Strangers on a train | On metro, Spartak adopts ‘lazy fare’ approach to team travel

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Moscow Metro sign

Moscow | The city’s metro stations have been dubbed “people’s palaces,” an architectural blend of art deco and socialist-realist influence that creates an ornate underground habitat for 8.2 million daily passengers.

But despite its reputation as the “people’s team”—with origins in the trade-union movement, independent of other enclaves of state power—Spartak Moscow until Oct 31 had not availed itself of the 173 miles of subway service on 12 lines. Ground to a halt in traffic en route to Luzhniki Olympic stadium before a Champions League match versus Inter Milan, Spartak were forced to use subterranean transport.

Defender Martin Stranzl told Reuters he was shocked by the crowds, having admitted that he had never used the metro system before. As an Austrian international, perhaps Stranzl has an excuse. But native Yegor Titov, Spartak captain, said he had not been on board in at least a decade, since the time when perestroika could still stir conversation.


Sovietsky sport ran with the headline, “Metro Shows Spartak the Exit.”

Traffic-light failures, a profusion of accidents and visiting dignitaries such as Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos contributed to gridlock on the Garden Ring, a circular avenue in the center city. (See video footage on Russia’s TV1.) The Spartak footballers ran a mile to the nearest station, according to the AP account, with coach Vladimir Fedotov serving as soccer mom by checking whether all members were accounted for: “In the subway, I gathered our team in one car and yelled: ‘Are the defenders all here? The attackers?’ ”

Police escorted the team, and transport authorities waived the 15-ruble (approximately 56 cents) fares. Fedotov was grateful but said the crowds made the train “a bit too hot.”

It is not clear how well the side absorbed the team talk on board. Inter’s Julio Cruz scored in the first minute, and the goal saw Inter through, 1–0.


Ukrainian midfielder Maxym Kalynychenko (nicknamed “Kalina,” meaning “snowball tree”) joins the straphangers’ club. More photos available at sovsport.ru.

Update: Bloggers and Moscow TV stations have had fun chronicling the story of Spartak’s time as “Metro stars,” according to UEFA.com (Paul Saffer, “Spartak Going Underground,” 3 Nov 06). “RAULina,” posting at fclegion.borda.ru, writes breathlessly of the rush-hour journey and supplies several blurry photos of players looking out of place:

I looked around and saw other players who were busy talking to fans and signing autographs. The train suddenly jerked to a halt and I almost fell—only for [Czech defender] Radoslav Kováč to hold out his hand to help me. He lost his balance himself the next time the train braked, but after he helped me, I had a chance to speak to him. He speaks very good Russian and he promised they would play well and do their best to get the much-needed three points. He also said that he liked the Moscow metro but that it was very hot during rush hour, and smiled his beautiful smile. By this time the whole coach was chanting, “Spartak! Spartak!”

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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