FC Zenit Saint Petersburg is a Russian football club from Saint Petersburg. Founded in 1925 (or in 1914 according to some Russian sources), the club plays in the Russian Premier League and currently is the richest in the country, thanks to the sponsorship of Gazprom. Zenit are the 2007 champions of the Russian Premier League and the holders of the 2008 UEFA Cup.
The story of FC Zenit is tightly connected with the turbulent political history of Saint Petersburg - Petrograd - Leningrad, Russia.
In 1897 the first football match in Russia was held in Saint Petersburg on Vasilyevsky Ostrov, an unofficial game between the local English team "Ostrov" and the local Russian team "Petrograd" which the English team won 6 : 0. The players of those local teams were amateurs and loosely associated with each other. At the same time several formal football clubs were founded in Saint Petersburg, mainly around large industrial companies. However players' membership was unofficial and very loose, sometimes allowing the same players to play for several different teams during the same season.
Formation of Zenit
The original team Zenit stemmed from several football teams, which had changed many names and owners during the Soviet era after the Revolution of 1917. Powerful political forces had manipulated careers of individual players as well as the fate of the whole team. The club was renamed several times, and its owners and leaders were under political pressure for many decades.
The origins of Zenit Saint Petersburg date back to the beginning of the 20th century, to several predecessor teams in Saint Petersburg, which were playing locally. The oldest documented predecessor of "Zenit" was team "Murzinka" founded in 1914, which played exactly on the same "Obukhovsky" stadium from 1914 until 1924, when the team became called "Bolshevik" (the new name for "Obukhovsky" industry and its stadium). The team and stadium survived the drama of WW I, the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, and the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922.
In 1925, another predecessor team of Zenit was formed of workers from the Leningrad Metal Plant LMZ, it was called "Stalinets" in the 1930s. Historians had documented that both teams predecessors of "Zenit" were playing independently until their official merger in the end of 1939. "Stalinets" was not the same team, named "Zenit" that took part in the 1938 USSR championship.
The current name of FC "Zenit" was registered in 1936 as Bolshevik became part of the Zenit sports society and was renamed to FC Zenit, three years before "Stalinets" was merged with it. In 1939, during the rule of Joseph Stalin, FC Zenit was ordered to take in members of the metallurgical workers' team, called Stalinets Leningrad (translated as "Stalinist"). At that time the Leningrad Metal Plant (LMZ) became part of the military industry and its sports teams, players and managers were transferred to the Zenit sports society. After the end of the 1939 season, Stalinets was merged with Zenit which played in the second division.
Zenit in the Soviet League
FC Zenit won their first honours in 1944, claiming the war-time USSR Cup after defeating CDKA in the well-attended final. The club was always adored in Leningrad but wasn't able to make much of an impact in the Soviet League. In 1967, Zenit finished last but were saved from relegation because the powers that were decided it wouldn't be prudent to relegate a Leningrad team during the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution, which occurred in the city.
Composer Dmitry Shostakovich, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and film star Kirill Lavrov were well-known as ardent supporters of Zenit, a passion that is reflected in their attendance of many games, personal correspondence as well as official reports.
FC Zenit won the bronze medal in 1980, achieved Soviet Cup Final 1984 and, finally, won the Soviet League title in 1984. Next year, Zenit beat Soviet Cup holder in Soviet Super Cup (also named as Season Cup).
Zenit in the Russian League
The LOMO optical plant took up the ownership of the team after the war. In 1990 FC Zenit was re-registered as the independent city-owned professional club.
After being relegated in the first year of the Russian League (1992), Zenit returned to the top flight in 1996 and have been decent since. They claimed the 1999 Russian Cup, finished third in the League in 2001, made the Cup final in 2002, became the runners-up in the Premier League and won the Russian Premier League Cup in 2003.
Zenit today is supported by Gazprom , who bought the majority of the club and invested over a hundred million dollars into buying new players and building a new stadium with a capacity of over 60,000 people. Zenit today is amongst Russia's strongest football clubs.
In December 2005 Gazprom took a controlling stake in the club. The deal was announced by Valentina Matviyenko, the Saint Petersburg governor. According to her, Gazprom has already arranged the construction of a new stadium and was planning to invest in the club's facilities and equipment and the development of junior football leagues.
Although Zenit reached the quarterfinal of the UEFA Cup in 2006, a mediocre start to the league season led to the summer replacement of coach Vlastimil Petrzela. Since July 2006, Zenit has been under the experienced and respected Dick Advocaat. Advocaat works together with his Assistant Manager, former Netherlands National Youth Team coach, Cornelius Pot.
The home ground of FC Zenit is now at Petrovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg. In 2007, the club's former home base at the Kirov Stadium was demolished, to be replaced with a new stadium for FC Zenit.
Zenit won the 2007 Russian Premier League, their best achievement since winning the USSR Championship in 1984. This means Zenit will compete in the group stage of the Champions League 2008-09. In 2008 Zenit won the Russian Super Cup and reached the quarter-final of the UEFA Cup for the second time in their history. In the first leg of the quarter final away against Bayer Leverkusen from Germany, the team achieved a 4-1 victory. They qualified for the semi-finals of the competition for the first time in their history despite a 0-1 home loss to Bayer in the second leg, and were drawn to play further German opposition in the semi-final, Bayern Munich, considered the top team remaining.
A battling performance in the first leg of the semi-final earned Zenit a 1-1 draw away against Bayern Munich. In the second leg at home, Zenit won 4-0, defeating Bayern Munich 5-1 on aggregate and going through to the UEFA Cup final for the first time in the club's history, where they met the Scottish team Rangers F.C. at the City of Manchester Stadium, Manchester on 14 May. Zenit defeated Glasgow Rangers F.C. 2-0, with goals from Igor Denisov in the 72nd minute and Konstantin Zyrianov in stoppage time, to lift the club's first ever UEFA Cup.