The Russians are directed by a series of sacred Communist plans: Five-Year Plans, and plans for teams which are supposed to lead them quickly and efficiently to Olympic and world championships. Nothing is more serious to a Russian Communist than that these plans should be carried out exactly and precisely on time. Any breakdown, or even slowup, can be most unpleasant for those involved, whether they be scientists, factory managers, soldiers or athletes. Last month one of Communist Russia's most precious plans, the winning of the World Football Cup in Sweden in 1958, not only got off schedule and broke down but was almost completely derailed by one of her most irritating allies—Poland.
The Poles, definitely a second-class soccer country as compared to the Russians' first-class status, violently upset Soviet Russia's sense of football fitness by winning a frenzied World Cup elimination match in Chorzow 2 to 1 on October 20. It had been only a year ago that October, in a political showdown, that Poland's underdog Gomulka had heroically wrecked another Russian plan when he had proved in a face-to-face contest with Russia's Khrushchev that there might be two roads to socialism. Now the Poles were going one step further. They were trying to prove there was only one road to Sweden and that they were taking it.
The Russians had started confidently. In European elimination group six they had defeated the Poles in Moscow 3 to 0, and it seemed as if the football plan was being met and that their football squad, as the winner of one of 16 elimination groups playing in 1957 in Europe, North and South America, North Africa and Asia, would be right on schedule. Then came the second match with Poland in Chorzow; and when Poland whipped Finland the Russians were suddenly made aware that they would have to meet the Poles again in a playoff match on neutral ground; there was even horrible talk that the plan would not be met and the Russian football team would never be seen in the finals in Sweden.
While both football squads trained and waited, tension built up in Poland and Russia. The playoff game, scheduled for November 24, became more than a very exciting sporting prospect; momentarily it acquired the status of a symbol of possible satellite independence from Moscow.
Only 10 days before the match, Leipzig's new 100,000-seat stadium was chosen as the site of the playoff from among stadiums in Belgrade, Vienna and Helsinki. The picking of Leipzig brought the Germans emotionally and financially into the picture, especially in Berlin, long sensitive to clashes between East and West.
Against them both
"It is difficult for us," explained one of West Berlin's most knowledgeable football buffs the night before the game, as he hunched over his tall glass of Pils in the smoky Sportsklause bar next to the Sportpalast, West Berlin's Madison Square Garden. "We normally don't like the Poles," he went on, taking a long sip. "But we want the Russians to lose."
This expert, however, like most of the other soccer gentlemen who nightly discuss their passion in the Sportsklause bar, was a realist. He agreed with the odds of 7 to 4 in favor of a Russian win. "I hate to admit that," he continued, nodding slowly. "However, if the first goal is Polish, then everything might be different," he added.
Sunday was gray and cold and the first snow of the year—a thin film—covered the Berlin streets. The bus transporting the Western press, some 18 of us, mostly West German sports reporters and editors (I was the only American), moved through the still dark streets of East Berlin at just after 7 a.m. In highhanded Communist fashion, the East German government press bureau had insisted that all Western journalists ride the 100-odd miles from East Berlin to Leipzig in the official bus. This demand had caused many devious trips, including one by a one-legged sports editor from N�rnberg, a West German city less than 200 miles from Leipzig, who in this roundabout fashion covered some 600 miles.
The East Germans were not going to have a group of Western journalists poking around their area, not even for a few hours, thus, the bus, a useful form of confinement, was used, and the sportswriters were hustled through the East Zone to Leipzig and tossed back into Berlin in one quick day.