Running rings around Saturn

saturnTwenty-nine miles west of the sprawl that is Moscow sits a town called Ramenskoye. It looks like a typical suburb of the Russian capital, but may soon benefit from increased air traffic and perhaps, the business of budget airline destination. Before the second world war, Ramenskoye was the site of a large “instrument” factory and it from there that a football team was formed among the workers. It had assorted names, but in the post-war years, the name FC Saturn emerged, no doubt a nod in the direction of the space race. Not for nothing is the club’s nickname “the aliens” or “extra-terrestials”.

Today, FC Saturn Ramenskoye or FC Saturn Moskovskaya Oblast (the team of the Moscow region), plays at a lowly level, but only a few years ago, they were among more celebrated Moscow names such as CSKA, Spartak, Lokomotiv (the club’s traditional rivals) and Dinamo. Between 1999 and 2010, Saturn played in the top flight and were rarely below halfway. In fact, they finished as high as fifth in 2007. Furthermore, they had a good record in the Russian Cup, reaching the last eight (or better) eight times in that period. Crowds at their small stadium (with 16,500 plastic seats, according to their website) peaked at an average of 11,200 in 2000 but by 2010, they had fallen to little more than 7,000.

In 2007, Saturn finished fourth in the Russian Premier. By the end of 2010, the club announced that due to mounting debts, it would not participate in the 2011 season. The club had not paid its players for six months and debts totalled RUB 800m (around £18m).

saturn 2While Russian football is awash with big sponsors and the flavour of the Oligarch, Saturn were, at the time, effectively state-owned. Apparently, anxious at the financial condition of the club, they tried to weld it together with FC Khimki, a club from the North-West of Moscow. There was also talk of a Lithuanian businessman buying the club, That, and an aborted sponsorship deal with Mexican beer producer, Corona – which could have solved the club’s problems – didn’t work out, so the local authority made the decision to close Saturn. The Corona deal depended, to a large degree, on the local government settling all outstanding debts to players. They refused, so the decision was taken to close the club in its current form. There are all sorts of conspiracies about Saturn’s demise and some are as mysterious as the rings that skirt its heavenly namesake.

In 2014, FC Saturn returned to the Russian Professional Football League, West division. They play alongside Spartak Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg’s second elevens, proposed stable-mates Khamki, another astronomical name, Solaris, and Pskov 747. Only this week, Saturn drew 2-2 at a noisy Pskov in front of 1,500 people, coming back from 1-2 down thanks to a penalty from veteran striker (he’s 38) Aleksey Medvedev. The former Rubin Kazan front man has netted 16 times this season. [Editor’s note – I watched the game on the internet!].

They won’t win promotion this season, but at least FC Saturn are on their way back. Not necessarily to the stars, but it’s still a great name for a club, evoking memories of Cosmonauts, Sputnik and that Hero of the Soviet Union, Mr Gagarin.

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