Abramovich chips in for statue of rugby hero

Perhaps it was their joint fate in leaving Russia for a high-profile existence in British sport, or maybe it was their shared passion for the finer things in life. Roman Abramovich, sometime oligarch and football fan, has found common cause with a Tsarist émigré who secured fame as the fleet-footed architect of the first English victory over the New Zealand All Blacks.

The billionaire owner of Chelsea FC has overlooked the fact that Prince Alexander Obolensky favoured the oval rugby ball over his preferred spherical football to become the latest donor to a £50,000 appeal to erect a statue in Ipswich to the young compatriot who became known as the "Flying Russian".

Mr Abramovich, recently displaced as Britain's richest man by the Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, is understood to have given £5,000 of his £11bn fortune to commemorate Obolensky, a dashing socialite who breakfasted on champagne and oysters, and left Oxford University with a fourth- class honours degree.

The son of an officer in Tsar Nicolas's Imperial Guard, Obolensky scored two tries during his debut performance at 19 for England during their 13-0 defeat of the All Blacks at Twickenham in 1936. His second try, which followed an amazing run across the pitch in defiance of rugby-playing convention, is considered to be among the finest ever scored.

Sadly, the glorious sporting career awaiting the Russian, who did not secure British citizenship until after his first appearance for England, was cut short on 29 March 1940 when the Hurricane fighter he was flying during his RAF pilot training crashed as he was landing at Martlesham Heath airfield near Ipswich. He is buried in the town's war cemetery. He was 24.

A total of £40,000 for the statue has been raised so far, including a £20,000 donation from an Ipswich businessman and £5,000 from the Rugby Football Union. About 300 smaller donations have also been received, many from the widows of Second World War airmen and former team-mates of Obolensky.

James Hehir, the chief executive of Ipswich Borough Council and the self-confessed rugby obsessive who started the fundraising, said: "Mr Abramovich's support is a big boost for us; we are almost at the point where we can bring this project to reality. What is remarkable is the way we have attracted support from so many sources. I have received wonderful letters from the widows of pilots and some of his former team-mates. One woman wrote that if her husband was still alive, he would have sold all the furniture in the house to ensure the statue was built."

It is hoped work on the statue, which will aim to capture Obolensky's phenomenal speed in an unconventional manner, will begin this summer. It is to be placed in the historic centre of Ipswich, which already houses monuments to its football heroes, Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson.

Obolensky, born in St Petersburg to a life of aristocratic privilege, came to Britain as a baby with his parents as they fled the Russian Revolution in 1917. He was sent to a private school in Derbyshire and attracted the attention of England's rugby selectors while at Brasenose College, Oxford. What he lacked in academic acumen by achieving a "sportsman's first" in politics, philosophy and economics, he made up for in sporting prowess.

On 4 January 1936, he took to the field at Twickenham as the first Russian to play for England and spearheaded the home side's unprecedented defeat of the All Blacks, hitherto considered invincible.

The Flying Russian also set a world record of scoring 17 tries in a single game during a tour of South America before he joined the RAF.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year