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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fans Bid Farewell to a Beloved Soccer Titan

The 22,000 people at Dinamo Stadium on Tuesday night were nearly 10 times the usual attendance at Russian league matches -- and for good reason.


They came to pay their respects to Fyodor Cherenkov, an illustrious Spartak player who for almost two decades has thrilled soccer fans worldwide with his ingenious playmaking.


"He was a great player. It is a great honor for him," said Yuri Elkin, 65, a retired economist who has worked part-time as a security guard at the stadium since 1948. "I haven't seen so much commotion here for over 20 years -- since the farewell match for Lev Yashin."


As a shy, skinny 15-year old boy, Cherenkov started with the Spartak reserve team in 1975. Tuesday night he played his last game for the very same club -- this time as a hero feted by everyone from government officials to the factory workers.


As team captain, Cherenkov led Spartak to the Soviet Elite League title in 1987 and 1989, and played a big part in Spartak's winning the Russian Championship last year.


In 1983 and 1989 Fyodor was voted Player of the Year of the Soviet Union. In all, Cherenkov played 15 seasons -- 398 matches -- and scored 95 goals for Spartak.


Tuesday night, Spartak faced Parma, a powerful Italian club boasting World Cup veterans like Dino Baggio, Thomas Brolin and Faustino Asprilla.


As an exhibition game, the crowd was less concerned with the outcome than celebrating Cherenkov's career. Before the match, the stadium announcer read a congratulatory letter from President Boris Yeltsin. At half-time, First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets presented a surprised Cherenkov with a new Jeep and the keys to a Moscow apartment. And, during the first half when Cherenkov was on the pitch, the crowd chanted, "Fyodor, you are the greatest!" and "Fyodor, we are with you!"


"I wish he would still be around a few more years, so I could watch him play," said Maxim Kruglov, a clean cut 13-year-old, who came to the match with his father, Boris.


Cherenkov, 35, was the ultimate team player -- he made others around him play better soccer. As a playmaker with great peripheral vision and superb ball control, Cherenkov made difficult things look easy. Despite the fact he never achieved the fame and fortune of France's Michel Platini, Holland's Ruud Gullit, or Argentina's Diego Maradona, Cherenkov will be remembered as one of the great players of his generation.


"Spartak has not seen players of such calibre for many years and probably will not see for some time," said Oleg Romantsev, head coach for Spartak and the Russian national team. "At the moment, at least, I don't have players equal to Fyodor on my team nor on the national side."


While most of the soccer fans were still paying attention to Cherenkov's farewell lap, the second half started and just a few seconds later Mukhsin Mukhamadiev headed the ball from a corner kick into Parma's net.


Parma equalized in the 68th minute, when Lorenzo Minotti deflected a shot from Dino Baggio. The game ended with the score tied 1-1.


"Even though I never played against him, I have followed his career," said the Swedish superstar Brolin as he boarded the team bus. "He is a great player in his own right."