Selling the People's Game
: Football's transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor State

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


My hypothesis is that the structure of football and football clubs in the former Soviet Union adapted and evolved with the rapidly changing political and economic environment of the 1980s and 1990s in the Soviet Union and its successor states. During the time of the Soviet Union, football clubs relied on patronage from the Soviet state, its institutions, state owned companies, as well as local institutions. When the Soviet Union collapsed, football clubs were expected to gain independence from the organizations, or state institutions, and go private. Some clubs were able to sustain their operations by selling their top players to clubs in Western Europe. By the mid-1990s, however, state patronage was replaced by new forms of patronage. The use of the term patronage in this dissertation refers to the political and financial support of football clubs by state institutions, private companies, or individuals (the latter two being only the case in the post- Soviet era). Football patrons use their money and political influence to ensure the financial stability of clubs. After the fall of the Soviet Union, oligarchs and private companies bought football clubs as playthings, for sponsorship, or to legitimize their business operations, and/or to gain political influence. State owned institutions that still owned football clubs rediscovered the political value of football in the post-Soviet world. The popularity of football with the masses meant that football could be used as a political vehicle; this is especially the case in the post- Soviet states where football is often used as a legitimization of business magnates that aim for political posts. The objective of this work is to outline the transition that football clubs underwent, after the death of Brezhnev, under the Gorbachev reforms, to the fall of communism, the Boris Yeltsin years, and finally to the state capitalism of Vladimir Putin.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorStephen Lovell (Supervisor) & Richard Vinen (Supervisor)

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