USSR Class A 1952

With the Soviet national team causing huge disappointment at the 1952 Olympics, Sasha Goryunov explains how the fallout had huge ramifications for the Soviet league

The long-term significance
This was a year of upheaval for Soviet football. After a hiatus of 17 years the national side took to the field again and participated in its first ever official international tournament, the 1952 Olympics. In losing to Tito’s Yugoslavia in the first round, the team failed in both sporting and political terms with grave consequences for the reigning champions, CDSA. The famous “Lieutenants’ Team” had dominated post-war USSR football, with five titles in seven years, but was held responsible for what happened in Helsinki and disbanded. This opened the door for Spartak Moscow, who went on to dominate the domestic scene for the next dozen years.

Story of the season
The first half of 1952 was dedicated to the Soviet side’s Olympic preparations, which led to much confusion in the scheduling. Finally, an unofficial spring/summer club tournament was organised by the Committee for Physical Culture and Sport. At the same time the national team, posing as the City of Moscow and CDSA, played a series of friendlies with mixed results. After the start date was moved six times, the USSR championship kicked off on July 8 with only the clubs that had not sent players to the Olympics (and Torpedo). Dinamo Leningrad took an early lead before the other clubs joined in early August. CDSA won their first three games but then failed to appear at a packed Stalinets stadium on August 18 to face Dinamo Kiev. The team had been disbanded that morning for letting their country down, despite providing only five of the 20 players in the squad and head coach Boris Arkadiev. With Vasily Sokolov and Abram Dangulov in charge and playing the short passing game introduced by the latter in the late 1940s, Spartak Moscow romped to the title, winning nine and drawing two of their first 11 matches. The bottom three went down but Lokomotiv were not among them, saved by Arkadiev’s arrival midway through the season. Spartak also reached the Soviet cup final, losing to a last-minute goal by Torpedo’s Valentin Petrov.

For the record books
This year saw the lowest average attendance of all the 54 Soviet championships. It was also the shortest post-war season. The new format was abandoned as even Moscow (where all except two of the games had been played) could not provide the necessary facilities and equipment for so many clubs. The players suffered from homesickness and slumping gate receipts severely affected the provincial clubs’ finances. This year 17,351 teams competed for the Soviet cup.

Same place today
Nine of the 14 clubs that finished this season play in the top flights of their respective post-Soviet leagues, seven of them having been crowned champions since 1991. The CDSA football section was re-formed in 1954 but it took the club 50 years to return to the pinnacle of domestic football as CSKA.

Moved furthest away
Within a month of Joseph Stalin’s death on March 5, 1953, his son Vasily, the patron of the VVS (air force) sports society, fell from grace, and the club was dissolved before the following season started. MVO (the Moscow military district team formerly representing Kalinin) was disbanded six games into the new season. Torpedo Moscow disintegrated in the 1990s and there are now three lower division clubs which can be traced back to the original side. The latest reincarnation of Dinamo Leningrad are in the Russian second tier.

Went on to greater things
Igor Netto The Spartak midfielder played a total of 18 seasons for the club, winning five league titles and three cups. He led the USSR to victory at the 1956 Olympics and 1960 European Championship. Lev Yashin Dinamo Moscow’s goalkeeper (right) failed to impress this season but established himself in 1953 and went on to become the greatest keeper of all time. Viktor Maslov The Torpedo head coach achieved further success with the Moscow club, Dinamo Kiev and Ararat Yerevan. At Dinamo in the 1960s he introduced the pressing game, one of football’s key developments.

Disappearing from view
Alexei Khomich “The Tiger” sustained a serious injury in training with the USSR team in spring and played only two further matches for Dinamo Moscow, seeing out his career in Minsk before retiring in 1955. Vsevolod Bobrov The celebrated forward (right) sustained a career-ending knee injury playing for Spartak in a friendly against Honved in August 1953. He still led the Soviets to their inaugural ice hockey World and Olympic titles in 1954 and 1956. Stalino, Leningrad, Kalinin and Kuybyshev Place names for cities now known as Donetsk, St Petersburg, Tver and Samara.

From WSC 286 December 2010