Football As A Weapon – The Dynamo Story

Football. It was against everything for which the newly established government stood, a means of reinforcing the already prevalent class divide which they so detested. How, then, did football stay in Russia?  Lenin and his cabinet had shown their ruthlessness in ruling often, and so could easily have demolished this, too. But the masses loved it, and they were what had won them power.  So it stayed, and football soon became one of the most potent weapons in the Soviet armory. And of all the teams founded across the vastness of the Soviet Union, none took on such a literal meaning to the word “weapon” as Dynamo Moscow.

Born six years after the 1917 Revolution which wrote yet another chapter into the illustrious and extraordinary tapestry that is Russian history, Dynamo immediately harboured a connection to the Soviet government. They were overseen initially by Felix Dzerzhinsky, or ‘Iron Felix’, as he is more commonly known, then head of the Cheka. Such an association makes one’s obsession with Manchester United delegates on the FA board seem highly trivial. Nothing was more feared in the U.S.S.R than the Cheka, or K.G.B, and thus nothing was so feared on the pitch as Dynamo Moscow.

Lavrenty Beria, KGB head and Honorary President of Dynamo Moscow
Lavrenty Beria, KGB head and Honorary President of Dynamo Moscow

Their links with the Secret Police were never as sinister or obvious as they became in the early 1930’s. The newly renamed Spartak Moscow, under the guidance of Nikolai Starostin, former captain of the Soviet football and hockey sides, began to challenge Dynamo. Dynamo’s new chief, Lavrenty Beria, was head of the KGB, and was not at all fond of Starostin. They had a heated rivalry during Beria’s short career, and it carried on into their presidencies also.  Spartak were aptly named after the hero of the masses Spartacus, as the majority of the “working class” in Moscow supported them and saw them as the people’s team, rather than Dynamo, ruled by the “government of the people”.

This rivalry reached it’s apex in 1939, when the all-conquering Spartak met Dynamo in the Russian Cup semi-final. Spartak came out the victors, but the match was stricken from the records by Beria and rescheduled for a later date, at which time they beat Dynamo – again. Beria’s rage was said to be unquenchable. If it wasn’t for the public standing of Starostin, Beria would surely have had him imprisoned or killed. He would have to wait for an opportunity in which the public would not have time to react with outrage.

The opportunity arose during the Second World War, and Beria accused Starostin of attempting to kill Stalin. The case was dropped, but Starostin was still sentenced to ten years of hard labour in a Gulag for “lauding bourgeois sport”, an incredibly hypocritical statement from the president of a football club and former player. Starostin’s time in the Gulag was apparently nowhere near as dreadful as others’ due to his celebrity, but nonetheless the ability of Dynamo to flex their political muscle at will was a frightening prospect.

This muscle was continuously growing. A relatively unsuccessful spell followed the end of the war, and this problem was addressed by Stalin himself in 1953. CSKA Moscow (Then CDKA), the “Red Army” team, faced a Yugoslav side whose government were moving towards a different style of Communist regime under Josef Tito. Stalin wanted a side consisting mainly of CDKA players to give the fans a good showing, but they ended up losing in Helsinki. Stalin, in his fury, made the decision to disband CDKA and move their players to Dynamo to become “real soldiers”.

Miraculously, Dynamo’s form drastically improved from then on. With their two rivals stripped bare or disbanded entirely, Dynamo won four of the next six Soviet leagues, bringing their total up to nine, compared to Spartak’s seven. While this tally has now been surpassed by Dynamo Kiev and Spartak, it wouldn’t be hyperbolic to suggest that it was one of the biggest injustices in football history.

The ill-gained success gathered by Dynamo was to be short lived, however. After their victorious spell in the latter half of the 50’s, Dynamo slipped away fantastically. They have only won the league twice since, the last time being in 1976. Now, this side who was graced by the likes of the legendary Lev Yashin, Vladimir Kesarev and Konstantin Beskov, giants of the Russian game, have nothing to cheer about than memories. It is a shame that rather than becoming one of the great sides through fair means, Dynamo are destined to be remembered for the KGB link, referred to as the Musor (Police Scum) rather than The Great And Mighty.

The clubs motto – Vlast’ v Dvizhenii – meaning Power in Motion, rather neatly sums up Dynamo. It was thought up by Maxim Gorky, the famous Russian poet, as the motto for a structure in the Soviet Union which would offer amenities for members of the public to compete physically in over 45 separate disciplines. But it has ended up as a statement of the club’s once overwhelming might in every sense of the word, which dwindled, and has yet to return.

Written by Dinesh V

Co-founder of Soccersouls. Living a start-up life 24/7
Follow @dineshintwit

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