Dynamo Moscow's 1945 tour of Britain: Was it really 'war minus the shooting?'

By Chris HowellsBBC Wales Sport
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Scene from Chelsea's 3-3 draw with Dynamo Moscow
Fans got in any way they could - Stamford Bridge was packed for Chelsea v Dynamo Moscow

It was a Tuesday afternoon in November 1945 and the streets of Fulham were teeming. Tens of thousands of people were about to witness something most hadn't been able to since 1939, while for some it would be a lifetime first. They were on their way to attend a football match where a British team faced foreign opposition.

Local residents were hiring out their front gardens for bicycle storage, on street corners people were selling toffee apples, oranges and match programmes, while touts were getting £4 for tickets that originally cost 10 shillings - eight times the face value.

The pavements were filled with uniformed armed forces personnel walking alongside shift workers and children darting between gaps among the bustling crowd making its way to Stamford Bridge.

The desire to see the match was insatiable. Some blagged their way into adjoining houses to get a view, others followed rail and tube lines around the stadium to get in unseen. Steeplejacks, the intrepid and the many with military training climbed up the back of stands, sitting precariously 100 feet up on the stadium roofs.

The official attendance was about 75,000. It was clearly way more than that.

A crowd of around 100,000 watching Chelsea play Moscow Dynamo at Stamford Bridge in the first game of the Russians' tour of Britain
Some estimates put the actual attendance at over 100,000

The cloud of World War Two had dissipated just 13 weeks earlier with Japan's final surrender. The atmosphere in south-west London was one of joyful celebration, unbridled freedom and keen anticipation.

In a spirit of camaraderie engendered by the Allied victory, a Russian football team had been invited to tour Britain. They sent the league champions of the Soviet Union.

It was a club barely anyone in Britain knew anything about, other than some print journalists who had been permitted to attend a few training sessions once they had arrived in Britain.

At 2:25pm, out of the tunnel at Stamford Bridge walked a group of chiselled, mysterious looking footballers, ready to face Chelsea. This was Dynamo Moscow.

Short presentational grey line

The long fight that both Britain and the USSR endured in World War Two, along with the enormous sacrifices Soviet citizens suffered against the Nazis, had made the Russian people hugely popular in Britain.

But throughout 1945 negotiations over Europe's future deteriorated into suspicion and distrust. The United States was refusing to pass on atomic secrets and the Soviets were occupying most of Eastern Europe.

No Russian side had ever visited Britain before, and the Foreign Office felt that "it would take much more than a football match to break down the real barriers which the Soviet government firmly believe in".

Pressed by its Moscow Embassy, the UK government finally ceded, but distanced itself by presenting the visitors as guests of the English Football Association (FA).

In a matter of weeks, British football fans would be left reconsidering their long-held self-perception as the world's finest footballing nation. And George Orwell was to refer to the tour as simply being "war minus the shooting".

Dynamo players in training
Dynamo's players would warm up before matches - a rare thing in English football at the time

The early days of the visit did not go well. The FA had booked the Dynamo Moscow party into Wellington Barracks, St James' Park. They had even neglected to ensure that the beds had sheets and pillows.

Far from impressed, the Russian delegation refused to proceed with anything until sleeping and eating arrangements had been rectified to their satisfaction. Accommodation was found and eventually the Dynamo players were said to be enjoying the Turkish bath facilities in the Imperial Hotel in Russell Square.

The Soviets had a 14-point charter of demands for how the tour would play out, including that all games would be against professional clubs, that one match would be against Arsenal, that their players would not have to wear shirt numbers and they would be allowed at least one substitute.

Following protracted negotiations, a three-game schedule was agreed. After the third match, the FA and the Russians would discuss a possible fourth.

The British press was unconcerned about the ability of their visitors. The Evening Standard wrote: "Don't expect much from Dynamo. They are only beginners, blue-collars, amateurs."

In Soviet Russia, English football was revered.

In a 2001 documentary, More Than Just Football, Dynamo Moscow forward Konstantin Beskov said: "Until those games, we only knew that England was the motherland of football, that English football was the best in the world."

Leonid Solovyov, the Dynamo half-back, remembered: "They told us that Englishmen are awesome, that they can carry the ball across the fields on their heads."

But even faced with supposedly superior opponents, there was considerable pressure on the players to represent their communist nation in the most positive of ways.

As Beskov recalled: "It would have been a disgrace if we had come back to Moscow defeated. We would have been ashamed to show our faces in public."

Chelsea v Dynamo Moscow

And so, the scene was set for Dynamo's introduction at a packed Stamford Bridge.

The Chelsea crowd was bemused when the Dynamo players came out 15 minutes before kick-off, practising strangely repetitive drills with several balls. Surely wasting energy like that did not bode well for them.

Before kick-off, the Russian players presented each of their opponents with an extravagant bunch of flowers, much to the embarrassment of the home side.

What was a common pre-match courtesy in the Soviet league was received by the home crowd as utterly bizarre. A fan shouted out: "What's this then - Chelsea's funeral?"

In a way, the jibe would turn out to be prophetic.

13th November 1945 Chelsea line up at Stamford Bridge with the bouquets of flowers presented to them by the Moscow Dynamo team before their match (Photo by Topical Press Agency_Getty Images)GettyImages-3309710
Chelsea's players, pictured before kick-off with the bouquets of flowers the Russians had brought

In the early exchanges, Chelsea struggled to cope with the pass-and-move style of the Russians, who in the first 20 minutes had four shots saved and hit the post twice. The home side were on the ropes.

But completely against the run of play, Chelsea took a 2-0 lead, profiting from a defensive mix-up for their second. Then, just before half-time, Dynamo were awarded a penalty.

Up stepped Leonid Solovyov. He had only missed one before in his entire playing career. His shot was cleanly hit, but rebounded off the post. He remembered: "None of my team-mates said a word about it."

Dynamo would come back though. On 65 minutes, Vasiliy Kartsev took a pass from Yevgeniy Archangelski, passed two defenders and from the edge of the penalty area drove his shot into the goal.

And with a quarter of an hour left, Archangelski scored with a cross-shot that deflected into the Chelsea net. It was 2-2.

The home side now surged forward, with Dynamo goalkeeper Alexei Khomich making a number of fine saves, before a towering header from Chelsea's £14,000 record signing Tommy Lawton regained the lead on 81 minutes.

In a rousing finish, Vsevolod Radikorsky won the ball and passed to Archangelski who sent over a cross that bounced off a Chelsea player to Vsevolod Bobrov, who would otherwise have been offside. Bobrov smashed it home, the goal stood and the British crowd roared their approval for the Russians.

When the final whistle sounded at 3-3 crowds streamed on to the pitch, picking up some of the Russian players and carrying them to the tunnel.

"Dynamo were one of the fastest teams I have ever seen in my life. They flash the ball from man to man in bewildering fashion, often while standing still," recalled Lawton.

John Harris, the Chelsea captain, said: "At least two of Lawton's kicks were of such a type that no goalkeeper would catch, but Khomich jumped like a tiger and caught them."

The British public embraced that description, having taken the Dynamo keeper to their hearts. Although of average height, Khomich had strangely long arms, explosive physicality and was a fabulous shot-stopper. He was now forever known as 'Tiger' Khomich. He would go on to mentor his Dynamo successor, Lev Yashin.

Cardiff v Dynamo Moscow

For the second match, because the FA refused to change Saturday fixtures for any of their leading clubs, only third division Cardiff City were able to host the tourists.

Cardiff had received a royal visit three days before the game, so the railway station was already bedecked with bunting and flags to greet the Moscow party.

In the coalfields, steelworks and docklands of south Wales, empathy for socialism was common. So as soon as the royals had left, the hammer and sickle was hoisted above City Hall to complete the welcome. The Dynamo players were given a civic reception and the Russian delegation was delighted.

With the Soviet state broadcaster, Radio Moscow, covering the match live, before kick-off the 40,000 crowd sang along to hymns played by a uniformed band on the Ninian Park pitch. Each Dynamo player was presented with a commemorative miner's lamp, one of which remains on display in the Moscow club's museum.

Scene from Dynamo's match at Cardiff
Dynamo's thumping victory over third division Cardiff caused concern at the FA

Any nerves experienced by the Dynamo players in the first match against Chelsea were absent against the Bluebirds.

The Welsh team were 3-0 down within 25 minutes. They were swept away in the second half, conceding five goals in eight minutes on the way to a 10-1 trouncing.

It was by far the heaviest loss any British side had suffered at the hands of foreign opposition. And the mood of the tour intensified considerably.

The Soviet Union was supposed to be a ravaged nation struggling to rebuild. The fact they were able to field a team of such astonishing quality tore right into the heart of British post-war confidence. Surely the balance would be restored?

Arsenal v Dynamo Moscow

Arsenal were missing several players who were still stationed with armed forces all over the world. So they drafted in 'guest' players, including Stoke City's Stanley Matthews, Blackpool's Stan Mortenson and Joe Bacuzzi of Fulham, who had turned out for Chelsea in the opening match.

Dynamo complained, saying they were being asked to play against an England team. It was arguably a bit rich, considering they had requisitioned four players from other Soviet clubs.

Further complicating matters was the blanket of fog smothering much of south-east England. Dynamo wanted the fixture postponed but, given the number of tickets sold, the FA was determined to proceed.

Suspecting a fix being put into motion, Dynamo insisted the match be officiated by their Russian referee Nikolay Latyshev, who would go on to take charge of the 1962 World Cup final.

The game was due to be played on a Wednesday afternoon at Tottenham's White Hart Lane because the Ministry of Defence still occupied Highbury, which had been used as an Air Raid Precaution centre.

Queues had started to form at midnight, and by 10:30am the throng was so large the police ordered the ground to be opened. By the time Latyshev inspected conditions at midday there were an estimated 40,000 in the stadium, making cancellation a difficult prospect.

21st November 1945- Part of the queue outside Tottenham's ground for the football match between Arsenal and Dynamo Moscow
Fans queueing outside White Hart Lane as fog settles in on 21 November 1945

According to contemporary match reports, Dynamo took the lead within a minute, before Arsenal had even touched the ball - and not that many of the 54,000 crowd saw it. The 'pea-souper' enshrouded the stadium to such a degree that the referee insisted both his assistants run the same side of the pitch. There was plenty to keep the officials busy.

Matthews, who had been ghosting past players with ease, was one targeted for rough treatment. Dynamo's Khomich had to put up with plenty of crude charges and the Arsenal keeper, Welshman Wyn Griffiths, took two blows to the head. He was totally unaware of the score at half-time and was replaced by a spectator, QPR's Harry Brown.

Arsenal had managed to draw level not long after Dynamo's opener and three further goals in four minutes came before the break. Arsenal's second was a powerful right-footed drive from Mortensen. Thirty seconds later, another Matthews dribble and cross was finished off again by the Blackpool striker. Then Konstantin Beskov drifted through the Arsenal defence and shot across the concussed Griffiths to make it 3-2.

In the second half, Sergei Solovyov restored parity early on despite being blatantly offside. Arsenal had a penalty appeal turned down and then Latyshev sent off the Gunners' George Drury for throwing a punch. Drury claimed not to understand and slinked away into the fog.

Action from Arsenal v Dynamo
Action from Arsenal's match against Dynamo - visibility was terrible. The detail here comes from contemporary match reports.

With visibility at now less than 30 yards, Solovyov received the ball in an offside position and fed a pass to Bobrov, who put Dynamo ahead.

The farce continued when Arsenal had what was considered a perfectly fair goal disallowed. Ronnie Rooke picked up the ball 40 yards from goal and went on a run at speed. The Dynamo captain, Mikhail Semichastniy, practically rugby tackled him, cutting the forward's head open in the process. Rooke threw off the Russian with an elbow, giving the defender a black eye, and hit a pile-driver from 25 yards that flew past Khomich.

Latyshev whistled and gave a free-kick to Dynamo where the original ruck had occurred.

Arsenal manager George Allison suggested to the Soviet Embassy's First Secretary that they concede the game to stop the nonsense.

His offer was declined. The visitors held on to their lead and won the match. Most of the crowd had to wait until the next day's papers to find out the final score. As the Daily Mail reported: "It was one of the most exciting games 54,000 people never saw."

The fallout put the tour at risk, but a mixture of desperation to beat the Russians and the fact that the matches had generated huge amounts of money saw a fourth match arranged. Dynamo would be heading north.

Rangers v Dynamo Moscow

In Glasgow, such was the clamour to see the game that tickets worth 21 shillings were going for £10 - almost 10 times their original cost.

Dynamo were awarded a free-kick 20 yards out after two minutes. With no wall to contend with, Kartsev stepped up and fired inside the keeper's right-hand post for 1-0.

Dynamo continued to dominate, but Rangers forward Billy Williamson managed to win a dubious penalty, which Willie Waddell missed by smashing straight at Khomich.

Then, Dynamo scored the goal of the tour. Bobrov, on the edge of the penalty area, drew in two defenders before passing across the box to Beskov. With his left foot, Beskov passed back to the right between retreating defenders, and the unmarked Kartsev smashed the ball low into the opposite corner. The Daily Telegraph said it was "as perfect a goal as has ever been scored at Ibrox".

Five minutes before half-time, Rangers finally had some luck. A hooked ball was falling about eight yards from goal. When it dropped, Khomich jumped to catch it and clashed painfully with Jimmy Smith, the ball bouncing off Smith's midriff into the empty net.

Despite intense effort in the second half, Rangers just could not make another opening.

But then Williamson drove into the box on the left wing and, when he tried to get past the full-back, Rangers appealed for a penalty. The referee waved it away, but changed his mind after consulting his linesman.

George Young stepped forward to take it. He hit the ball firmly to Khomich's left, with the keeper barely moving. The game finished 2-2.

Ticket for Rangers v Dynamo Moscow
Tickets for Dynamo's game at Ibrox were going for nearly 10 times their original cost

Arrangements were quickly made to organise a fifth match - a chance to finally beat the Russians. This time Dynamo were to be pitted against an English select XI at Villa Park. But the tie was never played. Just over a month after Dynamo had arrived in Britain, they were summoned back to Moscow.

On 7 December 1945, BBC radio announced: "The Russians have gone." Such was the impact of their visit, listeners immediately knew exactly which Russians were being referred to.

As David Downing, the author of Passovotchka - the brilliant book about the 1945 Dynamo tour - reflected: "They only won two games, but their style of play left a scent of magic in the air."

While Aston Villa were left with 70,000 unusable tickets, British football was left to consider its superiority.

6th December 1945: The Football Association presenting a commemorative pennant to Dynamo Moscow at the farewell party held for the football team after their successful tour of Britain
Dynamo's players were presented with a commemorative pennant by the FA on the eve of their departure

The tour might have been heeded as a warning shot, a sign of where the national game was in comparison with emerging countries. But it wasn't until 1953 that British football found itself unable to ignore just how far the rest of the world had advanced when Hungary beat England 6-3 at Wembley, following that up with a 7-1 victory a year later in Budapest.

Following Dynamo's departure, Orwell wrote in his essay, The Sporting Spirit: "Now that the brief visit of the Dynamo football team has come to an end, it is possible to say publicly what many thinking people were saying privately before the Dynamos ever arrived.

"That... if such a visit as this had any effect at all on Anglo-Soviet relations, it could only be to make them slightly worse than before."

With the onset of the Cold War, affection in Britain for 'Uncle Joe' Stalin was becoming a distant memory and the government could not risk any impression of Soviet superiority, even in a football match. An invitation to the FA to take part in a reciprocal visit to the USSR in 1946 was robustly turned down.

Back home, Dynamo's players landed as national heroes. Several of the party were awarded the Soviet honour of Master of Sport. In Moscow, a popular musical was staged in which an English beauty attempted to seduce Dynamo's best player the night before a match. A book was published, titled 19-9 (goals for and against), celebrating their invincible tour.

For the Soviet state, the tour proved unequivocally to them that sport could be used to portray an image of Communist strength. Before another Dynamo tour, to Sweden in 1947, the players were summoned to the Kremlin. They were ordered to beat the Swedish teams 5-0 to remind them of the Battle of Poltava, a decisive Russian military victory of 1709.

Konstantin Beskov recalled the meeting: "Then the minister thought for a while and said: 'Let them score one goal.'

"We played two matches [against league champions IFK Norrkoping and IFK Gothenburg]. The score in each of them was 5-1, just like he asked."

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