The Stanley Matthews of Izhevsk

Dan Brennan takes us to the Russian Republic of Udmurtia, where between 1988-2005, one club owner redefined the phrase 'hands-on.'

Dinamo Minsk's assistant coach, Yuri Pudyshev made the headlines this week when, at the age of 56, he came on in the second half (wearing the number 56 shirt) against Belarusian champions Bate Borisov.

Pudyshev, a Soviet international back in the day, has made a few cameo appearances for Dinamo over the last few years, and he capped his latest by claiming the man of the match award.

It was a remarkable feat. But, compared to the man known as 'the Stanley Matthews of Izhevsk', Pudyshev is still a pup.

Pan about 1000 miles east – to the Russian republic of Udmurtia. On October 29, 2005, it was here that Gazovik-Gazprom Izhevsk entertained Neftekhimik in the last match of the Russian Division Two (Urals-Volga region) season.

It was also the last match in the remarkable career of striker Vladimir Tumaev, aged 58, 10 months and 19 days.

Played in sub-zero temperatures, the match unfolded in a fashion that Gaz-Gaz fans had grown accustomed to ever since Tumaev made his first team debut... at the age of 41.

With Gaz-Gaz 2-1 down, in the 35th minute, a familiar refrain boomed out over the PA system: “Tumaev is entering the pitch!” as a rather short and stocky figure trundled onto the pitch to assume his regular position up front.

Ten minutes later Gaz-Gaz were awarded a penalty. Tumaev stepped up and duly missed, but within moments he made amends, firing home a shot from the edge of the area. Gaz-Gaz eventually won the match 3-2.

At half-time Tumaev was presented with an award that confirmed him as the oldest player to feature in a professional match in Russia. If there was an award for the most eccentric, he'd be a shoo-in for that too.

All in all, Tumaev managed nine goals in around 150 competitive matches for Gaz-Gaz. Not a great average for a centre-forward. But then nobody was ever going to drop him, seeing as he was also the club's founder main benefactor and president.

“Why shouldn’t he play? He’s not getting in the way,” winced one of his former head coaches Viktor Slesarev. “Tumaev doesn’t come on unless the outcome of the match is already clear. If a man can still play football at that age, then you can only be happy for him.”

Having founded Gaz-Gaz in 1988 and installed himself as the team’s chairman and striker, Tumaev engineered their rise through the amateur and regional leagues and into the Russian First Division in 1995. It was an incredible feat, which prompted him to declare that Premier Division football was around the corner.

Tumaev is a man used to getting what he wants. His Izhevsk empire extends far beyond the local football club. Variously a member of parliament and local gas magnate - he has wealth and influence by the barrel-load. He is also not a man that you would choose to mess with. A karate black belt and expert marksman, Tumaev regards himself as something of a survival expert.

“You could drop me anywhere in the forest with just a gun, and I would come out alive,” he once boasted. “And I can cook any dish you name...I prefer eating with my hands. I learnt this in Kazakhstan, where we used to go hunting in the desert and we’d cook and eat the food where we killed it. People think it’s civilised to eat with a knife and fork, but food just doesn’t taste as good that way.”

Tumaev’s disregard for convention was in evidence when, in 2002, he flew to Moscow in his helicopter to receive an award for special services to football. With the great and the good of the Russian sporting world in attendance, he dispensed with the standard speech-making formalities and sang the audience his favourite ballad instead.

“People think because I run a big business, I sit in my office in a bow-tie smoking a cigar,” he explained. “When they see me on the pitch, or shooting my gun, or skiing, their eyes pop out of their heads.”

These days, Tumaev - now 63 - contents himself with being president of the club, which has since been renamed FC Soyuz Gazprom Izhevsk. He still harbours hopes of seeing them into the top flight. If he does, and Izhevsk get a penalty, then don't rule out one last cameo.

Dan is one of the UK’s most prominent football writers and contributes regularly to FourFourTwo, When Saturday Comes and World Soccer magazine.  You can follow him on twitter @DanBrennan99

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