As it is true in many countries in the world, football is big in Azerbaijan. This ancient country and former Soviet state is well known for its love for this popular sport. Professional football in Azerbaijan is organized by the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA), which also manages the national football league (AFFA Premier League) and the country’s official football team.
The Soviet Union used to be the best in all types of sport around the world. It was a superpower not only in the arms race but also in international games and competitions. In football, the Soviet Union joined the World Cup for the first time in 1958 and already the team reached the quarterfinals. In 1960, they won the UEFA European Football Championship and in 1966 fought in the FIFA World Cup semifinals. In 1966, one of the top Soviet players was Anatoly Banishevski, an Azeri. Today, he is considered as the most successful football player that came from Azerbaijan.
The 1960s is considered as Azerbaijan’s Golden Age in football. This decade was when it produced legendary players and won several competitions.
The former Soviet Union also used to run its own football league, and one of the top competing teams is Neftchi Baku, the Azerbaijani football club that is based in the capital city of Baku. This well-loved local team is still in competition today. It is the most celebrated Azeri team, having won seven Azerbaijan Premier League titles and four Azerbaijan Cup titles. Neftchi Baku used to also compete in several European club competitions. The other two top football teams in the country are FK Qarabag and Turan Tovuz.
The mighty Soviet Union finally collapsed in 1991 and Azerbaijan became an independent nation again. Needlessly to say, the Soviet Union football team was also dissolved.
AFFA was established only in 1992 to stand up where the Soviet Union had fallen. In the same year, Alekper Mamedov, an Azeri footballer, was appointed head coach of the national team. The team itself, however, is much older than AFFA since it was established as early as 1906.
In 1993, the Azerbaijani national team won over Georgia, and was accepted into FIFA and UEFA in 1994. Today, FIFA and UEFA recognize the Azerbaijani national football team and the teams of other CIS member-states as successor teams of the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, the country’s heart of football is the Tofik Bakhramov Stadium in the capital city of Baku, which is also the largest city in the entire Caucasus region. The 30,000-seater stadium was built in 1951 and was originally named after Joseph Stalin. In 1956, it was renamed Vladmir Lenin Stadium, and finally to its present name in 1993.
Tofik Bakhramov, the stadium’s namesake, was the most successful Azeri referee who served as a linesman during the 1966 World Cup championship match between England and West Germany. He died in 1993.
To prove how much Azerbaijan and its people love this universal sport, the country’s State Budget allocated US$10 million to repair and reconstruct the popular football stadium. The director of Tofik Bakhramov Stadium revealed their plans of installing new seats, locker rooms and lighting system. This much money spent on a stadium simply proves that football in Azerbaijan is here to stay.