When the Soviets beat Arsenal (1944)

Soviet Winners of the Shah of Iran Cup (1944)

(Translation and Research by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)

One of the brightest page in the history of Soviet football occurred in late 1945, when Moscow ‘Dynamo’ toured the UK and played matches with the top English clubs. This was a time of great legendary football exploits, but history states that this was not the first time the Soviet Union had played Britain at football.

In 1941, the Allies were concerned about Iran, as the country was awash with Nazi German agents, and there was doubt about whether Iran would stay neutral or take the side of Hitler. Between August-September, 1941, the Anglo-Soviet Operation Countenance was initiated. This saw the British (and Commonwealth) Army, together the Soviet Red Army, invade the Imperial State Iran – so as to deter any Iranian co-operation with Hitler. Resistance was quickly crushed with 800 casualties inflicted upon the Iranians. The Soviets lost 40, and the British 22 (with 50 wounded). This ‘regime change’ ensured a new government in favour of the Allies. Furthermore, all Nazi German agents and influence was completely expelled from Iran, which created the friendly conditions for an international conference to be held in Tehran between the USSR, Britain and the USA, which would take place in 1943.

In 1942, in the village of Babushkin (situated in the Moscow suburbs), a special military unit was formed to carry-out the tasks required by Soviet government in Iran. This was the 131st Motorized Rifle Regiment, composed of elite (Soviet) NKVD troops. This regiment required very fit young men to guard the communications channels through which Lend-Lease cargo was delivered to the Soviet Union, and to support public order in the capital of Iran; eventually participating in ensuring the security of the meeting between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin in Tehran. Among the soldiers and officers of this regiment, there were many athletes from different sports – including football, volleyball, wrestling, track events and weightlifting. Sports continued in Iran, in particular, the football team of the 131st Regiment held regular matches with Iranian teams. In total, in 1944-1945 there were 34 such meetings, of which our players won 30, drew two, and lost two.

Meanwhile, the new Shah of Iran – Mohammed Reza Pahlavi – did everything possible to maintain friendly relations with the Allies. In early 1944, he proposed to mark the successful course of the war for the Allies, by holding in Tehran a football tournament of three states – Iran, the USSR and Great Britain – competing for the Shah’s Cup of Iran. The proposal was accepted, preparations began.

At this time. Soviet Intelligence learned that Churchill had ordered the British representatives to win at all costs (and had secretly arranged for the local British footballers to be replaced by the famous London ‘Arsenal’ team). The soldiers of the 131st Regiment, however, when they were told this, reacted with high spirits, looking forward to the opportunity and the challenge.  Due to the threat of Arsenal, the Regiment’s leadership asked for reinforcements from Moscow. At this time during the war, the Moscow City Championships was held, which was used to discover the  best Soviet football players – by a government decision they were released from service in front-line units. Moscow was good to its word, and the team of the 131st Regiment was joined by Vsevolod Bobrov, Sergey Soloviev, Konstantin Beskov – and goalkeeper Alexei Khomich. The listed players are true legends of Soviet football, but in early 1944 the peak of glory was still ahead. For the tournament to decide the Shah’s Cup, the Command of the 131st Regiment came fully armed. Rivals, in addition to the ‘Arsenal’, were two Iranian clubs – ‘Diray’ and ‘Turan’. The competitions were held from April 27th to May 19th, 1944, with all teams forming a single group.. The tournament aroused great interest among the Iranian public. At first, Soviet footballers beat ‘Diray’ 3: 0, and then defeated ‘Turan’ 4: 1 – with the ‘Arsenal’ also confidently coping with the hosts.

The decisive match took place on May 19th, 1944. The ‘Arsenal’ from the first minutes, besieged the Soviet goal of Khomich, who had to deflect the blows of the attacking Englishmen with the sweat off his face. At the end of the first half, a penalty was awarded to ‘Arsenal’, but the Soviet goalkeeper saved the shot! Having withstood the English assault in the first half, the Soviet footballers began to respond with counterattacks in the second half, one of which allowed Konstantin Beskovn (moving down the right-wing), to get behind the ‘Arsenal’ defense, and open the scoring – 1: 0 to the USSR! The English tried everyhing to try and equalise, but the Soviet defence held on until the 90th minute – and Soviet Victory!

The Shah of Iran, who was present at the match with his wife, personally congratulated each of our players personally, and handed the captain of the Soviet team – Alexei Khomich – the Cup. The inscription on the trophy read:

‘From His Majesty Shah of Iran Muhammad Reza Pahlavi to the winner of the Imperial Football Cup between the football teams of the Allies – the Soviet Military Unit, the British Military and Iranian – ‘Dirya’ and ‘Turan’. Presented to the football team of the Red Army – the Military Unit of the Hero of the Soviet Union, Colonel Kaimanov. Tehran. 05/19/1944. Committee of Physical Education of Iran.’

Today, this prize is one of the exhibits at the Central Border Museum of the Federal Security Service of Russia. Unfortunately, there is not much information about this tournament in Iran. For example, it is not known which of the leading English players defended the colours for ‘Arsenal’ in the match with Soviet footballers. In 1944, because of the war, major international football tournaments were not held. Therefore, even if conditionally, the Shah’s Cup of Iran can be considered the ‘Champions League of 1944’.

Original Russian Language Article:

http://www.aif.ru/sport/football/liga_chempionov-1944_kak_sovetskie_futbolisty_vpervye_pobedili_arsenal

Source: The blog of Dr Adrian Chan-Wyles

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