Akhmat Grozny – Three Name Changes, Two War’s and One Crazy Owner

Ramzan Kadyrov and Dmitry Medvedev at the Akhmat Arena in Grozny. Photo: Kremlin.ru

Before this season we saw a change in names with the team of Grozny. The city which is located in the province of Chechnya. So what happened to Terek Grozny? Why is it now Akhmat Grozny? And how has the war and the destroyed city affect the city’s greatest football team?

History of Chechnya

To understand everything, we must start it all from the beginning. Chechnya was taken over by Russia as early as in the middle of the 19th century. It’s a province which possesses several large oil fields which have in later years made it a very attractive area to own. Under Soviet influence, the province was called Chechen-Ingush ASSR as a combination of the two provinces that are located next to each other. During the period which saw Josef Stalin as the leader of the Soviet Union, almost 60% of the population in Chechnya were killed or deported to another country.

Around the same period, the football club of Grozny called Terek was founded. To be exact in 1946. In the beginning the club had a couple of different names; first, it was named Dynamo, after that Neftyanik and in 1958 it was finally named Terek after the river that runs through the city – a name the club would have until 2017. Since most of the original population of Chechnya had moved out at the time the club was founded, it is likely that the majority of the founders were not Chechen.

In 1991 when the Soviet Union broke down the first fight for independence in Chechnya began. Dzhokhar Dudayev, a Chechen fighter for liberty, declared the area as an independent state. But Chechnya didn’t get the approval to become independent from Russia and in 1994 troops were ordered by the Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, to move into the region and take it back from the rebel fighters. This was the start of the First Chechen War which lasted until 1996 when Russian troops finally took over the city of Grozny. The peace declaration was officially signed in 1997 and Aslan Maskhadov was elected the new president, an election that Russia approved. Although in later years Russia accused Aslan of being a terrorist. In 1999 several terrorist attacks were carried out in Russia led by an Islamic separatist group led by the Chechen Shamil Basayev. Chechnya didn’t only try to break away from Russia during this period but they also tried to take over some land that belonged to Russia.

These attacks led to the Second Chechen War in 1999. This time it was Vladimir Putin who led the attacks and smashed the opponents quite easily. Although the war officially ended in 2000, Russian troops carried out various military operations until 2002 and didn’t remove their forces until 2009. In 2003 the United Nations declared Grozny “the most destroyed city in the world”. The whole province of Chechnya had taken hard turns because of the war and especially Grozny.

Terek’s home stadium was heavily destroyed because of the intense bombing that had taken place during the two wars. In the aftermath of the war, Terek had to play their home games in a different place. First, they set up a new base in Kislovodsk, Stavropol Krai. But the authorities there were afraid that the Chechen supporters would cause trouble in the city so Terek had to move again. This time to the small city, and Stadium, of Cherkessk. Between 2002 and 2007, Terek played their home games at the Beshtau Stadium in Lermontov and the Central Stadium in Pyatigorsk.Only in 2008, the club could again start to play their home games in Grozny at the Dinamo Stadium which had been reconstructed. During the war years, a lot of the Terek players moved to other East European clubs and some, such as Zaur Sadayev, even fought for the rebellions against the Russian regime. Grozny wasn’t an easy place to play football in or live at all. Until 2009 it wasn’t unusual to still witness gun fights between the Russian military and different separatist wings.

Brutal Tyrant, Instagram Star

Today the Chechen province is ruled by Ramzan Kadyrov. So who is this Kadyrov? Well to start to comprehend this we must mention his father since he has been a big influence in the Chechen province and therefore also in the shape of Grozny and in the aftermath, also the football team. Akhmad Kadyrov was born in 1951 and was the leader of the Chechen Republic that fought against Russia in the First Chechen War. He has supported Terek since birth, and when he became the president of the Chechen province after the Second Chechen War he, with help from the sports minister, Khaidar Alkhanov, funded Terek. It was one of the symbols to the rebuild of the city, with the aim of having a successful football team that could lead the city to better and happier times. During the Second Chechen War, he switched sides to the Russians and therefore also became the president of the Chechen province in the early 2000 and was the president until he was assassinated while celebrating a Soviet Victory Day Parade at the Dynamo Stadium in May 2004.

After the wars, the club tried to gather the players who had once left the country before the start of the wars and also picked up several players that were still living in Grozny. Many of these players had lived in the city through the war and witnessed was slowly destroyed in front of them. In 2004 they got promoted to the Russian Premier League after winning the first division in style. That season they became the first and only team to have reached 100 points during one season in Russia. That same year they won the Russian Cup after a thrilling final against FC Kryli Sovetov Samara. Terek scored the winning goal in injury time, and they subsequently qualified for the UEFA Cup in 2004/05. In the first round they won against Polish side Lech Poznan but in the next round, lost against BSC Young Boys.

Akhmad’s son, Ramzan, is now the “Head of the Chechen Republic”, essentially President, as Vladimir Putin essentially runs the whole province from Moscow through Kadyrov. Chechnya is classified as a republic of Russia and has, therefore, their own president, but he must tow the line set by Putin. He is, just like his father, a Putin loyalist, and United Russia party member. Ramzan is also the owner of the Akhmat Grozny. During his first couple of years with the club, he invested a lot of money in the club and bought several foreign players from CSKA Sofia and Dinamo Bucharest. In 2011, Dutch legend Ruud Gullit was appointed as their new manager, indicative of the money Kadyrov was spending to transform the club.  During a press conference, Gullit declared that he was surprised to find himself in a situation where he was going to manage a club from Chechnya, and also admitted that he didn’t know anything about his new club and that would only stay in Grozny for the games. The former international Dutch player didn’t last long at Grozny, however. After six months, he was sacked due to poor results and performances in the league.

After a couple of years at the Dinamo Stadium, Ramzan Kadyrov decided it was time to build a new home for the club. In 2011 the new stadium, with room for 30,000 spectators, was finished. The arena cost $280 million and Ramzan named the stadium after his father, as the “Akhmat Arena”. Three months before the opening ceremony was going to take place he held an exhibition match against a Brazilian All-Star team which included players like Romario, Dunga, and Bebeto. Ramzan thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to join the fun and also played in the match. In the opening match on the day of the opening ceremony, he played against a team of legends again, scoring three goals against players like Robbie Fowler, Luis Figo, and Diego Maradona. He also celebrated Putin’s 63rd birthday with an exhibition match at the stadium, but his awful performances on the pitch brought bigger headlines and ridicule than the event itself. This was specifically designed to both appease Putin and propagate his image to the disparate sections of Chechen society, many of which still blame Putin for the destruction of their country during the Second Chechen War.

Kadyrov, however, has brought worldwide attention and rightful anger for his despicable comments regarding sexuality, race, gender and other societal issues. He claimed;

“Homosexuals aren’t human…Chechen society does not have this phenomenon called non-traditional sexual orientation. For thousands of years, the people have lived by other rules, prescribed by God”.

Although many homosexuals in Grozny are afraid to come out as the government has reportedly executed homosexuals and harassment towards them is very common, his comments are ludicrous and far from the truth. Human rights organizations have rightfully accused Kadyrov of numerous abuses in the country since he became President. He has been accused of murder and has been referred to as “a guard dog without control” by politician Ilya Yashin since he seems to stand above the law. Kadyrov has also been accused of organizing and carrying out the murders of both Boris Nemtsov and Anna Politkovskaya, who were well known and influential among Putin’s opposition from the political realm and journalism respectively. Kadyrov adores Putin and Putin himself has claimed that Kadyrov “is like a son to me”, owing to explain why Kaddyro would be so eager to protect Putin’s, and subsequently, his own interests.

During a game in 2013, he started to insult the referee through the PA system after he had sent off Terek captain, Rizvan Utsiev. The whole crowd could hear the words “The referee is corrupt. You Jerk”. After the game, he didn’t do anything to smoothen matters, and even inflamed matters writing the following on his official Instagram account; “The game was just awful because of the biased referee”. He apologized to all people “that had heard my outburst in the stadium”, except the referee because “he deserved to be called corrupt”. The RFU (Russian football union) fined him with 200,000 Rb ($6,600) and Terek was forced to have their next home game at the Akhmat Arena against Zenit Saint Petersburg moved to the Petrovsky Stadium.

Kadyrov effectively purveys an image of the new Chechen generation on his Instagram account. He uses the social media platform as a way to connect with his people and promulgate an image of himself as a new man in Chechnya, just like Vladimir Putin does with the rest of Russia. He regularly uploads images of his physical prowess, apparent high intellect, caring nature around both children and animals and so on, in his own very 21st Century version of Stalin’s cult of personality. Despite the sometimes humorous images, Kadyrov’s Instagram is dangerous and often foreboding, as he has regularly attacked anyone and anything who opposes him through it, and is much more of a wild dog than Putin is with his measured, calculated propaganda approach. Though at times Kadyrov is Putin’s biggest ally, he is also his biggest liability.

His massive expenditure on the football team has been criticized by some parts of Chechen society, who see this as a waste of state money when much of Chechnya – outside of Grozny – is still in need of dire reconstruction. Before the start of the 2017 RFPL season, Ramzan declared that Terek Grozny would now be known as Akhmat Grozny in honour to his father. The club stated that it had been a request from a large number of fans to do this as a memorial to their former leader. Memorializing his father’s name has become an obsession for Ramzan; The arena, one of Russians largest mosque and a couple of martial arts clubs are all named after his father, now the team itself.

But why is Ramzan so interested in football? Well, that sure isn’t an easy question to answer but one thing is for sure; Ramzan would love to have Grozny hosting games during the FIFA World Cup next year. To show off his city to the world wouldn’t only empower his own political status, it would also be an occasion that would bring in a lot of money, especially to Grozny. Money and fame are two things that Ramzan loves, and to be in the world’s attention during the biggest tournament in the world would be something to tell his grandchildren about, and inflate his repugnant and macabre ego. He has tried to profile the city in a manner that it is now “the calmest city in the world”. That there isn’t any better place than this to have millions of people coming to watch the greatest football players in the world. To bring a top class manager in Ruud Gullit was also a move to place Grozny on the footballing map. But Ruud Gullit wasn’t that thrilled with Terek’s training ground and when he said that no one in Europe knew about Terek before he moved there it was enough for Ramzan and he fired him. Although the official explanation was poor results – which surely wasn’t to Gullit’s favour – there is little doubt that Gullit’s critical comments didn’t pass unnoticed with Ramzan.

Aside from this, however, Ramzan also hold numerous political intentions behind his massive regeneration of Grozny’s football club; to show the world that Chechnya is a civilized part of Russia and a safe place to play football in. It is very unlikely though that Grozny will host any games next summer. After all, the area is still very insecure and Putin wouldn’t want anything to happen when the whole world has their eyes pointed at Russia.

Conclusive Thoughts

Although despite all these problems, and his own repulsive manner, the town of Grozny is now experiencing some positivity and a genuine rebirth. Although Kadyrov himself rules the roost over a brutal regime and must answer for his crimes, success has followed on the pitch. The team started the new season impressively under new coach Oleg Kononov, even though they lost some ground in the succeeding three matches, including a heavy loss to Zenit, they are still on course for the race for European football later on in the season. Not to forget, Akhmat has one of the best average attendances in the whole of Russia.In November 2016, the Russian national team played its first ever game in Grozny.

In November 2016, the Russian national team played its first ever game in Grozny. Against Romania in a friendly which Russia won 1-0. The only goal of the game was scored by Magomed Ozdoev, the Grozny born midfielder in his first appearance for Russia and it could certainly not have come to a more emotional place for him than this. After the game, Ramzan Kadyrov was satisfied at seeing Sbornaya represent the nation from Grozny; “I feel like a happy person today and I enjoyed the game. It was doubly nice that Ozdoev scored the goal”.

The Russian manager, Stanislav Cherchesov, was also pleased with the atmosphere in the stadium: “It wasn’t surprising that we scored a goal due to what was happening in the Stadium. The spectators were urging us forward.”

 

Author: Oskar Uneland

Malmö FF supporter. 24 years old. Loves football, have followed Swedish, Russian and Argentine football for a long time.

Comments

  1. Hey. I stumbled upon this article, and gotta admit it, this is one of the most interesting article related to football that I’ve ever read.
    Do you mind if I re-write and translate this article in Bahasa Indonesia and share it on my website (http://offside.id)? Not all of its content, maybe just a key points. I think not all of Indonesian football fans already know about this Akhmat Grozny-thingy.
    By the end of article, I will put a courtesy and original link below the translated article.

    Cheers!

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