Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Terek Lives to Play Another Day
The Terek player fired a shot at goal. The keeper parried the ball onto the head of another forward. His effort forced another fingertip save, sending the crowd wild.
On March 29, the little stadium in the North Caucasian town of Lermontov was packed. The Chechen football team Terek was playing its first march in Russia’s first division against strong opposition from Krasnodar’s Kuban.
The match was the first chance for the Grozny team to parade its new line-up and new trainer – and for a small piece of Chechnya to try and display some normality after years of war.
Last season, little Terek beat all comers in the second division and made it to the first, something it had not been able to do since the mid 1970s. It opponents, Kuban, however, have ambitions to go right to the top and join Russia’s premier league, so the stakes in this match were high.
Terek had the better of the game in the first half but were foiled by the athletic Kuban goalkeeper. In the second 45 minutes, the away side began to dominate. Halfway through the second period, its most experienced forward Stanislav Lysenko struck a shot into the far corner of the Terek net for the winning goal.
After the game, Terek players and management could not hide their disappointment. “Even great teams lose,” Roman Sadykov, the club’s manager and former player, comforted the players. The Kuban coach told the post-match press conference, “Terek simply missed its chance, but they are a top-notch team.”
Even to get this far is a huge achievement for a team that has missed several years of football because of the ongoing war in Chechnya. Chechen football ground to a halt in 1994, when the first war began. Terek only started playing again in 2001 and is only being properly financed this season.
“We started this team practically from scratch,” said Sadykov, an ex-goalkeeper who used to captain the side. “But now they play on a par with some of the nation’s top clubs.”
He has been tracking down former Terek players and persuading them to sign up since the end of 2001 on the orders of the head of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow provisional government Akhmad Kadyrov.
Restoring Chechen football is a priority for Kadyrov’s administration in Grozny – and it obviously reinforces the political message it wants to project that life in Chechnya is returning to normal with the new constitutional referendum adopted there on March 23.
“The government helps the team both financially and organisationally,” confirmed Chechnya’s sports minister Khaidar Alkhanov.
Without disclosing the amount of funding allocated to Terek in the 2003 budget, Sadykov said it covers about 30 per cent of the club’s needs. “We are feeling the pinch, but we’ll survive,” he said. “We rely on the sponsorship of [oil company] Rosneft. Akhmad Kadyrov also helps. And fortunately, our new head of government [in Grozny, Anatoly] Popov, is a big soccer fan.”
New sponsorship has actually helped Terek recruit some fine players. At least eight former Chechen footballers who had scattered throughout the Russian league have returned to their old side, including captain Deni Gaisumov, who had played for the top premier league army team TsSKA and in the United Arab Emirates.
“When Sadykov set out to restore our team, he got in touch with me and asked me to join,” recalled Gaisumov. “I was glad to come back, and I never regretted I did.”
A new coach, Vakhit Talgayev, has also bought in new talent. Alexander Grebenozhko has played in Germany for two seasons. And the side now has its first ever foreigner, Ilia Iliev, a Bulgarian, who had played for the national team.
“I joined, literally a few days ago,” said Iliev. “I was struck by the atmosphere in the team. All the lads are very friendly and because I’m a foreigner they try to help.”
Terek has problems that no other team in the Russian league has however. It has to play 200 km from Chechnya at a stadium in the town of Lermontov – the team is based in neighbouring Kislovodsk. The team’s ambition is to move back to Grozny but the situation there is still too unstable to allow that.
At first, the authorities in the Stavropol region were against a Chechen side basing itself on their home turf. “Kislovodsk is a resort town, and provincial governor Chernogorov did not want any trouble at the stadium during games,” said the club’s press spokesman Kazbek Khajiev.
The Russian football federation only gave permission to use the poor-quality pitch at Lermontov a few days before the championship began.
Because of the distance, there were only about 300 fans from Chechnya at last week’s Kuban game. “I go to Terek games whenever I can,” said soccer fan Yusup Khasbulatov. “I saw them seven or eight times last year. I certainly couldn’t miss the first game of the season.”
Many former residents of Grozny, who now live in the Stavropol province, also turned up. Valery Solyonov, supported Terek in Soviet times. “They were lovely last season, and I know they’ve practiced hard for this one,” he said.
“Meanwhile, we need to figure out a way to ship our fans to the games. We’ve been tentatively promised a commuter train,” said Sadykov.
Timur is a Chechen journalist and frequent IWPR contributor, based in Nazran, Ingushetia. For photographs of the match, see version of the article on our website.
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