The tale of two 'sisters in misfortune', Vostok Oskemen and Spartak Semey who were wiped off the Kazakhstan footballing map after more than 50 years of their existence. Today there is just one notable club in East Kazakhstan, which is the big sign of its crisis.
Historically, Eastern Kazakhstan was the birthplace of Kazakhstan football. It was represented on the pitch most significantly by Spartak Semey and Vostok Oskemen, two clubs from the largest cities in the oblast, Semey (until 2007 known as Semipalatinsk) and Ust-Kamenogorsk.
Although neither the former nor the latter had reached the highest level of football pyramid in the USSR, the two sides ran for years as important hubs for the region's sports sector that contributed into development of the homegrown footballers who afterwards were able to ply their trade across the Republic and the entire Soviet Union.
After Kazakhstan gained its independence, both clubs had set to open up a completely new era of their history, entering the domestic top-flight to earn a string of notable results. In fact, the Easterners managed to rule the roost in the local scene in the Asian period, establishing one of the most memorable rivalries in the 1990s.
Spartak have won the league title three times – in 1994, 1995 and 1998 when they played under the name Yelimay Semipalatinsk. Also, they grabbed the 1995 Kazakhstan Cup. As for Vostok, they have been less triumphant but could lift the Cup (1994) before twice finishing runners-up in the top division (1995, 1998). And it was them who played out the first ever Kazakhstan Super Cup match in 1995 (though the maiden edition of the competition had an unofficial status), with Yelimay beating their opponents in the Eastern Derby 2-0 in Almaty.
The Decline of the Duo
However, in the 21st century the whole region, despite economical revival over the country, has been transforming into kind of no man's land in terms of football as it couldn't ensure its financial stability. Consequently, the Eastern giants declined to produce an astonishing contrast to the destinies of Irtysh Pavlodar, the club based in neighbouring Pavlodar Oblast. At the turn of the century, Irtysh flourished, claiming five national titles, the achievement matched later only by FC Aktobe.
Financial support has been getting from bad to worse for Spartak and Vostok and this, coupled with mismanagement, have led them to miserable existence, with the two sides dropping out the Kazakhstan elite. Semey outfit enjoyed a top-flight football only one season since 2004, while Oskemen became grotesque yo-yo club in recent years.
In the 2015 campaign, both competed in the First League (second-tier), and their failure to earn promotion seemed to have sealed their unenviable doom. Following the end of the season, the regional authorities have announced that Spartak and Vostok would be dissolved and merged into a brand new club, FC Altay.
The reasons behind the shocking decision, as they said, were all about bad financial situation that left no choice but to provide only one team with a proper budget. Economically, Kazakhstan clubs have, with some minor exceptions, always been totally dependant upon the regional funds, so it was 'take it or leave it' affair.
Before long, Altay was established to replace two annihilated clubs with a 50-year history each which was among the major topic in Kazakhstan football in pre-season. The news has frustrated the supporters both in Semey and Ust-Kamenogorsk but their critical reaction and sporadical attempts to save their football teams via petitions or media publications could hardly change anything in the case.
The club has been officially recognised as Vostok's legal successor, something that allowed them to participate in the First League. Otherwise, they would have joined the Second League, the lowest division in Kazakhstan football. Following its foundation in January 2016, FC Altay are basing in Semey and temporarily playing their home matches in Ust-Kamenogorsk (an administrative center of East Kazakhstan).
In pre-season, there were signs that Altay should be considered as strong favourites for the promotion. The united Eastern side declared their determination to claim the top-flight status and ambitions to become the one of the biggest KPL clubs in the future. To prove that, they were busy in the winter transfer window, bringing in a number of good acquisitions to the list of players from former Spartak and Vostok squads.
The club has signed several experienced and skilfull performers, with former Russia international Denis Kolodin (the EURO 2008 bronze medal winner) and talismanic veteran Andrey Karpovich (the scorer of the first Kazakhstan's official goal in the UEFA competitions) being the most notable newcomers. The reins over the technical staff were handed to Sergey Timofeyev, one of the much-praised Kazakhstan defenders of the 1990s and the coach who guided the country through its maiden European qualification in 2004–2005.
Ain't Rosy Beginnings
However, instead of instant success the story turned into a grim saga as Altay struggled in their first games before sustaining an even bigger blow. On April 18, the Football Federation of Kazakhstan (FFK) announced that they have deducted nine points from FC Altay due to financial irregularities inherited from Vostok.
The former Ust-Kamenogorsk club reportedly had unpaid debts to the Serbian players Djordje Mrdjanin and Saša Dobrić who had been the part of the team in 2011. That provoked the punishment, and with Altay expressing their disagreement, it has been reported that it will be cancelled if the club provides convincing evidences that Vostok had properly executed their part of the contracts.
As it stands, there is still no solution of this mess. Five games into their inaugural campaign, Altay sit second-bottom in the First League standings with one point after actually gaining 10. It means they need to win every match if they are to gain promotion they targeted before the start to the season.
In 2013, the FFK and Professional League officials gathered in Semey to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the national football. The fireworks and fanfare are long-forgotten now but the curse that has devastated football in Eastern Kazakhstan, still continues.
First League standings
* FC Altay have been deducted 9 points