Azerbaijan International

Summer 1998 (6.2)
Pages 60-64

Great Moments in Soccer

by Agshin Kazimzade

Left: 1966 World Cup Final between the British and German soccer teams at Wembley, London. (1) Uvl Zeeler, 2) Tofig Bahramov, 3) Gottfried Dinst, 4) unidentified, 5) Bobby Moor.

Right: Anatoli Banishevski, "Neftchi" Baku.

Football in Azerbaijan

Between June 10 and July 12, soccer fans from around the world will gather in France to cheer on their favorite teams at the 1998 World Cup. Those who can't make the trip will tune in via television, radio, or the Internet to see if the Brazilian team can repeat their 1994 victory. People from all over the world will catch World Cup "fever," and Azeris are no exception. In fact, someday they hope to watch their homeland's team play in the finals.

That's not to say that Azeri soccer fans haven't already had their share of exciting moments. Most surprising was Azerbaijan's defeat of Switzerland in 1996 during the qualifying rounds for the world championship. The final score was Azerbaijan-1, Switzerland-0. Thanks to a goal scored by #8, Vidadi Rezayev, the underdog Azeri team surpassed everyone's expectations. On their home turf in front of a crowd of 15,000, they knocked the Swiss out of the list of finalists for the World Cup. (Azerbaijan didn't make the list either.) In a 1997 rematch in Zurich, the Swiss team beat Azerbaijan 7-1, but still did not advance. But for once, Azeri soccer was a hot topic in the world sports media.

Soccer was introduced to Azerbaijan in 1911 by the British employees of foreign oil companies. They used to play in the dusty vacant lots of Baku; their makeshift goals were fishing nets stretched between trees. Local Azeri boys were curious about this new game and soon learned to play. Today, it's common to see kids in Azerbaijan kicking a soccer ball around, trying to practice their skills. Perhaps one of them will become the next Alakbar Mammadov.

Football in AzerbaijanAlakbar Mammadov
Mammadov, a champion soccer player for the former USSR, first learned to play soccer on the half-paved roads of Chambarakand (one of the villages near Baku). At the age of 19, he was on one of the best teams in Azerbaijan, "Neftchi" (The Oil Men), when his talent was noticed. He was soon invited to play for the Moscow-based prime-league team "Dynamo."

One highlight of his career was in 1955 during a tour through Italy. Mammadov scored an unbelievable four goals in a row against the Italian super club "Milan." Soon he became known as one of the five most outstanding center forwards in the world. While playing for the USSR team, Mammadov was named the Champion Soccer Player of Europe in 1960. He went on to play in the Olympic Games that year.

Today, Alakbar Mammadov heads the Sports Department at the State Oil Academy of Azerbaijan, where he works to promote national soccer. He also leads and plays on a team of Azeri soccer veterans which takes part in demonstration matches in countries such as Iran, Germany, Turkey and Poland.

Anatoliy Banishevskiy
If you know anything at all about soccer, you know the reputation Brazil has for being the world's toughest soccer team. Now imagine how exciting it would feel to score a goal against such a team, much less to be the first Soviet player to ever score a goal against that team. Anatoliy Banishevskiy had that honor.

Banishevskiy was only 16 when he joined the "Neftchi" Baku soccer team. ("Neftchi" played in the championship prime-league of the former Soviet USSR.) Banishevskiy started playing for the Soviet national team when he was 17, and eventually became one of the most outstanding soccer stars of the 20th century. King of Soccer, Brazilian Pele himself called Banishevskiy "a super class player." Along with the national team of the Soviet Union, Banishevskiy took fourth place at the world championship in England. He was the major goal scorer of the USSR national team, scoring 19 goals.

Football in AzerbaijanTofig Bahramov
As an umpire for the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), Tofig Bahramov knew that sometimes umpires have to make difficult decisions. In 1966 at London's Wembley Stadium, Bahramov made what was probably the toughest call of his life. It was the final match of the world's first televised World Cup. The English and German teams were in tight competition for the championship, and the match had already gone into overtime. Out of the hundreds of thousands of people who were watching, linesman Bahramov seemed to be the only one who saw the ball go into the German net. He called the point and was promptly jeered by the German fans and players. Bahramov stuck to his decision, even though it was an unpopular one, and the point was given to England. The German team apologized later for their reproaches. The English team won the World Cup, an achievement they have yet to repeat.

In very special cases, the FIFA awards "The Golden Whistle" to outstanding umpires. This award was publicly presented to Tofig Bahramov by Her Majesty the Queen of England and by Stanley Rose, who was the president of the FIFA at that time. Bahramov was elected as a judge for the next World Cup tournament, held in Mexico in 1970, making him the first FIFA umpire to judge two World Cup championships.

When former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited Baku several years ago, she specifically asked to meet Tofig Bahramov. She said that she and her countrymen had remembered his act of courage and fairness, and her visit would not have been complete without meeting him.

During the last years of his life, Tofig Bahramov held the position of General Secretary of the AFFA (Azerbaijan Football Federation Association). With the help of his influence in Azerbaijan and in international soccer circles, he promoted its establishment and self-determination. When he died, Bahramov was buried in the Cemetery of Honorary Burial, a rare honor for sportsmen in Azerbaijan. Mostly musicians, writers, academicians and statesmen are buried there.

The Azerbaijan Football Federation Association was established in 1992. Soon afterwards, it was recognized by the international soccer unions. It was one of the first independent soccer unions in the former Soviet Union, and now unites more than 700,000 players in the cities and regions of the republic.

Since 1992, AFFA had organized an independent championship of the Azerbaijan Republic in three leagues. The organization regularly participates in Eurocups, as well as European and world championships. Beginning with this season, AFFA will participate in the Intertoto Cup competition.

A World Cup victory may still be far away for Azerbaijan, but that doesn't make soccer any less important there. After all, how can a country that has only had organized soccer for seven years expect to compete with the giants? For now, it's enough to be noticed by the international sports community as a country with a lot of potential. And there will always be legendary figures like Mammadov, Bahramov and Banishevskiy to remember. In the words of Joao Avelang, current president of the FIFA, "Azeri soccer has old traditions and healthy ambitions."

From Azerbaijan International (6.2) Summer 1998.
© Azerbaijan International 1998. All rights reserved.

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