Although trivial by comparison with the devastation wreaked on so many lives, World War II had a crushing impact on British football. Following the declaration of war with Germany on 3 September 1939 no more league matches were played in England for six years. By the time that peace was restored in 1945 the public were crying out for the restoration of so many ordinary activities that the war had curtailed.
In few cases was this desire to return to normality more pronounced than football. The post-war years saw a boom in attendances as fans flooded back to see their favourite teams. Furthermore, the significantly improved (if still mistrustful) relations with the USSR which had proved so important in the war effort, had some small impact on the footballing insularity which had been a constant feature of the pre-war years.
The result of these conditions was the decision by the Football Association to invite Dynamo Moscow to undertake a tour of Britain in November 1945. Prior to their arrival the Russian side sent the FA a list of requirements for the arrangements surrounding their tour. Among the stipulations were that they should not face any national sides (given that they were only a club team) and that one of their games must be against Arsenal (in recognition of the standing of the Gunners in the inter-war years).
The tour began against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and the vast crowd reflected the feverish anticipation with which the tour was met. Dynamo themselves represented something exotic and unknown while football in general had been so sorely missed during the war years. 85,000 spectators managed to pack in to the Chelsea stadium while thousands more were shut outside and the gates had to be closed long before kick-off to prevent overcrowding. The Times reflected that “a few reckless spirits even found their way on to the non-too-solid roofs of the grandstands, much to the consternation of those beneath.”
In the weeks before the game Chelsea had invested heavily in signing England centre-forward Tommy Lawton, along with Johnny Harris and Len Goulden, moves interpreted by the Russian media as an attempt to bolster the team ahead of Dynamo’s arrival. In truth of course the transfer market had been inactive during the war years, but certainly there was a sense that national pride was at stake in the eagerly anticipated friendly. A surprise did present itself to the Chelsea players though when each man from Dynamo handed his English counterpart a bouquet of flowers prior to the game in recognition of the British hospitality.
Few prior to the match gave the Russians much hope of victory. Although there was recognition that the finest European sides were catching those from the British Isles there remained a tremendous confidence in British players while the added advantage of being at home strengthened belief in an easy win. In addition the USSR was not at the time noted for the calibre of their players. A Soviet army team had defeated their English equivalents in an exhibition game at the end of the war, but the national side had achieved little to strike fear into English hearts.
When the game did kick off Dynamo quickly established the pattern of their play with neat and tidy passing carving a series of openings in front of the Chelsea goal. Within the first 20 minutes of the game the Soviets had hit the side-netting and the post and had two shots narrowly miss. Chelsea had themselves gone close through a Lawton header as he momentarily broke free of his marker within the Dynamo box. On 22 minutes Lawton was again to the fore, causing havoc in the Dynamo defence and allowing Goulden to score with a powerful strike. Before half-time Dynamo had yet more chances. Kartsev squandered a golden opportunity when he shot wildly over and then the Soviets were awarded a penalty. Soloviev stepped up to take it, only to shoot narrowly wide and let Chelsea off the hook.
The teams returned after the interval and Dynamo quickly picked up their momentum again. Chelsea found themselves in strong attacking positions on a number of occasions, only for Dynamo to quickly counter and catch out their defence. The fight-back was started by Kartsev who blasted in a strike from almost 30 yards, before Arkhangelski drew the teams level with a deflected goal.
Almost immediately Chelsea were in front again. Lawton harassed the Dynamo defence tirelessly and when a chance fell his way, he used his considerable ability in the air to direct a header past keeper Alexei Khomich. Dynamo could easily have been deflated after their hard work to level the scores but they remained patient. Sticking to their passing principles they retained the ball well despite Chelsea’s best efforts and were rewarded with an equaliser from Bobrov after Arkhangelski’s centre.
|Dynamo line up prior to the Chelsea game|
What caused such problems for Chelsea was the pace at which their opponents moved the ball. In the build up to the game the English press, most notably Paul Irwin of the Sunday Express, had commented on the ponderous speed at which Dynamo used the ball. When it came to a competitive environment though they left Chelsea trailing.
Dynamo next travelled to Wales to face Cardiff City who they soundly thrashed 10-1, before returning to London for the game against Arsenal. Sadly for neutrals the Arsenal team was not it once had been and the team was further depleted by the absence of a number of players who were yet to return from active service. A number of guests, including Stanley Matthews and Stanley Mortensen, turned out for Arsenal, prompting complaints that the team was being unfairly strengthened, but they were still far from the level of Chapman’s team of the early 30s.
As it was the game ended in farce. With Highbury still not freed from its role as an air-raid control centre the match was played at White Hart Lane. Prior to kick-off the stadium was engulfed in thick fog which made it impossible to see the length of the pitch. One of the conditions that the Russians had insisted on as part of the tour was the requirement that a Soviet referee should take charge of at least one game. So it came to pass that Nikolay Latyshev gave the go-ahead for the match to take place, despite the lack of visibility for fans or players.
Dynamo were in front after less than 30 seconds, though few spectators could make out who had scored the goal or how it had come about. Arsenal though responded and at one point led 3-1, before Beskov made it 3-2 at half-time. In the second-half Soloviev and Bobrov put Dynamo into the lead (both were widely considered to be clearly offside despite the poor visibility) and the Soviets hung on for the victory. Of particular grievance to Arsenal, even more than the validity of the two second-half goals, was the fact that due to the dense fog Dynamo had played for 20 minutes of the match with 12 men following a bungled substitution.
Dynamo rounded off their tour with a 2-2 draw with Rangers at Ibrox, but while the trip had done little for Anglo-Soviet relations it had sparked an interest among the British public in the play of the visitors. No man won more plaudits from both the press and watching spectators than the Dynamo goalkeeper, Alexei Khomich, who was nicknamed “Tiger” in recognition of his bravery and speed of movement. The exoticism of the Soviet visitors would live long in the memories of those who witnessed the famous Dynamo tour of 1945.