Make Soap from the Ref!

Simon Kuper

  • Spartak Moscow: A History of the People’s Team in the Workers’ State by Robert Edelman
    Cornell, 346 pp, £21.95, January 2010, ISBN 978 0 8014 4742 6

One night in 1942, Nikolai Starostin, founder of the Spartak Moscow football club, woke to find a torch shining in his eyes and two pistols pointed at his head. He had spent years waiting for his arrest; Lavrenty Beria, head of Stalin’s secret police and director of Dinamo Moscow football club, did not like him. He was taken to the Lubianka for long interrogations. Among other things, he was accused of conspiring with the German Embassy to assassinate Stalin and set up a Fascist state. In the end he and his three brothers were convicted of theft, swindling and bribery. They each got ten years in Siberia – such a mild sentence that it was practically a let-off. ‘The future seemed not so gloomy after all,’ Starostin wrote in a memoir. He knew why he’d been so fortunate. The Starostins ‘personified Spartak. Beria had to deal with the hopes of millions of fans, ordinary Soviet people.’

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