From Factory Team to the Europa League: The Story of Zorya Luhansk

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From a team formed on the site of a steam train construction site, the Ukrainians are set to announce their arrival on the European stage.

In the city of Luhansk on the eastern border of the country with Russia, after Dynamo Luhansk were merged to form Metalurh Mariupol, the city’s only remaining football team are set to return to European club competition for the first time in over 40 years.

As one of the European games’ most modern football institutions, FC Zorya Luhansk – in their current guise – have just celebrated half a century of existence. 

With their return to major club competition set for next month with the group stages of the Europa League, Luhansk are primed to emerge from the industrial smoke and shadows of a war-torn region to take to take their place on the big stage. But their origins are humble ones.

Originally formed in 1923, the Ukrainian side has gone by six different monikers in the time. Named ‘Metalist’ in their first alias after WW1, the club suffered insolvency through WW2 and eventual evolution into the Avanhard Sports Society.

The Union combined the workers of industry and construction which were later the foundations for clubs of the modern era, such as Zorya’s regional Donetsk-based bigger brothers Shakhtar and FC Torpedo of Russia.

Luhansk, known as ‘The Factory Team’, were first founded in The Russian Empire during 1908, when workers of Russischen Maschinenbaugesellschaft Hartmann – more commonly known as Voroshilovgrad Locomotive Works – created the ‘society of wise creations’.

The football was born out of this and was headed by a specialist from Prague, Henrich Drzevikowski who was also a ministerial gym instructor at the factory’s school. The team trained and played their games where today the Zorya (new dawn) Sports Hall is located.

After further liquidation post-WW2, Dzerzhynets, as they were then known, were rebranded Avanhard – after the founding sports society. When they were dissolved in 1959, Luhansk became the October Revolution (or the Factory Team).

It was not until the early 60’s that SC Zorya and the reserve side, Trudori Rezervy were merged to become FC Zorya Voroshilovgrad as it is officially known now.

As the Ukrainian city with a population of less than half a million prepares to be placed on the map, with the arrival of the Manchester United, Fenerbahce and Feyenoord, the imminent stardom set to be thrust on the city is far from the norm in this corner of the war-torn eastern Ukraine – the reason for the club playing its home games in Zaporizhia to the west of the city.

In football terms, the last time Zorya competed in a major European club competition was back in 1973 when Luhansk were knocked out in the Second Round of the European Cup by now Slovakian outfit Spartak Trnava.

Finishing fourth in the Ukrainian Premier League for the last two seasons, Zorya finally progressed to the group stages of the Europa League at the third time of asking. 

Ironically, it was their Dutch Group A opponents Feyenoord, who eliminated the Ukrainians in the play-off round two years ago.

Their current president Yevhen Heller was a former head of Shakhtar’s Futsal division in the Donbass region and a prominent Ukrainian political figure. 

Taking over control of the club in the wake of former owner Valeriy Bukayov’s death, Heller has seen the rise of the club including reaching the final of the Ukrainian Cup last term, losing to The Miners. Notwithstanding, however, Zorya had the top scorer in the competition in Oleksandr Karavayev, with four.

Zorya Luhansk will represent an unknown quantity when they open their campaign at home to Fenerbahce on September 15.

In a city renowned for its smoky and darkened skyline, this Ukrainian city is set to be represented by a rather different sighting of some of Europe’s best exponents of the game.

Luhansk may not be a household name on the continent. They may not have the biggest names on their books. However, the Ukrainians are built on labour, hard work and stable values. That could yet prove Zorya to be the surprise of this season’s Europa League.

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