Reviving a legacy: Rebuilding domestic football dominance

Featured in the Raumdeuter Online Magazine – Edition #23

Latvian football is hardly the finest on the European football, but that doesn’t prevent it from being noteworthy. A story of former dynasties, and newly-emerging ones, make it an interesting place.

Skonto Riga were for a period in the 1990s and early 2000s the pinnacle of football coming out of the Baltic region.

Dominant domestically, they were only founded in 1991 and yet from that very first season revolutionised football in Latvia – making the First Division almost rudimentary every season; every year, it was already known that Skonto would win.

By the time Skonto lifted the league title in 2004, it was their 14th consecutive league trophy. They had monopolised football in the country.

There was no other club in the Baltic which come even close to the might of Skonto, and despite domestic jealousy from the sides they routinely brushed aside, the club from the capital was helping put Latvia on the footballing map.

An unexpectedly resilient showing by the national team at Euro 2004 – despite being a tournament the nation was unfavoured to even reach the finals of – earned the country even more football admirers.

Football in Latvia was at the healthiest it had ever been, and it had all been possible due to the success of Skonto.

The club’s dominant domestic success saw Skonto’s consistent qualification into European competition, taking them up against high profile teams from across the continent. Regular clashes with the likes of Barcelona, Chelsea and Napoli, to name a few, further propelled Latvian football into the wider football scope.

But, the good times could only last so long for Skonto. After their 14th title in 2004, the club suffered something of a gradual decline.

Their success had largely been built from the foundation their owner Guntis Indriksons laid. Indriksons was in his own right a questionable figure, but was also head of the Latvian Football Federation (LFF) during his time as owner of Skonto, which played a significant role in the club’s clear superiority.

As the money began to dry up, so too did the domestic success and the trophies. That further propelled the downward spiral, and saw Indriksons back out of the club, unable and unwilling to steer the sinking Skonto to safety.

Fast forward to 2016 and Skonto Riga, unquestionably the most successful and dominant club in Latvian football history, ceased operations. Having fallen down the ranks, the national giant was no longer able to continue.

It was the end of an era.

But, in the ashes of the fallen dynasty, another club was emerging in the Latvian capital; Riga FC. And suddenly, there was a footballing void in the capital. Having been registered back in 2014, the team was officially established in 2015 after a merger of two Riga-based teams – FC Caramba Riga and Dinamo Riga.

After just a single season in the second tier of Latvian football, the side earned promotion to the top flight and rebranded to its current name, Riga FC.

From there, the revival of a Riga dynasty has begun. Progressing and building on its success each season, it first took two seasons of steady top flight football; finishing 5th and then 3rd respectively.

That said, Riga FC came runners-up in the Latvian Football Cup in both those seasons, as they began to get their first tastes of success.

However, it wasn’t until the 2018 season that truly it seemed as if the next iteration of a Skonto dynasty might be emerging in Latvian football.

Winning the top flight, Riga FC also claimed the domestic cup which had eluded them the past two seasons.

This following season, in 2019, Riga FC once again won the Latvian top flight, the Virsliga, by an even greater margin than the season before. Not only are Riga FC continuing their success, they are accelerating away from their fellow Latvian sides. The comparisons to Skonto are obvious – two successful sides from the capital – but Riga FC really do seem to be reviving the dynasty of Latvian football in Riga.

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