IN late 1945, with World War Two moving into history, the FA decided to further build relations with their Russian allies by inviting the famed Dynamo Moscow team to tour the UK. The tour was arranged with the assistance of the Russian embassy in London and was set for November.
The Dynamo squad that toured the U.K.
Prior to leaving Moscow, the Russians, fortified by guest players from CSKA (then CDKA) and Dynamo Leningrad attended a meeting with Joseph Stalin where it was made very clear that they were expected to return triumphant.
Russian football was, in the most part, a mystery to British fans but interest in the tour was unheralded with tickets for all matches selling quickly. And what’s more Dynamo had English roots. The original club from which they grew, Morozowstky, were founded in 1887 by two English brothers, Clement and Henry Charnock, who ran a textile business on the outskirts of Moscow.
When the Dynamo team and entourage (including their own referee) arrived at Croydon Airport the players were met by a press corps clamouring for interviews, but the players, not used to such attention either refused or answered briefly, quickly earning them the nickname ‘The Silent Ones’.
The Russians were not totally happy with their welcome. “In England, the fatherland of football, we were met rather dryly. Officials of the British federation coldly shook our hands and then threw us to the press to be torn to pieces’” said a Russian radio commentator. “The players were taken to the Guards Barracks to be housed but we discovered mould on the walls, cobwebs and hard bolsters instead of pillows so we went to the Russian embassy to spend the night.” They were eventually housed in a Russell Square hotel.
Dynamo players feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.
Dynamo came armed with their own food and a list of requests and conditions These included a flat refusal to number their players, the right to refuse invitations to any social functions and an insistence that, while in London, all food had to be provided by the Russian Embassy. Some serious negotiating had to be carried out before the tour went ahead, as planned, with matches against Chelsea, Cardiff City, Arsenal and Glasgow Rangers.
In the days before the opening match, press and public interest grew even stronger with the tour vying for attention in the press with the Nuremberg trials, although the potential for the visitors to give their hosts a serious test was met with some cynicism in the English press. “They are not nearly good enough to play our class of professional teams,” sniffed the Sunday Express. “Their players are simply a set of earnest amateurs who are so slow you can almost hear them think”.
The legendary Charles Buchan went to watch them train at Stamford Bridge only to be told they had moved their session to the White City where no arrangements had been made to receive them.
The crowd outside Stamford Bridge.
Fans certainly weren’t put off by the prospect of seeing these ‘earnest amateurs’. On Tuesday November 13, 1945, people started queuing outside Stamford Bridge at 8am for a 2:30 kick-off. The waiting crowd grew – and grew – and grew. Local public transport ground to a halt. The gates were closed 20 minutes before kick-off with an official 74,496 inside. Touts were asking for, and getting £3 and £4 for 10s stand tickets. Many found alternative ways to get into the ground, crossing railways lines and climbing fences. Others scaled buildings in Fulham Road to glimpse the action.
The Dynamo players meet U.S. Army Chief of Staff Dwight D Eisenhower.
The final actual attendance will never be known but was certainly vastly in excess of the official figure which was widely reported as 82,000 with estimates range from around 100,000 to a slightly unbelievable 200,000.
A slightly bemused Chelsea team with their bouquets.
The game itself lived up to the hype. The Dynamo players presented bouquets to their slightly bemused opponents before kick-off and the home players handed them off to their trainer who was later described as; ‘leaving the pitch like a walking battle of flowers’. Chelsea, wearing unfamiliar red shirts had new £14,000 record signing Tommy Lawton leading their attack (the Russian press claimed he had been signed specifically to play against Dynamo), who said of the flower presentation; “I felt like a film star at a premiere”. The Blues also included two players – Joe Bacuzzi and Jim Taylor – guesting from Fulham.
Fans closing in in the pitch in front of the West Terrace
The hosts started slowly and, perhaps slightly unnerved to see supporters pressed tight to the touchline all around the pitch, initially found it hard to come to terms with the slick passing of the Soviets who hit goalkeeper Vic Woodley’s woodwork three times in the first 10 minutes. “Dynamo were one of the fastest teams I have ever seen in my life,” recalled Lawton later. “The Russians do not dribble. They flash the ball from man to man in bewildering fashion, often while standing still.” And for a team berated for ‘so slow you could almost hear them think’ the visitors moved the ball at a bewildering pace.
Enjoying the action from any vantage point.
It was the home team, totally against the run of play, who took the lead. A run down the wing by Jimmy Bain was followed by a cross which found Lawton’s head. Lawton nodded down to set up Len Goulden to score. Then, even more surprisingly, Reg Williams doubled the advantage when a clearance by Stankevich struck him in the back and rebounded into the goal. Undeterred by the setbacks, Dynamo continued pressing forward, Soloviev missed a penalty and they had another effort disallowed when it rebounded off one of the spectators who were crammed in close to the touchline.
Chelsea ‘keeper Vic Woolley keeps one out.
The scoreline remained the same until the 66th minute when Vassili Kartsev pulled one back for Dynamo then set up Evgeny Archangelski for the equaliser. Chelsea surged back, ‘Tiger’ Kohmich made a string of fine saves before Lawton regained the lead for the hosts with a towering header.
But the visitors refused to accept defeat. In a rousing finish and with the majority of the crowd cheering the Russians on, Vsevolod Bobrov (although Buchan said he looked ‘suspiciously offside’ levelled things again and it finished all square.
Fans using all parts of Stamford Bridge’s Shed.
Lawton questioned the referee about the decision to allow the third goal after the game and was told it had been allowed to stand for ‘diplomatic reasons’ but the majority of observers agreed that the visitors were well worth their draw. Writing in the Daily Record, former Rangers and Scotland star Davie Meiklejohn said: “These Russians are the slickest moving side I have seen in years. They taught Chelsea a lesson”.
One change the visitors brought to the match was the pre-match warm-up. The English custom was for teams to take to the pitch five minutes before kick-off, knock the ball around once and get on with the game. Dinamo came out a full 20 minutes before the match started to warm up and get accustomed to the conditions, a practice that was eventually adopted in British football and that continues to this day.
The Cardiff players present their visitors with miner’s lamps.
After returning to the sanctuary of the Russian Embassy, it was off to Wales to face Third Division part-timers Cardiff City, the game proving that the tour was arranged as much on a geographical and diplomatic basis as a footballing one. Having been presented with miners’ lamps before kick-off Dynamo proved far too strong for their Welsh hosts running out emphatic 10-1 winners in front of 60,000 fans. City boss Cyril Spiers, a former international goalkeeper, was fulsome in his praise of his team’s opponents. “The Russians,” he said, “are the finest team I have ever seen. They are a match for any side in Britain. They are a machine, and not an ordinary football team.”
Fans queueing in the fog outside White Hart Lane.
The next game was supposed to be the showpiece of the tour, it ended up a farce.
One of the conditions of Dynamo agreeing to come to Great Britain was that they would play against Arsenal and so they did although because the Ministry of Defence were still occupying Highbury after using it as an air raid precautions centre during the war the match took place at White Hart Lane.
Arsenal, with so many of their stars still serving and stationed abroad beefed up their line-up, including no fewer than six guest players, among them Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen from Blackpool and with Joe Bacuzzi playing against the visitors for a second time in days. Dynamo complained, saying that they were effective playing an England team (and ignoring the fact that two of the players were Welsh) but the game went ahead.
55,000 fans, some of whom had been queuing since 3 A.M. crammed into White Hart Lane but if they were hoping to watch a classic game pitting two different footballing styles against each other they were to be disappointed as they were lucky to witness anything. A ‘pea-souper’ had descended on London, making it impossible to see across the pitch.
But the game, refereed by Russian official M. Nikolay Latyshev, went ahead. Many of those in attendance left early, frustrated that they couldn’t see any of the action.
Goalmouth action (possibly!)
Dynamo took the lead after just 30 seconds of a match often described as farcical. Arsenal roared back scoring three times without reply with Mortensen netting twice and Ronnie Rooke also getting on the scoresheet before the Soviets pulled it back to 3-2 just before half-time.
Half-time brought yet more confusion. Wyn Griffiths, guesting in goal for Arsenal, had been injured during the first-half and the tannoy put out an announcement asking for his replacement Harry Brown to make his way to the dressing room. Sam Bartram of Charlton Athletic, standing in front of the press box, went to the directors box to offer his services only to be told that Colchester United’s Brown had been found and that he wouldn’t be needed.
The second half was even more of a mess. The Russian referee, on the insistence of Dynamo officials, had placed both of his linesmen on one side of the pitch and himself on the other. All managed to miss what appeared to be two blatant offsides as Sergei Soloviev equalised and then Bobrov scored what proved to be the winner with what would have been a late leveller from Rooke ruled out for offside. The officials also failed to notice Arsenal’s George Drury returning to the pitch after being sent off.
Arsenal manager George Allison had said he would concede the game when his team went 4-3 down but the offer was declined and play went on with a number of Gunners players claiming that the visitors had 12 men on the pitch. Play was stopped, the numbers were counted and Dynamo did indeed have an extra player after a ‘mix-up’ when a substitution had been made 20 minutes earlier.
With parity restored Arsenal pressed for an equaliser but Dynamo held on for a momentous 4-3 victory.
After the match, Arsenal captain Bernard Joy said: “It’s a pity that the fog didn’t allow as many spectators to see the game as well as we players saw it because it was really interesting and intense”, whilst Tiger Khomich said: “The fog was so thick that I had no idea what was happening at the other end or who had the ball other than by the roars and hum of the crowd.” Dynamo coach Mikhail Yakushin meanwhile probably spoke for many when he commented: “It would have been much better if the game had never begun”.
The Dynamos players, along with Arsenal boss Allison, went to the Lyceum Ballroom in the evening and enjoyed some time on the dance floor but, with another match to be played, left for the embassy at 9 P.M.
Training at Ibrox
And so, the Russians headed for Glasgow and their final match with their unbeaten record still intact. 92,000 crammed into Ibrox to see the phenomenon that Dynamo had become.
The Rangers programme welcomes the visitors.
Before the match there were signs that relations between hosts and visitors were becoming even less amicable. Dynamo refused Rangers’ request that they be allowed to play a guest player while the home team tried to insist on a Scottish referee but it was Northumbrian Tommy Thompson who officiated.
Throwing your cap in the air to celebrate a goal wouldn’t have been a good idea!
Captains Semichastny of Dynamo and Shaw of Rangers with referee Thompson
Rangers did little to impress those attending when, after announcing that admission prices wouldn’t be raised they insisted that those wishing to buy tickets in advance could only do so by paying 9d to attend a reserve team match.
As in all their matches Dynamo shocked the fans before it had even begun, by coming out to warm-up with several balls 20 minutes before kick-off.
‘Tiger’ Khomich punches clear against Rangers.
Dynamo totally dominated the first half hour with the home team mostly chasing shadows. Kartsev scored after two minutes then added a second before Rangers fought their way back into it. Jimmy Smith was brought down in the area (the Russians looked shocked by the decision) but the legendary “Tiger” Khomich saved the resulting penalty, fisting Willie Waddell,’s shot onto the bar. before the home team halved the deficit when Smith bundled the ball home.
The second half saw Rangers take control over a visibly tiring opposition. They appealed for another penalty, the referee turned it down before consulting his linesman and reversing the decision. George Young slammed home the spot-kick, surprising Khomich by taking just a one-step run up before blasting the ball past him and the match finished all-square.
Young, like everyone who had seen or played against Dynamo, was impressed with the opponents. “There were some folk who suggested we get stuck in,” the burly defender said some time later. “What they did not appreciate was that the Russians did not hold the ball long enough for us to tackle them. It was tip and run soccer – played exceedingly well”.
So, the tour was over (despite Aston Villa’s misguided belief that they would also be playing the tourists) and Dynamo returned to Moscow where every player was formally appointed a ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’. A year later the USSR joined FIFA and Dynamo, along with neighbours Spartak would become regular visitors over the following decade, along with many other overseas teams as international club matches became an increasingly entertaining part of the British game.
But was the tour a success? None other than George Orwell wrote in Tribune after the visit; “Now that the brief visit of the Dynamo 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 is, that sport is an unfailing cause of ill-will, and that if such a visit had any effect at all on Anglo-Soviet relations, it could only be to make them slightly worse than before.” From a football perspective, Stanley Matthews, speaking later, said; “The words Dynamo Moscow are associated with the concept of class football.”
The games themselves were a mix of great football, rough play and total farce. There was mystery, there was a Stamford Bridge stadium besieged, there was a massacre in Cardiff, there was a cloak and dagger encounter at White Hart Lane and there was a rugged battle in Glasgow.
But over 300,000 fans attended the four matches and most were eager to tell anyone who would listen after; ‘I was there’.
The matches also brought Russian, and in many ways, British football onto the international stage. There had been (and would continue to be in some quarters) a school of thought that the British game was in some ways above continental football.
The ‘Magnificent Magyars’ of 1953 totally crushed that idea but the Moscow Dynamo team of 1945 cast the first doubts about British ‘supremacy’.