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  • Sport and Society in the Soviet Union: The Politics of Football after Stalin by Manfred Zeller
  • Steven Maddox
Zeller, Manfred. Sport and Society in the Soviet Union: The Politics of Football after Stalin. Translated by Nicki Challinger. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2018. Pp. xix+ 226. Thirty-five illustrations, notes, list of source documents, bibliography. $110.00, hb. $99.00, eb.

In recent years, there have been several important scholarly contributions to the history of Soviet sport—particularly football—which ask interesting questions about culture, society, and politics in the socialist state. Manfred Zeller's new book, a translation of the original German version, is a fine example of this new development in Soviet history. In Sport and Society in the Soviet Union, Zeller tells the history of "football fever" from the 1950s to the 1980s. In doing so, he focuses primarily on two lines of analysis: the creation of fan communities in the multinational Soviet state and the impact of modern media—especially television broadcasting—on football spectatorship and fandom. He argues that, in the media age, Soviet football fans, whose numbers were growing exponentially, began to express joy and outrage, feelings of unity with and opposition to others in the multiethnic state. "[T]he multinational Soviet football league," writes Zeller," invited people to organize in an enthusiastically community-based manner and as competing Soviet nations" (10).

Zeller's book is comprised of six chapters that develop chronologically, beginning with the early history of football fever during the Stalin years, focusing primarily on Moscow teams. The next chapter explores stadium violence in the 1950s and 1960s and the measures employed by the state to prevent violence and disorder. As Zeller shows, the authorities used educational campaigns to create a "cultured" audience at football matches, while silencing any mention of the epidemic of violence in Soviet stadiums. The following chapter examines the impact that broadcast media had on football fever in the USSR. Zeller argues that television coverage not only increased the number of football fans but also created imagined communities of people who were bound together by their support for, and opposition to, various clubs. The case of Dinamo Kiev, the subject of the next chapter, is particularly representative of a team with broad support from many communities across the country, largely because Dinamo Kiev successfully challenged Moscow teams in the league and Soviet Cup competitions in the 1960s and 1970s. Ukrainians, Georgians, Russians, and others could support Dinamo Kiev for the challenge it posed to Moscow's football dominance. The final chapter takes the reader into the world of fan culture in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Influenced by Western fandom, Muscovite fans began to form into organized groups, sing songs to support their teams, wear homemade scarves with team colors, and travel to their team's away games to support them on the road. Hierarchically organized fan groups subsequently developed in other cities around football clubs. At this point, official measures previously used to contain and control fan culture ceased to have the desired effect. As a result, the Soviet state turned to coercion and banned all organized fan activity at or around stadiums.

In all these chapters, Zeller focuses on teams from Moscow (Spartak, TsSKA, and Dinamo Moscow) and Kiev (Dinamo Kiev) to tell the story of a transnational fan community that developed in the USSR beginning in the 1950s. In this community, spectators could be fiercely loyal to their clubs, as well as the regions from which the teams hailed and the [End Page 189] nationality they represented. Yet fans were also able to transcend these loyalties and unite with other fans in opposition to certain teams, especially those from Moscow, which, as Zeller notes, seemed to have a "nationality of its own" (88). Even fans who might otherwise express resistance to the Soviet state could come together in patriotic unity to support Soviet teams playing abroad or the national team when playing foreign sides. The focus on Moscowand Kiev-based teams is a perfectly reasonable approach to these issues, but it would be interesting to see how fan culture around teams from other cities (Leningrad, Tbilisi, Minsk, Tallinn, for instance) developed...


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pp. 189-190
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