The Dynamo Legacy

Many Football club names across Eurasia feature the moniker “Dynamo” or an alternative spelling thereof. These clubs share characteristics. Normally located in the respective country’s capital, their logos feature a common attractive “D” design and are usually among the most successful in each respective national league. SG Dynamo Dresden and BFC Dynamo of Germany are both exceptions, but we will return to them later.

These common characteristics are not accidental. The term “Dynamo” refers to a phenomenon seen in former Communist Football leagues. In free-market economies, private companies sponsor teams, providing capital and resources to help the club operate and compete. Obviously there were no private companies in Communist economies. Instead, clubs were often (but not always) linked to the public trades and unions, such as the energy concern, the railworks, steel manufacturing, the military etc. You couldn’t really call the system “sponsorship”, but the public trades and unions did provide resources and the players did very much represent those national entities on the field. This is the origin of enduring names like “Metalist Kharkiv”, “Lokomotiv Moscow”, “Chemie Leipzig”.

Kiev Olympic Stadium at night
Dynamo Kiev’s Stadium

The Dynamo clubs represented or had links to the secret police & state security force, for example the Stasi or the KGB. In their paranoia, the Communist regimes and the state security forces frequently used Football as a means to inspire and influence subject peoples. If Football clubs representing steel manufacturing, the rail industry, the chemical works etc frequently beat the state security force sponsored team, the population could question its power and legitimacy. They would manipulate Football infrastructure and results to ensure that the Dynamo clubs were the most successful, getting away with it thanks to their powerful position in a one-party state free of open criticism. Superiority of the Dynamo clubs was imperative. As a consequence, the Dynamo clubs were forcibly given the best players and benefited from favourable refereeing, at the expensive of other clubs and their fans, who, inevitably and ironically, saw through the scam.

The greatest source of records concerning this phenomenon comes from my old friend, East Germany. SG Dynamo Dresden was the Stasi-backed East German Football club before the ruling Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands felt the Dynamo club should logically be based in the capital, Berlin. The birth of BFC Dynamo was in 1964, when SG Dynamo Dresden was forcibly relocated by the SED to East Berlin midway through the season, initially with the name SFC Dynamo, later changed to BFC Dynamo. Fans of the original SG Dynamo Dresden were distraught. The largest spectating crowds in East Germany had been relieved of their team with little explanation.

There are multiple documented cases of the SED overseeing the transfer of the GDR’s finest players to BFC, and even more of downpayments and favours to referees at key games at the end of the season, most notably in the 80s, during BFC’s winning spree. Between the years 1979 and 1988 BFC Dynamo won 10 consecutive East German titles and boasted the strongest roster of players in the entire country. And what happened when malpractice was suspected? The newspapers were simply told what to report. But all these measures did not convince the people of the legitimacy of the Stasi or of BFC. All attempts to manipulate and control domestic proceedings could not shape events externally; there was no way to hide BFC’s failings in European competition from the people of East Germany. People knew BFC for what it really was and didn’t swallow the propaganda. In modern post-communist Germany, the legacy of Erich Mielke’s BFC Dynamo lives on; they are unquestionably one of the most despised teams within the Bundesliga structure (for different reasons entirely to the likes of RB Leipzig).

A new Dresden club was created after 1964 still with the Dynamo prefix that went on to maintain “top-club” status within the GDR. SG Dynamo Dresden live on to this day as a Big Club with Big Support. This is inevitably aided by the fact that it is the only major Football club in one of Germany’s biggest Bundesländer, Sachsen. Dynamo Dresden gets a big following from proud Sachsener from across the state. They are disliked by other German fans not primarily for the club’s prior relationship to the Stasi, but because of their hooligan reputation. It is the “Dresden” part people dislike more than the “Dynamo” part in the case of Dynamo Dresden. But the Dynamo Legacy does not help.

It is however something of a surprise that outside of Germany, the Dynamo clubs remain popular. Or at least a surprise that they don’t receive such vociferous opposition on a moral basis from Football enthusiasts due to former state security force links. Dynamo Moscow maintains a strong fan base. Dynamo Kyiv are still one of the top clubs in Ukraine, in spite of a currently weak domestic Football league. And across the other smaller economies, the Dynamo clubs are invariably the strongest outfits in the leagues. Why do locals in the former communist states feel less resentment toward the Dynamo clubs that benefited from KGB manipulation? It may be a case of “Success Breeds Sexy”; the German Dynamo clubs are not producing Football that enthusiasts want to watch, thus fans are more ready to criticise than support them. Or it could be the fact that German press is a lot freer than contemporary Russian press for example. Records of the Stasi’s involvement in Football have been made public. Thus Germans are more knowledgeable about the ugly history of the Dynamo clubs and are in a position to demonstrate against it. The Russians, not so much.

There is one more exception to the Dynamo-club-family. The founders / owners of “Houston Dynamo” probably should’ve taken a longer look through the history books before choosing that suffix. Even though that era is long gone, you can’t help but think it’s somewhat strange that an American Sports Franchise effectively chose to name itself in honour of a KGB / Stasi practice. Either that, or the directors of Houston Dynamo don’t know the history of Eurasia’s Dynamo clubs.

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