The Stalingrad Match

The Stalingrad Match
The 75th anniversary of the legendary match. Myths and facts
The Victory Day, 9 May 2018 will see the Russian Cup final at the Volgograd Arena, a 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ stadium. 75 years ago, in May 1943, after the Battle of Stalingrad, the war-ravaged city hosted football matches too. Dynamo hosted the game with Spartak Moscow (1:0). The match became history as the "Match on the ruins of Stalingrad".

A lot is written on the game of 2 May 1943. Apart from mass media coverage, there are memoirs of the players, and in 2008, the novel about this game called Moscow - Stalingrad by Dmitry Rogachev received the Grand Prix in literature of the Writers' Union. The wartime events acquired a mythical quality and became associated with legends. once again summarized the myths and facts about that match.
What is the right name for the match?
The Dynamo-Spartak Moscow match went down in history as the "Match on the ruins of Stalingrad". However, the today's historiographers reject this term and contend that it would be more correct to call it the "Match among the ruins".

The State Historical and Memorial Preserve The Battle of Stalingrad exposition and exhibition department head Svetlana Argastseva believes that the accepted name is wrong and explains why:

"The teams did not play football on the ruins, they played in the city, a major part of which was destroyed. Stalingrad was not completely ruined by the War. There are still pre-War constructions in the city south today. The Nazi German army understood that even if they took the city, they would still have to spend the winter on the Volga River. The Germans deliberately did not bomb the southern part of Stalingrad as intensely as they did in the central and the northern parts. That is why 'among the ruins' is a more historically accurate term."
Did they drop the ball from the plane?
The main legend about the "Match among the ruins of Stalingrad" is the circumstances of the game commencement. They wanted to bring football back to the city in the most spectacular way ever by dropping the ball down from a jet fighter. It is alleged that the ball hit a hummock and bounced away somewhere beyond the stadium.1

Klim Konyakhin helped us establish the truth. He is one of the few remaining eyewitnesses to that game and he still lives in Volgograd.

"The jet fighter caused panic among the people who had survived air raids for almost 6 months," he says. "Learned from war experience, they scattered around and dropped onto the ground. They actually did drop the ball from the jet fighter, but it did not even fall on the stadium territory. Finally, the game started 20 minutes later than scheduled. It was considered inappropriate to cover this story during the Soviet era."
Where did the teams play?
Before the war affected Stalingrad, the USSR Cup and the Soviet Top League matches were hosted by three stadiums: the Traktor, the Dynamo and the Krasny Oktyabr. During the Battle of Stalingrad, these arenas were destroyed completely. The only suitable venue for the game was Beketovka, which was the southern outskirts of the city at the time. "The 64th Army led by General M.S. Shumilov held their positions there so well that the Germans were unable to reach the city blocks, the Lysaya Gora (Bald Mountain) saw terrible action. This is the same strategic height as the Mamayev Kurgan," recounts Svetlana Argastseva. "About 10 km far from the Lysaya Gora, there used to be the Azot stadium which belonged to the Khimprom company. This chemical plant continued to operate during the Battle of Stalingrad."

In spring 1943, after the decision was made to organize a match there, the Azot was fixed. 3000-seat wooden stands were built, the football pitch was made right where there used to be shell holes and a dugout. They even decorated the entrance with wooden towers à la the London Wembley Stadium. The Azot has not survived. Today, there is a residential block in its place.
How many spectators attended the match?
On 2 May 1943, the Azot was overcrowded. According to Dmitry Rogachev, the author of the Moscow - Stalingrad novel, 2/3 of the admittance tickets for the game were actually for "standing" attendance.1 According to Konstantin Belikov, who played for Dynamo in this match, the stadium hosted 9000 people.2 Historians report that the tickets for the game were not only sold, but also given away to the best workers and front-line soldiers. Many Stalingrad citizens had no money at all.

The game ended with the hosting team winning 1:0. The sports component of the match was not the most important thing though, though it undoubtedly invigorated the Stalingrad people. By that time, many of them had already been living in tents. For Spartak Moscow, this was the case when participating is more valuable than winning.
Why did Dynamo play and not Traktor?
Dmitry Rogachev. Moscow - Stalingrad. Published by Novaya Elita, 2015.
Alexander Sklyarenko. Rotor. From Traktor Stalingrad to our time. Published by Volgogradskaya Pravda, 2000.
Aksel Vartanyan. Football during the War times, Part III. The Sport Express newspaper, March 2 2007.
The revival match. 40 years later. The Football - Hockey newspaper № 19 (1197), 1983.
Alexander Pokryshkin. Know yourself in battle. Published by DOSAAF, 1986.
Vladimir Shchagin. True to the past - true to oneself. Published by Fizkultura i sport, 1987.
Vladimir Shchagin held the Volleyball World Champion's title twice. He occasionally played football for Spartak in unofficial matches.
Before the war, Stalingrad had 3 teams: Dynamo, Traktor and Metallurg. The tractor plant team had been playing in the Group A of the top Soviet football division since 1938 and was one of the strongest teams in the 1930s. However, it was Dynamo that went on to represent Stalingrad in the game of 2 May 1943. Konstantin Belikov told us why.2

"In June 1941, Traktor went to the Donbass for the scheduled Soviet Top League match. We went by train. In the morning, we stopped at a small station. I went out to the platform and learned that the war had begun. We reached the venue, even played the game with the club known today as Shakhtar Donetsk (at the time, it was called Stakhanovets (Stalino) - editor's note). We won with the score of 3:1 <...> During the match, a Junkers aircraft flew not far away, but the stadium did not interest it. We went home via Moscow. Sent a telegram: "Please, consider the whole Traktor team volunteers". However, in Moscow, we were ordered to go to Stalingrad and wait, and later both the Traktor team and the tractor plant staff were evacuated to Chelyabinsk.

Konstantin Belikov and 3 more Traktor players of 1941 (Vasili Yermasov, Sergey Plonsky and Leonid Sheremet) stayed to defend the city - this is how they found themselves Traktor footballers playing for Dynamo.
Why Spartak Moscow?
One of the key historical questions is why Spartak was chosen to go, even though other teams were proposed in Moscow: CDKA and Dynamo (Tbilisi)? According to the Stalingrad match novel author Dmitry Rogachev, "the city authorities insisted on it".1 Alexey Matveev, the Moscow Spartak Museum Director, has his own version:

"At that moment, Spartak was objectively the strongest team in the country. Before the War, we won the Soviet Top League 3 times and the Soviet Cup twice, and 3 more prizes. Dynamo, our main competitor at the time, had fewer trophies and medals. In 1942, Spartak won the autumn championship and the Moscow Cup, beating Dynamo, who had previously won the spring championship, in the finals. The CDKA team that would win 5 of the 7 post-War Soviet Top League championships, was only assembled in spring 1943. By that moment, Spartak had been the most popular team across the country, having beaten the Basque Country national team. This team had a successful tour in the USSR in 1937. The Basques played 9 matches and lost only to Spartak."
Why was that date chosen for the match?
Another question: if the game was timed to coincide with May Day, why did it take place on 2 May? The historian Svetlana Argastseva recounts: "After the Battle of Stalingrad, over the winter and early spring of 1943, we managed to regain control of the Caucasus, Voroshilovgrad, Rostov, enclosing the Nazis on the Taman Peninsula. But the Wehrmacht remained strong and combat-ready. That spring, Stalingrad was preparing for a new German attack. The units that went through the Battle of Stalingrad were in the city on leave and in treatment, and fortifications were being built around the city. They were expected to hold back the enemy, should it attempt to come back. A Luftwaffe raid was expected on May Day. So, the football match had to be put off for a day. The tickets and posters that had been originally printed by the Stalingradskaya Pravda newspaper printing office had to be corrected by hand."
Was there Alexander Pokryshkin up in the air?
Another legend has to do with the name of the flying ace Alexander Pokryshkin, three times Hero of the Soviet Union.

In his novel, Dmitry Rogachev maintains that the special football plane which brought the Spartak team from Moscow was escorted by a jet fighter manned by Alexander Pokryshkin himself.1 He is alleged to have attended the game as well. According to another version, the team flew over the front line, that is why there was a special escort in the air.3

How it really happened, we can learn from Aleksei Leontiev, the Spartak goalkeeper who took part in the May 1943 match and became a journalist later in life. In his words, instead of 2 planes, as planned, only one went to Stalingrad. It was escorted by a jet fighter.4 Alexander Pokryshkin did not fly that jet, it is a matter of fiction.

Maybe, the reason behind that myth is that the Stalingrad locals considered Alexander Pokryshkin "their man", because he attended the local pilot school retraining course, graduating with honours in late 1939.5

Of course, the Spartak team did not fly over the front line, but a jet fighter escort was called for. Bryansk and Orel had been occupied by the Nazis by 1 May 1943.

Vladimir Shchagin, who played for Spartak in that match, recounts the flight to Stalingrad7: "The flight was delayed by 24 hours. <...> We departed from Moscow on 2 May 1943 at 6 am".6

Apparently, it was the first charter flight in our football history. The Spartak team departed from Khodynka (where the city aerodrome used to be) and landed in Beketovka. The top Soviet footballers had to spend the night in the school building. Mattresses and hay were used instead of beds.6 After the match, the Spartak players were given a truck tour around the ruined city and shown the German POWs. The POW camp was not far from the Azot stadium.

How did London help Stalingrad?
The British Times reporter Bruce Harris would have probably liked that the Azot stadium entrance was decorated with wooden towers à la Wembley. The Times then wrote: "If the Russians can play football at Stalingrad, this is the proof that they are confident of the future". In fact, Bruce Harris did not attend the Stalingrad game in person and he wrote about the English football realia. England did not host official matches after the WWII broke out. Harris's article in the Times was titled "Stalingrad surprises the world again. The second miracle of Stalingrad." It made a strong impression on the readers. The English started helping the city as much as they could.

"There is a tablecloth among our exhibits", recounts Svetlana Argastseva, "it was sent along with some money from Coventry in 1943. The tablecloth is embroidered with the names of 860 women of the English city and the words of the proverb: "a little help is worth a deal of pity". Two Stalingrad hospitals were called "English" by the people for a long time. The British supplied all that was needed for them. The beds sent from Sheffield are still there and in good condition. The medical instruments that Prime Minister Winston Churchill's wife bought and shipped to Stalingrad in person in 1944 have been preserved."

The article by Bruce Harris prompted a reaction from the London Arsenal players. The team sent a complimentary telegram to the match participants. The response was brief: "Thank you. The Stalingrad people can do anything."

Andrey Anfinogentov
Stalingrad. Summer 1943. The Hero City's children wearing the English navy uniforms (provided by the Aid to Russia Fund headed by Clementine Churchill as a gift) are going to school near the Square of the Fallen Fighters (Ploshchad Pavshikh Bortsov).
The photos were provided by the State Historical and Memorial Preserve The Battle of Stalingrad and the Bloknot Volgograd project.

Illustrations by Artem Absalyamov, exclusively for the website.