Where does European football end?

Europe is not such a big continent, but UEFA is a permissive organization and so, countries like Israel, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbadjan or Kazahstan, are now allowed to take part in all European football competitions. Older than them, Russia and Turkey are still the biggest names from the list. With most part of their territory in Asia, these national teams remain ones of the most representative, Russia (former URSS) even managing to win the first ever European Nations Cup (now EURO), in 1960.

And because we are speaking of Russia, let’s get to the subject of this text and present a team that plays in a city that is much closer to Japan and China than to any other big Russian city! In fact, Vladivostok is only a few kilometers away from South Korea! The biggest port that Russia has at the Pacific Ocean has nearly 600 thousands inhabitants and also has a football team, which was even in the top flight between 2006 and 2008.

Luch-Energia was founded in 1958, but until 1993 they never gained the right to play in the first league. But even when they did, their performances were poor and relegated immediately. During the late 90’s and early 00’s, Energia played in the third tier, but in 2005 won their second promotion to Premier League. But now, major problems of Russian football would come up. For the other teams, it was a real nightmare to play in Vladivostok, because a flight, from Moscow, for example, took not less than 9 hours! Not to mention Sankt Petersburg.That was the moment when a question appeared: Shall this country’s championship be split in two half? But what was the use, when no other city was decently near of Vladivostok? After a 4-0 defeat, Igor Akinfeev, CSKA Moskow’s goalkeeper said: ‘They rather play in the Japanese League’, annoyed by the fact that he and his team mates were forced to fly seven hours for the game.

But was it that bad for the visitors? Maybe, but surely it wasn’t as bad as it was for Vladivostok’s team members. Matija Kristić, player at Energia since 2008, said: ‘It’s not as bad for other teams because they only need to travel this distance once a year whereas we have to do it for all away matches’. Still, for the away fans this can be a big problem, especially when they want to do whatever they want to support their team. This was the situation of three Zenit fans, which in October 2006, drove 15.000 kilometers and their car broke down after they arrived at Vladivostok. They returned with the Trans-Siberian and when they finally returned home, Zenits’ board rewarded them, with a new car!

Unfortunately or maybe not, these are the only kind of stories that we can tell about Luch-Energia, because no trophy was achieved so far, by them. Still, in 2006 the obtained a valuable 7th position in the top flight, that represents their best in the history and a quite notable achievement, considering that the Russian League was and remains very powerful in the last decade.

When they gained promotion, in 2005, Energia only lost 4 games and won 27 from a total of 42! An impressive treasure of 92 points and 81 goals scored, from which, Dmitri Smirnov managed 19, the first ever top scorer of the team in one season. And we must consider that he is not even a forward, but a midfielder measuring 1,97 meters, now playing in Ukraine, at Volyn Lutsk!

But at Vladivostok did also played footballers that at a moment appeared in Champions’ League, like is the case of Czech goalkeeper Marek Cech. We must admit that his participation in this year group stages of the most important European competition, with Viktoria Plzen is quite a big surprise. Cech played for Luch between 2007 and 2008 and gathered 43 matches in the Russian top division, before moving West to Lokomotiv Moscow and then more South to play at Soci, but in the second tier. Until this summer, when the surprisingly Czech Republic champions, Viktoria Plzen made him an offer which he could not refuse: to play in the UEFA Champions’ League. He accepted and now he faces Barcelona and AC Milan.

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