LONG READ: Aleksei Paramonov, the humble metalworker who became a Spartak legend, won the Olympics and met the Pope

Paramonov in action for Spartak against Zenit in 1949 | Photo: Spartak Moscow: Official History 1922 – 2002

In late August, Russian football lost another one of its old-time legends: Aleksei Paramonov. He was 93 years old.

I’ve had the honour of meeting him twice, both times at book signings – after his 80th and 90th birthdays. He’d talked with Spartak fans for hours, his memory and wits were amazing. And he surely didn’t look a day older than 70.

I’ve wanted to interview him for years, but the time never seemed right. Now that the time will never be right, I’m doing the next best thing: a big biographical article for the English-speaking audience.

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Aleksei Aleksandrovich Paramonov was born on 21st February 1925 in Borovsk, a small town in Kaluga Oblast (then belonging to the Moscow Oblast). He was the fourth child in the family. In 1927, the whole family moved to Moscow, and, as Aleksei grew up, he took a keen interest in football and hockey. His father, a deeply religious man, didn’t think much of sports, but his mother supported him and even bought the young Aleksei his first pair of real football boots.

In 1937, after Spartak Moscow (or, more accurately, the Soviet national team under the club name) defeated the Basque Country team (which featured several players from the Spanish national team that took part in the World Cup 1934, including Isidro Langara), Paramonov became a Spartak fan. Little did he know that he would? join the team.

As a schoolboy, Aleksei regularly played football and hockey for his school team. He remembered the time well:

I loved sports since school. I played volleyball, basketball, did gymnastics, took part in the school running contests, and in winter, I skied, skated and played hockey. Physical education was my favourite school subject. But the boys’ main game at the time, of course, was football. In the Young Pioneers’ camp, we had a real football field. We played friendlies between squads and competed with the neighbouring camps. I took part in all games, scored a lot of goals. When my camp shift was over, and I got back to Moscow, the camp’s sports director came to our home and asked my parents to let me go to the Young Pioneers’ camp again, for the second shift. He needed me as a footballer. The parents didn’t even have to pay for my trip for the second time. My parents agreed, and I returned to the camp and continued to score goals. Our team won all football competitions that summer.

Aleksei Paramonov,?Football Is My Destiny

At the age of 16, he was going on trial for his first “proper” football team, Start Moscow, but these trials were held on the very day the Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, 22nd June 1941.?So, instead of playing football, Paramonov joined the war effort. His older brother Mikhail helped him to find a job of a precision metalworker. At first, he assembled M-50 mortars and components of the famous “Katyusha” rocket launchers for the army, then both brothers got transferred to another factory that made components for submarines. They worked there until the very end of the war; Aleksei reached the rank of 6th-class metalworker, the highest pay-grade possible.

In those years, you were happy just to be alive. By a coincidence, my family on that very same day, 22nd June 1941, moved from Lefortovo to Frunze Street (now Znamenka). And soon, the Nazis started bombing the Moscow center. During the air raids, we were directed to the Arbatskaya metro station. Soon we got used to it and stopped running there after each siren. One of the bombs hit the Vakhtangov theater – just 300 meters from our home. Soon they dropped a 500-kilogram bomb on the Bolshoy Kamenniy bridge, but, thankfully, it didn’t explode.

After I proved myself at the factory, I received a summons to the Kievskiy district recruitment office. But Chuikov, the factory director, gave me an envelope with five wax seals. The recruitment people looked into the envelope, said, “You’re a lucky guy”, and sent me back to the factory. Seems that my photo on the board of honour wasn’t for nothing – I was worth something to them. Other guys like me were sent to the front, and they, lacking everything but the very basic military education, quickly perished.

At the factory, we would often work for 36 hours straight. You’d sleep a bit in the night before the workbench, and then continue. Our mortars were sent straight to the front, and the Mossovet chairman Pronin visited us every week: there’s too few, can you guys get us a bit more? I’m happy to think that those M-50 mortars helped stop the Nazis under Moscow. Later, I was awarded the medal “For Valiant Labour”.

And how we ate then? Soup from black, half-frozen potatoes was considered delicacy. We would add drying oil, a technical component, to the soup to get at least some fats. And we gladly ate it! My uncle worked in a shop at Presnya, selling dry glue. It was made of flour. My sister baked flatbread from that flour.

Aleksei Paramonov interview,?Sport-Express

After the war, Paramonov enrolled to the Moscow Oblast Physical Education College in Malakhovka [currently Moscow State Physical Education Academy]. One of his teachers there was Galina Maizer, Anatoly Tarasov’s sister-in-law. Tarasov, who later found fame and glory as the head coach of Soviet hockey national team, was managing VVS Moscow back then. After winning promotion in 1946, VVS needed to field a reserve team, and Tarasov was in search for new players. Maizer recommended Paramonov to him, and Tarasov reluctantly agreed to take him on trial (he wasn’t too keen on taking scouting tips from women). Paramonov made a good impression in training and soon got to work with the first team.

Aleksei Paramonov with Anatoly Tarasov’s memorial hockey stick | Photo: Moscow Football Federation

In his first autobiography,?Football Is My Destiny, and in later interviews Paramonov claimed that he took part in the infamous Torpedo Stalingrad vs. VVS game at the start of the 1947 season, and even scored VVS’s first goal (which in most Soviet reference books was attributed to Viktor Ponomaryov; Ponomaryov and Paramonov surnames sound similar enough for some reporter to confuse an unknown player who made his first ever professional appearance with a better-known forward). In any case, no goals of the game counted for anything because Torpedo fans invaded the pitch and assaulted the referee. Boris Kulagin (VVS defender who scored an own goal shortly before the pitch invasion) picked up a big stick and started to swing it wildly, trying to scare the fans away from the referee, and the Disciplinary Committee deemed that enough to declare the game forfeited by VVS.

Paramonov scored a brace against Zenit Leningrad (his first professional goal was at the same time the first “official” goal scored by VVS in the first-tier Soviet league), but his career at VVS soon came to an abrupt end. Vasily Stalin, who was personally overseeing the air force team, brought in a group of players from the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany, together with their coach Sergei Kapelkin. Some players were released by the junior Stalin orders. Tarasov expressed his unhappiness and was promptly removed from his job and replaced by Kapelkin. Soon after that, somebody started a rumour that Paramonov, who looked a bit like Tarasov, was Tarasov’s relative and protege, and so Aleksei was axed from the team as well. Luckily for him, he didn’t sign up for full military service in the team, remaining a “civilian contractor”, and so didn’t have to join the army.

In the autumn of 1947, Paramonov suddenly got a call from the famous Spartak tennis player, Nikolai Ozerov. Somebody from Spartak noticed the novice forward and decided to sign him. Paramonov’s first training session with the new team was on 15th September 1947, and he played his first match for Spartak on 10th October of the same year. Spartak lost to Dinamo Leningrad 0-1.

Top row: Valentin Nikolaev, Gavriil Kachalin, Aleksei Paramonov, Yuri Nyrkov. Bottom row: Mikhail Yakushin, Nikolai Ozerov, Zurab Sotkilava | Photo: Sergei Belyaev, Sovetskiy Sport

From 1948 to early 1959, Aleksei Paramonov missed only 14 of almost 300 official matches played by Spartak. He took his college education to good use and developed a thorough warm-up routine which helped him to avoid serious injuries for the entirety of his career. That’s how Paramonov described it in his first autobiography,?Football Is My Destiny (2005):

Before all games and training sessions, I would always dress up in the exactly same way. I would put on left sock, left gaiter and left boot first, and then the right ones. The socks were simple, made of cotton. I never changed footwear or even shirt at half-time, only removing them after the game.

After I got dressed, I would stand up from the bench and begin my warm-up. First, I warmed up my chest muscles, arms, then my back, then I did torso and hip rotations. Then I did stretches and sit-ups. First you warm up smaller muscles, then larger. And again, I started everything from the left leg and left arm. Ten repetitions to the left, ten to the right. Then I did bends and head rotations. This warm-up complex helped me prevent serious injuries.

Aleksei Paramonov,?Football Is My Destiny

Another reason for Paramonov’s resilience and strength on the pitch, most likely, was the fact that he never smoked and almost never drank. He only tasted vodka once in his life, when he briefly played for Stroitel Moscow in mid-1940s.

I decided to celebrate my first wages in a traditional way, by inviting my coaches Sukharev and Belyanin to a cafe. I didn’t drink, so I didn’t know how to order drinks. I only knew that there was a “norm”, 150 grams [milliliters] of vodka. So, we came to the cafe, and I told my coaches, ‘Let’s drink. I don’t normally drink, but let’s order 200 grams each for the occasion.’ I asked the waitress to bring us three glasses. Sukharev looked at me and said, ‘Aleksei, you should know that these glasses contain only 150 grams…’ I was so embarrassed that I emptied the glass at once.

Aleksei Paramonov,?Football Is My Destiny

In his first years at Spartak, Paramonov played as a right inside forward, becoming a part of formidable attacking five that included Nikita Simonyan, Sergei Salnikov, Nikolai Dementyev and Viktor Terentyev. In the 1949 season, Spartak scored 112 goals in 39 games, with this five bagging exactly 100 of them (Simonyan scored 31, Salnikov and Paramonov 18 each, Terentyev 17, and Dementyev 16). He was a prolific goalscorer and, while being overshadowed by Simonyan’s record-breaking performances, Paramonov did achieve some things that Simonyan couldn’t. He became the third (after Viktor Semyonov and Ivan Konov) Spartak player to score four goals in a game (against Daugava Riga in 1949), and still, even almost 70 years later, remains the only player to score six goals against one Spartak’s opponent in a single season (he added a brace to the aforementioned four goals in the second-leg Daugava game). Also, Spartak never lost a game in 90 minutes if Paramonov scored a goal.

Paramonov said he wasn’t aware of that last stat when I told him about it in 2015, but “after the games where he scored goals, he always felt elation, and when he failed to score, he would analyze and reanalyze what he’d done wrong.”

International friendly between Arsenal and Spartak in 1954. Paramonov equalized late in the first half with a close-range finish.

Still, greatest career successes came to Paramonov after he was moved down to midfield and paired with Igor Netto. In the 1950s, Spartak won four league titles (1952, 1953, 1956, 1958) and one Soviet Cup (1958), and ten Spartak players, Paramonov included, were in the USSR national squad that won the 1956 Melbourne Olympic tournament. As a midfielder, he didn’t score a lot of goals but was known for his tenacity and universalism – he was ready to fill any role in midfield and even in defence.

Aleksei Paramonov (bottom left) and Igor Netto in the dressing room | Photo: Aleksei Paramonov’s archive/fratria

In the 1950s, the midfielders’ main job was stopping our direct opponents, inside forwards. Netto worked against right insides, and I against left insides. Insides were often the very best attacking players in their teams. I’ve played against Gogoberidze of Dinamo Tbilisi, Beskov of Dinamo Moscow, Eusebio of Portugal, Fritz Walter of West Germany, even Ferenc Puskas of Hungary. All of them bore number 10 on their shirts. I played against Puskas three times, and he managed to score only one goal, and even that was scored from a penalty. I didn’t let him score from open play.

Aleksei Paramonov,?Football Is My Destiny
Aleksei Paramonov versus Fritz Walter | Photo: AFP

In the 1960s, after retirement, Aleksei Paramonov literally wrote a book on his new position: Midfielders’ Playbook?(“Игра полузащитников”), covering all topics important for the young, up-and-coming midfielders only learning the ropes. In the introduction to the book, he wrote:

In this book, I would like to give you an advice. Do not forget about midfield! By playing in the midfield, you’d be able to realise your very best qualities to the full, both physical and mental. There is nothing harder than a midfielder’s role in modern football. He should be an accomplished athlete, with superb physical conditioning, both a sprinter and a stayer. He should run 100 meters quicker than 12 seconds and yet still feel fresh after running 20 kilometers. He should jump high and far. He should be very elegant and gentle with the ball, but when need arises, he must be able to shoot it into the net with the strength of a cannon. The midfielder’s mind should always be clear – he should be able to explain what he’d just done and why in any moment. Finally, a midfielder should be both a defender and a forward.

Aleksei Paramonov,?Midfielders’ Playbook

Sounds still relevant even after 50 years. If anything, all the requirements above have only intensified.

Cover of?Midfielders’ Playbook (1967)

Paramonov retired or, rather, was unceremoniously asked to retire in mid-1959. After getting the domestic double last year, Spartak underperformed that season, and, as it was par for the course in Soviet football, older players were blamed for that. Nikolai Starostin said in his report to the Spartak society higher-ups that he would work on phasing out the veterans and getting more young players in their place, and Paramonov was the first to take the axe. Salnikov (34) and Simonyan (33) weren’t fielded together, with the latter retiring after the season and immediately becoming the new Spartak manager.

Paramonov played his last match for Spartak in Irkutsk on 11th July 1959 against the local side Energia in the Soviet Cup. He already lost his regular first-team place at that point and was mainly used a back-up defender, but then this happened.

In mid-August, the team was training at Tarasovka. I lived in a room with Sergei Salnikov and Yuri Sedov. I came into that room, nobody was there, and then suddenly Nikolai Petrovich entered. He would occasionally visit us in our rooms, ask how are we doing. Starostin close the door and said abruptly, “Yesterday, there was a meeting of the Spartak Central Council, and it was decided to release you from the team.”

I was shocked. By all rankings, I certainly didn’t deserve to just get fired like that. I didn’t play worse than others. I still had a lot of strength and experience, I could still play. Also, I had to finish my higher education, so it was only logical to stay in the team for a little while longer.

I took Starostin’s words calmly. I said nothing, just silently gathered my belongings into my bag and left Tarasovka.

Aleksei Paramonov,?Football Is My Destiny

Such a bitter irony: a libelous rumour started Paramonov’s Spartak career, and another libelous rumour ended it. Only years later, Paramonov learned what took place at that Central Council meeting.

Spartak bosses posed a question: what should we do to the team? They told Starostin that the team was too old, that he missed the point when younger players should’ve been introduced into the squad. I was already 34, Salnikov was approaching the same age, Simonyan was 32. They decided to start the “purge” with me.

Maybe they were right. But there was a nuance. I was later told that the Central Council chairman, Gennady Mikhalchuk, approved my release from the team, and then… proposed to make me the new head administrator, replacing Nikolai Petrovich himself! He said that they needed younger personnel, and I’d played for Spartak for 14 years and had a spotless record.

Nikolai Petrovich was quite taken aback and probably decided that I took part in some conspiracy against him. And I wasn’t even aware of such plans!

Aleksei Paramonov interview, Nhà Cái Trực Tuyến Hàng Đầu Châu Á́́Sport-Express

After this forced retirement, Paramonov didn’t work for Spartak in any capacity for a single day. Nikolai Starostin never forgot this supposed “conspiracy”. Still, despite not being formally associated with Spartak for almost 60 years, Aleksei Paramonov remained a?spartakovets for everyone. His second memoir was even titled?Spartakovets Forever.

Aleksei Paramonov at Nikolai Starostin’s 80th birthday | Photo:?Football Is My Destiny

He was approached by Torpedo Moscow to see out the 1959 season, but refused out of loyalty to Spartak and stayed retired. Paramonov completed his higher education in 1960 at the Moscow Oblast Pedagogic Institute (now Moscow State Oblast University) and started playing in the official veterans’ national team that toured the country, and then another Starostin brother made him a life-changing offer.

Spartak Moscow veterans’ team, 1974.
Top row: Aleksei Paramonov, Aleksei Korneev, Nikolai Dementyev, Valentin Ivakin, Anatoly Maslenkin, Ivan Varlamov, Sergei Salnikov. Bottom row: Anatoly Ilyin, Anatoly Krutikov, Anatoly Korshunov, Igor Netto | Photo:?Football Is My Destiny

In May 1960, Paramonov started his work as a methodist in the Soviet Football Federation under Andrei Starostin and Valentin Granatkin. The job fascinated him; he didn’t think of the Football Federation specialist as mere paper-pushers, understanding the importance of systematic administrative work. Andrei Starostin used to advise him, “Playing football is one thing, and managing it is a whole other job. Chairmen of republican federation may approach you with question, you must be able to help them.”

Some time later, the Soviet Union youth national team was assembled for the first time to take part in a UEFA youth competition, and Starostin appointed Paramonov as its head coach. Paramonov made several scouting tours around the country, with particular attention on the Caucasus republics, where boys usually matured quicker. The first two outings under Paramonov were unsuccessful (the Soviet team failed to qualify from the group stage), but the foundation he laid paid off in 1966: Paramonov appointed his assistant Evgeny Lyadin as the new head coach (he was going to take a managing job in Tunisia), and the Soviet U21 team became co-winners of the European U21 championship together with Italy after drawing the final 0-0.

The Soviet Football Federation sent Aleksei Paramonov to Tunisia, then going through an experiment with socialist economy, in 1965. He signed a 2-year managerial contract with Etoile du Sahel from Sousse. Both he and his wife Yulia knew French, which is Tunisia’s second language, and this was one of the decisive factors in his favour.

Aleksei Paramonov and the Etoile du Sahel team that won the Tunisian league | Photo:?Football Is My Destiny

Paramonov became the manager of the entire Etoile du Sahel club, from the first team to children’s teams. His approaches were novel for the Tunisian players, but they were fast learners and won the Tunisian championship in 1966 (and then finished as runners-up in both the league and the cup in the 1966/67 season). Among his innovations was constant medical monitoring of the players by a joint Soviet/Tunisian group of doctors. Paramonov also claims that after winning the Tunisian championship, he met president Habib Bourguiba and asked him to plant more high-quality grass pitches at the country’s stadiums, and the president agreed.

Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba congratulates Aleksei Paramonov after winning the Tunisian league | Photo:?Football Is My Destiny

Ten years later, in 1976, Paramonov returned to Etoile du Sahel for a second managerial stint. The team infrastructure was much better this time, and Etoile were the incumbent champions, but, like his own Spartak in 1959, the team was ageing, and Paramonov was more concerned with rebuilding of the squad. After finishing 5th in the league, he returned to USSR despite new job offers from Tunisia and never worked as a club manager again.

It’s quite hard to change line-ups in Tunisian teams. Players get upset and offended when you tell them they’re no longer good enough, their relatives, club officials, even city officials intervene. Everyone asks to let the ageing players stay in the team. And all this hard work fell upon me.

In my first stint, I discovered a young, 18 years-old player, [Othman] Jenayah. He impressed me, and I started using him a lot. I was asked, “Why is he always playing?” He played because he loved football, understood what was asked of him, performed the tasks given to him by the manager, and so he was needed by the team. But when I came again, Jenayah was a rich man, he married a millionaire’s daughter. Ten years later, the young boy turned into a 28 years-old, mature player who lost his former strength, agility and speed. Of course, I had to drop him. But it turned to be quite hard. The club’s bosses met this decision skeptically. Jenayah himself resented me deeply. And that’s how I had to replace about a half of the team.

Aleksei Paramonov,?Football Is My Destiny
Image illustrative de la??article Othman Jenayah
Othman Jenayah, Etoile du Sahel star striker.? He later worked as the club’s president | Photo:?Essabeh newspaper.

In 1967, after returning from Tunisia, Paramonov joined a new Scientific Control Group within the Football Federation. This group was monitoring the work of managers of first and second-tier league teams, systematizing the best practices and disseminating the knowledge among the clubs. (The aforementioned?Midfielders’ Playbook was most probably the result of this group’s work, along with the?Playbooks for three other positions, written by other old-time stars of Soviet football – Evgeny Fokin for goalkeepers, Aleksei Kalinin for defenders, and Ivan Konov for forwards.)?This work and his Tunisia experience attracted the attention of Gavriil Kachalin, the manager who won Melbourne 1956 and 1960 European Cup, and after being appointed the Soviet national team coach for the third time, Kachalin appointed Paramonov as his assistant and Andrei Starostin as the team administrator. Kachalin was approaching sixty, so he delegated most of the physical work to Paramonov, who kept up great physical form into his forties.

Gavriil Kachalin and Aleksei Paramonov with a group of young Mexican fans | Photo:?Football Is My Destiny

Under Kachalin, the Soviet team won the group and reached the top 8 of the tournament, a feat only recently replicated by Stanislav Cherchesov’s Sbornaya at the home World Cup. In the quarter-final, however, the Soviets lost to Uruguay when the referee didn’t notice the ball crossing the goal line and allowed Uruguay to continue the attack. The Soviet players stopped, expecting a whistle, but it never came, and Esparrago scored a goal in the dying minutes of extra time. Upon returning home, Kachalin and his staff were sacked.

Kachalin was a human from the capital H. You could approach him with any question. Gavriil Dmitrievich would never raise his voice. Never. I’ve never heard any swear words from him! The worst curse he used was “scoundrel”. Kachalin wasn’t just a manager for us – he was a father to his men. Gavriil Dmitrievich died a long time ago, but I still remember him every day. Some time ago, there were arguments who was the best manager in the Soviet Union. Some argued that it was Beskov, others said that it was Lobanovskyi. But me and Simonyan would always say, “Kachalin!” He won the Olympics and the European Cup – nobody else could do that!

Aleksei Paramonov interview, Championat.com

In 1973, Paramonov once more returned to the national team as the assistant coach to Evgeny Goryansky. The team failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup after no-showing the return match in Chile, protesting Augusto Pinochet’s coup, but still went to South America for a commercial tour organised by some Costa-Rican promoters, playing a number of unofficial matches there. Paramonov’s status for the tour was… interesting, to say the least.

The Sports Committee higher-ups for some reason didn’t trust [Lev] Zenchenko [chairman of the Football Section at the time] and Goryansky to head the delegation in such a serious tour. Vice-chairman Viktor Ivonin invited me to his office and said that he appointed me as the head of the delegation. “Just don’t tell Goryansky that”, he warned. I was left in a funny position.

The tour was organized quite badly. Instead of ten games, we played only seven, at small stadiums that barely had any crowd. The promoters were quite shifty, often changing the itinerary and “forgetting” to pay the money promised by contract. At the end of the tour, they just disappeared. Still, we played our last match in Recife and came to Rio de Janeiro to take the plane to Moscow.

And in Rio, there was an event that brightened our mood somewhat. At the Maracana stadium, in presence of 150,000 spectators, Garrincha’s testimonial match was held. Our team was invited to the stadium, and three players [Lovchev, Olshansky and Onyschenko] even joined the World XI to play against Brazil.

Aleksei Paramonov,?Football Is My Destiny

Paramonov himself got to present Garrincha a gift from the Soviet Union – an electric samovar. After the tour, Zagoryansky got replaced by Konstantin Beskov, and Paramonov soon lost his job too – due to talks behind his back again.

The Soviet team lost a friendly to Czechoslovakia in Odessa in May 1974. I thought that Beskov made a mistake with a substitution [he substituted Dzodzuashvili for Buryak]. After the game, we were discussing what happened. Vladimir Fedotov, Beskov’s son-in-law, was with us too. I said, “I don’t think Konstantin Ivanovich was right with that sub.” We returned to Moscow, and a few days later, he invited me to the Football Federation chairman’s office. “You know, Aleksei”, he told me, “I think we wouldn’t be able to work together, we have differing opinions on many important questions…” I didn’t argue. Soon after, he appointed Fedotov as his assistant. Later I learned that Fedotov immediately told Beskov about my post-game words, and he reacted quickly.

Aleksei Paramonov,?Football Is My Destiny

Upon returning from Tunisia the second time, Paramonov became an assistant to Valentin Nikolaev in the U21 Soviet national team. Their biggest success was winning the U21 European championship in 1980 with a very talented squad that included Anatoly Demyanenko, Sergei Baltacha, Yuri Susloparov, Andrei Bal, Ramaz Shengelia, Vitaly Daraselia, Valery Gazzaev and Aleksandr Khapsalis. That was his last coaching job.

Soviet Union U21 team that won the 1980 European championship. Far left in the top row – Valentin Nikolaev, second from the right – Aleksei Paramonov | Photo: championat.com

After retiring from coaching, Paramonov fully dedicated himself to the administrative side of football. He was soon appointed executive secretary of the Soviet Football Federation and later joined the UEFA Competitions Committee, where his knowledge of French language came in handy. He was among those who helped bring about the Champions League, supporting the new format on behalf of the Soviet Union.

In the early 1990s, Paramonov was transferred to the UEFA Futsal committee. He was the one who pushed for the creation of the European futsal championship.

Gerhard Aigner, General Secretary of UEFA, didn’t like Russians. His father perished in the World War II. At some meeting, I said, “Soviet Union holds futsal tournaments. Why don’t we hold a European championship?” Aigner laughed, “Mr. Paramonov, who does even play this futsal thing?” But I was prepared – I called all the futsal federation presidents the other day and asked their opinions. I answered, “Fifteen countries!” Aigner said, “Well, that’s another thing.” And the decision was made.

I was inspired by a brave woman from Norway who a couple of weeks before that pushed for a European Women’s championship. The UEFA folks would laugh, “What, the women seriously want to play football? Ha-ha!” But she was so determined that she did ultimately get what she wanted. So, I decided to emulate her approach.

Aleksei Paramonov interview,?Sport-Express
Igor Netto, Gerhard Aigner, Lennart Johansson, Aleksei Paramonov, Nikita Simonyan | Photo:?Football Is My Destiny

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Paramonov became a member of the organisational committee for the nostalgic CIS Cup that got the champions of all former Soviet republics together. For a number of years, he was also the chairman of the RFU’s Veterans’ Committee; among other things, he was behind the creation of Moscow veterans’ futsal tournament The Non-Fading Stars (“Негаснущие звезды”), open for veterans of all major Moscow clubs aged over 50. Borovsk, his birth town, declared him Honorary Citizen and held kids’ football tournaments in his honour. In early 2000s, he received awards from both FIFA and UEFA.

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Aleksei Paramonov in action for the veterans’ team, 1991 | Photo: Igor Utkin/TASS

As a member of the veterans’ national team, Paramonov once got to meet Pope John Paul II, himself a former footballer.

The Soviet veterans’ team was organized in the 1980s. Once, when I worked in the Football Federation, we got an invitation from an Italian company to go to Rome and play several friendly matches there. We assembled a team, went to Italy, played a couple of games. After that, the Italians invited us to visit Vatican. We all went there. Walked around the entire Vatican territory, visited all its landmarks, museums, saw huge paintings of old Italian masters, sculptures. Then we were told that the pope was receiving tourists and other foreign visitors today, and we could come too. Of course, we accepted the invitation – when else would you get to meet the head of the entire Catholic church? We came into a cavernous hall with rows of chairs, there was a big stage on the far side. The pope addressed everyone with a sermon. He spoke about the problems that worry people, about nations’ well-being, about the political situation in the world. Then he went through the rows, greeting his guests. We were invited to come on the stage with the pope. He shook our hands. I stood in the middle of a large group, Jozsef Szabo from Kyiv was beside me. When the pope came up to us, I said that we were footballers from the Soviet Union. The pope was surprised. “Football? Footballers from Soviet Union?” he repeated several times. He looked at us thoughtfully – obviously, he wasn’t used to meeting guests from our country, especially footballers. I still keep the photo that was made by our photographer at that meeting.

Aleksei Paramonov,?Football Is My Destiny
Aleksei Paramonov and pope John Paul II | Photo:?Football Is My Destiny

Paramonov remained active well into his 80s. Even a botched operation that made him lose sight in his left eye didn’t stop him – he still worked in the Veterans’ Committee and visited most of Spartak’s home matches. But then, in late 2016, tragedy struck: his wife Yulia, his loving partner for 66 years, fell awkwardly and broke her femoral neck, dying in hospital a couple of weeks later.

Yulia Paramonova, Aleksei Aleksandrovich’s wife, with their daughter Elena. The girl almost got named “Rapida”: Paramonov learned about her birth right after Spartak’s international friendly against Rapid Vienna where he scored two goals. His wife was having none of it, and they decided on Elena | Photo:?Football Is My Destiny

And soon after losing love of his life, he also lost one of his best friends – Nikita Simonyan… due to a rumour. For a change, he was the gossip in this case.

Before the final, Kachalin was faced with a dilemma: whom to use? He could replace the injured Valentin Ivanov with [Anatoly] Isaev, but Isaev was from Spartak and never played together with Streltsov. That was a problem. And how could you leave Streltsov, the best goalscorer of the tournament, out of the squad? That’s nonsense. Later, we learned that the decision was ultimately made very high up.

Anastas Ivanovich Mikoyan, an Armenian, was an influential figure in the Soviet government. His son Sergei loved football. I know that because we used to go for walks together at the Gorky [Tverskaya] street, “our Broadway”. Well-dressed guys and girls went for walks there or at the Hermitage Garden. Beskov met his wife Valeria Nikolaevna during one of such walks. And so, before the final, Sergei told his father, “Dad, there’s one Armenian in the Olympic team, but he never played.” Mikoyan called Kosygin, who was then the chairman of the Sports Committee. Kosygin called Romanov… And, ultimately, Isaev and Simonyan played in the final.

Streltsov took it well. Simonyan offered to give him his medal, saying, “Edik, you played in all matches, this gold is yours.” Streltsov would answer, “Nikita Pavlovich, I’m young, there’ll be more Olympics for me, and you’ll retire soon.” He didn’t accept the gift.

Aleksei Paramonov interview, Championat.com

Simonyan, as might be expected, didn’t take this “revelation” too well. He vehemently denied any involvement from the higher-ups and took revenge on his now ex-friend in other ways.

In his last big interview, given in the beginning of 2018, Paramonov told about that revenge and insisted that he said nothing wrong.

I think that some people told him something like that: “Look, Nikita Pavlovich, Paramonov said that you’ve only played in the final due to cronyism.” There can be no cronyism in [high-level] football! Simonyan’s place in the first team was well-deserved. And there was nothing wrong that the second most influential man in the country took care of him. It was a good thing! When I was released from VVS, Ozerov personally invited me to Spartak. If he didn’t help me, I’d wind up at Torpedo or Krylya Sovetov and never win the Olympics or Soviet league. I’ve always said proudly that Ozerov helped me to get into Spartak!

Did Simonyan call you after the interview?

He didn’t.

How did you learn that he was angry?

I was immediately fired from all my positions. I was the Veterans’ Committee chairman, a member of the Technical Committee – and then I wasn’t anymore. I worked at the Non-Fading Stars tournament, was one of its co-founders. I came to one game, and then Mirzoyan came up to me, “Aleksei Aleksandrovich, move along. I’m in charge now.”

Of the tournament?

Yes. It happened right after the story with Simonyan. I stood up and left. I had extra pension from the veterans’ fund, 10,000 rubles, but then the money just stopped coming.

Did you try to make amends? You’ve been friends for 70 years.

I did! Last year, on the 9th May, at the Red Square, we wound up in the same company. Veterans, footballers’ widows… I thought, “Well, I’m the older of the two. I’ll approach him, and then we’ll see what happens.” I extended a hand and said, “Nikita Pavlovich!”

And what did he do?

He didn’t shake my hand. Looked me up and down and said, “Who are you? I don’t know you.” Valentin Bubukin’s wife later said that everyone around was appalled.

Aleksei Paramonov interview, Sport-Express

In March 2018, Paramonov took the first kick-off before Spartak’s match against SKA Khabarovsk. He still looked like his old jovial self, much younger than 93 years. He even sprinted from the field after delivering the symbolic pass to Denis Glushakov.

Aleksei Paramonov taking the kick-off before Spartak – SKA in March 2018

Paramonov’s last public appearance was at the World Cup 2018 opening match. Then his health quickly turned for the worse. In July, soon after presenting his medals to the Spartak Moscow museum, he was hospitalized with a host of illnesses. The doctors gave him no more than a month to live, and, sadly, they were right.

Aleksei Paramonov and his medals | Photo: Anton Rasskazov/TASS

A week before his death, young Spartak players – Aleksandr Maksimenko, Aleksandr Lomovitsky and Nikolai Rasskazov – visited Paramonov in the hospital. Aleksei Aleksandrovich wished them to bring new glory to Spartak, and, judging by their recent performances, they’re well on the way to do just that.

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Current Spartak youth and first-team stars Rasskazov, Maksimenko and Lomovitskiy visited Paramonov in the hospital | Photo: spartak.com

Paramonov didn’t make amends with Simonyan before his death, but Simonyan delivered a powerful eulogy at his funeral service.

Today, we’re saying goodbye to Aleksei Paramonov. Aleksei joined Spartak two years before me, in 1947. His most characteristic traits were his work ethic, loyalty to the great club and always giving his all. He wasn’t supertalented, but his diligence allowed him to become a star both in Spartak and the Soviet national team. When we came to train, he would always say,?Travail, travail, travail – “Work, work, and work”. Since 1949, when I just joined Spartak, we were together. And, as a denouement, I’ll say this: in the last decade, there were four of us. Four Soviet champions and Cup winners [of the 1950s], four Olympic champions. The first – or seventh – to go was Anatoly Ilyin. Then, around two years ago, Anatoly Isaev joined him. Today, we’re saying goodbye to the ninth Olympic champion from Spartak. And now there’s only one left. Only time and fate will tell when the tenth one will join everyone – join you, Aleksei. Rest in peace. I bow to you for all you’ve done in the name of our football and Spartak.

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Nikita Simonyan saying his last goodbye | Photo: spartak.com

Aleksei Paramonov always considered himself a happy man. Probably that was one of the things that helped him live for so long. Rest in peace, Aleksei Aleksandrovich.

Yes, I am a happy man. If I was told at the age of 15 or 16 that I’d become a footballer, an Olympic champion, a Spartak player – I wouldn’t have believed it. When I was sixteen, I worked at a factory and assembled M-50 mortars. I was a third-grade metalworker and wanted to get the fourth grade, then fifth and sixth. I never dreamed of anything beyond that.

When my photo appeared at the factory’s glory board, I was amazed. This was the limit of my happiness. What football, what Olympics?.. I was equally happy to learn that my sister, a doctor, survived the Leningrad blockade.

I could never have thought that in my Borovsk, from which I departed to Moscow at the age of two on a horse-drawn cart, I would become an honorary citizen and hold tournaments under my name. Of course I’m a happy man! Football helped me visit more than 40 countries and make a lot of friends around the world – Platini, whose testimonial match I’ve visited, sent me a greeting card for my 90th birthday, and Blatter did too.

I didn’t have a lot of talent or even ability. I’m not Fedya Cherenkov. I was just a boy, like everybody else at the Storozhevaya street in Lefortovo, where our family of six lived in a wooden house with toilet on the street. Life taught me that you have to love work. 90 percent of everything I achieved was due to hard work.

Aleksei Paramonov interview, Sport-Express
Report on Spartak’s 6-0 win against ODO Sverdlovsk in 1956. Aleksei Paramonov scored his last career goal in this game.
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Author: Alexey ‘Spektrowski’ Zakharov

I’m a Spartak Moscow fan who dabbles in Soviet/Russian football history (mostly numerical and statistical). Contributed some data to the Spartak Moscow museum at Otkrytie Arena.

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