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From the table to the field: how the players of the Soviet Zenit returned to work after the New Year

But it was not always so. In previous years, Zenit players went to their first training sessions, one might say, from the New Year’s table. They were not waiting for the comfortable sports complexes of Dubai and Doha, but the snow-covered paths of the Specific Park and the hardened fields of Sochi, which were covered with ice in the morning and turned into slush in the evening.

“Hey coach, I went to the med room!”

It’s hard to believe now, but there were times when Zenit players had to, even if you crack, appear at the training base on January 2. From that day on, training began. And the players did not undergo a medical examination before flying to a hot country in mid-January, as now, but even before the New Year.

“We didn’t go on vacation as abruptly as the players are leaving now,” recalls Vyacheslav Melnikov, a Zenit player who became the champion of the USSR in 1984. The season ended in mid-November. Another ten days went to the base. There they dropped loads so as not to expose the body to sudden changes. Bathhouse, light workouts. Then they rested for about a month. And before the New Year, it was already necessary to undergo a medical examination at a clinic on Krestovsky Island. Then we were allowed to go home to celebrate the New Year. And on January 2 or 3, I had to be at the base, classes began. We ran crosses in the Specific Park. Or they immediately left for a collection in some southern city. Most often it was Sochi.

In Leningrad, there were no special conditions for preparing for the season in those days. Fortunately, the Lenin Sports and Concert Complex was opened in 1980. And there they began to hold tournaments of twin cities, to which teams from Bulgaria, the GDR, Poland, Finland, Yugoslavia, and France came. It turns out that the players did not spend much time at the New Year’s table. And then few people heard about such a holiday as Christmas: atheism dominated the country.

Already in the first days of January, Zenit footballers breathed frosty air in Udelny Park, competing in speed with skiers, then they played a tournament in the SCC or trained in the arena on Butlerova Street, then worked hard at training camps in southern cities. It could be Escher, Leselidze, Sochi, Gagra, Nebug. By the way, the training then included not only running and work in the arena, but also sports such as skiing, hockey – Canadian and Russian. Fortunately, opposite the Zenith base in Udelny Park was the Spartak stadium, where there was always ice. True, for the guys who got into Zenit from the southern outskirts of the USSR, this was a real test.

“Sergey Pogosov and Rauf Yumakulov from Azerbaijan, Gennady Unanov from Sukhumi played in our team,” says Alexei Strepetov, a Zenit player in the 1960s–1970s. – They did not have time to get out of the locker room doors, as they broke their skis. And they rode on ice on skates exclusively in a straight line. You touch them a little with the body, and they, having changed direction, go on board. Falls down, shouts: “Hey, coach, I went to the medical room!” “Well, go, go” …

Adidas sneakers and hype in Africa

Strepetov notes the doctors of those years. Before the holidays, each player was given a memo – where it is better for him to relax. Depending on who has what hurts, what injury, what health problems, a place of rest was chosen. One Zenit football player went to Kislovodsk, the other went to Sochi. And someone rested in the sanatorium of Sestroretsk under the supervision of doctors.

Vouchers to the “resort areas” of the Soviet Union were issued by the trade union committee of LOMO, an enterprise that supported the Zenit club in those years. From him, the players received food packages for the New Year: mountain ash on cognac, champagne, caviar, sausage. In general, the deficit is different. Still, Strepetov recalls, foreign tournaments could be an important part of the vacation. Zenit was invited to them from time to time in December, when the Christmas season was already in full swing in Europe.

Players especially liked to fly to Germany, the country of the “decaying West”. There they were met by representatives of Adidas, the sponsor of the competition. They gave bags, boots, sneakers, suits – such Christmas gifts. They were received at a high level, settled in good hotels, surrounded by attention.

Or there were tours of African countries, which were supported by the USSR, trying to lure them into a socialist paradise. Played in Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Algeria. And the Zenit players returned from these trips straight to the New Year’s table, at which their wives and children were waiting for them. In these cases, in January, they started training later than usual.

In the morning – ice, in the evening – porridge

However, there were coaches who gathered Zenit at the base on January 2. One of them is Anatoly Byshovets, who led Zenit in the second half of the 1990s.

“I remember Byshovets brought us together after a vacation in mid-December,” recalls Konstantin Lepekhin, winner of the Russian Cup in 1999 in the blue-white-blue team. — We went to the training camp in Portugal. Have returned. The 31st was still a working day. Released on New Years. But already on January 2, I had to be in training. I had to take time off from the last workout: I wanted to have time to go to Maykop to my parents. Byshovets let go. But the flight was delayed. I managed to stay at home for several hours, at 6 in the morning a plane was waiting for me in Krasnodar.

In those days, the players could not disobey the coach. His authority was much higher than that of the club president. It’s all spelled out in the contracts now, and the only thing left for the players is not to deviate from the rules. It doesn’t matter who the coach is.

In addition, now there is no need to rush anywhere in the first days of the new year. You came out of vacation in mid-January, you were examined by doctors, put on a plane and sent, for example, to Dubai. As one veteran of the Moscow Spartak said while he was alive: “I don’t understand when they play? They go on vacation to the resort. When they come out of vacation, they are sent back to the resort. We played for two months in the spring – in the summer we went back to the resort. When are you going to play football here?

The conditions for the collection have also changed. Once they made up the entire winter part of the new year, capturing March. The championship started, as a rule, in April. Zenit players often went to Sochi. There was a good boarding house “Neva” from LOMO. Sea air, quality food – the players quickly got in shape.

Another thing is that the training camp was held for a long time and the form could be gained and lost several times. Then they adopted the practice of European teams: the number of days at the training camp should not exceed 12-14. During this period, the players did not have time to get tired not only from training, but also from each other. And the same thing sometimes came to fights in the winter. Recall the same incident that happened between Vladislav Radimov and legionnaire Fernando Ricksen (Rixen beat Radimov during a friendly match in 2021 due to criticism of young players).

In addition, abroad, where Zenit players were increasingly preparing for the season, there were quality fields. And in Sochi in the morning you go out onto the field – it is still covered with ice, by the evening it has already melted, turned into porridge. The expression “knead the dirt in Sochi” came from there.

When else to break the regime, if not in youth?

But it was still better than sitting at the base of the club. Zenit players hated the base. Especially the old, unsettled, abandoned in the wilderness of Udelny Park. Sergei Vedeneev, champion of the USSR in 1984, spoke about this:

“Adult men didn’t know what to do there, became dumb, didn’t develop. Therefore, the players are slowed down in this regard. I remember that before the final of the Cup of Russia with Dynamo Moscow we were “in quarantine” for a week. What for? We went on the field – we can’t play, there are no emotions. There is no entertainment at the base: two TV buttons and a pool table. Of course, many athletes in those years were locked up. But the same CSKA hockey players had a busy life: tours, world championships, Olympics as part of the national team. And we were sour on the base. Games in other cities were even better for us – after all, a change of scenery, comfortable hotels, a new audience.

Was it difficult to resist the desire to celebrate the “to the fullest” New Year, if in the first days of January it was necessary to go to the base? Many people didn’t ask this question. The organisms of the players are young, they quickly recovered. Moreover, the first working days were unloading. And then, if the players of “Zenith” really wanted to have fun, “break away”, they could afford to do it during the season. They left the base at night, returned – no one noticed. Or pretended not to notice.

“Youth exists in order to have fun, make mistakes, do something that you can later remember,” Strepetov explains. “Do you think I would have acted now, as many years ago?” No, of course not. And then I didn’t think about it. They could drink hard, break the regime. When else to do this?

So in this sense, the New Year was not some kind of outlet. Moreover, the training camp that followed the holidays was really difficult, exhausting – not like the current one. Three workouts to exhaustion. In the morning – exercises, in the afternoon – strength work, in the evening – football on a “broken” field. You can barely reach the bed, you don’t want anything else. And I had to wash the form in the amount of four sets myself, it quickly failed. And so two or three months. Many teams did not even return home – they did not spend the budget on this.

Former Zenit players are sure that if those who play for the team now were subjected to such tests, they would not stand it, they fled. And at the New Year’s table they would be outsiders.

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Source From: MK

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