By the end of 1946, Stalin, Molotov, Gromyko and a flurry of vetoes in the U.N. Security Council had established the cold war as a fact among all but the most sanguine observers of the world scene. And surely the ensuing 2� decades of acrimony between East and West are traceable to those early disputes over Berlin, Austria and the other loose ends of global conflict. Surely.
Still, Lord Chesterfield warned us against "the custom of profound historians who always assign deep causes for great events," and if students of this era will glance back just a bit further they might find that the cold war actually began with a blast from a referee's whistle and a foot planted squarely into a soccer ball on a cold and dismal October afternoon in 1945 in southwest London.
In the beginning, the intention in bringing a Soviet soccer contingent to England had been quite benign. The notion had been to solidify the friendship and goodwill that grew from battle against a common foe. And the Russians, in accepting the English Football Association's invitation shortly after V-J Day, seemed to share the spirit. But when, two weeks after their arrival, the Moscow Dynamos left London for home, they did so in sullen silence.
In that fortnight they had played four games, winning two, tieing two and scoring 19 goals to their opponents" nine. But if their record was notable, their comportment was not—except for its surliness. They began by refusing to talk to reporters at the airport or sign the autograph books of English schoolboys. They insisted on their own food and their own referee. They refused to speak to the interpreter assigned to them by the Foreign Office. They insulted England's most prestigious manager and finally they cut the trip short—picking up the ball, as it were, and going home. In the meantime, they had played some glorious, history making soccer.
The day of the Russians' arrival was inauspicious. London was at its most Dickensian, much of it in ruins from the bombings and rocket attacks. Everything was in short supply, including coal to heat the homes. Food rationing was even more severe than during the war. National morale had never been lower. To further deepen the gloom, the weather turned dank, foggy and chilling.
Accommodations, like everything else that grim autumn, were tight, but the authorities found beds for the visiting Russian team at the Wellington Barracks, home of the Guards. The Russians arrived on schedule but did not wait to hear the reception speech, being hustled instead to a waiting bus by Soviet Embassy officials. Along with their baggage, the Dynamos were loaded down with food—canned goods, fresh fruit, loaves of bread. Despite all the nourishment, they looked thin and pale, anything but athletic, and their haircuts were dreadful. They showed they had manners to match when they immediately set up a howl over their quarters.
Next morning they began their training at a local ground. Three or four practice balls were thrown out to them. Again they protested. For a party of 14, they said through their lady interpreter, they needed 14 balls. "We don't have 14 balls," the dismayed British protested. "And we don't know where to find them. There's been a war on, y'know." The Russians were implacable, however, and somehow the balls were found.
Public curiosity about the strange guests increased daily. As a result, their suspicion became legend. Vladimir Sinyavsky, the team's radio commentator, explained it later to a Russian magazine. "We were met according to English fashion," he wrote, "rather dryly, without flags, music or flowers. Officials of the British Association coldly shook our hands and then threw us to the journalists to be torn to pieces."
What the British never realized was that the Russians were genuinely shocked at their reception. In the Soviet Union they were considered privileged personages, like ballet dancers. They had even been draft exempt throughout the war, being used instead to entertain with exhibition matches. Such a thing would have been inconceivable to the British.
The first game of the tour was against Chelsea. Chelsea teams, historically, have played as though they were embarrassed to be on the field. They were a vaudeville joke, like the old Brooklyn Dodgers and the early Mets. (Today they play as the Mets do today—give or take a good year from Tom Seaver—but this was 1945.) Excitement was intense for the Chelsea match. Eighty thousand people stormed the Stamford Bridge Stadium, even spilling onto the sidelines.