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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soccer Team Thinks It Has a Dirty Name

VORONEZH, Central Russia -- What is a Russian soccer team to do when it thinks its name sounds like an English expletive? Change it, of course.

That's what happened with first division soccer side Fakel Voronezh, whose name -- pronounced very loosely like "F--k all" in English -- has brought embarrassment to the team on its rare trips abroad.

Thus team management has decided, much to the anger of the club's fans, to drop the "Fakel" and go with FC Voronezh.

"F--k, Fakel," said the club's acting president Eduard Sayenko, bluntly comparing the two words.

Entry to European soccer competitions -- should the club by some miracle ever qualify -- could have been a problem with the former name, Sayenko said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

The club's general director Alexander Donder said the name has caused him grief while the team was on tour.

"When we went to the United States in 1995 we had problems," Donder told Sovietsky Sport.

He said that he found he couldn't explain what Fakel, which means torch in Russian, was to one young female reporter.

"I tried to show with my hands what a fakel was -- she got embarrassed and went red," he said.

Named Fakel in honor of a local arms factory in 1977, the club has managed a fairly comfortable if not particularly successful existence, bouncing up and down between the top two soccer divisions with -- according to fans -- little ridicule generated by its name.

The players' lack of success has meant that Fakel has had very few chances to meet teams from English-speaking countries.

But the team has built up a reputation in Russia, Western Europe and Japan, said former Fakel and Spartak Moscow striker Vladimir Proskurin, who now heads the Voronezh Football Association and opposes the name change.

"It doesn't sound very good in English," he conceded. "But it is a useless decision."

Most fans agree. Unofficial club web sites and local newspapers are full of talk of boycotts and protests when the season starts in March.

"Fakel lived, Fakel lives and Fakel will live," wrote one fan on an unofficial club web site, paraphrasing the communist elegy to Lenin.

One critic pointed out that if Fakel had to change its name because it sounded profane in English, why weren't clubs with names that sound indecent in Russian changing theirs?

"It would be curious to know how the heads of Spanish clubs Osasuna or Real Sociedad would react if they knew what the names of their team were similar to in Russian," columnist Denis Tselykh wrote recently in Sovietsky Sport. "And how red would the representatives of the humble Argentine side Gimnasia de Jujuy be if someone could open their eyes to what their name means?"

For native English speakers, there would seem to be an obvious difference between the pronunciation of Fakel and the expletive in question. One explanation for the confusion over the word Fakel could be that when the English expletive is transliterated into Russian, the "u" is replaced by the letter "a" as there is no closer analogy in the Russian alphabet. Indeed at soccer matches, fans of the lewder type nearly always shout "Fak yu!" rather than using the more correct, if still as rude, pronunciation.

FC Voronezh representatives say that avoidance of possible embarrassment is just one of the reasons for changing the club's name. After being relegated from the Premier League at the end of last season, the club got new management who wanted to break ties with the old.

"It hasn't got any connection to Fakel anymore," said club president Sayenko, explaining that the factory has not financed the club for 10 years.

Another reason, which many suspicious fans say is the only reason for the change, is that by taking on a new name the club is trying to shirk its responsibilities of paying off old debts.

Sayenko acknowledged the club was attempting to distance itself from the debts. He would not name the amount.

These days, the team receives nearly all of its funding from regional coffers, a fact that has only added to fans' anger.

"It's not possible that a few people decide for the million in the city," Fakel's all-time top scorer Valery Shmarov was quoted by Sovietsky Sport as saying.

It is not the first name change for the club. After being founded in 1953, the team was called Voronezh and Trud before becoming Fakel.

The club is not ready to open a dialog with fans over the latest name change.

"The fans always complain about something," Sayenko said.

Perhaps if the club was not in such a parlous state, the fans' disapproval would not be so harsh. But, as well as the name change, fans have seen most of the team's best players leave in recent months. A mere four players from last year's side are left on contract. The fact that Sayenko's previous experience was with the local women's team has not endeared him to fans either.

Whether or not some fans boycott the first home game of the season, no one has any doubt that those who do go will be singing and chanting only one word.

"You will hear 'Fakel, Fakel, Fakel,'" Proskurin said. "Posters, symbols -- it will all be Fakel."

And perhaps the chants will for the first time have an English as well as a Russian meaning.