The story behind the photo: a tiger with a camera

Russian and Soviet sports journalism has had an eventful history, especially when it comes to football. In this new column we will be presenting the more famous sports and football snaps and introducing the photographers who took them.
Share 27 April 2016
Viktor Shandrin/TASS photo archive
Football goalkeepers Aleksey Khomich and Lev Yashin. Moscow, 1970

TASS photo reporter Viktor Shandrin caught the two Soviet goalkeeping legends together on camera: Lev Yashin (right) and Aleksey Khomich (left). But whilst Yashin’s name is familiar even to those who never cared for football, few people have heard of Khomich.  

Aleksey Khomich was the first Soviet goalkeeper known and loved internationally, as well as in the Soviet Union. During FC Dinamo’s glorious 1945 English tour, Khomich so impressed the English fans they nicknamed him “Tiger” for his fearlessness and his jumping prowess.  

Khomich was surrounded with legends during his lifetime, and some of them apparently were true. He admitted to having used his 12-month-old sister as a goal crossbar when his parents were out of the house. He would wrap her in a blanket and place along the edge of an imagined goal. "The part where her little arm was, that’s where it was impossible for me to score,” he said in an interview. He also intimated he had used some “secret glue,” putting it on his gloves so the football would stick to them.  

When his football career ended, Khomich became a photo journalist. He was a staff photo reporter for the Football weekly. His knowledge of the fine points of the game, coupled with his connections in the world of football, was a great help in his work. Khomich’s crouching silhouette behind the goal became a staple of football games in those years.

But Khomich was prone to getting too excited about the game to catch the right moment to shoot. Tiger would rush to and fro behind the goal, seized with emotion, screaming advice, instructing the goalie how to play. Editor-in-chief of the Football&Hockey weekly Lev Filatov recalled: “Aleksey Petrovich, you were standing by the goal where two scores were made. Where are the photos?” Khomich: “How could they miss those goals!? I told that cat… I yelled at him…”  

Even behind the goal Khomich contrived to catch some limelight during one of the most tragic moments in Soviet football history. It was on 17 April 1971, when Moscow’s CSKA played Yerevan’s Ararat. The score was 0-0 when the army team’s goalie Leonid Shmutz, about to throw the football in by hand, accidentally rolled it into his own goal. So, Ararat won 1-0. Khomich, who was a fixture behind the goal, was supposed to take a snap of that moment. He did take a few photos, but no one has ever seen them. Khomich felt for his colleague and, for the sake of solidarity, promised him he would never release those photos into the public domain.

Football was a large part of Khomich’s life, both as goalie and photographer. His headstone portrays Tiger with his camera, crouching behind the goal. 

Maria Vashchuk