Dinamo Moscow’s 1945 Goodwill Tour of Britain

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“The Russians are Coming”: Arrival

4th November 1945, Croydon. Two planes, appearing to be Douglas DC-3 Dakotas, approached the runway and touched down amidst a barrage of London sunshine, a characteristically mundane and everyday sight for an airport which based RAF Transport Command from 1944. These giant planes would ferry ammunition and vehicles from factory to operating unit throughout World War Two. However, on this day, the influx of these two planes was a prodigious and preternatural occasion; it was the arrival of FC Dinamo Moscow, the first ever visit of a Soviet football team to Britain.

Stanley Rous, the FA Chairman, and his welcoming party of FA workers, reporters, a cadre of personal assistants, and a phalanx of representatives from the Soviet embassy adorned in regal blue overcoats with hammer and sickle gerbs awaited the landing of the Dinamo team at the Northolt Aerodrome, almost 20 miles as-the-crow-flies from Croydon. Due to this confusion of communication, the workers at Croydon did not expect any landings that day, nevertheless, two giant planes, dwarfing the usual Dakota with a wingspan of 95 feet appeared on the horizon, asking for permission to land.

They were decorated with red stars and further Soviet imagery, painted in a glistening green, red and white livery designed to impress any who happened to gleam upon their sight. As the welcoming party rushed to Croydon, 37 men (including players, trainers, officials, NKVD cadres and the party commentator Vadim Sinyavsky) and one woman all wearing the same regal blue overcoats with hammer and sickle gerbs and regal blue velour hats disembarked, led by the ‘Merited Master of Sports of the USSR’ and Dinamo head coach, Mikhail Yakushin. The welcoming party arrived just after the passengers disembarked, and were apparently struck by the enigmatic and majestic appearance of the Soviets. David Downing, author of Passovotchka points out that Soviet officials were regular sights at London football grounds, usually wearing ‘well-tailored suits with funny-smelling cigarettes and distinct, guttural accents’, but these were the Soviet cream-of-the-crop, the masters of their profession.

“The Russians are Here”: The Goodwill Tour

The Tour was planned merely months after the end of World War Two, as the English FA invited the Soviet champions, Dinamo, upon a two-month goodwill tour of England amidst a show of post-war solidarity, and to celebrate the return of football to English shores after a six-year suspension of play during the war.

Known in Britain as simply “Moscow Dynamo”, the English FA invited the Russian’s to raise morale and prove British dominance over their wartime allies, but ideological enemies. A series of six friendlies were organised, but Frank Butler of the Sunday Express saw Dinamo as no competition at all and commented on their play after the first two friendlies;

“It is possible that the Russians do not consider that they could do themselves justice in such a game… They are not nearly good enough to play our professional teams. Their players are simply a set of very earnest amateurs… I say this confidently.”

In reality, both Dinamo and the Kremlin were delighted with the opportunity to take on the founders of the oldest organised game in the world, who had an aura of invincibility since the propagation of international football. Yakushin upon landing at Croydon was assured of the importance of this tour to both the development and standing of Soviet football commenting; ‘England is the birthplace of football, there is no doubt that all the best players in the world were English’. It is unclear whether the astute Russian inferred this as a compliment or an insult through his meticulous use of past tense, but nevertheless, the players and the state were both acutely aware of the magnitude of the occasion.

Lavrentiy Beria, the chief of the NKVD and president of Dinamo, the team and management were invited (ordered) to visit Josef Stalin who implored (demanded) them not to lose to “bourgeois Capitalist football sides”. It was just not the all-star, successful squad of Dinamo that won the Soviet Top League for two seasons running in 1941 and 1945 (all football was suspended from 1942-44 in the Soviet Union (Save for one incredible game in Leningrad, 31st May 1942), but a few players from other teams were also invited by Beria, including CDKA Moscow player and top scorer in the league in 1945; Vsevolod Bobrov, in addition to two players from Dinamo Leningrad. The players trained at the White City Stadium, an Olympic ground built for the 1908 Games but demolished in 1980.

The Dinamo players first appeared in their natural state on a lush, pristine pitch at Stamford Bridge on 13th November 1945. 85,000 excited, mystified and confident Brits packed into the stadium to see some of their greatest players face up against the most intriguing of opponents. In the Soviet Union, a society obsessed with promulgating physical fitness in order to promote discipline and hard work, stretching before the game is a regular occurrence. The benefits of this exercise are widely known today, but back in 1945 the crowd, Chelsea players and staff were astonished to see the Dinamo team leave the tunnel fifteen minutes before kick-off for a pre-game warmup. Following this, after the players lined-up and met an English FA delegation, the Soviet players led by the captain, Mikhail Semichastniy, handed a bouquet of flowers to each of their opponents, another first sight upon English shores – one which, unsurprisingly, did not catch on.

The British press was fascinated, even obsessed with the Soviet stars, who themselves seemed rather a star struck by the commotion regarding footballers in the west. The Express further offended the delegation, dubbing them as ‘The Silent Ones’, but instead of denigrating their stature in the wider public it merely added to their mystique, and played right into Dinamo’s hands. In reality, this was no ruse by Yakushin, Beria or even Stalin but of the greatest asset the Soviet Union ever held; her people. It was just a natural, innocent reaction from the Dinamo delegation who are themselves regular, normal citizens in the Soviet Union, plucked out of normality and literally flown half-way around the globe into an Aldous Huxley-esque ‘brave new world’.  Confusion and awe reigned supreme among most of the delegation’s emotions, appearing shy and timid in most situations, nearly all. Yet, not on the pitch.

Initially, the Dinamo team seemed overawed by the crowd, who jeered and shouted enthusiastically at every opportunity – a far cry from the calm, regimented and subtle atmosphere found at the Central Dinamo Stadium and across the USSR. As such, Chelsea quickly took a 3-0 lead by half time, with only Aleksei ‘The Tiger’ Khomich stopping an embarrassment. During the second-half, however, Dinamo showed their class and three goals from Vasili Kartsev, Evgeny Archangelski and Bobrov tied the game. Vsevolod Bobrov was one of the few players pre-match who did not look overawed by the occasion, and, according to Vadim Sinyavsky, put in a stellar performance. Upon the blowing of the final whistle by Leftenant Commander G. Clark, hundreds of spectators ran onto the pitch lifting the Dinamo players aloft. They were considered as mystical heroes from the east, with most spectators not only impressed by their attitude but tactical acumen and style of football. John Harris, Chelsea half-back and club Captain claimed “Dinamo is the best side I have ever played against”, high praise from a man who throughout his career attempted to move away from the limelight and such controversial comments.

Next up for “The Dynamos” (as British tabloids repeatedly misprinted the team name) was Cardiff City at Ninian Park. Although the Dinamo team were met with ridicule and arrogance in London, the welcome in Wales was much more appealing to the players.

Cardiff was at the time a young and relatively successful team, but one which resided in the English Third Division, and many commentators including Frank Butler of the Express considered them at a similar level to Dinamo. These aspersions cast would be much changed by the final whistle as Dinamo ran their “hosts of an equal-level” ragged scoring ten goals in the process. Achangelski and Bobrov both scored a hat trick each but Konstantin Beskov stole the headlines with four goals.

The next game in the tour, on 21st November 1945 was the one Yakushin and the Dinamo players looked forward to the most, Arsenal. Though played at White Hart Lane, as Highbury was still converted into an air-raid control centre, 55,000 spectators still turned up to pack out the stadium to see not just the most progressive team in England, but some of the best players from around the country. Stanley Matthews, Stan Mortensen and Harry Brown were all borrowed from Stoke City, Blackpool and Queens Park Rangers for the game, all regular England internationals and recent FA Cup winners. The Dinamo team demanded upon landing in England that at least one game would be refereed by a Soviet official, as such Nikolay Latyshev officiated the match. Unfortunately for Latyshev, he would become infamous for allowing Arsenal inside-forward George Drury return to the field after being sent off because the referee could not see through the dense fog. Later in the match, he accrued more anger from the “home” crowd for disallowing a perfectly good Arsenal goal with the game tied at 3-3, before Kartsev went on to score a late winner for Dinamo. Arsenal Captain Cliff Bastin claimed, “so long as the Dynamos got the ball in the net, even if they carried it there, the referee was going to award them a goal”.

The mysterious regal blue overcoat-clad Soviet players, who were expected to be soundly beaten had defeated arguably one of the greatest contemporary footballing sides ever amassed. Such was the talent of this team; the first Dinamo goal came mere seconds after kick-off. Bernard Joy in his book, Forward Arsenal recalls the goal;

“They scored before we had even touched the ball. The centre-forward tapped the ball to the inside-right who played it immediately back to the left-half. Straight through came the pass to Bobrov, the tall, David Jack-type of inside-forward. Immediately the centre-forward went out to the wing, at full speed as if the ball was already there. I doubled back to close him. Too late. Bobrov pushed the ball through the gap, just wide of my outstretched foot, inside-right Kartsev took the ball in his stride and slipped it past the oncoming Griffiths”.

Joy’s memory of the goal perfectly outlines Dinamo’s Passovotchka style of play. This was a system developed by Yakushin and the Dinamo Sports Society utilised by the majority of teams in the Soviet Top League. The system relied heavily on teamwork and mass physical exertion – fatigue would set in earlier due to this. Attacking emphasis through quick, incisive passing was placed heavily upon the shoulders of every player. David Downing in Passovotchka describes the style as an art form, with players ‘changing positions on the run, like a beautifully choreographed dance group, spinning into space and flicking the ball off to each other with a deftness that left their opponents looking leaden-footed’. What set apart this Dinamo team from the rest of the Soviet league, however, was Yakushin’s genius tactics that set intricate, off-the-ball movement paramount. Yakushin lined Dinamo up in a ground-breaking 4-2-4. The front six could interchange at any point, epitomised by the role played in the games by Vasili Kartsev, Dinamo top scorer and usual centre-forward during the 1945 season dropped back into midfield to allow CDKA striker Bobrov up front alongside Konstantin Beskov. The Soviet press affectionately nicknamed this ‘Organised Disorder’, but in reality, it was much more a combination of two succeeding football philosophies; Rinus Michel’s ‘Total Football’ and Valeriy Lobanovskyi’s ‘Scientific Football’.

Next on Dinamo’s schedule were Glasgow Rangers, as thousands of both keen Scots and Englishman poured into the city, eagerly anticipating the next game in the tour. Tickets for the game were rare and reached record prices for even standing admissions, yet 92,000 spectators still managed to cram into an overcrowded and excited Ibrox Park. L.V. Manning forecasted in The Times pre-match, ‘Rangers will score three, but that may not be enough’. Long gone were the early boasts of Soviet inferiority and English dominance, yet he did provide excuses. Manning asserted that the English referee, Tommy Thompson;

“Would not be called upon to make the sporting offside concessions which gave the Russians their draw at Chelsea, their winning goal at Tottenham and three of their ten at Cardiff.”

Manning highlighted the controversial decisions granted by Latyshev against Arsenal and attributed all of Dinamo’s goals to the same. The game, will unfortunately once again be remembered for officiating controversies – but this time in favour of the hosts. Thompson gave two penalties to Rangers, who converted one. The latter, converted by George Young was highly contentious. Tommy Thompson initially gave a goal kick as he saw young Rangers forward Jimmy Duncanson taken down by Vyacheslav Radikorsky, seemingly fairly. He then, however, was called over by Scottish linesman Mr Calder and after discussion awarded Rangers a penalty, a decision which infuriated much of the Dinamo team. Scottish journalists praised the decision, but much of the viewing public and English press thought it dubious at best, and the Manchester Guardian even reported ‘the ref seemed to see the incident quite clearly, and he waved play on’, of course, unimpressed that a Scottish linesman overturned the decision of a respected English referee.

The two drew 2-2 in a closely fought contest and were supposed to travel down to play an Aston Villa XI fielding only one Aston Villa player and ten of the best around the country, including Stanley Matthews, Raich Carter, Joe Mercer and Len Shackleton. Instead, the Dinamo squad returned to London and flew back to Moscow partly incensed by the decision of the Rangers game, but mainly as satisfied heroes. The Soviets were robbed by a Scottish linesman but would have the last laugh as 21 years later one of their own linesmen would wipe the smiles off Scottish faces, presenting their ‘auld enemy’ with the most dubious of decisions in the World Cup.

Match Highlights, details on the Starting XI’s and Attendances can be found here

“The Russians have Gone”: Soviet and British Ideology

For the Soviet Union, the tour was an unprecedented success on the pitch. Mid-way through the tour after the draw at Stamford Bridge, Jules Rimet, the head of FIFA held a meeting with a Soviet delegation in Paris and officially invited them to join FIFA, a groundbreaking event as the nation finally joined the world footballing governing body for the first time.

David Downing somewhat romantically recalls the war, hearing of the Soviet’s presentation of a bouquet of flowers to the Chelsea team. He recalls;

“The crowd appreciated the gesture, evoking as it did the emotional bond between two countries which lay at the heart of the tour. In that moment, more than a few minds must have gone back to the summer and autumn of 1941, when only Britain and Russia had stood between Nazi Germany and victory.”

“The Russians have Gone”, was the message emblazoned throughout the country via radio after the Dinamo team returned to Moscow on the morning of Friday, 7th December 1945. They were in England for just over a month but left in their wake an incredible footballing legacy. Just as with their arrival, the departure of the Soviets was just as farcical and unplanned. Scheduled to leave at 9 a.m. on Thursday 6th December, their departure was delayed a full day due to fog in Berlin (their refueling point). Farcically, nobody told Rous and the FA delegation seeing them off, who arrived on Thursday with a full consort only to be sent home after an embassy official notified them of the delay. Once in the sky, the Soviets headed eastwards, having announced themselves to the footballing world and invaded the hearts and minds of the United Kingdom’s footballing public.

A follow-up analysis of each respective government’s intentions behind the tour, assessing whether or not it truly was a Tour of “Goodwill”, or merely a propaganda machine can be found on James’ blog, Defensive Bloc.

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Author: James Nickels

Born and raised in South Shields, the direct mid-point between Sunderland and Newcastle in North-East England during an era of sustained success and European football for the Magpies, while the Black Cats floundered in the lower divisions, so naturally I decided to support Sunderland. I’ve developed an interest in Russian football over the last decade or so, but it piqued while studying for my Masters’ Degree in Russian and Soviet History, and I’ve been hooked by Spartak Moscow ever since. Considers Eduard Streltsov the best of his generation, and a fond proponent of his repatriation.

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