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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions