The (Carpathian) Mountain Miracle

Issue 130, January 2020.
The (Carpathian) Mountain Miracle
Recalling Karpaty FC’s magical run to the USSR Cup championship
 
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the biggest sporting achievement in Lviv’s history – the run to the USSR Cup championship by Karpaty Lviv! Lviv Today looks back on the accomplishment and what it meant for the Western Ukrainian capital.
 
It’s not everyday that Karpaty FC brings home a trophy. In fact, since its founding in 1963, the 1969 USSR Cup is the only hardware the team has managed to win. But oh – what an achievement! The only second-tier club to ever capture the title, the achievement was a monumental occasion for the city. Sure, there have been other big moments for the club – gaining promotion to the big league for the first time, making the Ukrainian Cup final a couple of times, a brief foray into the world of the Europa League – but nothing compares to that magical run in 1969. The team celebrated by bringing some of its heroes to a Karpaty game earlier this year. We wanted to let you relive the achievement in our pages.
 
The birth of Karpaty FC
 
While Lviv is famous for hosting the first football game in Ukraine – an event marked by a statue in Stryiskyi Park – the city didn’t really have a club we could call our own until Karpaty was formed in the early ‘60s. Like many clubs of the time, it was made up of factory workers, in Lviv’s case it was Silmash, a major weapons factory. Before this, the only team in the city was the Red Army squad – which, for obvious reasons, lacked the popularity and Ukrainian identity demanded by Leopolitan fans. Karpaty started in the Soviet Second League and it didn’t take long for the squad to start knocking on the door of promotion to the big league. The team started their upswing in 1966 and by 1968 had reached the promotion tournament, held in Sochi. Needing a win in its last game of a four team, round-robin tournament, the team was devastated by drawing 1-1 due to an obvious offside goal by its Russian opponent (Uralmash Sverdlosk). The same referee that missed the call would play a major role in next season’s USSR Cup run. 
 
The (Carpathian) Mountain Miracle
 
The miracle run to the USSR Cup championship nearly ended before it even begun. In its first game of the tournament – in the Round of 64 – the team was forced to a replay (which is how they settled draws in football at the time) against lowly Azovets (Zhdanov). Down early in the replay, the team delighted the home crowd by scoring two first half goals to advance 2-1. 
 
First Round: Karpaty (Lviv) 0 – 0 Azovets (Zhdanov)
First Round (Replay): Karpaty (Lviv) 2 – 1 Azovets (Zhdanov)
 
The second game of the tournament was a big event in the city – thousands of Leopolitans headed out to Druzhba Stadium to endure a nervy 1-0 victory thanks to an 86th-minute penalty by star striker Gennady Likhachev. 
 
Second Round: Karpaty (Lviv) 1 – 0 Red Army (Odesa)
 
This is when the team discovered that they were something special. Ararat (Yerevan) was one of the top teams in the Soviet Union in the late ‘60s – they would go on to win its own USSR Cup just four years later. The teams played to a 0-0 draw in front of 38,000 ravenous Leopolitans that became distraught when the visitors scored first in extra time. But the mettle of our champions shone through when Likhachev scored on a penalty to draw even and captain Ihor Kulchytiskyi scored 3 minutes from time to advance.
 
Third Round: Karpaty (Lviv) 2 – 1 (ET) Ararat (Yerevan)
 
After knocking off heavily-favoured Ararat in the previous round, the tournament was already viewed as a success for Karpaty. The team had never advanced to the fourth round and was “playing with house money” – and the results showed. The team was full value in a comfortable 2-0 over a strong Chornomorets (Odesa) team to set up a quarterfinal match with a tough Trud (Voronezh) team.
 
Fourth Round: Karpaty (Lviv) 2 – 0 Chornomorets (Odesa)
 
By this time, Soviet authorities were none too pleased that a plucky second tier team from Western Ukraine had advanced so far in the tournament. Our boys in green and white had to endure a horrendously officiated game – especially after the team went up 1-0 on a Likhachev penalty 30 minutes into the contest. Just 7 minutes from time, a bogus penalty was awarded to Trud. An aggressive move by goalkeeper Viktor Turpak scared the shooter into missing and salvaged the well-deserved win. Off to the semifinal!
 
Quarterfinal: Karpaty (Lviv) 1 – 0 Trud (Voronezh)
 
By now, Karpaty was the talk of the town. While most of the world was glued to the TV to watch the Apollo 11 mission – which would land on the moon the day after the semifinal – more than 50,000 Leopolitans (roughly 1 out of every 11 Leopolitans of the day) crammed into Druzhba Stadium to catch the miracle Ukrainian team that could. With a match against Shipbuilder (Mykolaiv), it was guaranteed that a Ukrainian team would play for the USSR Cup. Karpaty had some swagger after topping Trud in difficult conditions and didn’t let the home fans down by scoring two first-half goals on the way to a confident 2-0 win. Lviv was going to the USSR Cup final!
 
Semifinal: Karpaty (Lviv) 2 – 0 Shipbuilder (Mykolaiv)
 
The little team from the heart of the Ukrainian homeland would face the powerful Red Army team from Rostov-on-Don in no other locale than Vladimir Lenin Stadium in central Moscow. Expected to lose by almost everyone but themselves and their fans, the team was buoyed by 20,000 travelling superfans that peppered the team with the Ukrainian folk song ‘Cheremeshyna’. It was a surreal atmosphere – Ukrainian fans belt out Ukrainian folk songs in the heart of Moscow at the height of the Cold War.
 
The game started out roughly for the Ukrainian side, with Red Army going up in the 20th minute. But while they didn’t score before half, the team did take control of the play, gaining confidence for an epic second half comeback. Likhachev once again gave Karpaty the offensive spark with a 62nd minute strike before Volodomyr Bulgakov netted the winner against the stunned Russian team just four minutes later. There were some tense moments at the end, including a Red Army goal disallowed for offside – by the same referee who punished Karpaty the year before! He would later go on to say that he had acted “on orders” to ensure that the Russian team was promoted. 
 
Karpaty – a second tier team from the most Ukrainian part of Ukraine (as Leopolitans are fond of saying) – had managed to pull off the impossible by becoming the only junior league team to ever win the USSR Cup – a feat that would never again be repeated! The accomplishment is all the more remarkable if you remember that at that time, most players came from the city they played for (many of the surviving members still live in Lviv). Scores of fans awaited the team when they arrived back in Lviv and players got kisses from the Leopolitan ladies and free taxi rides to the city centre to celebrate with their beloved fans.
 
Final: Karpaty (Lviv) 2 – 1 Red Army (Rostov-on-Don)
 
The next ‘Mountain Miracle’
 
The victory sent the young team to their first UEFA Cup Winners Cup (the forerunner to the Europa Cup). Despite a valiant effort to overcome a first leg 1-0 defeat at home, the team would manage no better than an entertaining 3-3 draw to get knocked out in the first round. Karpaty finally managed to make it to the top tier of Soviet football in 1971 and finished as high as high as fourth place (in 1976), just four points from becoming champions. The ‘80s saw the club fall on hard times and the team was merged with the Red Army team – an unpopular move as the brightest young stars were often sent to the Moscow Red Army team. After re-emerging as Lviv’s only team shortly before independence, Karpaty would march to the second-ever Ukrainian Cup final. The last major highlight came in 2010, when Ukrainian national team star Artem Fedetskyi sent Lviv’s Ukraina Stadium ablaze after he scored an extra time equalizer – just two minutes after conceding a potentially tournament-ending marker – that saw the team through to the Europa League for its first and only time.
 
Never count the boys in green and white out – you just never know when they’ll provide another Mountain Miracle.
 
-- Lee Reaney