Football in Russia

Football is one of the most popular sports in Russia. Russia has four leagues in the national league system.

Football has a comparatively short history in Russia, the first football clubs emerged by the end of the XIX century. The national football association was formed in 1912, same year Russian Empire became part of the FIFA community, by the end of 1913 the number of football clubs in Russian Empire run to over 150. The first international match was played in 1912 on the Stockholm Olympics. The game was played against Finland, a province of Russian Empire at that time, Russia lost 1:2. Russia’s second international game was against Germany, it ended with an embarrassing 0:16 defeat.

In the USSR football became a truly national sport, out of 16 soviet republics Russia and Ukraine had the strongest teams on club level, FC Dynamo from the Ukrainian capital city Kyiv won the USSR championship title 13 times, more than any other club. CSKA (Moscow) won the last title in 1991.

USSR national football team was far more successful than Russian Empire or Russian Federation teams. USSR national team won both its first game (against Sweden) and its last match (against Cyprus). Despite been a strong team, USSR won just three international titles, European Championship in 1960 and Olympics football tournaments in 1956, 1988. USSR also played in three European Championship Finals, in 1964, 1972 and 1988.

Russian Federation national team emerged in 1992, it won both its first game (2:0 against Mexico) and its first competitive game (1:0 against Iceland). Russian national football team failed to win any major title so far.

Russian Premier League is the top league of Russian organized football. It was formed in 1991 and was called Upper League until 1998, in 1998 the league was renamed and became Upper Division. In 2001 the current name, Premier League, was adopted. Russian Premier League consists of 16 teams, by the end of the season 2 teams are relegated.

Russian First Division was formed in 1992, until 1998 it was called First League. The structure of the competition has been changed several times. Until 1994 the competition consisted of 3 zonal tournaments: West, East and Centre. Primarily First League consisted of 58 teams, since 2009 it consists only of 20 teams.

Russian football has 3 major trophies. Championship of Russia, played with 16 teams of Russian Premier League, currently Spartak (Moscow) 9 titles, CSKA (Moscow) – 3 titles, Rubin (Kazan), Zenit (Saint Petersburg), Lokomotiv (Moscow) – 2 titles, Alania (Vladikavkaz) – 1 title. Russian Football Cup, the competition includes all the clubs in professional leagues and several amateur clubs, CSKA (Moscow) and Lokomotiv (Moscow) have 5 titles, Spartak (Moscow) has 3 titles, Zenit (Saint Petersburg) has 2 titles, Dynamo (Moscow), Torpedo (Moscow), Terek (Grozny) – 1 title. Russian Super Cup, the champion plays against the cup holder, CSKA (Moscow) – 4 titles, Lokomotiv (Moscow) – 2 titles, Zenit (Saint Petersburg) and Rubin (Kazan) – 1 title.

A number of Russian football clubs enjoy rich finances due to generous sponsorship: Zenit (Saint Petersburg) is financed by Gazprom; Spartak (Moscow) has backing from Leonid Fedun, a businessman owning part of Russian top private oil company Lukoil; Rubin (Kazan) is financed by Tatrstan government; Lokomotiv (Moscow) – by Russian Railroads state-owned company. Zenit (Saint Petersburg), Spartak (Moscow) and CSKA (Moscow) raise significant funds due to commercial activities. While many other clubs have severe problems with fundraising. In 2009 FC Vityaz moved from First Division to Second Division because of financial issues, in 2010 FC Moscow dismissed its place in the Premier League and moved to the amateur level due to financial problems. Many clubs in Premier League and First Division currently hold large debts, have very few commercial sponsors and may any moment move a step or two lower in the league system in order to cut spending and run budget balancing.