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They Kicked Off the Cold War
Geoffrey Bocca
May 10, 1971
The 1945 British—U.S.S.R. soccer matches were meant to generate goodwill. They came out like Pearl Harbor
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May 10, 1971

They Kicked Off The Cold War

The 1945 British—U.S.S.R. soccer matches were meant to generate goodwill. They came out like Pearl Harbor

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"The Dynamos have beaten England," Sinyavsky exulted.

That night Arsenal gave a banquet for the Russians at the Covent Garden theater. Allison sat and glowered, issuing comments about his adversaries that never saw the light of print thanks to the censorship policies still in effect. The entire tour had now turned sour. The Dynamos announced that their next game would be their last, and even though several clubs had already printed tickets, no one was sorry.

Meanwhile, some of the wiser soccer critics had noticed something about the visitors. The Russians, who always displayed such pregame vigor, turned out not to be the physical supermen they seemed. Toward the end of the game with Arsenal, some of them were clearly at the end of their tether.

The last game was to be against the Glasgow Rangers. The rivalry between the Protestant Rangers and the Catholic Celtics of Glasgow is infamous around the globe today for its riots, drunkenness, hooliganism and bloodshed. Today the Celtics are the dominating team, but until six seasons ago they were usually second best to the Rangers. In 1939, if not in 1945, the Rangers were arguably the finest club team in the world (in Britain, unlike the United States, the major competitions were stopped for the war).

The Glaswegians scorched into the Dynamos as though the Russians were the apostles of the Pope himself. A brutal chopping match before nearly 90,000 screaming spectators ended in a 2-2 tie, the Russians frantically packing their goal, the rubber-legged goalkeeper Khomitch saving them time after time from humiliating defeat. They then went home, and a sigh of relief was breathed.

Back in Moscow, the Russians offered their own version of the tour. Chelsea had bought Tommy Lawton for �14,000 in order to beat the Dynamos ( Chelsea had indeed bought Lawton from Everton, but before they had ever heard of the Dynamos). George Allison fainted when Arsenal lost because he had made a big bet on them. He ordered the players to beat up Ronnie Rooke for not winning. "Outrageous," Allison burbled. "The Foreign Office should protest." A musical called Nineteen to Nine was presented in Moscow in which the British footballers were represented as fat capitalists (in 1945!).

The Dynamos' visit had some interesting and lasting social effects in Britain. For millions of workingmen there, many of them sympathetic to the Communist experiment, this exposure of Soviet man and manners was a deep disappointment. But the British also knew they had been taught a major lesson in football. The week following the Russians' departure. Queen's Park Rangers experimented with a multiball pregame warmup and with calisthenics. But British players, unlike the Russians, were not given special rations, and the effort so debilitated them that they lost 6-0.

The tour was a watershed for European football, opening the game to international competition and new heights of spectator interest. Paradoxically, the country to benefit least was the Soviet Union. The '50s and '60s were the eras of the glorious Magyars and then of the stupendous all-white-clad players of Spain's Real Madrid. England won the World Cup in 1966, and Manchester United of England and the Celtics of Scotland have both won the European Cup. But through all these years the Russians have won nothing.

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