than the history of a soccer team; it shows the many ways in which soccer and politics were 'joined at the hip' and how the team's transformations mirrored and even influenced a constantly changing society. The book succeeds as a history of Spartak, written in accessible prose, for which sports-minded general readers and soccer fans worldwide should be grateful. Beyond team history, serious students of Soviet social and cultural history will benefit from Edelman's prodigious research."
"Spartak was not merely the most popular team in the USSR, but perhaps the most popular semiautonomous institution in the state: the 'people's team,' as Robert Edelman calls it in this revealing and often funny microhistory."
"In Spartak Moscow, his new book about Russia's most illustrious soccer team, Robert Edelman tells some pretty funny stories about the ways in which Nikolai Starostin, long the man who ran Spartak, slipped and slid around the obstacles and dangers inherent in the country’s oppressive machinery by virtue of what he had to offer as a soccer coach.... Spartak’s colorful past provides Robert Edelman with plenty of tales of the team, the mere survival of which was testimony to the creativity of the man who ran it."
Louise McReynolds, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, author of Russia at Play: Leisure Activities at the End of the Tsarist Era:
"Today's savvy sports fan accepts that favorite games have a political dimension, without allowing that to deter from the thrill of competition. In this fascinating study of one of Moscow's preeminent soccer teams, Robert Edelman reminds that the opposite is also true, that politics has an athletic edge. Permitting fans, managers, and athletes to tell the history of their team, Spartak, Edelman provides unique insights into the USSR and Russia. Soccer fans no less than Russian specialists will enjoy this story."
"Robert Edelman's densely informative Spartak Moscow is inevitably as much as the story of Nikolai Starostin as a history of the club whose legend he initiated and eventually epitomized.... Edelman earnestly addresses some perennial problems. How much genuine freedom of expression did the Soviet (male) citizen have, particularly under Stalin? Was supporting Spartak, with its inspirational, improvisatory style of play, a token of opposition-mindedness' Sensibly, Edelman gives qualified answers to this and many other big questions.... Edelman's account...finishes with an exemplary set of conclusions. To the end, Spartak Moscow manages to ride high, its legend as 'the people's club,' like the legacy of Starostin, faded but not forgotten."