Stalin and his Soccer Soldiers
Robert Edelman unravels the intriguing tale of the politics behind the rise-and-fall of a crack Red Army football team during the Cold War.
On November 21st, 1945, the Dynamo Moscow soccer team took the field at North London's fog-enshrouded White Hart Lane. In the third game of their goodwill tour of the United Kingdom, Dynamo, the Soviet champion, was to play and eventually defeat a war-depleted Arsenal side. Already the Soviet team had caused a sensation, drawing with Chelsea 3-3 while filling Stamford Bridge beyond its capacity. A few days later, they had overwhelmed a young Cardiff City team 10-1.
Dynamo's trip to England was the first post-war example of the Soviet regime's use of sport for diplomatic and political purposes. Subsequent success in the Olympic Games made Soviet athletes ambassadors for the state and Party, and victories in soccer, by far the most popular game in the USSR, were particularly valued by Stalin and his successors.