Sunday, 27 June 2010

Neftçi Baku (Azerbaijan)

The most successful team in Azerbaijan history, Neftçi Peşəkar Futbol Klubu are a team intrinsically linked with the oil-trade that has made their country one of the richest in the region. Indeed, the Neftçi of their name roughly translates as Oilmen, their club crest pictures an oil rig and their colours refer to the black of the oil that springs so fulgently from their many wells.

Formed in 1937, they had much success in the old Soviet First League, where they had three long spells, finishing as high as third place in 1966. Many of that squad have become national idols in their own lifetimes - much like some other mob from the same year from a little closer to home. Names like Anatoliy Banishevskiy, Kazbek Tuaev, Aleksandr Trophimov and goalkeeper Sergey Kramarenko are spoken of in the coffee bars of Baku with the same reverance as Hurst, Banks, Charlton and Moore are over here.

Since the splitting up of the Soviet Union they have gone on to become one of the major forces in the Azeri Premier League, winning it five times since its inception in 1992. They've also won the Azerbaijan Cup five times and bagged the CIS Cup (for former Soviet states) in 2006. 

The Oilmen usually play in the 30,000 capacity Tofik Bakhramov Stadium, also home to their rivals FK Baku and the Azeri national team. Built in 1951 by German POWs, it was made in the shape of a C - Stalin's initial letter in the cyrillic alphabet. However, it was renamed in 1993 to commemorate the death of a legendary Azeri referee. You may know him better as the infamous "Russian Linesman" from the 1966 World Cup Final. Could you imagine Wembley becoming the Uriah Rennie Stadium? Actually, that'd be quite funny!

The ground's currently under repair, so they have no firm home until the massive monolith is finished.

Their main rivalry though is with Khazar Lankaran from the south of the country, in a game so fiercely fought that it's known as the Azerbaijan Derby. So if you ever find yourself around that way and that game is on, do everything you can to get a ticket, because by all accounts it's flipping bonkers!

Stop Press!
I was lucky enough to get a ticket for Azerbaijan's Cup Final when I was out in Baku recently, and who should be playing but our very own Neftçi. Sadly they suffered a surprise 2-0 defeat to their city rivals FK Baku, but they still won the league the week before, so it was a good season all round. Their fans, of course, were fabulous!

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