16 Years Without Number 16 – Remembering Serhiy Perkhun

Photo: Denis BGRUS

Before PFC CSKA Moscow’s recent outing against FC Rostov in the Premier League, the Red-Blue fans displayed a massive banner with the text: “16 years without number 16”. Alongside the banner, was a giant picture of goalkeeper Serhiy Perkhun, who played for the club in 2001. The actions were in honour of the Ukrainian born goalkeeper, who died 16 years ago of a brain hemorrhage after a head-to-head collision with an Anzhi Makhachkala player during a game in the Premier League.

Although it’s a long time since the tragic accident, neither the fans nor the club have forgotten their beloved warrior, who wore number 16 during his stint at the club, which was brutally cut short.

Perkhun was born in Dnipropetrovsk, in the current Ukraine, in 1977, and he naturally began playing for hometown pride Dnipro. At the age of just 16, he made his debut for the club in 1993, becoming the youngest ever goalkeeper to feature in the Ukrainian Premier League.

Despite the early debut, and some great performances on Ukraine’s various youth national teams, Perkhun never managed to breakthrough for Dnipro, and eventually he had to look elsewhere for regular playing time.

The playing time, he found in Moldova at Sheriff Tiraspol. After a successful year-and-a-half at the club, Perkhun had proven himself in professional football and was ready to move on to bigger challenges. This wasn’t as easy as first thought though.

He went six months without a club, before finally being offered a trial at CSKA Moscow. After rejections from Torpedo-Zil, CSKA Kyiv, Dnipro, Dinamo Kyiv and Galatasaray, Perkhun was most likely low on morale, but Pavel Sadyrin, who coached CSKA at the time, saw something special in the young goalkeeper.

READ MORE: Pavel Sadyrin: A Man Ahead of His Time

“In his eyes, I saw a great desire to play,” Sadyrin later recalled. “Some, you know, comes to the team, and their first question is: “How much money will I get?” Serhiy was only interested in football. He didn’t set any demands, and said that he was ready to work and prove that he deserved to play on the first team.”

Originally though, Perkhun was signed as back-up for Andrey Novosadov, which he understood. The young Ukrainian kept his head down, and worked hard to improve.

Perkhun wasn’t a spoiled football player like many others. He didn’t set demands to the coaching staff, but instead simply did his job with an almost unprecedented will to improve. A few days after the tragic incident, Sadyrin recalled how Perkhun was always ready to play with the second team, if he was asked to. He was never hurt or complained about it, and he constantly impressed the coaching staff.

Even when he was injured, Perkhun kept playing, pushing himself to the limit. During his time at CSKA, he suffered from problems with his shoulder, but when Sadyrin asked him whether he needed some rest and time to recover, he refused, saying that it would pass by itself.

He was simply a workaholic in the truest sense of the word, as his teammate Stanislav Lysenko later told. “He almost always left the trainings as the last one.”

And after three months, his big break came as Novosadov went down injured in a game against Zenit St. Petersburg. This saw Perkhun came on at half time, and from there he never looked back.

Having worked so hard to finally get his chance at the highest level, Perkhun wasn’t going to slack off after finally receiving his big chance.

After his first 12 games, Perkhun had kept six clean sheets and only conceded six goals, and he had finally made his name for himself.

Also in his homeland had people gotten the eyes up for the brilliant young goalkeeper. On August 15, 2001, he made his debut on the national team, when he played the second half of a friendly against Latvia.

Three days later, CSKA Moscow travelled to Makhachkala to face Anzhi in the Premier League.

16,000 people showed up to Dinamo Stadium for the game, and they saw a fiercely fought contest. The home side had numerous huge chances, but Perkhun did his job excellently and kept them from scoring. Therefore, the score stayed at 0-0.

Then, in the 75th minute, the fatal incident happened.

Anzhi striker Budun Budunov chased a long pass, and was almost free on goal. Perkhun however, fearless and confident as he was, jumped out the penalty area to beat Budunov to the ball and save his team once again. Unfortunately, the two players collided at full speed and their heads hit each other.

Running out to long passes was a part of Perkhun’s game. As his teammate Oleg Kornaukhov later recalled, fear simply wasn’t a part of his vocabulary. In fact, he acted much like what people today refer to as sweeper keepers. As Roman Berezovsky, who played 94 national team games for Armenia and represented clubs like Zenit, Dinamo Moscow and Torpedo Moscow, later stated about Perkhun’s debut match against Zenit: “Despite his young age, he perfectly read the game and anticipated every action of the opponent, played well outside of the penalty area and often performed the role of the last defender. More recently, German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has demonstrated a similar style. Perkhun did it already in the early 2000s.”

Running towards the loose ball and the Anzhi striker was therefore a routine action, something Perkhun had done thousands of times in both games and trainings. Nevertheless, both players lost consciousness and were carried off the pitch and taken to the hospital. And the seriousness of the incident was immediately clear. Straight after the collision, two CSKA defenders raised their hands and signaled to the doctors on the sideline to rush into the pitch and help their teammate.

After the game, Perkhun was picked up by the hospital and prepared to fly home to Moscow with the rest of the squad. As the winner he was, he immediately asked about the final score of the game, and his teammates were relieved to see him in fine condition.

However, while he seemed healthy in the beginning, his condition quickly worsened. Soon after, he lost consciousness again, and he was taken back to hospital in cramps. There, his heart stopped beating, and for seven minutes he was clinically dead until the doctors managed to bring him back into life. All night long, the doctors fought to save the life of the goalkeeper before he was finally stabilized.

The next day, he was flown back to Moscow in a plane chartered by CSKA, where he was brought to a hospital specializing in neurosurgery. There, the fight to save him continued.

The following weekend, CSKA took on local rivals Torpedo-Zil, the club that had refused to sign Perkhun a year earlier. At the game, the fans wore t-shirts with Perkhun’s number 16 on the back, and a big banner with Perkhun’s shirt was also shown in the stands of Dinamo Stadium in Moscow. The game ended 1-1, but on that day, the most important fight wasn’t the one on the pitch, which everybody knew.

Photo: Паршин Дмитрий

On August 28, the entire Perkhun family was gathered in the Moscow home, and they knew things were looking bad for their beloved Serhiy. In the living room two candles were lit. These had been given to Perkhun and his wife on their wedding day, and the priest marrying them had promised that as long as the two candles were whole, they would be together as his father remembered in his book about his son. Despite all windows and doors being closed, a breeze managed to blow out the candles at 5.20 AM, and the family knew what this meant. Perkhun’s soul had said one final goodbye to them.

At 5.25 AM, his heart stopped beating, and he was declared dead.

The following day a civil funeral service was held at the Sports of Combat Club of CSKA hall on Leningradsky Prospekt, where his teammates and friends at CSKA paid their tribute together with thousands of fans. And not only fans of CSKA, but also from their arch rivals from Spartak, Dinamo, Lokomotiv and Torpedo. They all came to say goodbye to the great goalkeeper, and even greater person.

Behind him, Perkhun left a pregnant wife and a daughter. He was eventually buried in Dnipropetrovsk, where thousands of people, including his teammates from CSKA, showed up to say goodbye to him. The city later erased a monument in his honour.

At the funeral, his teammates Sergey Semak, Elver Rahimic and Igor Yanovsky promised each other that they would win the Russian championship and dedicate it to Perkhun. At the time, CSKA was still a team in the making, so they had no chances of winning the title in 2001. Two years after however, in 2003, CSKA secured their first Russian championship, and the first national championship since 1991, which they dedicated to their tragically fallen comrade.

CSKA played every game for the rest of the season wearing black mourning bands, and Perkhun’s number 16 was retired, and hasn’t been worn by anyone since.

Furthermore, CSKA holds an amateur football tournament in Perkhun’s honour every single year.

Toke Møller Theilade

Author: Toke Møller Theilade

Brøndby supporter, groundhopper and more importantly Editor-in-Chief at Russianfootballnews.com. As a hopeless romantic, I still believe Fyodor Smolov and Viktoria Lopyreva has a future together.

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