Brian Viner: Diamond days of side who brought touch of glamour to post-war Britain
Saturday 29 October 2005
My recent column about football programmes prompted a reader, Philip Shewry, to send me several Chelsea programmes from the 1940s. If I knew any old Chelsea fans, he said, perhaps I would pass them on. I know lots of new Chelsea fans, but very few old ones. So instead, I will offer Mr Shewry's programmes to anyone who can guess how much it cost, as advertised in the Chelsea v Charlton Athletic programme of 5 April 1947, to travel to Stamford Bridge "by motor coach from Richmond". I'm looking for the estimate nearest to the correct return fare, and don't forget, you younger readers, that it was some years before decimalisation.
Perhaps the most collectable of Mr Shewry's programmes is the one issued on Tuesday, 13 November 1945, for Chelsea's exhibition match at Stamford Bridge against Moscow Dynamo, champions of the USSR. Long before Roman Abramovich was even a twinkle in his bank manager's eye, excitement swept west London at the news that the Russians were coming. The attendance at Stamford Bridge that Tuesday afternoon in November was almost 85,000.
I'd heard of Moscow Dynamo's famous post-war visit to Britain, of course, and treasure the fact that in the visit lie the origins of the name Rushden & Diamonds. In 2001 I was dispatched to sunny Northamptonshire to write about the new boys of the Football League, and learnt that Irthlingborough Diamonds, which merged with Rushden Town in 1992, had originally been called Irthlingborough Dynamos. I talked to a guy called Tony Jones, who told me that he and some mates from school had founded the club in 1946 in the vestry of St Peter's Church, Irthlingborough. "We were inspired by Moscow Dynamo," he explained. "They came over here after the war and played Arsenal, Chelsea, Glasgow Rangers and Cardiff. It basically represented the resurrection of British football and had a huge influence on us. But after a while we decided Dynamos was a bit copycat, so we changed it to Diamonds."
It is hard now to imagine the impact that Moscow Dynamo had when they arrived, 60 years ago next month, and especially strange to think that these Russian footballers, who dazzled the Stamford Bridge crowd by presenting a bouquet of flowers to their opposite numbers before the match kicked off, represented colour, fragrance and glamour to a country in the grip of economic austerity. In due course, the situation would become exactly reversed.
This business of footballers presenting the opposition with gifts, incidentally, seems to be a dying convention. The former Scotland manager Craig Brown once told me a wonderful story about a trip he made with the under-21s to Switzerland, and as the teams were lining up in the tunnel he realised to his horror that every Swiss player was holding a china doll dressed in the Swiss national costume. He hissed to his assistant to run into the changing-room and find 11 of something, anything, that his players could present in return. And thus it was that the Scotland players went home with an expensive china doll each, and the Switzerland players with a Scottish Football Association keyring.
Funnier still, as the players were taking their positions just before kick-off, Brown noticed one of his players - whose name he asked me not to reveal, although suffice to say it was a prominent international indeed - wandering towards the touchline in a distressed state. "What the hell are you doing?" Brown shouted. "Boss," said the player, seemingly close to tears. "I didnae get a dolly!"
All of which has taken me a long way from Moscow Dynamo and the autumn of 1945. The tour was a goodwill gesture between World War Two allies. With the Cold War yet to bite, Stalin was still good old Uncle Joe, and as the late Stanley Matthews revealed in his autobiography, "from the moment Moscow Dynamo touched down at Croydon Airport to the time they left for home, they captivated football fans the length and breadth of Great Britain. Dynamo arrived with the reputation of being a real crack side but I doubt if anyone had seen them play. Speculation about their quality and capabilities was rife and the sports writers had a field day."
Matthews played in the match against Arsenal, guesting for the home team at White Hart Lane (Highbury was still requisitioned for war use). By then, Dynamo had drawn 3-3 with Chelsea and hammered Cardiff City 10-1, so anticipation was intense. Unfortunately, a dense fog descended, but with 54,000 already inside the ground, the match went ahead in farcical conditions. Matthews recalled standing on the centre-spot and not being able to see the centre circle, let alone the goals. Indeed, when one of the Arsenal players, George Drury, was sent off late in the game (by an unashamedly partisan Russian referee), he merely wandered out to the wing and played on. Priceless.
Having beaten Arsenal 4-3, Dynamo then went to Ibrox and drew 2-2 with Rangers, so they returned unbeaten to Moscow and were made "Heroes of the Soviet Union". I'll return to that momentous Rangers game in a future column. For now, my thanks to Philip Shewry for guiding us back through the mists, or rather pea-soupers, of time.
Who I like this week...
The mandarins of the BBC, criticised for their lily-livered surrender of big sporting events to Sky, but who this week pledged to keep snooker on terrestrial telly for the next five years, and; moreover, cleared the BBC2 schedules at short notice to accommodate coverage of Tim Henman v Andy Murray in Basle, deeming it of even more significance than Ready Steady Cook! Respect, too, to Murray, who looked positively funereal as he shook Henman's hand at the end, having just hammered a rather large nail into the coffin that now symbolises his esteemed opponent's career as British No 1. And indeed to Henman, who wryly wondered afterwards whether it was a flag, a torch or a baton that he was meant to be passing to the teenager.
And who I don't
Jean Van de Velde, the former Ryder Cup golfer, who on Thursday announced his intention to do "a Michelle Wie in reverse" by asking the Ladies' Golfing Union for an entry form to next year's Women's British Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes. And Ian Poulter, who said "let's see how much the women like it". For heaven's sake. The winner of the Open Championship is deemed to be "the champion golfer of the year" and there's no reason why women shouldn't compete for such a title if they're good enough to qualify, which 99.9 per cent of them aren't. Puerile games of tit-for-tat belong in the school playground, not the men's tour.
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