Qarabag Futbol Klubu (nickname ‘The Horsemen’) was founded in 1951 and originates from a town called Aghdam situated right on the Azerbaijani border with Armenia. Going through a few name changes (Mehsul, Shafaq and Cooperative Society!), plus a ten year period in the wilderness due to financial troubles, the club eventually re-emerged as part of the Azerbaijan Premier League in 1992.
In 1993, as part of the Nagorno-Karabakh war (which resulted from the collapse of the former Soviet Union), Armenia took control of Qarabag’s home town of Aghdam, subsequently rendering it uninhabitable to discourage any returning Azerbaijanis.
Once home to over 40,000 people, it is now a ghost town plundered for building materials and gradually being reclaimed by nature. Head coach of the team, Allahverdi Bagirov, former leader of the Azerbaijani Popular Front party, fought in the conflict and eventually died when his car ran over an anti-tank mine.
The club moved to Baku, the capital, situated on the coast of the Caspian Sea and has gone from strength to strength. Since 2009 they haven’t placed outside the top 4 in the Azerbaijan Premier League, in fact finishing as champions in the past 5 seasons. Although a fair portion of Qarabag’s support still originates from the Aghdam region, the club is well supported throughout Azerbaijan and continues to be a symbol of hope for over half a million displaced refugees.
Their record in Europe is steadily improving, culminating in participation of the Champions League group phase for the first time last season where they gained two creditable draws against Atletico Madrid which helped to consign Atletico to the Europa (as we know to our cost). Oh yeah, Chelsea were also in their group and managed to beat them 10-0 over the two matches!
This season they went out of the CL in the 3rd qualifying round to Bate Borisov who were in our group in last season’s Europa League. (we beat Bate 10-2 over the two games).
Local Food – includes such dishes as Pilaf (Rice and meat flavoured with saffron, cinnamon and aromatic herbs), Qutab (fried pancake stuffed with meat, spinach, pumpkin or cheese – camel meat is popular in Baku), Kufta bozbash (meatball and potato soup) and Lavangi (a casserole of chicken stuffed with walnuts and herbs).
Dushbara is a traditional Azerbaijani meal, a sort of doughy dumplings filled with ground meat and condiments. Similar stuffed dumplings are popular in many countries, but the Azerbaijani version are quite tiny and served in broth.
Let’s hope the lads don’t eat too much camel before taking the pitch on Thursday (though apparently it’s light, lean and delicious). Wouldn’t want anyone to get the hump if they’re asked to play.