Field of Dreams: Football in Russia

When you think about American football today, you think about big paychecks and endorsements, only surpassed by even bigger personalities and egos. Today’s pigskin, at least at the highest levels, shares little likeness to the battlegrounds of the first Super Bowls, when teams fought it out not knowing whether the league would even survive another year. It was the heyday of American football. How far we’ve come.

Now close your eyes for a second and just imagine that there is a place far away from America where you can find this beautiful and grueling sport, in its most pristine form. A place where the game is played hard by men, both young and not-so-young, who absolutely live for the game. Where they pay not only to play, but also to hire referees and rent the field and put uniforms on their backs. They spend their free time staying up late to catch scratchy streams of NFL games and studying instructional YouTube videos to get the knowledge they so desire.

You’d probably never guess where – Russia. 

That’s right, on the other side of the world, where the Eurasian steppes meet the real frozen tundra of Siberia, there is a small community of men who overcome numerous obstacles, the least of which is the harsh winter cold, to enjoy their favorite pastime: American football.

What American football player doesn’t remember the first time he put on pads? His first hitting drills? The first time he laid eyes on his game jersey and then wore it to school on game day? Or the first time he got his bell rung? Football is a part of the American way of life. Nevertheless, the tug-of-war battle for every inch that it represents carries an appeal that transcends borders and cultures. Players sacrifice their time, money and bodies just to play because, just like an American, when a Russian puts the pads on for the first time and makes his first hit – he is hooked. Before he knows it, he is part of something bigger than himself, a community whose members look after each other on and off the field.

As proof of this, the sport has gained a foothold in Russia and is gaining popularity slowly but surely. Our team, the Moscow Spartans, for example, has grown from a few guys throwing the football around on weekends to over 60 serious players in just a few short years.

But the costs to joining a team are burdensome for many. A helmet and pads can easily run a player his monthly salary. Because renting just half an outdoor soccer field to practice on costs thousands of dollars, monthly field expenses quickly add up. Travel to and from practice and games also comes out of a player’s pocket. Last year, our team reached the national championship, having racked up 5,000 miles of travel in the playoffs alone. With outside support practicially nonexistent, the financial burdens discourage participation and hurt the sport’s prospects for growth and development.

We pay around $2,000 per month to rent just half of a soccer field to practice on. The winter pushes us indoors where the rent increases 50% for half the space. Having our own field would give us a place to work year-round. Kids and adults are more likely to give football a try and stick with it if they don’t have to pay an arm and a leg during those first crucial months when they come to know and love the sport. Additionally, having a field would give us a venue to hold clinics and camps for players and coaches from Moscow and across the country, including with the participation of visiting Americans. By contributing, you will have helped lay the foundation for a new, bigger generation of Russian players that will take the local game to new heights. We want to build a half-field complex with lighting and drainage. Locker rooms and showers will follow – we just need a place from which to start for now. And we need your help.

We ask you to join us in our efforts to transcend politics and help a small but dedicated pocket of interest in American culture within Russia grow, and to encourage citizen diplomacy – one touchdown at a time.

Us off the field.

Us on the field.

Here is a feature the New York Times did on us.

Here is a feature the Moscow Times did on us.

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Keary Iarussi 
Struthers, OH
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