The thriller of why the Soviet Union’s biggest participant, Eduard Streltsov, was despatched to the gulag as an alternative of to a gathering with Pelé on the 1958 World Cup.
A heat, clear morning, July 23, 1997. An previous man in a slack grey go well with walks via the gates of the Moscow cemetery. This is likely one of the mundane duties the Torpedo membership has him carry out, however he doesn’t object. He is aware of that clearing the flowers from the grave a day after the memorial service the membership holds on the anniversary of Eduard Streltsov’s demise is a process his youthful colleagues would regard as an honor. Streltsov, in any case, was one of many legends of Torpedo, maybe the best Soviet participant ever.
The previous man turns into contemplative, a contact maudlin, as he all the time does when reflecting on these he has recognized. Nearing the grave, he pulls himself collectively, blinking away tears. As his imaginative and prescient clears he sees, kneeling by the gravestone, a lady in a pale summer time coat. Her again is to him, however he can see she is weeping. She appears to sense his presence and abruptly stands, straightens her coat, glances over her shoulder, and walks briskly away.
The previous man realizes with a begin that she shouldn’t be some solitary mourner, not simply one other former Streltsov lover (and let’s be trustworthy, there have been loads of them), however her—Mariana Lebedeva. He makes to comply with her, however she has an excessive amount of of a begin. As she reaches the birches that flank the cemetery gate, she is gone and together with her maybe the final probability of fixing Soviet soccer’s biggest thriller.
Close to Tarasovka on the north fringe of Moscow stands a dacha as soon as owned by Eduard Karakhanov, a military officer. On the night of Might 25, 1958, he hosted a celebration there. One of many visitors was Eduard Streltsov, who appeared poised to grow to be one of many nice stars of the world recreation.
A fortnight later, on the opening day of the World Cup, the united states drew 2-2 with England. Streltsov, although, wasn’t there. The finals can be dominated by Brazil and by the rising skills of the 17-year-previous Pelé. In Russia they consider it might have been Streltsov’s event, however he was in jail, awaiting trial for the rape of Mariana Lebedeva.
The 1950s had been a bleak time for Soviet soccer. After the Soviets misplaced to Yugoslavia on the 1952 Olympic Video games, Stalin disbanded CDSA, the membership whose gamers made up the majority of the squad, “for damaging the prestige of the Soviet state.” Three gamers—Konstantin Krizhevsky, Anatoly Bashashkin, and Konstantin Beskov—have been suspended for all times.
Stalin’s demise in March 1953 eased the strain, CDSA have been reformed as CSKA, and all three gamers have been capable of resume their careers. However soccer in the united states was nonetheless a precarious enterprise. How, in any case, might Soviet gamers carry out at main tournaments figuring out the potential penalties of defeat?
It was into that world that Eduard Streltsov arrived. He was charismatic, good wanting, gifted, and apparently resistant to such fears. In April 1954 he was chosen for the primary staff at Torpedo Moscow—the membership based mostly on the ZIL automotive plant—turning into, on the age of 16 years, eight months, and 24 days, the youngest objective scorer within the historical past of the Soviet league. The next season, he completed because the league’s prime scorer and earned a name-up for the united states’s pleasant towards Sweden in Stockholm. He scored 3 times in a 6-zero win, the primary participant to attain a hat trick in his debut for the united states. Three years later, with out him, USSR misplaced 2-zero to Sweden within the World Cup quarterfinal.
Streltsov’s expertise turned apparent through the 1956 Olympics, notably within the semifinal towards Bulgaria. The Soviets’ proper again Nikolai Tishehenko broke a collarbone, had the damage set in plaster, and returned to the sector, however he might do little aside from trot round on the best flank making an attempt to keep away from confrontation. It was nonetheless goalless at 90 minutes, however Bulgaria took the lead by means of Ivan Kolev early in additional time. By then, Valentin Ivanov was additionally hampered by damage, leaving the united states successfully right down to 9 males. With eight minutes to go, although, Streltsov equalized. 4 minutes later, he laid on the winner for Boris Tatushin.
Streltsov missed the ultimate towards Yugoslavia, although, as a result of the united states coach Gavriil Kachalin favored his strike pairing to play collectively at membership degree. Streltsov’s teammate at Torpedo, Ivanov, was injured, so Kachalin changed Streltsov with Nikita Simonyan. Anatoly Ilyin scored the one objective of the sport, giving the united states their first success in worldwide soccer.
Recognizing Streltsov’s contribution, Simonyan provided him his medal. Streltsov refused. “He said to me,” Simonyan recalled, “‘Nikita, I will win many other trophies.’” Streltsov did achieve some reward, as each member of the squad was awarded the Merited Grasp of Sport diploma (ZMS), the very best honor that might be bestowed on a Soviet sportsman, which assured a better wage.
A pure goal for opposition defenders, Streltsov started to gather bookings as he took his retribution. Then, on April 11, 1957, in a league recreation between Torpedo and Spartak Minsk, provoked by a collection of dangerous challenges, he was despatched off for the primary time in his profession, having lunged two-footed, studs up, at Vyacheslav Artemiev. Axel Vartanyan, the good historian of Soviet soccer, has studied articles in newspapers and the official referees’ reviews and believes Streltsov was extra sinned towards than sinner. “During games he was regularly kicked,” he stated. “There were dirty tricks against him and he was tackled from behind, but as a rule he would not react. Sometimes he did get wound up and he did react, but he would always do it openly—walk up to his opponent and hit them, no dirty tricks.”
Regardless of the occasional disciplinary drawback, Streltsov remained a formidable participant. He married in June 1957 and celebrated by hitting 31 objectives in 22 video games between July 21 and October 26. The next month, although, he and Ivanov missed a practice from Moscow sure for the East German metropolis of Leipzig, the place the united states have been to play a World Cup qualifying playoff towards Poland. They caught up with the squad solely after the railway minister ordered that the practice be stopped.
That incident may need been forgotten, notably as Streltsov scored in a 2-zero win, however then in January he was concerned in a brawl with police close to the Dinamo metro station. He was convicted of “minor hooliganism” and sentenced to 3 days in jail. The All-Union Committee of Bodily Tradition (VSFK) met on February four and, on the request of each Torpedo and the united states nationwide aspect, stripped him of his ZMS. He was additionally withdrawn from the united states squad. He took his place in an preliminary 40-man get together for the World Cup solely after making a public apology.
Preparations for Sweden started with that coaching camp at Tarasovka. On the ultimate night time, Streltsov, Tatushin, and one other group-mate, Mikhail Ogonkov, left the camp for the fateful celebration on the dacha owned by Karakhonov, who had just lately returned from army service within the Far East. On the best way, they have been launched to 2 ladies—the 20-year-previous Marina Lebedeva and her pal Tamara Timkina.
“Streltsov never turned up at the camp next morning,” Simonyan stated. “There were rumors that something had gone on, then the police came. They told us what had happened. We had been in the training camp for a long time, and that morning we were going home.”
Lebedeva despatched a quick letter to the Moscow public prosecutor: “On 25 May 1958,” it learn, “in a dacha next to the school in the village of Pravda, I was raped by Streltsov Eduard. I ask that he be brought to justice.” Timkina wrote an identical letter, accusing Ogonkov. Ogonkov and Tatushin have been picked up later that day. By mid-afternoon all three males have been being held on the Butyrka jail in Moscow. When information of the arrest broke, 100,000 staff on the ZIL manufacturing unit threatened to march in protest, however their demonstration was referred to as off when it was revealed that Streltsov had confessed.
On Might 27, the VSFK imposed on Streltsov a lifetime ban from soccer. The identical day, Timkina withdrew her accusation, and Ogonkov and Tatushin have been launched the next morning. On Might 30, Marina Lebedeva despatched one other letter to the general public prosecutor. “I ask that the criminal proceedings against Streltsov Eduard Anatoliyevich be stopped, because I forgive him,” she wrote. Then she had one other change of coronary heart and withdrew the second letter. A day later, the united states’s remaining 21-man World Cup squad was delivered to FIFA. Ogonkov and Tatushin weren’t on the listing; neither was Streltsov.
Streltsov’s case was delivered to courtroom, and on July 24, three days after his 21st birthday, he was convicted and sentenced to 12 years within the gulag.
Ever since, there have been questions on Streltsov’s guilt. His confession is just not the conclusive proof it might sound, as a result of it turned obvious that he made his assertion solely after being advised he might go to the World Cup if he admitted his guilt. Vartanyan, the historian, believes there had been a marketing campaign towards Streltsov for over a yr earlier than the incident at Karakhanov’s dacha.
Streltsov was definitely not a mannequin citizen. That he drank is indeniable. Ivanov, three years his senior, appears obsessed by his former teammate’s demise from throat most cancers in 1990, when he was solely 53. “In life he was too good and kind,” he stated. “It was the fans who killed him. Everybody wanted to drink with him, and he got more and more fans. He was playing for the factory team, and they would come after work and say, ‘Let’s drink.’”
He was additionally a womanizer. That may in all probability not have been an issue if not for the daughter of the Tradition Minister Yekaterina Furtseva, the one lady ever to develop into a member of the Politburo. Svetlana Furtseva, at 16, was apparently besotted with Streltsov. Her mom, a favourite of Khrushchev, met Streltsov early in 1957 at a reception on the Kremlin to have fun the Olympic victory. She raised the thought of marriage to her daughter, to which he replied, “I will not marry her. I already have a fiancée.” As if that weren’t humiliating sufficient, he was later heard to inform a pal (relying on which account you consider) both “I would never marry that monkey,” or “I would rather be hanged than marry such a girl.” From then, if the conspiracy theorists are to be believed, his card was marked.
Definitely the response to his sending-off in Odessa that April seems extreme. The headline in Sovetsky Sport learn: “This is not a hero.” A number of letters have been printed, supposedly from members of the proletariat, condemning Streltsov for instance of the evils of Western imperialism. A number of days after the Odessa match, Streltsov was referred to as earlier than the Part of Soviet Soccer (SFS) and his ZMS withdrawn. On April 20, although, the choice was rescinded, and Streltsov was as an alternative banned for 3 video games.
The SFS by no means warmed to him. An inner memo even criticized the timing of his wedding ceremony. “We found out before the important friendly against Romania that he had married,” it learn. “This shows how weak the educational work at Torpedo is.” Communist Social gathering archives equally reveal mistrust. Having attracted the curiosity of golf equipment in France and Sweden following excursions with Torpedo, Streltsov was marked down as a potential defector.
After which there’s the matter of why Karakhanov invited the gamers to his dacha. Whereas it’s potential that he simply appreciated the thought of getting three footballers at his get together, there are those that see one thing extra sinister in his invitation. It’s suspiciously handy, they are saying, that Karakhanov had returned from serving within the Far East solely days earlier.
All that’s circumstantial. Extra concrete proof of a plot towards Streltsov comes from an interview Kachalin gave to the historian Vartanyan. “When I tried to help Streltsov,” he stated, “I was told by police that Khrushchev himself had been informed about the case. I then dashed to a regional Communist Party committee headquarters and asked the first secretary to suspend the case until the end of the World Cup. I was told that nothing could be done, and they pointed meaningfully upward. I understood then that it was the end. I heard that Furtseva had it in for Streltsov, but who knows exactly what happened?”
What is for certain is that one thing did. “They went to the dacha,” Ivanov stated. “It’s a dark story. Who raped whom, it’s hard to say. I think if a girl goes to the suburbs for a night … then a guy is waiting for her as it were … and she is the same … but I don’t believe it was a setup, no. Maybe it was the host of the dacha. I don’t know who raped her, but she said it was Streltsov. It’s a dark story.”
Greater than half a century on, not one of the gamers to whom I spoke have been ready categorically to defend their teammate. “What happened with Streltsov you cannot explain,” Simonyan stated. “It is a mysterious thing. He wrote to his mother saying he was taking the blame for someone else. It was the system that punished him. I don’t know for sure if there was a rape on the part of Streltsov, but he and the girl slept together.” He shrugged. “He was young, a bachelor, unmarried … ”
Truly, Streltsov had married lower than a yr earlier. Maybe he didn’t take his vows notably significantly; maybe Simonyan’s reminiscence is defective. On the finish of our interview, Simonyan reached right into a drawer in his desk and took out a guide. He opened it, eliminated a photograph, and and not using a phrase, handed it to me. The print confirmed 4 pictures. Two have been of a darkish-haired younger lady—Marina Lebedeva. In a single, she was mendacity on what appeared to be a hospital mattress, apparently asleep, her eyes ringed with bruises. The opposite two have been of Streltsov. His face, captured in profile, was streaked from nostril to cheekbone with three parallel scratches.
Quickly after that Might 1958 night time, the Soviet machine swept into motion towards Streltsov. In June, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported an incident that had taken place on November eight the earlier yr, a fortnight earlier than Streltsov and Ivanov had missed the practice to Leipzig. “He burst into a flat that was unknown to him,” the article learn. “He scared those who were sleeping in it and began furiously to smash plates and glasses.”
Streltsov’s pal Galina Chupalenkova, although, gave a fairly totally different account. She stated that someone got here as much as Streltsov and smacked him within the face. Streltsov gave chase and ended up operating right into a basement flat. Though there was a disturbance, nothing was damaged, and he reached an out-of-courtroom compensation settlement with the occupants.
Streltsov’s historical past was quietly erased. An official soccer listing from 1959 lists the 5 objectives he scored for Torpedo in 1958 as having been “scored by other players.” His half within the 1956 Olympic squad was utterly expunged. “Streltsov,” Pravda claimed, “is less than a primitive man. His incompetence in the simplest matters provoked amusement and smiles among his friends in the team. He openly thought that the city of Sochi”—a Black Sea resort the place Soviet golf equipment typically held their preseason coaching—“was on the Caspian Sea. He thinks that seawater is only salty because herring swim in it.” That jibe may need been extra convincing if it weren’t lifted straight from a Chekhov brief story.
Streltsov’s first months within the gulag at Lesnoy have been robust, and he seems to have struggled together with his sudden fall from grace. An 18-year-previous thug nicknamed Repeinik taunted him at each alternative. Earlier than lengthy, Streltsov snapped and attacked Repeinik—who, it later emerged, was an informer. The opposite prisoners held a gathering within the camp boiler room and determined that Streltsov needed to be killed. He was badly crushed—the jail report says with “either with an iron bar or the heel of a shoe”—however survived.
After his restoration, Streltsov was moved to a different camp. Progressively life turned simpler. “At Torpedo we never forgot about him while he was in prison,” stated his teammate Viktor Shustikov. “Our coaches sometimes visited him, and once I drove his mother to see him after he had been moved to a camp at Tula. We would always tell him about Torpedo, about the team.”
Streltsov was launched in 1963 after serving 5 years of his 12-year sentence. Prevented from returning to prime-degree soccer by the VSFK’s ban, he started enjoying for ZIL’s Division of Technical Supervision (OTK) within the manufacturing unit league. Not surprisingly, they gained all 11 of their video games that season, and Streltsov started to be sneaked into necessary fixtures.
A petition signed by 1,000 manufacturing unit staff was despatched to Leonid Brezhnev, then the Secretary of the Communist Celebration, asking him to rescind Streltsov’s suspension. The Ideological Part of the Celebration Central Committee, although, opposed the transfer. “In contravention of the suspension,” they wrote, “the heads of the factory sports organizations have twice—in May and June 1963—let Streltsov play for Torpedo’s reserve team… and once in a friendly match in Gorki [now Nizhniy Novgorod]. Before the match in Gorki it was deliberately announced on the public address system at the stadium that Streltsov would play. When the directors of the Central Council of the Sports Societies Union tried to stop him, the majority of spectators chanted ‘Streltsov, to the field,’ until it was decided to let him play to avoid crowd trouble. This was all done to publicize Streltsov and have him readmitted into the first team. We therefore propose that the request to lift the ban on Streltsov be rejected.” Brezhnev marked the letter “Agreed.” After ousting Khrushchev in October 1964, nevertheless, he sanctioned Streltsov’s return.
“He didn’t play for a year after being in prison,” Shustikov recalled. “He worked for the factory and played for a factory team. But sometimes we would take him to away matches. The club management was concerned that the fans would boo him for what he had done, but on the contrary, I remember something that happened when we took him to a game in Kharkiv. He sat in the stand, and the public went mad insisting we should field him. After the match, to mark the occasion, they drew a circle in chalk around the chair in which he had sat.”
Ivanov equally remembered the heat with which Streltsov was greeted. “After he returned to Torpedo, we traveled, and in every town we met somebody who had been in prison with him,” he stated. “That was another thing that killed him. They all wanted to drink with him. That is why he retired a little earlier than the rest of us.”
That first season again was spectacular. Jail hadn’t modified Streltsov. “It only made him bolder,” stated Ivanov. “He still had his health, and talent is talent. He was the best player in the USSR.” Torpedo misplaced solely two video games in that 1965 season and claimed the second league title of their historical past.
Streltsov returned to the nationwide group, scoring 25 objectives in 38 video games, and in each 1967 and 1968 he was named Soviet Participant of the Yr. He added a Soviet Cup winners’ medal in 1968. It won’t have been the extent of success of which he had boasted to Simonyan in 1956, however after dropping seven years of his profession it was exceptional sufficient.
It isn’t troublesome to see why Russian soccer is so drawn to a expertise who withstood state oppression and emerged triumphant. Definitely that’s how the historian Vartanyan views him—as an excellent martyr.
The issue, in fact, is that that interpretation requires him, regardless of the scratches, to be harmless. And solely Eduard Streltsov and Marina Lebedeva will ever know the reality of that.