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Dinamo Teach Britain A Lesson, 1945

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


Britain failed to learn from Dinamo Moscow's innovative tactical methods during their four-game successful tour of 1945. Ben Lyttleton explains why it took over eight years for the lessons to make their impact. 
When Dinamo Moscow came to Britain in October 1945, they played four games - beating Cardiff and Arsenal and drawing with Chelsea and Rangers - watched by a total of 270,000 fans. But that does not tell the tale of a tour which, for all the public displays of diplomatic goodwill, was almost ruined.
Football as an affordable entertainment was enjoying its post-War boom, but the staggering crowds also showed there was a desire to see the Russians who were exotic and still considered a trusted ally.
The warmth of feeling didn't last long. The British believed football was a physical game, and were quite happy to charge opponents off the ball with their shoulders. The Russians considered that to be brutality, but were perplexed that the obstruction that was part of their game was so frowned up in Britain. Conflict ensued, which even led to the suggestion that Dinamo had sneaked an extra player onto the pitch in foggy conditions against Rangers.
George Orwell wrote in the Tribune that sport was "an unfailing source of ill-will", and cautioned against a reciprocal tour. The ill-will was just as bad in Moscow, where in 1947 a musical comedy entitled '19-9' (the goals for and against) was produced depicting the Dinamo team as incorruptible socialist heroes bravely battling the wiles of the corrupt capitalists.
But the tour was a success. Cardiff's Arthur Lever insisted that, for all the misunderstandings over rules, the tour "lifted everybody" in war-weary Britain - and that despite the fact his side were beaten 10-1. At their farewell dinner, meanwhile, the Russians expressed both appreciation for the warmth of the reception they had received, and admiration of London transport and the traditional Scottish patterned tartan ties.
There was much food for thought for those alive to the tactical side of the game. Dinamo manager Mikhail Yakushin insisted his side played in the socialist way, in which "the principle of collective play is the guiding one". What that meant in practice was that his players switched positions during games, creating a fluid style of play that at times left British opponents confused: for a centre-forward to drop deep was a new thing. A shocked British press reported that he admitted using a blackboard to outline tactical ploys.
Nonetheless, the British were slow to learn. They had invented the game after all, and still assumed their unsubtle physicality was the 'right' way to play. Ralph Finn, in his history of Chelsea, wrote that Dinamo "left these shores and were forgotten", and by and large he was right.
Still, the seed was sown, and when Hungary, playing similar 'socialist football' humiliated England at Wembley in 1953 and again in Budapest six months later, the message was finally received. As England captain Billy Wright said, "We totally underestimated the advances the rest of the world had made." It was a lesson painfully learned.

Ben Lyttleton, January 2004

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