True Lithuania

Football (Soccer) in Lithuania

When one French journalist saw a full basketball arena (where “Lietuvos rytas” fought in ULEB cup semifinals) close to an empty stadium (where a Baltic Football League match took place) he published an article that Lithuania is a land where “the king of sports” has to live in basketball’s shadow.

In reality, the popularity of football is on the rise and the very few games that are on par in terms of quality with the ULEB cup semifinals also attract full stadiums as well as a TV following. This craze is mostly imported from other European nations, such as England, where many Lithuanians emigrated since the country has joined the European Union in 2004.

However, very unlike basketball, Lithuanian football is weak. The national team never even qualified at the European Championships let alone the World Cup. In football the element of luck is bigger than is basketball, therefore there were times when the Lithuanians scored draw against major teams such as Germany, Italy or Spain. However, defeats to the likes of the Faroe Islands or Liechtenstein soon afterward dash the hopes of Lithuanian fans and decrease the popularity of football.

Football clubs of Lithuania attract less funding than their basketball counterparts and so they are weak, relying on Lithuanian players and foreigners who didn’t manage to get a hold into their national leagues. Not a single Lithuanian team ever took part in main stages of the Champions’ League or the UEFA Cup. Moreover, the Lithuanian national football league (“A lyga”) is frequently dipped into scandals of betting fraud. “Panevėžio Ekranas” from Panevėžys long dominated this league in the early 2010s, amassing a yearly budget of 2 million Euro (yes, this was the richest football club in Lithuania). “FBK Kaunas” used to prevail in the 1990s and 2000s (both the Kaunas and Panevėžys teams were eventually expelled from the league in 2009 and 2015 respectively, because of debts and controversies). “Vilniaus Žalgiris” was the best Lithuanian team in the 1980s and still has a larger fan base than other Lithuanian football clubs. It has recently returned to prominence, dominating the league once again in the 2010s.

Vilnius Žalgiris ultras sector during a 2013 season game. These are the most numerous football ultras in Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Some of the major football clubs, including both FBK Kaunas and Žalgiris, are or were owned by controversial Russian businessmen whose irregular investments brought the clubs to the verge of collapse at one time or another. Vilniaus Žalgiris was saved only by its fans establishing an alternative club under the same name. In 2009 the A lyga was rejuvenated by accepting numerous clubs from minor towns (less than 20 000 inhabitants) that did not meet the official criteria but were arguably managed more transparently, such as "Banga" from Gargždai or "Kruoja" from Pakruojis.

Unable to see quality football in the local stadiums many fans follow leagues like England’s Premier League on TV (or, of course, the European Championships and the FIFA World Cup). The stadiums, which are not as modern as in the Western Europe, are thus left to the ultras. In the fields, however, football is a popular pastime.

Lithuania's largest stadium (S. Darius and S. Girėnas stadium in Žaliakalnis borough of Kaunas) has 9180 seats, while in general "A lyga" stadiums have some 1500-4000 seats each. Seating is typically only on a single side of the stadium and the football field is combined with an athletics track. Even these stadiums get full only during some national team games and rare matches against powerful Western European teams that usually end the UEFA tournament qualification bids of Lithuanian clubs.

An A lyga football game (Žalgiris vs. Sudūva of Marijampolė, 2013) in Lithuania's most modern stadium (renovated by the Football federation in 2011). The national team now plays its home games here as well. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Should you wish to see a football game in Lithuania take note that unlike in some Western leagues the Lithuanian season is held in summer (i.e. from spring to autumn) with a rest period in winter due to harsh weather. In addition to the top "A lyga" there are lower tiers known as "I lyga" and "II lyga".

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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  1. hello. I’m ebrahim gholami(male 57 years old, football couch no diploma football academi. but I know very good football.I am No.1 in teach and make team 10years until 20years). I have 2boy(9 and 15 years old).My boy(9 years) is very good technic and technical football player that I know he will be best player in world !?! because had very sport talent !?!he is playmaker and forward.he work jiminastic for football !?! My boy (15 years) is goalkeaper(190 cm long now). if he exercise to cants be best goalkeaper because have goodbody and good hand for goalkeaper. I and my family want go to the LITHUANIA country for life for usual, yes usual !.. for we come that we haven,t problem. we can to come to the your country(LITHUAIA). only I want to know that we can to havebeen normal or good life(live) in the Lithuania ? I can to make best football teams for LITHUANIA !?! No.1 in EUROP and WORLD !!!! because I have talent and you have very player. I make.I make! for me send information about life and economic life and work and football clubs and wich city is good for life and football please. I havebeen happy if you send to information . with I wish best for YOU… good bye. EBRAHIM GHOLAMI 57years old. see you in LITHUANIA that your country is My country…. good bye

    • I am waiting ( EBRAHIM GHOLAMI ) answer me please. please. LITHUANIA makes best football team by with me.. No. 1 football team as 12years until 35 years old national team in EUROP and WORD !!!!! good bye merci merci merci bye bye

    • I’m interested to join your team Sir, kindly contact me on Phone:00919604485521, Email:austylo@ymail.com, Facebook:STYLO AUSTINE

  2. I like LITHUANIA . we com to your country LITHUANIA . MY team is LITHUANIA football team. is no.1

  3. Good evening. I am currently looking at coming to Lithuania to set up some soccer camps for Easter and summer camps. We are a world named soccer academy and our coaches are english premier league coaches and scouts. Do you know if there would be much interest from the children of Lithuania would be interested in a 3 or 5 day soccer camp. I’m just trying g to see if there would be much interest.

    Thank you for reading.
    Mark

    • I personally think there could be interest – however, a lot depends on marketing and price. As for the price, Lithuanian salaries are generally smaller than those in the UK and thus the labor-intensive services, including teaching, tend to be much cheaper on average.

      • Hi Augustinas, thank you for your reply. I agree that the cost of living is less than the UK but our prices would reflect their standard of living. Would I need to go directly to LFF or should I just contact various centres that would have football facilities and ask them to put our advert on there websites or paper copies on their walls for the public to see. Would you have any suggestions or advise of how to promote our holiday soccer academy camp.

        • Dear Sir, with all respect and regards, my name is Augustine from Nigeria but I’m currently in India. I have been wanting to join any of the Lithuanian football team because I’m a very strong talented football player and also like the Lithuania country in general. I’m 21 years old, 210cm tall. Please Sir kindly contact me on the following contacts below. Email:austylo@ymail.com, Phone: 00919604485521. Facebook: STYLO AUSTINE. Thanks, looking forward to your kind response Sir.

        • I think all ways are possible – to maximize the potential you should contact the LFF, football clubs and centers. Some of them may agree to advertise for free on their websites, for example. Paid advertisements in magazines and websites that potential clients would visit may also help (if the budget allows). A press release should be e-mailed to Lithuanian magazines / newspapers / related websites – if written interestingly enough they may put it on without payment.

  4. I need your assistant to help my brother career,my brother is a very good sticker and he is very talented player that you will need in a team,he is from Nigeria but he is presently in dubai now.I will be very happy if u can help him to get a team over there.email. thanks. bayo700@yahoo.com

  5. hello sir, am Ali from Ghana a young talented soccer player, am 17 years ,interesting to play in Lithuania, but have no any contact there, with du respect sir, if you can help me out, contact me on ali.mamud55@yahoo.com, what’s app on 22791068373 call on 22789314923 , hope to here from you soon

  6. sir i am from Cameroon a goal keeper who have been playing for 7 years with second division teams, i am my 3 colleague will like to joint your team we are very determine in life for more information and to get our cv pls just contact us on the email princelovela@yahoo.com we will pay our flight our self to come and show you our skills

  7. hello sir am okechukwu by name from Nigeria am a young talented utility player, am much interested to play in any good team in Lithuania … thanks.. my email is jonahfank8@gmail.com….

  8. Hello sir, i m eribo Freedom ota from nigeria, i have the zeal to play football, i am a young and talented footballer willing and ready to give everything in the field of play…. Please contact me 08168071537 and Freedomeribo@gmail . com thanks

  9. Hello Augustinas Žemaitis,

    I am grateful I came across your article on football in Lithuania as I cam currently writing my master thesis in VDU. I will like to ask you a few more questions concerning football and the possibilities for the growth of this beautiful sport in Lithuania.

    Thank you

    • You may write those questions here and I’ll try to do my best to answer them.

      • Hello Augustinas, my question is how basketball became so popular in this region while leaving football way behind? Has there ever been any financial injection into football in LT from an external/internal source? What do you think will be the major possibility of growth for football in LT and also the necessary steps that could be taken?

        Aciu Labai

        • Basketball first came to prominence in the 1930s. It was popularized by returning Lithuanian-Americans. There were hundred of thousands Lithuanian-Americans at the time as Lithuania was among the countries where emigration to the USA was the most popular ~1900. And, as you know, football (soccer) is not popular in the USA, but basketball is. As Lithuania won European championships in 1937 and 1939 (the 1939 event was held in Kaunas), the position of basketball was soldified.

          This situation continued into the Soviet occupation, when Lithuania was not allowed to have a national team of its own. At the time, Soviet national basketball team still often had many Lithuanians, leading Lithuanians to care for it more (the same was not true for other Soviet national teams, including football, where Lithuanians were rare).

          Additionally, Kaunas “Žalgiris” basketball club and its battles versus CSKA Moscow became a kind of political statement (i.e. “occupied Lithuania vs. Russia”). This was the only major team sport where Lithuanians could fight on equal basis with a much larger Russian nation, leading to its increased popualrity.

          The situation continued after the independence of Lithuania, when basketball was understood as the prime means to tell the world about Lithuania. Indeed, in 1992 Olympics Lithuania earned the 3rd place (bronze medals). Similar achievemets in football or any other major team sport were unachievable, while such achievements in “minor” individual sports (e.g. athletics or swimming) would not attract similar attention worldwide.

          More can be read here: http://www.truelithuania.com/basketball-in-lithuania-33

          Football receives prominent Financial injections from FIFA/UEFA under the regular rules whereby the clubs and national teams are awarded significant sums for pariticipating in games, even qualifying games. Also, income is made from abroad by selling TV rights to such games to foreign TV stations and some incoming “football tourists” who buy tickets to games against their teams.

          As football is more popular than basketball in the Western Europe, where the countries ar richer, such injections and income from foreign sources is thus more significant for football than basketball. That said, locally, the Lithuanian basketball attracts more money than Lithuanian football, both from sponsors and from the state (the state generally supports Lithuanian sport in a neutral way, meaning that the best-performing teams attract more state money, which is evaluated based on the number of international victories; Lithuanian basketball teams have far more victories than football teams and thus more state funding).

          In my opinion, the growth has been happening mainly because of the reasons specified above (more financial support from the foreign sources), as well as because most current Lithuanian emigrants go to countries where football is more popular than basketball (UK, Norway). That said, like previously, achievements are important. Without significant achievements, football could enjoy only a limited popularity, in my opinion, as failed participation in qualification does not bring as much attention as success in major tournaments.

          If there are two options, to follow a sport where your team plays “world class” and has a chance of winning (i.e. Lithuanian basketball) and a sport where your team plays below mediocre and has no chances at all (save for an occasional “surprise draw”, like with the Lithuanian football), people typically choose the 1st choice. Even the local football fans often watch foreign games instead, taking comparatively little interest in the Lithuanian football scene.

          However, it is not that easy to imporve achievements of a not-very-popular-sport. Sporty Lithuanian boys often choose basketball over football (as it is more popular), putting their talents there. Moreover, statistically Lithuanian people are among the tallest in the world. This is a great asset for basketball, but not football.

  10. Hello Augustina Zemaitis, compliments. I appreciate the insight you have provided on this thread, so far. I have plans of building workable relationship with ready clubs in Lithuania towards developing the game of football through our football club and academy in Nigeria.

    Kindly advice me on how to reach out to clubs in Lithuania to pass on my proposal.

    Thanks in advance.

  11. Hi Augustinas Zemaitis,your indepth analysis in your editorial in reference to Luthuania football’ s quite interesting….Thus, on focus point!’Am inddeed,so impressed by your work.Keep the spark up!Cl ement IfeanyiChukwu from Nigeria.

  12. good day sir my name is njong derrick and I am from Cameroon I am a very talented player,I don’t like to brag on myself I like to show it on the pitch if u could help me to archive my dreams I will be very grateful l love Lithuania and their soccer league I am 23yrs old didimarvelous@gmail.com and my number is +237680410456..sir I will be very grateful if you contact me thanks


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