Evil Russian men come in many stereotypes: dictators, KGB, hackers, hooligans, doping athletes, oligarchs, and football team owners. The Romanov Revolution is a 2005 BBC Frontline Scotland TV documentary about Vladimir Romanov, then new owner of Heart of Midlothian FC, in Edinburgh, Scotland.
When first shown, the documentary was protested by Hearts fans as dirt digging defamation. But in retrospect, this film is an extraordinary inside view of a man whose wealth depends on the stupidity of the common people, both at Hearts and in his adopted country of Lithuania.
Tracing his early years, one infers that he accumulated his early wealth by selling on the black market, first in Russia and then in Lithuania. When shares in the banks and factories in Lithuania were given to the workers, Romanov bought them up. He ended up owning the only bank.
From there, he began to accumulate sports teams. Hearts is about to go under, so he says he will infuse cash, build a new stadium, and save the team. The supporters gladly sell out. But he puts his son in charge and then interferes with the management of the team. Pre-OPTA, he has his own binders with player statistics from around the world. The film shows him working with a Brazilian agent to sign players from Brazil after watching them on a fuzzy DVD on the agent’s laptop.
Romanov fires a popular manager and then hires Graham Rix, who has a record as a sex offender. Rix doesn’t last long, but regardless, the film ends as the team qualifies for the 2006 Champions League.
What happened after the film
Researching later years, I found that Romanov ran through 9 managers in 7 years and increased the team’s debt. By 2013, he had run the club into administration (bankruptcy). He also by then had fled from Lithuania back to Russia, accused of siphoning off over £300 million from his failed bank Ukio Bankas. We can assume that Putin and his buddies are sheltering the Romanovs in Russia.
For me, the tough part of this documentary is watching this scenario repeat itself over and over in football and soccer. Foreigners come in with big money, making big promises. Supporters think their beloved team’s problems are solved. Then the problems get worse. In a feel good story, the supporters prevail. In most stories, the bad guys leave town and the people at the bottom of the economy suffer.
In the case of Hearts, they have begun to thrive again, as local entrepreneur and long-time season ticket holder Ann Budge has turned the team’s finances around. It would be nice if someone made a soccer movie about her. I’m tired of watching those Russian bad guys.
Other films in this vein
For similar stories where the bad guys didn’t save a team, watch The Four Year Plan and Chivas USA. In Jack to a King, the supporters save Swansea, but the recent change to American owners may be sending the Swans back down.
Update Mar-5-2020: And for a film where fans fight to keep an MLS team from moving, watch Save the Crew
8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8