The media fuelled a frenzy of interest in the first visit by a top team from Britain’s communist ally the Soviet Union, the people who had seen off Hitler on the Eastern Front.
Dynamo Moscow were their football ambassadors and a few days before the game at the Bridge on 13 November 1945, an open practice session was arranged at White City stadium. ‘A tea had been prepared of chicken sandwiches and chocolate meringues,’ noted one writer, ‘and though the Russians had been informed this was ready, they left immediately after their game.’ The team’s inscrutable female translator became the prototype for Cold War James Bond characters for years to come.
Needless to say, it was Chelsea vice-president AV Alexander who shook hands with both sets of players before the game, somehow fighting his way through the dense crowd hugging the touchline. So many people had climbed the stadium structures for a vantage point that two men fell through the roof of the grandstand, one of them a soldier. ‘Presumably he was a Commando,’ suggested the Nottingham Evening Post, ‘because he appeared to suffer no discomfort from the fall, but sat up enjoying the play as much as anybody.’
So many trespassers swamped and damaged surrounding property that the event was, according to law, a riot.
The game was broadcast live across the whole of Russia. Moscow Radio Network had spent £92 on a 23-minute international phone call to Birrell in order to fill in their listeners on the qualities of the Chelsea team to face the Soviets’ sporting flagship, as well as details of the London club’s history. The game at Stamford Bridge finished 3-3, but the rest of the Dynamos’ tour was more successful – in propaganda as well as sporting terms.
On their return home the players were awarded £1,000 each by the authorities, the skipper Semichastny pocketing an additional £200. The allowance for their coach, Yakushkin, was £1,500. Many of those involved, including Semichastny and goalkeeper ‘Tiger’ Khomich, were accorded the state honour ‘Master of Sport.’
All the Chelsea players had to show for their involvement was a posy of flowers, presented to each of them by their opponents, and indelible memories of an incredible occasion.