I will be watching Liverpool as they play Standard Liege in a qualifying tie for the Champions’ League tonight. The round’s plum tie, however, is taking place fifteen hundred miles away in Moscow. FC Spartak will renew their Soviet era rivalry with Ukrainian club Dynamo Kiev.
Spartak were regarded as the anti-establishment side in Moscow. Formed independently, with the involvement of the legendary Nikolai Starotsin, the club was eventually connected to the food workers’ union and only latterly the Komsomol, whilst the other great Moscow clubs were formed and financed by the army, the police and the national railways respectively. Spartak won 12 Soviet titles despite their uncoventional background. A chapter of Marc Bennetts’ book ‘Football Dynamo’ dedicated to the club is called ‘Spartak is a religion’, such is the fervour of their loyal supporters.
In contrast to their metropolitan rivals, Dynamo Kiev carried with them the regional hopes of the Ukrainian SSR. The team acquired iconic status in Ukraine after 8 members of the pre war 11, under the team moniker 'Start', defeated a series of German military sides by large margins during Nazi occupation. Their place in Ukrainian folklore was underpinned by 13 Soviet titles which were viewed by some as a source of national pride, won in the teeth, as they would have argued, of Soviet occupation.
The two clubs renewed their rivalry in 1994, winning one apiece from two bitterly contested matches in the Champions’ League group stages.