One of the USSR’s strongest teams, Dynamo Moscow were relegated from Russia’s top flight in 2016, an unwelcome first since winning the inaugural Soviet title 80 years earlier.
In truth, the former KGB side had long found post-Soviet times challenging. Some say this is karma doing its work on the team founded by ‘Iron’ Felix Dzerzhinsky, Lenin’s secret police henchman. A third-place finish in 2008 and a cup final defeat in 2012 represent Dynamo’s sole achievements since Gorbachëv – a poor return for one of the traditional grandees of Russian football.
The club dates back to 1923 when the Dynamo sports society was set up by Iron Felix to ensure that his secret policemen weren’t tempted to compromise the revolution by crawling into a vodka bottle when off duty. To this day, rival fans call the Blue-and-Whites menty (‘cops’) or musory (‘rubbish’).
The Dynamo Stadium, built in 1928, was regularly used for the grand gymnastic parades beloved of the Soviet regime. At its closure 80 years later, it was the oldest continuously used sporting arena in the former USSR.
To see how it looked in its prime, visit the Institute of Russian Realist Art, where Sergei Luchishkin’s ‘Athletes’ Parade at the Dynamo Stadium’ presents a typical scene of heroically muscled, sublimely agile products of the Socialist system disporting themselves before a huge crowd. There’s another historic artefact at Chapayevsky pereulok, the plaque marking where Lev Yashin lived between 1964 and 1990. You’ll find it close to the suitably Stalinist Triumph Palace hotel, near the newly built CSKA Arena.
As 11-time Soviet champions, Dynamo were not only the team of one-club Lev Yashin, the black-shirted, flat-capped goalkeeping legend, but a big name in the post-war European game. Their floodlight challenge games around Great Britain are steeped in legend – even though the Soviets never managed to convert reputation into European silverware.
The closest they came was in the Cup-Winners’ Cup, two narrow semi-final defeats to Austrian opposition, and a final appearance at a near empty Nou Camp in 1972. With Glasgow Rangers 3-0 up on 50 minutes, Dynamo were always chasing the game, one later marred by a pitch invasion by victorious Scots. Dynamo later challenged the 3-2 scoreline but the result stood and the trophy stayed in Glasgow – although Rangers did receive a European ban.
Back home the Dynamo-Spartak rivalry was something of a Communist Clásico, at least until the rise of Dynamo’s namesake team from Kiev.
But, by the early 2000s, the Dynamo Stadium was a sadly run down. While heritage buffs hailed its unique Constructivist façade, the concrete bowl within was crumbling as badly as the team. By 2006, both were effectively condemned. An expensive flirtation with a host of Portuguese and Brazilian stars, including Maniche and Derlei, had left an ill-acclimatised team in danger of relegation for the first time in its history, while the stadium stood almost empty and ready to fall down.
Dynamo handed their historic Petrovsky Park stadium over to developers in 2008, signing off with a 2-0 win over Tom Tomsk to secure third place. Alexander Kerzhakov scored both before moving to Zenit. Portuguese playmaker Danny made the same journey and Igor Semshov, a bundle of midfield energy, soon followed.
The team relocated to the out-of-town Arena Khimki, promising to be back in a modern super arena by 2012 – while its attendances dropped even further. Global economics halted the rebuild until the club – and its prime land at the junction of the Leningrad Highway and the Third Transport Ring – was bought up by VTB, a state-owned bank. Stability seemed to be back, and building work underway once more.
But the plummeting rouble, and possibly the impact of sanctions on Russian financial institutions, undermined all that. VTB pumped cash into Dynamo, keeping them competitive enough to take fourth place in the 2014-15 season.
Then came the bombshell. Financial Fair Play. UEFA ruled that Dynamo had drastically overspent their self-generated income, not surprising since the club was almost wholly reliant on payments from VTB. At a stroke, the enhanced status of playing in Europe was lost, players had to leave, either to balance the books or further their careers at a club with brighter prospects. A season of struggle beckoned.
Even then, the squad should have had enough to survive. That was until a run of nine games without a win in 2015-16 – with just three goals scored – killed off Dynamo. A 0-1 defeat at Kuban on the penultimate weekend saw the Krasnodar side leapfrog the Muscovites, plunging Dynamo into the bottom two without even the insurance of a relegation play-off. Zenit, gleeful given the conflict between the two sets of fans in recent seasons, just had to apply the coup-de-grâce. That day, Alexander Kokorin, the last star to leave Dynamo in the January transfer window, was on the scoresheet. His four goals in eight games early in the season still made him top scorer for the now relegated club.
FC Ufa’s home win over Spartak confirmed that the Blue-and-Whites would have been doomed regardless of their result on the final day.
Building work continues on Dynamo’s new stadium and the shell of the future VTB Arena can be seen emerging behind the famous old constructivist façade. And Dynamo have made a good fist of life in the lower-flight National League, leading the division a third of the way through the season.
It’s a far cry, though, from Iron Felix and Lev Yashin.
Although historically well supported, Dynamo have rarely attracted decent crowds in modern times. Average attendances at the Dynamo Stadium didn’t reach five figures from 1990 onwards, until the final season there, and farewell to the 80-year-old stadium in 2008.
Support often looks more impressive away from home, a legacy of the provincial Soviet tradition of adopting a successful club from Moscow.
History thus plays a big role in supporting Dynamo. From flags that pair the club crest with the symbolic Order of Lenin to the chants of ‘Tolko Yashin, tolko pobeda!’ (‘Only Yashin, only victory!), it can often feel like these games should be played on jerky sepia newsreels by players with Stanley Matthews-style shorts. Sitting among the old-timers, even without speaking much Russian, is an object lesson in incongruous nostalgia as the heroes of yesteryear are recalled to distract attention from the inept efforts on the field today.
A certain wary respect is shared with the Army Club, CSKA, based on a shared notion of national service in the clubs’ roots. Zenit are despised. Two meetings between the teams couldn’t be completed due to crowd trouble, and bitterness still lingers after an incident where Zenit fans chanted obscene verses about Yashin during a tribute to mark the legend’s 80th anniversary a few years ago.
Until 2017, Dynamo play out at the Arena Khimki. Thereafter, they are scheduled to move into the VTB Arena, a $1.5 billion complex, its main stadium with an adjustable capacity between 12,000 and 27,000. A final name has yet to setted upon – Lev Yashin Stadium is one possibility.
See Arena Khimki.
The club distributes in person from the club office near the old stadium (Dinamo metro) at ulitsa Begovaya 32 for three days before the match (Fri noon-8pm, Sat-Sun noon-6pm) and at the ticket office the Arena Khimki between gates 7 and 8 for three days before the match (noon-8pm/6pm). The club shop at Terminal E of Sheremyetyevo Airport also distributes.
On match days, ticket sales start at noon between gates 3-4 of the Arena Khimki.
Dynamo also sell tickets online on their Russian-language website.
Prices have dropped for 2016-17, given Dynamo’s second-flight status. For a seat the home end, Tribuna D (sectors D1-D3), you’ll pay at little as 200r ($3), twice that in Tribuna C along the sideline and only 500r ($7.75) for a decent seat in main stand A.
The main Dynamo store (daily 9am-9pm) is at Terminal E of Sheremyetyevo Airport, near the entrance to the Aeroexpress rail terminal. There’s another store (daily 10am-8pm) at ulitsa Novaya Bashilovka 8, close to the old Dinamo stadium/new VTB Arena, Dinamo metro 10min walk away.
Dynamo shirts and souvenirs are also distributed at several Nike stores in Moscow and at two SportDyelo stores, at ulitsa Krasnoprudnaya 13 (metro Krasnoselskaya) and Varshavskoye Shosse 95 (metro Chertanovskaya).