Boris hits the bottle as Russia United face anonymity in the internatio nal league

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The Independent Online
"IT'S disgusting. It's revolting. He's brought the club into total disrepute." "I've supported the side for thirty years, but I've never felt this ashamed." "He should resign straightaway. Sooner, if possible." Just three reactions from shell-shocked supporters of Russia United, the club which started off the season so well and has now wandered dangerously close to the anonymity zone in the international league, writes Rene McGrit, our football specialist. And the action which sparked off this torrent of protest? The shock decision by chairman Boris Yeltsin to sack the entire board of Russia United yesterday, and all the players as well, and to fill all the functions himself.

As soon as the decision was made public, thousands of fans marched through the streets of Moscow last night chanting: "Come on, Boris! Put that bottle of vodka away and pull your socks up! Alternatively, go to bed with the bottle of vodka and hand the team over to someone who can handle it! Or maybe just give us the vodka and try a bit of mineral water for a change!" However, a defiant Boris Yeltsin issued a communique from his holiday home by the Black Sea saying that the club would be safe in his hands, as well as the vodka, and he brooked no discussion. A close aide said that Boris would be the chairman, the manager, the trainer and the whole team, too, until further notice.

What sparked off this extraordinary state of affairs was the revelation in a Russian magazine, the Moscow Mafia Monthly, that Boris Yeltsin has been indulging in regular binges of booze and power-broking. He has been on the phone for hours on end to Baghdad talking to the mighty Saddam Hussein, manager of Iraq Bandits, pledging his support in international matches, and ringing up the United States at all hours of day and night, making pledges that nobody can understand. The Moscow Mafia Monthly magazine even managed to infiltrate a reporter into Boris Yeltsin's social circle to verify reports of endless drinking sessions in the HQ of Russia United, and the reporter's account certainly seems to justify what was said.

"As soon as I arrived, I was plied with vodka. After that I was plied with more vodka. After that, I think I was plied with more vodka, but I can't remember anything much and I found myself at dawn wandering the streets and looking for a taxi. I did not find one. I still have a hangover, days later."

At a time when Russia United is fighting to keep its place in international ratings, this seems a terminally damaging revelation. Certainly, the fans think so, and were out again in Moscow this morning chanting: "Don't be a fool, Boris - jack it in and let us build from the ground upwards again in a sensible manner! Or are you too drunk already to listen to us?"

But many Muscovites simply shrug and turn away. After all, they are inured to reverses and misfortunes. Russia United has known capricious bosses before. For centuries, all Russian football was in the hands of the Russian royal family, who had dissident players taken out and shot. The first commoner to be put in charge of the team, Lenin, was thought at first to be different but he also had players taken out and shot - indeed, he also had the Russian royal family, ex-owners of the team, taken out and shot.

The next long-serving manager of the team, Joe Stalin, had all critics of his strategy sent to Siberia, or starved to death, but he retained his post for many years after notching up notable victories against Germany in the 1940s, and some creditable draws against the Americans. Since Stalin, however, Russian team planning has been in the hands of some old and sick men who should never have been put in charge of the team, and its reputation has crumbled.

Boris Yeltsin was thought to be a great hope for the future re-emergence of Russia United, but this latest debacle suggests strongly that he will not be the awaited saviour. Public anger has further been fuelled by reports that Boris Yeltsin controls all the vodka outlets selling drink to Russia United fans, and all the clothes shops selling typical Russia United clothes to people who wear that sort of clothing.

Now, as I write, writes Rene McGrit, the streets of Moscow are again full of fans, chanting: "Come on, Boris ! You're not a young man, you know, and you owe it to the team to put in a full day at the office! So knock off the vodka and get cracking, otherwise we'll get rid of you in a, preferably, bloodless coup! This is our last warning." One feels they mean it.