By Stephen Byrne
The Fifa World Cup begins in Brazil on 12th June and we will be looking at Rovers’ connections with all participating countries.
The former Rovers midfielder and Latvian international captain Vitalijs Astafjevs scored four goals in thirty appearances for the Russian side Rubin Kazan between 2004 and 2006. He scored sixteen goals for Rovers in 88 (plus 22 as substitute) League appearances.
Lewis Frank, who made one appearance in the Rovers side in the 1890-91 season in the side that lost 5-1 at Warmley in April 1891, was born in Russia in 1862. He emigrated to Leeds as a child, where he met Etty, his German-born wife, before settling in Bedminster where he worked as a tailor.
When Rovers played Fulham in the FA Cup in January 2008, the opposition fielded Alexei Smertin, born in Barnaul in May 1975, the holder of 52 full Russian caps. Smertin played for Lokomotiv Moscow between 1998 and 2000 and spent the 2007-07 season with Dynamo Moscow, where he appeared in 21 (plus one as substitute) Russian league matches.
Born in Riga on 8th August 1974, Andrejs Stolcers played in both Yeovil Town’s 2004-05 League fixtures against Rovers, Phil Jevons’ hat-trick consigning Rovers to a 4-2 defeat at Huish Park, whilst two first-half red cards for Rovers players ensured a night of high tension when the sides drew 2-2 at the Memorial Stadium later that campaign. Stolcers, the winner of 81 caps for Latvia, for whom he scored seven times, was previously with Spartak Moscow in 2000, contributing five goals from midfield in his 12 League appearances.
Marcel Seip, a Dutchman who played for Plymouth Argyle against Rovers in November 2010 and for Bradford City against Rovers in January 2012, spent a month on trial with Spartak Moscow in August 2006.
Igor Gurinovich, a Ukrainian born in Minsk in March 1960 and the holder of one cap for the USSR, played for Brighton against Rovers on Boxing Day 1990. He scored four goals in 243 matches with Dynamo Minsk between 1977 and 1990 and once in ten games with Lokomotiv Moscow during a brief spell in 1988.
Russian-born Pavel Pogrebnyak played in a pre-season friendly at The Mem for Reading in July 2013; he won 33 full caps for Russia, scoring eight goals and is in the Russian squad for the 2014 World Cup Finals.
One British subject who played football in Russia was Sir Robert Hamilton Bruce Lockhart (1887-1970). He benefitted from a case of mistaken identity – his brother John played rugby for Scotland – to sign for Dynamo Moscow in 1912 as a “famous footballer”; he helped his side become regional champions that year.
In 1918 he was sentenced to death for his role in an alleged plot to kill Lenin, but was saved by a diplomatic swap which ensured the release of Maxim Litvinov (1876-1951), a Russian revolutionary.