Perennial third-place Ukrainian Premier League side Metalist Kharkiv will make their way to St. James' Park on Thursday. What is a "Metalist Kharkiv"?
Newcastle United are preparing for the home leg of their Europa League Round of 32 tie against Metalist Kharkiv. Working on the assumption that you know about as much about the Ukrainian side as I do, I've put together this little primer.
Newcastle United have not been known by any other name in the 120 years since adopting the name upon the merger of Newcastle West End and Newcastle East End in 1892. Metalist Kharkiv, however, are on their 5th name in their 87 year existence. The breakdown runs something like this:
1925: Founded as the club of the team of the local train factory, it was called Kharkovski Parovozostroitelni Zavod predictably translated as: Kharkiv Locomitive Factory. Abbreviated as KhPZ, the club would take part in the initial USSR Cup in 1938 after winning the Kharkiv City Championship the year prior. Following World War II, the club would return to action in 1947, joining the "Soviet Second League B"*, with a newly minted name - their first of several.
*The Soviet League system at this time consisted of four levels - the Soviet Second League B became a seldom-contested tier of Soviet Football, only being contested 6 times between 1936 and 1991 and in vastly different formats each time. The levels going up from "Second League B" were "Soviet Second League", "Soviet First League" and "Soviet Top League (renamed to "Supreme League" in 1970)
1947: As previously mentioned, the club rejoined league football at "Second League B" level in 1947 with a newly minted name: Dzerzhinets. The historically savvy among you may make the connection from Dzerzhinets to Felix Dzerzhinsky, the creator (at Lenin's behest) of the first iteration of the Soviet state security organization (Cheka at this time).
It is hard to make heads or tails of exactly what happened with regard to Dzerzhinets and their league affiliation - I see that they spent three years in "Soviet Second League B" - which supposedly was not in existence at this time. For a while, the Soviet Leagues were known by single letter designations (i.e. A, B, C,D, etc) so they may have been in the actual second division at that time. Regardless, they were relegated in 1950 and were largely a non-factor for the remainder of their time known as Dzerzhinets.
1956: The club would make a return to the Soviet Second League (again listed as B, but SSL B did not seem to be contested this year) under yet another name - Avangard.* Under this name, which would last 9 years, the club would win promotion to the Soviet First League followed by a promotion to the Soviet Top League - before sliding back down to the First and ultimately Second League once again. They would be in the Second League when they changed their name once again in 1965 to the familiar Metalist. (A slight name change would follow in 1992 at the foundation of the Ukrainian League where they would become FC Metalist Kharkiv as we know them today)
*Interestingly, the removal of the team name Dzerzhinets seems to have coincided with the renaming of the Kharkovski Parovozostroitelni Zavod (which had itself undergone renaming and relocation in the interceding years, but I'll not get into all that) to Malyshev Factory - named after Soviet Politician Vyacheslav Malyshev who was respected enough to have been buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. In 1928 the factory no longer produced primarily locomotives, becoming a tank factory. The Malyshev factory would help in design and production of many Soviet tanks including the (at least to me) famous T-80 (analogous somewhat to the American M1A1 Abrams). /non-football historical aside/
1981: Metalist would finally win promotion back to the Soviet Top League (now called the Supreme League) and would remain there for 10 years. They would eventually win their only major honor (as near as I can tell) in 1988, winning the USSR Cup and thus qualifying for the European Cup Winners' Cup. They would win their first round tie to move into the round of 16 where they would lose out to Dutch side Roda JC. The Soviet Supreme League would cease competition in 1992 and Metalist would join the Ukrainian Supreme League, where they would remain until their relegation at the end of the 1993-94 season. Their stay in the second division would last four seasons.The Ukrainian Supreme League would become the Ukrainian Premier League in 1996 and Metalist would make their first appearance in the newly titled league in 1998. Since then they have only been out of the Premier League for one season and have been rather consistent in league position to boot.
2001-02: The 2001-02 season should have been a happy one for Metalist - their league position and the standing tie-breakers in the UPL at the time should have seen them back into the UEFA Cup via a fourth-place league finish. Metalurh Zaporizhzhya would protest the tie breaker on the grounds that they had better independent head-to-head results v. Metalist as well as v. Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (who were also tied in points, obviously). The club would react poorly following denial of their own protest, finishing bottom of the table in 2002-03. They would (much like Newcastle United) bounce back at the first time of asking and have been in the UPL since. New ownership and investment would help cement the club in the top flight, where they have finished 3rd in 6 of the 8 seasons since their promotion.
European Pedigree: Beyond their 1989 Cup Winners' Cup performance, this year marks Metalist's sixth consecutive appearance in UEFA's second competition (2 years in the UEFA Cup, 4 years in the Europa League). They are returning Quarter-Finalists in the Europa League where they were beaten by Sporting Lisbon last season.