For my main series “Totalitarian football” I’m going to be managing the made up club CSKA Aransk in the made up post-Soviet totalitarian Communist nation of Bordavia. I have covered the creation process in a series called “Creating Club and Country”:
The idea from the beginning was for CSKA Aransk to get invited into the Russian league system, where most of the adventure would take place. I was going to create a Bordavian league, but only the top tier, as a backdrop. However, after a literal hurricane of interest in getting involved in this adventure the idea took a turn into something completely different. Over 60 people have reached out and contributed with ideas for towns and clubs and stories. Bordavia has turned into a mystic but rather grim nation, full of quirks, stories and lore. I fell in love with both the commitment shown by you and the nation of Bordavia, which has lead to the creation process of an entire Bordavian database. This has been a real team effort, which I have enjoyed massively, but it has also meant that I haven’t had much time to write blog posts or record YT videos. Therefore I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone, by sharing stories from the nation of Bordavia up until the db release around Christmas.
If you want to read the other stories you can find them here.
Today’s story comes from the talented SwiftsureEightFour and tells the story of “his” mountain town, Arzaga!
Mountain Goat Football: How a Quirky Cultural Celebration Influences the National Pastime
By @Swiftsure84 for The Athletic
The airport in Aransk is as dystopian as you would expect from a nation that refuses to acknowledge the fall of the Iron Curtain. Concrete and steel are paramount; where trees and grass might once have grown steel pillars and concrete footpaths propagate in their place. The light is eerie as if the power generated by the nearby Georgi Ivanovich Nuclear Power Plant just does not quite produce enough to have the bulbs operating at max wattage. Armed police and military-types stand guard, mostly smoking, eyeballing the travellers as we exit the terminal and out into that half-lit, industrial and very much Communist, capital city. I am met by Gregor, my guide for this story, who stubs out a cigarette and takes my bag from me as I approach without saying a word.
Welcome to Bordavia and my story on mountain goats and alpine football in the town of Arzaga.
Arzaga is situated 80 miles from the capital Aransk in Oblast IX with a population of just over 6,000. Nestled in the mountains its existence is peculiar as it does not immediately present as having a reason for being. Local records indicate that Arzaga was established in 1876 by criminals who had escaped prosecution in a nearby town and whom the authorities, presumably, expected to die in the treacherous and frankly unliveable climate. Instead, they thrived and today Arzaga is known for a far more surreal reason: the annual Bordavian Festival of the Mountain Goat. Yes, really.
Gregor, despite his surly introduction, launches right into tales of the Festival. He’s a 4th generation Arzagan and proudly enters his own goats in the Festival each year although has never won it. Despite his lack of success, he is besotted by it and rattles off the list of previous winners as if they are his own children. Anatoly, the winner in 2014, was a surprise champion, Gregor tells me, because he was so undersized. Vitaly the 12th, the 2003 champion, was a monster in comparison; more bear than mountain goat. But it is the 1963 champion, Sergei, which captures his heart. Sergei was from Arzaga and to date is the only local winner. As such he is held in the highest esteem; a steel statue dominates the front of the local municipal building and the local football club bears his likeness in their badge. “What a goat!” Gregor exudes. “He ate the entire patch of grass and climbed the track a whole 49 seconds faster than the nearest competitor. Remarkable! I was only 8 years old at the time but I remember it as if it was yesterday. We celebrated for a week; Sergei was taken to all the village’s houses and fed grass soup and lavished with gifts from all the people. He never entered the competition again and so retired an undefeated champion.”
Two hours later we finally arrive in Arzaga and I am immediately struck by how normal the township looks. The industrial darkness of Aransk has been left behind and we are in light-filled greenery, stunning rock formations and quaint houses and yards. It is clear that it is not a prosperous town but certainly comfortable. It is as if General Ivan has forgotten about it entirely (which is surely impossible, given the Festival…). Gregor takes me straight to the local hotel where I am whisked straight into a ground floor room; my tour begins the following morning.
At 9am Gregor conducts me over to the Sergei Koziy Stadium, the home of Arzaga Sportivnoye (Athletic) and I am met by Bogdan Rasimov, the president of the club. “Arzaga loves football. Maybe not as much as our Festival, but certainly more than many other things.” And that seems true; it is just after 9am and as the players are coming out of the change rooms to commence training, many of the club’s fans are in attendance. There is a cacophony of sound as they emerge, a strange baa-ing cackle and my raised eyebrows invite Bodgan to clarify: “The call of the goat, of course.” Oh, of course. There must be 300 Arzagans coughing/chanting/baa-ing and ringing cowbells (goat bells?) as the players commence a light jog around the field.
“We are passionate about our football but we have never been particularly good” Bogdan continues. “We are small, we are in the hills and too far away from Aransk to attract bigger names and better players. But, we have remained in the 4th Division for 23-straight years now and that is an achievement in itself.” And that is quite true – Bordavian football is cutthroat with clubs forming and disappearing with regularity largely due to the financial constraints imposed by the Government. The club did manage to elevate itself into the 3rd Division for the 1987/88 season but immediately fell back to the 4th Division the season after. “I played for the club in 87/88” says Bogdan, “but many of our players were bought by larger clubs that summer and so we were not the same team that won the 4th Div in 86/87. Perhaps that’s why I actually made the team!” he laughs.
I am shown around the club’s facilities (a loose term to be sure) and get to meet a few of the players although none speak English. What strikes me the most is the apparent isolation from the rest of Bordavia. The people speak of Arzaga as if it is not part of a larger world, even though their club competes against other teams from across the country. There is a sense of remoteness; of individuality and independence – something odd in what is ultimately such a totalitarian Communist regime.
The following day I am invited to sit with Bogdan and other club luminaries in the main (only) stand as the 1st team takes on the Reserves in a pre-season friendly. The baa-ing and ringing of cowbells has returned and indeed remains the duration of the game as 2500 locals cram into the stadium to watch their heroes. The football is decent but the pitch is not and so it’s a largely scrappy affair. The 1st team wins 3-1 but the story of the game is the performance of 16y/o Daniil Fedorov for the Reserve side who scores their only goal; an undersized but brave and combative midfielder who makes a number of excellent tackles and passes during the game. His goal is a thumping header from a corner where he appeared to leap far above the much taller defenders. Bogdan nudges me as the players celebrate the goal “One to watch. He will make us rich.”
My time in Arzaga concludes after the match. Thanking Bogdan for the town’s hospitality he in turns offers me a kid (a young goat!) as thanks for visiting and drawing attention to the club. I take one last pull of the flask of grass soup, say my goodbyes and go to meet Gregor in the carpark.
And it occurs to me as he drives me back to Aransk – Arzaga is a mountain goat. Prideful but quiet. Independent, simple and with characteristically simple needs. And they love grass soup.
Addition from Mikaelinho – Arzaga in the database
As you already know by know, Arzaga are a solid 4th tier team, without real hopes of reaching higher. Some of the players and fans secretly dream of greatness though. Maybe you can be the manager to lead Arzaga Sportivnoye up the league pyramid!?
This was the eleventh “Tale from Bordavia” and I’d like to thank Swiftsure84 for his great contribution. There will be a new one every day leading up to Christmas. I hope you’ll enjoy these little stories and that they will spark an interest large enough to follow my main series “Totalitarian Football” and maybe even try the database when it comes out!?
I stream my “Building Bordavia” creation process on Twitch on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Come hang out and say hi!
I also upload episodes about the creation process to my YouTube channel. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss any content!