FC Gomel's league form may have deserted them for much of the season but the club's fans have not, and with former star player Andrei Yusipets in charge, they will be hoping to be back up among Belarus's top sides in 2009.
Eleventh place in 2008 represented a miserable outcome for Gomel, who had been league runners-up last year. The city on the banks of the River Sozh has never been a footballing powerhouse, but Gomel raised expectations in the seasons following independence. While they never rose above the third tier in Soviet times, the club won the 2002 Belarus Cup and the 2003 league title.
When they were knocked out of the first qualifying round of this season's UEFA Cup by Legia Warszawa, Gomel were already a shadow of the side that had finished second behing FC BATE Borisov in 2007. Having lost five players before the start of the campaign due to cash shortages, five more left during the summer, and hardly surprisingly they spent time battling against relegation.
'Only the coach'
Coach Anatoli Yurevich, who also walked out of the club in August, said: "The players' contracts expired and they decided not to sign new agreements. Unfortunately at the moment Gomel are being run on a shoestring budget. We can't secure better financing. All that's left for us is to give our reserves a chance. I'm only the coach. I can't resolve this problem on my own."
There was to be light at the end of the tunnel, however. Armenia forward Ara Hakobyan agreed to join countrymen Agvan Mkrtchyan and Armen Tigranyan at the club after leaving Moldova's FC Zimbru Chişinău, and then former player Yusipets took over as coach, leading the team from Belarus' second largest city to relative safety with four wins in their last six games of the season.
The season ended on a high note with a 2-1 win against FC MTZ RIPO Minsk in their final league fixture. Yusipets explained: "I told the guys before the match: 'This season is like a long sentence, and it is up to you to choose what punctuation mark it has at the end. You can finish with a full stop, elision marks or an exclamation mark.' They chose the latter."
That can only augur well for the club, who have the second-best crowds in the league, with their 2,682 average gate second only to BATE with 2,809. Yusipets will look to give those loyal fans more to celebrate in 2009. "We had a very difficult period in the summer when we were not far from relegation but the guys showed themselves to be nice people and good players," concluded the coach.