By Leo Linden
Founded in 1900, FC Rostov are as old as many of the teams we feature in this column, but they have had far less success. The Rostov-on-Don based squad has spent years battling in the first and second tiers of the Russian and Soviet Union Football ladder and hasn’t come close to winning a title. That is, until this season.
The Russian minnows are quietly putting together a Leicester-esque title challenge, and though they have played recent matches in Europe, nothing has really come close to what the underdogs can accomplish this year if they can close out an epic run.
Though the club was established at the turn of the century, it went through many naming iterations before finally settling on FC Rostov only in the past 15 years. Though the early history of the club is hard to dig up, it's clear that by 1950, Rostov had established itself as a regular in the Russian lower leagues.
It took almost a decade, however, for the squad to break through into the Soviet main leagues, when, in 1964, they won a promotion playoff that took them to the Soviet First League, the second tier across the highly competitive empire. But that success was short lived, as they soon learned life in the upper echelons of the USSR system was difficult, and by the 70s, they had tumbled back down into the Russian feeder leagues.
They battled their way back into the Soviet-wide system in the late part of the decade, competing in the second and third tiers, but they could never make their way to the top flight of USSR football. While that accomplishment eluded them, when the empire disbanded in 1991, Rostov had a solid season in the final version of the USSR second flight, finishing fourth, which was good enough to earn a spot in the new Russian Top League.
Though they weren’t one of the strongest teams, Rostov came out of the gates solidly, finishing eighth out of 20 across a league season which was split into two groups. However, the following year, Rostov was not so lucky, and with the league united into one group, they finished in 17th out of 18th and were relegated on goal differential (though just two more points and a better differential could have seen the club finish in ninth).
Being so close to safety, it was clear that playing in the top flight was a more than accomplishable task and they instantly won promotion in 1994. The next 12 seasons saw Rostov middle out in the league, never finishing above sixth or below 14th.
But in a similar story to their early history in the newly branded Russian Premier League, Rostov were relegated — rather embarrassingly with just two wins — in 2007, but again instantly won their promotion back by winning the Russian First Division with a whopping 96 points over a grueling 42-game season.
Nothing appeared to be much different upon their
The season took a sharp decline from there, however, with Rostov tumbling down to a 14th place finish, only avoiding automatic relegation on number of matches won (thankfully for them, a more important criteria than goal differential) and after blasting Tonso of the second division 4-1 in the second leg, the club took off.
They had a bit of a slow start to the current campaign, but after climbing the table and lurking in behind then-leaders CSKA Moscow for quite some time, Rostov passed the Russian giants and now sit solely in first place with eight games to play.
It’s a terribly unlikely story that mirrors England’s current situation even down to the near relegation a year ago, and though their lead is a slim one point, Rostov has a great chance to make history. The problem that Rostov face is the immense power on their tails, as just behind CSKA sit Lokomotiv Moscow and Zenit, who are three and four points behind, respectively.
The squad, in truth, is a bunch of no-names from around the world, with a wide variety of ages that have somehow combined to make
They have a long way to go, and are certainly being overshadowed by some other major storylines elsewhere on the continent, but as long as Rostov are in the race, Russia is worth keeping an eye on.