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Dynamo Moscow's 1945 tour of Britain: Was it really 'war minus the shooting?'

By Chris HowellsBBC Wales Sport

Thought this might we worth a read.

BBC Sport Insight banner Scene from Chelsea's 3-3 draw with Dynamo Moscow Fans got in any way they could - Stamford Bridge was packed for Chelsea v Dynamo Moscow

It was a Tuesday afternoon in November 1945 and the streets of Fulham were teeming. Tens of thousands of people were about to witness something most hadn't been able to since 1939, while for some it would be a lifetime first. They were on their way to attend a football match where a British team faced foreign opposition.

Local residents were hiring out their front gardens for bicycle storage, on street corners people were selling toffee apples, oranges and match programmes, while touts were getting £4 for tickets that originally cost 10 shillings - eight times the face value.

The pavements were filled with uniformed armed forces personnel walking alongside shift workers and children darting between gaps among the bustling crowd making its way to Stamford Bridge.

The desire to see the match was insatiable. Some blagged their way into adjoining houses to get a view, others followed rail and tube lines around the stadium to get in unseen. Steeplejacks, the intrepid and the many with military training climbed up the back of stands, sitting precariously 100 feet up on the stadium roofs.

The official attendance was about 75,000. It was clearly way more than that.

A crowd of around 100,000 watching Chelsea play Moscow Dynamo at Stamford Bridge in the first game of the Russians' tour of Britain Some estimates put the actual attendance at over 100,000

The cloud of World War Two had dissipated just 13 weeks earlier with Japan's final surrender. The atmosphere in south-west London was one of joyful celebration, unbridled freedom and keen anticipation.

In a spirit of camaraderie engendered by the Allied victory, a Russian football team had been invited to tour Britain. They sent the league champions of the Soviet Union.

It was a club barely anyone in Britain knew anything about, other than some print journalists who had been permitted to attend a few training sessions once they had arrived in Britain.

At 2:25pm, out of the tunnel at Stamford Bridge walked a group of chiselled, mysterious looking footballers, ready to face Chelsea. This was Dynamo Moscow.

Short presentational grey line

The long fight that both Britain and the USSR endured in World War Two, along with the enormous sacrifices Soviet citizens suffered against the Nazis, had made the Russian people hugely popular in Britain.

But throughout 1945 negotiations over Europe's future deteriorated into suspicion and distrust. The United States was refusing to pass on atomic secrets and the Soviets were occupying most of Eastern Europe.

No Russian side had ever visited Britain before, and the Foreign Office felt that "it would take much more than a football match to break down the real barriers which the Soviet government firmly believe in".

Pressed by its Moscow Embassy, the UK government finally ceded, but distanced itself by presenting the visitors as guests of the English Football Association (FA).

In a matter of weeks, British football fans would be left reconsidering their long-held self-perception as the world's finest footballing nation. And George Orwell was to refer to the tour as simply being "war minus the shooting".

Dynamo players in training Dynamo's players would warm up before matches - a rare thing in English football at the time

The early days of the visit did not go well. The FA had booked the Dynamo Moscow party into Wellington Barracks, St James' Park. They had even neglected to ensure that the beds had sheets and pillows.

Far from impressed, the Russian delegation refused to proceed with anything until sleeping and eating arrangements had been rectified to their satisfaction. Accommodation was found and eventually the Dynamo players were said to be enjoying the Turkish bath facilities in the Imperial Hotel in Russell Square.

The Soviets had a 14-point charter of demands for how the tour would play out, including that all games would be against professional clubs, that one match would be against Arsenal, that their players would not have to wear shirt numbers and they would be allowed at least one substitute.

Following protracted negotiations, a three-game schedule was agreed. After the third match, the FA and the Russians would discuss a possible fourth.

The British press was unconcerned about the ability of their visitors. The Evening Standard wrote: "Don't expect much from Dynamo. They are only beginners, blue-collars, amateurs."

In Soviet Russia, English football was revered. 

In a 2001 documentary, More Than Just Football, Dynamo Moscow forward Konstantin Beskov said: "Until those games, we only knew that England was the motherland of football, that English football was the best in the world."

Leonid Solovyov, the Dynamo half-back, remembered: "They told us that Englishmen are awesome, that they can carry the ball across the fields on their heads."

But even faced with supposedly superior opponents, there was considerable pressure on the players to represent their communist nation in the most positive of ways.

As Beskov recalled: "It would have been a disgrace if we had come back to Moscow defeated. We would have been ashamed to show our faces in public."

Chelsea v Dynamo Moscow

And so, the scene was set for Dynamo's introduction at a packed Stamford Bridge.

The Chelsea crowd was bemused when the Dynamo players came out 15 minutes before kick-off, practising strangely repetitive drills with several balls. Surely wasting energy like that did not bode well for them.

Before kick-off, the Russian players presented each of their opponents with an extravagant bunch of flowers, much to the embarrassment of the home side.

What was a common pre-match courtesy in the Soviet league was received by the home crowd as utterly bizarre. A fan shouted out: "What's this then - Chelsea's funeral?"

In a way, the jibe would turn out to be prophetic.

13th November 1945 Chelsea line up at Stamford Bridge with the bouquets of flowers presented to them by the Moscow Dynamo team before their match (Photo by Topical Press Agency_Getty Images)GettyImages-3309710 Chelsea's players, pictured before kick-off with the bouquets of flowers the Russians had brought

In the early exchanges, Chelsea struggled to cope with the pass-and-move style of the Russians, who in the first 20 minutes had four shots saved and hit the post twice. The home side were on the ropes.

But completely against the run of play, Chelsea took a 2-0 lead, profiting from a defensive mix-up for their second. Then, just before half-time, Dynamo were awarded a penalty.

Up stepped Leonid Solovyov. He had only missed one before in his entire playing career. His shot was cleanly hit, but rebounded off the post. He remembered: "None of my team-mates said a word about it."

Dynamo would come back though. On 65 minutes, Vasiliy Kartsev took a pass from Yevgeniy Archangelski, passed two defenders and from the edge of the penalty area drove his shot into the goal.

And with a quarter of an hour left, Archangelski scored again, with a cross-shot that deflected into the Chelsea net. It was 2-2.

The home side now surged forward, with Dynamo goalkeeper Alexei Khomich making a number of fine saves, before a towering header from Chelsea's £14,000 record signing Tommy Lawton regained the lead on 81 minutes.

In a rousing finish, Vsevolod Radikorsky won the ball and passed to Archangelski who sent over a cross that bounced off a Chelsea player to Vsevolod Bobrov, who would otherwise have been offside. Bobrov smashed it home, the goal stood and the British crowd roared their approval for the Russians.

When the final whistle sounded at 3-3 crowds streamed on to the pitch, picking up some of the Russian players and carrying them to the tunnel.

"Dynamo were one of the fastest teams I have ever seen in my life. They flash the ball from man to man in bewildering fashion, often while standing still," recalled Lawton.

John Harris, the Chelsea captain, said: "At least two of Lawton's kicks were of such a type that no goalkeeper would catch, but Khomich jumped like a tiger and caught them."

The British public embraced that description, having taken the Dynamo keeper to their hearts. Although of average height, Khomich had strangely long arms, explosive physicality and was a fabulous shot-stopper. He was now forever known as 'Tiger' Khomich. He would go on to mentor his Dynamo successor, Lev Yashin.

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11 hours ago, Stretford Ender said:

Kipper ties too. Man, the way we dressed back then. Thank heavens punk came along when it did. 

Reminds me of a Noddy Holder story he was getting a suit fitted and the tailor in a heavy brummie accent said kipper tie ? and Noddy replied yeah milk and no sugar 😆

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8 hours ago, bluehaze said:

Reminds me of a Noddy Holder story he was getting a suit fitted and the tailor in a heavy brummie accent said kipper tie ? and Noddy replied yeah milk and no sugar 😆

Speaking of Brummie accents, Jasper Carrott's sketch about United v Birmingham in 1975 is very funny. 


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3 hours ago, chi blue said:

Of all the managers we have had in my time, that picture and John Neal is the one that makes me realise I’m now missing the Bridge after 8 months

Agree. Like you I'm missing going to the Bridge. Meeting up in the pub before and after the match. I've spoken to and seen a couple of people I go to the games with but haven't seen all of the group since March. Looking forward to going back into the ground and taking my seat in the MHU and seeing the usual faces. Then hearing the Liquidator blaring out.

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1 hour ago, Boyne said:

Agree. Like you I'm missing going to the Bridge. Meeting up in the pub before and after the match. I've spoken to and seen a couple of people I go to the games with but haven't seen all of the group since March. Looking forward to going back into the ground and taking my seat in the MHU and seeing the usual faces. Then hearing the Liquidator blaring out.

Like you, I’ve been a season ticket holder for many years. Up in the M H U you get used to seeing everybody around where we sit as it’s all season ticket holders. A lot of people sat  in the old west stand with me before transferring over when it was knocked down. 

Like you have been in contact with friends but it’s not the same as match day.

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