Arsenal have played many famous games in their history. Big European nights, like the Champions League final against Barcelona in Paris. Huge matches with their rivals, like their 5-4 victory over Tottenham at White Hart Lane in 2004. Thrilling title deciders, like their matches against Manchester United in the mid 2000s. These matches were seen by billions of people all across the globe, and showed the genius of Arsenal Football Club. But one match, Arsenal vs Dynamo Moscow in 1945, was seen by absolutely nobody.
Arsenal Before the War
To understand Arsenal vs Dynamo Moscow, we must learn talk about the second World War.
Before World War 2, Arsenal (Known as “The Arsenal”) were becoming one of the biggest clubs in England, thanks to the genius of manager Herbert Chapman. Chapman had taken off the Gunners, then known as The Arsenal, in 1925. He transformed the club from a team battling relegation to one challenging for, and winning, major domestic trophies.
Chapman managed Arsenal to their first ever trophy, winning the 1930 FA Cup Final (He previously managed them in their famous 1927 defeat to Cardiff, which you can read about here). He also lead Arsenal to their first League Championships, winning the top division in 1931 and 1933. They would go on to dominate into the 1930s, but Chapman sadly passed away before he could lift any more trophies. He would pass away midway through the 1933/34 season. Joe Shaw took the reigns and guided them to another league title, before appointing George Allison as manager.
Allison made it a hat trick of league titles, winning the 1935 Division 1 Championship. He also won the FA Cup the following year. They also won the 1937/38 Championship title, and looked set to continue their period of dominance in English football. The 1930s side could have been viewed as the great Liverpool sides of the 70s and 80s, or the great Manchester United side under Sir Alex Ferguson.
But then World War 2 broke out.
Football in the War
On September 1 1939, Germany, ruled by Adolf Hitler, invaded Poland and officially began what would become World War 2. The whole of Europe plunged into war. Over 70 million people perished over the course of the next 6 years. Countless atrocities were committed. The impact of the Holocaust caused by Hitler’s and the Nazi’s were catastrophic.
Football in England was also a casualty of war. With the invasion of Poland in September, the British Government decided to cancel the national football league. Like in 1914, they needed to put the money and time into focussing on the war effort. The FA Cup was also cancelled, and it looked like football in Great Britain was to be put on the backburner.
However, the Football Association had another idea. The government implemented a 50 mile travel limit for citizens, so the football leagues were split in regions. These regional leagues were established in 1939, but the teams that competed were heavily impeded by the war.
Hundreds of footballers fought in the Second World War for their country. This meant that most, if not all teams, had to field players who had never played for the club, or fresh faced apprentices given their first taste of men’s football. The regional leagues were a time of change, and the regular ebb and flow of league football was brushed aside..
Dynamo Moscow are a Russian club based in Moscow. In the 1940s they were owned by Felix Dzerzhinsky, who was the head of the Soviet Secret Police. Because of this association with the Cheka, they became known as “Musor”, or “Garbage” by opposition fans.
Despite the derogation, they won 4 Soviet Top Leagues before the end of World War 2, including titles in 1940 and 1945 during the war. They were one of the top teams in the Soviet Union at the time. The league in Russia continued into the Second World War, they were more match fit than their British counterpart.
Dynamo had just become Champions of the Soviet Top League, pipping local rivals CDKA Moscow (Now know as CSKA Moscow) to the title by just a single point.
With the End of World War 2 being made official on September 2 1945, that meant that like come move back to some form of normality. However, The Football Associating would not begin the league season until the following year. This gave the opportunity for teams to put on some high profile friendlies.
The Tour of Great Britain
This meant it was the perfect time for the Soviet Union. Sending a team of theirs to go play the best in the world, which because they invented the game must have been in England. The Soviet government wanted to send the team to improve diplomatic relations between the two sides, with James Armour-Milne writing two years after the event saying that “much was achieved by this visit” in Russia Today. [Source]
The Dynamo team relished a trip to play their British counterparts. Being in the home of the birth of football gave English teams an “Aura of Invincibility“, and the Soviet’s were excited for their series of matches. A Russian radio commentator who joined the team on their tour had this to say about their “warm welcome”;
In England, the fatherland of football, we were met according to the English fashion: rather dryly without flags, music or flowers. Officials of the British federation coldly shook our hands and then threw us to the journalists to be torn to pieces. But we also have our customs. We don not like to talk in vain, so we decided to keep quiet for the time-being.Source – https://flashbak.com/in-1945-dynamo-moscow-sparked-chaos-at-chelsea-and-cheated-arsenal-45695/
Nobody seemed to concerned about the ability of these mysterious foreigners. British superiority was at an all time high. With the pride of being the inventors of the beautiful game clouding the English’s judgement on the football coming in from Europe.
One English reporter for the Evening Standard wrote “Don’t expect much from Dynamo. They are only beginners, blue-collars, amateurs.” [Source]. A writer for the Sunday Express added, “They are not nearly good enough to play our class of professional teams. Their players are simply a set of very earnest amateurs… I say this confidently” [Source]
The First Stops on the Tour
Dymano Moscow vs Arsenal was not the first stop on their trip around Great Britain. The Soviet side played a total of four matches on British soil. They started out with a trip to Stamford Bridge. They drew 3-3, and before the match bemused the fans and players by running out 15 minutes early for a warm up. Everyone was in shock. These foreigners wasting their energy before the match had even begun (British teams wouldn’t properly take note of these techniques until England’s destruction by Hungary in their 6-3 loss in 1953).
They followed this match up with a trip to Ninian Park. Due to the Saturday fixture being unable to be moved and the top teams unable to play, Third Division side Cardiff City were tasked with hosting the Soviets. The old Ninian Park stadium hosted the match, with over 40,000 Welshman belting out Hymns.. The Dynamo players were each awarded with their own miners lamp before the match. The Moscow had presented each of the players in all their fixtures with a bouquet of flowers as a pre match gift.
The pleasantries dissolved into demolition. Cardiff City conceded ten goals to hand the Soviets a 10-1 win away from home. You can see highlights of the match below. They are well worth the watch for any fans of history or football.
Arsenal vs Dynamo Moscow
The third match, and the subject of this article, is a match that took place at White Hart Lane. Usually the hosts of Arsenal’s fierce rivals Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal had been granted permission to play there. Their Highbury stadium has been in use during the war as an ARP (Air Raid Precaution) site, and was actually bombed in 1944. Tottenham gave Arsenal permission to play at White Hart Lane until their stadium reopened in 1946.
It was 21 November 1945 when Dynamo Moscow arrived in London to play a match against Arsenal. Over 50,000 paying fans had gathered in the stadium, waiting to see the team that had steamrolled Cardiff City. They had heard about their match against Chelsea. Chelsea Star signing Tommy Lawton had described them as “One of the fastest teams I have ever seen”.
However, seeing the team play would become the issue in Arsenal vs Dynamo Moscow.
The fog began to roll in before kick off. But this was not the misty fog you and I know today. London fog back then was a thick, yellow gas that could kill plants and blackened buildings. This came to be due to the industrious nature of London at the time, and this noxious gas killed thousands. Not until Parliament passed the Clean Air Act in 1956 did the deadly fog finally disappear.
The First Half
Arsenal were hesitant to play the match. But were encouraged by the roaring fans begging to see the European Dynamo’s in action against England’s finest.
The Dynamo players themselves did think that they were playing against England’s finest. They were led to believe they were playing an England XI, not Arsenal. This confusion wasn’t helped by the fact that Arsenal had been joined by guest players for the game. Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortenson joined the team for the match, among others. The pair would later star for Blackpool in the 1953 FA Cup final. It became known as “The Matthews Final”, despite Mortensen’s hat trick.
The game kicked off as normal, but neither players, referees nor fans could see much at all. The referee for the match was M. Nikolay Latyshev, a Russian referee who could not speak a word of English. This became a problem, because he could not communicate with his English assistants, who could not speak a word of Russian between them.
The Soviet team took the lead within 33 seconds. The game did not settle from then on. Arsenal scored three goals, going into half time of Arsenal vs Dynamo Moscow with a 3-2 lead. Due to the foggy conditions and lack of referee coordination, both teams took it upon themselves to pull all the dirty tricks they could. In the first half, Arsenal players put in some heavy lunging tackles. The officials missed these, due to the thick fog.
However, the real shocking acts were to happen in the second half.
The Second Half
Both teams came out for the second half kicked off as normal. The game carried on for 20 minutes before Arsenal suspected something fishy might be going on. Dynamo Moscow made a substitution early in the half, but players were quick to realise that nobody had come off! Dynamo were playing with 12 men for some say 20 minutes (other says it could have been as high as 15 players!). The referee ordered the extra man to leave the field. However, he failed to notice that Arsenal player George Drury. He had been sent off, had snuck back onto the pitch the make it 11 vs 11.
Dynamo eventually won the game 4-3, with heavy accusation of bias toward them coming from the Arsenal players. Arsenal captain Cliff Basin had some choice words about the referee after full time;
So long as the Dynamos got the ball in the net, even if they carried it there, the referee was going to award them a goal.Cliff Basin, Arsenal Captain
Dyanmo Moscow would leave Britain undefeated, holding Rangers to a 2-2 draw in Glasgow the following week. Their tour would be lauded as success. the British public became enamoured with these foreign players playing fast, electric football. But it would not be for another decade before Britain woke up to the revolutionary ways of European football. It didn’t change until they would face Hungary in the “Match of the Century”. Keep an eye out for my article on that match.
Arsenal vs Dynamo Moscow would go down as one of the strangest matches in football history