VVS MVO Moscow is not a club name that many will recognize, and the acronym doesn’t reveal much about the club either. Nevertheless, it is a club with a short but interesting history.
VVS MVO Moscow, a sports society
VVS MVO Moscow was a sports club based in Moscow. The name was short for Voenno Vozdushnye Sily Moskovskogo Voïennogo Okrouga (Военно-воздушные Силы Московского военного округа), which means ‘Club of the Air Force of the Military Region of Moscow’. It was founded in 1944 on the basis of the aviation school in Moscow, and it functioned for nine years until it was abruptly closed in 1953.
Like the other sports clubs around the country, it had various sport activities such as a gymnastics, horse riding, swimming and so on, but VVS MVO was primarily known for its three most popular sections; ice hockey, basketball and football, and it was especially successful in the two first. The ice hockey team won the Soviet championship three times as well as the Cup of the USSR once, while the basketball team became champions of the USSR in 1952.
The football section on the other hand couldn’t copy the achievements of their club comrades. In 1945, it played in the Second Division from which it earned promotion to the First Division the following year. The best result in the club’s nine-year history was a fourth place in the best league in 1950, and a semi-final in the cup in 1951. In fact, what made the club famous, and worth remembering more than 70 years later, wasn’t what happened on the pitch, but rather off it.
In the post-war years when VVS MVO were active, Soviet football was dominated by two clubs; CDKA Moscow (now CSKA) and Dinamo Moscow. CDKA were the team of the army, while Dinamo was the team of the police, and both clubs had managed to keep their best players away from the frontlines, while also improving them by attracting the best players from the teams destroyed by the war. Clubs controlled by powerful state societies were thus fighting on and off the field, and all means were used in the battle to become number one. It was in this environment VVS MVO Moscow made their entrance with the support from one Vasily Dzhugashvili, the son of Joseph Stalin.
When the family name make transfers easier
Born in the Kremlin in 1921, a year before his father was selected as General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Vasily was destined for great things. However, already at age 11 his mother Nadezhda Illiluyeva died, officially of illness, but according to Vasily’s sister Svetlana, who famously deflected to the United States in 1967, she left behind a suicide note, leading many to believe she killed herself. Living without a mother, the young boy grew up in an unusual family environment, which had little in common with those of normal people, as he was guarded by NKVD agents night and day. Following the death of his mother, Stalin stopped visiting his children, who were instead raised by various security guards and maids, and as he grew up, Vasily turned into a poor pupil at school, and soon developed problems with alcoholism.
In 1938, without conviction and after pressure from his father, he joined the air force, where he gradually rose through the ranks. During the Second World War, his road towards the top continued as he showed both bravery and skills by shooting down two enemy planes. In 1947 he was promoted to Lieutenant-General, and in 1948 he became Commander of the Air Forces of the Moscow Military District, which also made him the head of VVS MVO Moscow.
His intentions with the sports club were clear from the beginning. He wanted to create club able to compete with the elite, and for this he built a modern sports complex at Park Kulturiy in Moscow for all athletes of the club, which numbered more than 300.
However, as the initial results of the various factions of the club turned out to be disappointing, he began to force outside players to strengthen his teams. After bad results of the ice hockey team in 1948, he enlisted the entire first line of Spartak Moscow’s hockey team, and in 1950, the side was improved with CDKA Moscow’s goalkeeper. Along with the new players came titles and success, and it was no wonder that VVS MVO were able to attract the best players, as Vasily’s powerful position in society allowed him to distribute apartments, military promotions and high wages, far from the communist spirit, to his new stars.
In football, the same thing happened. Players such as Vsevolod Bobrov (at this time treble champion of the USSR, twice winner of the cup and two time top scorer in the league with CDKA), Yevgeniy Babitch (Soviet champion from 1948 with CDKA), Vyacheslav Tikhonov, and Dinamo Tbilisi’s Gavoz Dzhedzhelava, who was one of the best strikers in Soviet football history between 1937 and 1948, and who was forced to take command of the team between 1950 and 1951.
There were however some players who managed to resist the equal amounts of pressure and temptation from VVS. During a vacation in Kisloyodsk, Nikita Simonyan, the current Vice-President of the Russian Football union, was ordered back to Moscow to meet the VVS boss. In front of him, Simonyan said: “Vasily Iosefovich, I beg you let me stay with my team,” To which Vasily answered: “You see! This man told me the truth. Thank you for your sincerity. You can remain at Spartak.” Simonyan went to become one of the greatest players in the history of Spartak and the Soviet Union, winning the Olympics in 1956, four Soviet championships and two cup trophies for the Red-Whites, for whom he also scored 133 goals in 213 matches, which remains a record for the club to this day.
The battle of the chiefs
Elsewhere in Moscow, Lavrenti Beria, the all-powerful head of the security services and patron of Dinamo Moscow sits, and he is at the peak of his power.
Unlike everybody else however, Vasily Dzhugashvili isn’t scared of Beria, and the two men hate each other viscerally, and they use the football field as their battle field, and the players as their soldiers.
Caught in the middle of the battle between two of the Soviet Union’s most powerful men is Nikolai Starostin, the founder of Spartak Moscow. After rivalling Dinamo on the pitch for too long, Beria had Starostin and his three brothers sentenced to ten years in the GULAG for anti-Soviet agitation to get rid of them, and thus open the way for his Dinamo. But Vasily saw things otherwise.
While coaching Dinamo Komsomolsk in Amur during his involuntary exile from Moscow, Starostin received a phone call from Vasily personally, who told him that he wanted him back in Moscow to deal with VVS MVO. After his arrest, Starostin had been banned from staying in 16 major cities across the USSR, including Moscow, but despite this a plane landed in Komsomolsk the next day to fly Starostin back to the capital.
Back in Moscow, Starostin was immediately taken to Vasily’s, and after a toast in honour of his return, Vasily had him registered to live in Moscow at his old address. Starostin later recalled: “The closer I got to Spiridonovka Street, the more I understood what I had missed the most during all those years – the sensation that someone is waiting for you. And when I crossed the threshold of the apartment, seeing my wife and my daughter in tears, I realized that man, in essence, needs very little to be happy.”
The happiness didn’t last long though, and after just a few days back in the capital, he was told that his registration had been cancelled, and he had to sign a document asking him to leave the capital within 24 hours. He then went to see Vasily who instead offered to host him at his own home to keep him in Moscow. There, he effectively became a prisoner, being surrounded by Beria and the young Stalin’s security guards all day and unable to do anything by himself. The following day he escaped and returned to his home, just to be arrested and put on a train to Maikop in southern Russia.
Starostin never reached his destination though, because in Orel, he was recovered by Vasily’s trusted men, and carried back to Moscow by plane. After losing his most prized possession, Vasily decided to take revenge against Beria, and later that day, Dinamo hosted VVS at the Dinamo Stadium in Moscow. In the official lodges, in front of all the security services, Vasily entered alongside Starostin, Dinamo’s enemy number one, the founder of Spartak, and a man who had been sentenced to the GULAG under the eyes of Beria. During the match, Vasily continued to laugh at the situation, thus embarrassing several high-ranking officers among the crowd, and to him it was all a matter of honour.
In the end however, Vasily had to give up his valued prisoner. Not because of Beria, but because of Starostin himself. The Spartak man knew he was playing with fire, and that things couldn’t continue to go well, so despite Vasily’s efforts to protect Starostin and his family by sending them away from danger to a military base far from the capital, Starostin talked him into letting him go. After leaving Moscow, Starostin travelled to several Soviet cities, but he met nothing but closed doors. After being denied entrance to Krasnodar, Maikop and Ulianovsk, he wrote: “I understand that it was the price to pay for my epic Moscow journey.” Eventually, he found a place to stay, in Almaty in Kazakhstan, where he took over the local Dinamo Alma-Ata, the current Kairat Almaty.
Things change with Stalin’s death
When Joseph Stalin died in March 1953, it created hope for many of the people he had imprisoned or exiled, including the Starostin brothers, who were eventually allowed by to return to Moscow and Spartak in 1955.
For Vasily Dzhugashvili, the situation was different, as the death of his father left him without protectors and at the mercy of the new masters of the Kremlin. At the end of April, less than two months after his father’s death, he was arrested on Beria’s orders for treason and anti-Soviet propaganda. Beria himself however was arrested and executed later that year, which saved Vasily from a certain death sentence, but he was still sentenced to eight years of imprisonment and disciplinary work and sent to Vladimir under the name Vasily Pavlovich Vasilyev. He was eventually released in 1960, given a small flat in Moscow, a state pension and the right to wear his military uniform again. However just three months later, he was arrested again, and when he was released the following year, he was ordered to move to Kazan, where he officially died of alcoholism – although this is still debated today – on March 19 1962, shortly before his 41 birthday.
His beloved club didn’t survive without their patron, and in May 1953, two months after the death of Joseph Stalin, it was dissolved. Officially it was for economic reasons, but the de-Stalinization decreed by Nikita Khrushchev suggests that everything linked to Stalin and Dzhugashvili had to go. The club never reached the top of Soviet football, but it left behind a history that is unlikely to ever be forgotten.
Follow Vincent on Twitter: @Spartak_M_VT