Azeri Football – A history full of Flame and Fire

Football reached Azerbaijan at the beginning of the twentieth century when the oil industry began to flourish and many football loving foreigners settled in Baku, the country’s capital.  Since its very beginnings, Azeri football has beeen through flame and fire!

In 1905 the first clubs bearing such names as Circle of football players of Surakhany, Friends of Sport, Stella, amongst others, were set up.  Initially, in the absence of a union and cup competitions, the city championships were agreed upon by the captains in a very spontaneous way.

However, six years after the first club was established, the first official championship was played in 1911.  The following year, Azeri football teams enjoyed their first international matches against local Georgian teams in Toilisi and a year later in Baku.  These events led to the founding of the Football Union in 1914.

Between 1922 and 1991, Azerbaijan formed part of the Soviet Union.  It was during this period that most of its clubs were formed, the most prominent of which are Neftehi Baku PFC, FC Baku and Kapaz PFC to mention just a few.  Such names are in strong contrast with those that were set up by foreigners.

The 1960’s is considered to be Azerbaijan’s Golden Age as the country produced players such as Anatoli and Banishevskiy.  In 1966, Azerbaijan’s referee Tofiq Bahramov set the headlines on fire when, as a linesman, he helped award Geoff Hurst’s questionable and critical goal for England against West Germany.  Today, Baku boasts of its 31,200 seat stadium named after him.

A proud football fan stands outside the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium

The Tofiq Bahramov multi-use stadium has a long standing history behind it.  Construction began in 1939, but this was interrupted during the Second World War and resumed in the 1940’s by German POW who finally finished it in 1951.  The stadium was built in the shape of a C, which in Russian is S and consequently called Joseph Stalin.  After the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956, it was renamed after Vladimir Lenin as part of the de-Stalanisation proccess.  In 1993 its name was changed once more and became the Tofiq Bahramov by which we know it today.  But that was not the end of the changes.  In 2011, the stadium  underwent a huge facelift making  it fitting to host the group stages of the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup.

Azerbaijan on the international pitch.

During the Soviet Union era, Azerbaijan was absent from the international scene and became a football backwater.  It was not until after the country became independent in 1992, that the national team was to be seen on pitches beyond its frontiers.  Since then, the football powers in Azerbaijan have been trying to boost the profile of both the national team and the Premier League teams – the former with foreign coaches, example of which is the once Real Madrid coach, John Toshack, and the latter with foreign players.

Football in Azerabijan has come from the outback to the limelight where it will be in 2020 when it will be among the cities hosting the finals of the Euro Championships.  It has also gone through flame and fire which you can read more about in another post.