Politics On The Pitch #5: Groups of Death Part 2 (1970-1979)

Last time out in Politics On the Pitch, Groups of Death part 1 provided a looked at some controversial match-ups and politically motivated withdrawals of national teams in the post-WW2 period, finishing off with the infamous Football War between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969. We continue now with a decade not short on classic international incidents, as well as classic international football matches: the 1970s.

  • 1974 World Cup Qualifiers

As the Cold War went on without any actual battle in Europe, UEFA’s qualifiers continued to pit different ideologies against each other on the football pitch. Like the campaign for World Cup 1958, staunchly anti-Soviet Finland were once again surrounded by communist countries in Group 4; this time Albania, East Germany and Romania replaced the USSR and Poland.

Poland in Group 5 found themselves in a similar but reversed situation, with the all-British opposition of England and Wales. Group 7 was perhaps the most extreme, as Tito’s socialist Yugoslavia fought it out with both Franco’s fascist Spain and a Greece ruled by a far-right military junta. Conversely, Group 3 of Belgium, Iceland, Netherlands and Norway was a northern European purist’s dream.

As with previous World Cups, one legged play-offs on neutral ground were used to differentiate first and second placed sides who had finished level on points and goal difference, determining who would get the sole qualification spot in the group. Upcoming World Cup hosts West Germany were a natural choice for the venues, with Sweden defeating Austria in Gelsenkirchen, and Yugoslavia triumphing over Spain in Frankfurt.

Such “emergency” fixtures were later rendered obsolete, as “goals for” became the more important tie-breaking factor, especially away from home (although in 1995 Ireland and the Netherlands would uniquely play-off in Liverpool for the last Euro 96 spot, as the two lowest ranked 2nd placed finishers in qualifying). One play-off that would survive from this time however (if not always involving UEFA these days) was the inter-confederation version, returning after having been dropped for the previous two World Cup.

For the first time ever, the play-off was to be between European and South American teams; a positive move as far as the less well represented continents were concerned. But surprisingly, the “real world” events of September 1973 made the coinciding qualification clash a rather problematic fixture.

UEFA–CONMEBOL Play-Off:

USSR
Chile

The Soviet Union had been in Group 9 of  UEFA’s qualifiers along with France and Ireland, coming out on top. The winner of this group had somewhat unfairly been pre-determined to enter the play-off, rather than being the lowest ranked group winner as in the years that followed.

Their opponents, Chile, had been in Group 3 of the South American system, with Peru as their only opposition after Venezuela withdrew. In April and March 1973, 2-0 wins for the respective home team in both group games meant another play-off was needed to separate the sides, won 2-1 by Chile on August 5th in Montevideo, Uruguay.


A young fan runs on the pitch in Montevideo to celebrate with Chilean players after their defeat Peru in a qualification group play-off, 05/08/1973.

***If you are interested in countries withdrawing and not playing games, then you’ll love our look back at the 1950 World Cup qualifiers.***

Like with Europe’s Group 9, the winner of this group had always been destined to enter the intercontinental showdown, the first leg of which was scheduled for 26 September in Moscow. But then, on September 11th 1973, Chile’s democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende (in power since 1970) was overthrown in a US/UK backed coup d’état and replaced by an authoritarian, right-wing military junta that would come to be led by army chief Augusto Pinochet.

The new regime quickly cracked down on any left-leaning organisations, banned any travel out of  the country, and, to quote Wikipedia, “thousands of people deemed undesirable were taken to the Estadio Nacional in Santiago, (and) tortured and killed”; the same Estadio Nacional where the second leg of the football was to be played in November. With the anti-communist stance of the junta, it was somewhat fitting that the first international encounter of any kind for the “new Chile” was set to see it face off against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.


Estadio Nacional, Santiago, Chile, turned into a detention, torture and death camp by the new regime, September-Novermber 1973.

The Soviets had been an ally of the Allende presidency and relations between the two countries were immediately severed following the coup. Less that two weeks later, the Chilean national team traveled to Moscow for the first leg with tensions high.

Many of the team were apolitical, or even harboured ties to the previous government, and the players were under strict order not to state anything of a political nature on the trip under threat of their families lives. Indeed the Chilean government only allowed the squad to travel in order to project a veneer of normality, while institutionalised terror reigned at home (an all too familiar tactic).

Upon their arrival in Moscow airport, no authority was on hand to receive the South American team and some players were detained due to supposed passport irregularities. Adding to the drama was the rumour that the Soviets would arrest Chilean players to later exchange with socialist prisoners of war.

On September 26th nearly 50,000 entered the Central Lenin Stadium for the game, but among them were no journalists or cameras, as ominously ordered by the authorities. Admirably, Chile – who had made several World Cup appearances already including a 3rd place finish on home soil in 1962 – were able to hold their large and intimidating hosts to a 0-0 draw, much to the humiliation of all involved on the home side (both of a sporting and political nature).

With the return leg in Santiago scheduled for nearly two months later on November 21st, the horrors of the oppressive Chilean dictatorship continued in the national stadium and only came to an end on November 7th. The USSR appealed to FIFA to have the game moved to neutral ground, fairly refusing to play in what had been turned in to a legitimate death camp. But both FIFA – who as we have discussed were equal opportunists to states of all political orientations and atrocities – and of course Chile themselves, denied any such move.


Chilean Dictator Pinochet giving a press conference in the stadium, Autumn 1973.

The Soviets traveled to South America anyway to play stand-by friendlies against neighboring countries, showing that they were serious about the match should the venue be changed. It was not to be, and in fact the “game” was to go ahead without any opposition as approved by FIFA; mostly in order to display a political show, but also to avoid the loss of income from refunding all those already purchased match tickets.


Soldiers keep watch outside the ground before the "match", Chile vs an absent USSR, 21/11/1973.

Come match day and 15,000 were in attendance, with many younger supporters unaware of the political significance of the situation, as Austrian referee Erich Linemayr blew the whistle to kick-off what was to be quite literally a one-sided affair. The Chilean players casually ran the ball down field to score into the empty net, after which the ref blew the whistle again to conclude the farce. A 2-0 walkover was awarded, and Chile qualified for the World Cup.


Chile score into an empty USSR net; with no opposition present to take kick-off, the referee would then blow the full-time whistle, 21/11/1973.

With their place on the moral high-ground firmly secured, it was later suggested by players from the time that the Soviet authorities were motivated more through a fear of losing the game to their political “enemies”, rather than a concern for human rights. Either way, having finished runners-up in the 1972 European Championships, the aborted play-off was to prove a negative turning point for the USSR as they would miss out on the following two World Cups and Euros respectively.


The stadium scoreboard following the only goal in the one team game, Chile vs absent USSR, 21/11/1973.

Chile, on the other hand, went to West Germany for the 1974 tournament where they had been drawn in a group with the hosts, along with East Germany and Australia. But attention to the grim situation in their country was drawn once again at their final game against Australia, when shortly after kick-off a group of political protesters carrying a large Chilean banner invaded the pitch, causing the match to be paused.


Political protesters on the pitch interrupting Australia vs Chile, World Cup, 22/06/1974.

It would not be until 1988 that democracy would return to Chile. When the Estadio Nacional was eventually renovated in 2010, one sector of the ground – Salida 8 – was left untouched, to serve as a memorial and reminder of what happened on the site.

AFC/OFC Zone A

Hong Kong
Japan
Malaysia
Isreal
South Vietnam
South Korea
Thailand

As we saw in Part 1, the Asian and Oceanic section was always interesting to keep an eye on due to the inclusion of exiled “colonialist African” teams (South Africa for 1966, Rhodesia for 1970), and because of the Israeli problem, with neighboring Arabic and Islamic countries refusing to participate against the Jewish state. To avoid a repeat of the resulting withdrawals in 1957, Israel had originally been placed in UEFA for the 1962 and 1966 qualifying campaigns; strangely in the former as part of a mini knockout tournament group with Cyprus, Italy and, for some reason, Ethiopia.

Now, for the second time in a row they were back in the AFC section, but like 1970 were placed in an otherwise all-east Asian zone. One omission was North Korea, who had also refused to play Israel in the previous qualifiers on political grounds and so were conveniently swapped into Zone B-Group 1 along side the Middle Eastern states of Iran, Kuwait and Syria, where Israel should rightfully have been.

(Note: all Zone B-Group 1 games were played Iran, while in Zone B-Group 2 Iraq were forced to travel to the other side of the world to play in/against Australia, along side New Zealand and Indonesia)

The entirety of Zone A was to be held in Soul, South Korea, beginning with three classification matches on May 16th and 17th 1973 to determine which teams would be placed in what group (with the hosts already allotted to Group 2). Israel took on and beat Japan 2-1 on the opening day, but only after another controversial country in the midst of it’s own war of destruction amazingly took part in their first ever World Cup game.

Vietnam had won autonomy within the French empire in 1949 as the “State of Vietnam”, but by 1954 shock military victories for local communist forces drove the colonialists out for good. This resulted in the division of the country, creating of the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam – recognised by the likes of China and the USSR – and the formal foundation of the western-backed Republic of (South) Vietnam the following year. South Vietnam had quickly established a football team, participating in the Asian Games since 1954, and finishing a respectable 4th in the first two Asian Cups (granted, only four teams took part).


Flag of South Vietnam, 1949-1975.

But at home, with the Republic refusing to sanction elections that would potentially reunify the country as guaranteed by the Geneva Convention (which had formalised the partition but not been signed by South Vietnam), their strategy of US-backed force to retake the North began two decades of the Vietnam War. This didn’t stop participation of the football team in international competitions though, as they would continue to take part in Asian Games until 1970.

As the conflict went on and disaster unfolded, an embarrassed United States formally began withdrawing ground troops from the warzone in 1969, although air power and financial support were still used into the 70s to combat the North Vietnamese Army and it’s Viet Cong liberation front in the South. But in January 1973 the Paris Peace Accords were signed, officialy removing America from the war and creating a shaky ceasefire between North and South Vietnam.

Fighting still continued, however, and on March 15th, one day before South Vietnam were set to play Thailand in Seoul, President Nixon threatened more US military intervention should the North launch a new full offensive. Under this shadow, the team made it’s World Cup qualifier debut with a 1-0 win through an own-goal in the 83rd minute.

Throughout the rest of the month, the Zone A groups were played out with 1st and 2nd placed teams progressing to semi-finals, before a match to reach to an ultimate play-off against the winners of Zone B. Theoretically this could have ended with Israel coming up against a Middle Eastern team, but they were eliminated by the home side South Korea in the Zone A final.

South Vietnam, meanwhile, were unsuccessful in Zone A-Group 1, with 4-0 and 1-0 defeats to Japan and Hong Kong respectively. Along with the previous game against Thailand, they would turn out to be the only three World Cup games ever played by the state, as North Vietnam did indeed launch another offensive that year, and, far from successively intervening, the last US helicopter eventually left Saigon in chaos on April 30th 1975.


The US Embassy in South Vietnam is evacuated as Saigon is about to fall, 1975.

By the time the next qualifiers rolled around, the Republic of Vietnam was no more, now annexed into a unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam. It would not be until 1991 that a Vietnam side would once again take to a football field.

 

  • 1974 World Cup

Group 1:

Australia
Chile
East Germany
West Germany

We talked last time about how the short-lived post-World War 2 state of the Saar Protectorate – administered by the French, but German in every other way – took part in their one and only World Cup qualifying campaign (for 1954) in a group also featuring their West German countrymen. When the World Cup would come to West Germany itself twenty years later – by which time Saarland was long absorbed back into the Federal Republic of Germany (as the West was formally known) – it seemed inevitable that the remaining, third post-war German state would not only qualify for the first time, but also be drawn along side the hosts for a debut showdown between capitalist west and communist east.

The Democratic Republic of (East) Germany had been formed in 1949 and, under the Deutscher Fußball Verband der DDR governing body, participated in their first international football match against Poland three years later. As discussed back in in Politics on the Pitch #2, blue and white were chosen as kit colours to reflect the uniforms of the East German socialist youth organisation.


Flag of East Germany, 1959-1990.

After their entry to FIFA in 1952, 1958 to 1970 had seen fruitless World Cup qualifying campaigns before the aforementioned qualifying Group 4 brought real East German hope for the 1974 edition. Albania and Finland were like East Germany in having not yet made a tournament finals, leaving Romania – boasting three finals appearances back in the 1930s, and more importantly a spot at the recent 1970 World Cup in Mexico – as group favourites, although not exactly an elite squad either.

As they had done during World War 2 against the Russians, the Finns did the Germans a favour early in the group with a heroic 1-1 draw in Helsinki against Romania in September 1972. It would prove a vital slip up, as Romania would go on to take “all two points” (awarded for a win instead of three until the 1998 qualifiers) against East Germany in Bucharest the following May; ultimately the latter’s only dropped points in the group.

The most crucial group game came on September 26th 1973 in Leipzig for the return fixture, with a 2-0 win for East Germany putting them back in the driver seat. Still with a chance to go through, Romania would take their revenge over Finland at home with a desperate 9-0 drubbing in October, but it was to be in vein as a 4-1 East German victory away to Albania in November delivered top-spot by a point.


East Germany clinch World Cup qualification for the first time with a 4-1 away win over Albania, 03/11/1973.

While no internationals had yet taken place between the two divided halves of Germany, a number of friendlies did occur between club sides from East and West in the 1950s before the wall. The introduction of European competitions later resumed such encounters, starting with Dynamo Dresden vs Bayern Munich in 1973 for the 73/74 European Cup, and Fortuna Düsseldorf vs 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig in the UEFA Cup of the same season.

And so the stage was set in January 1974 for the final World Cup draw in Frankfurt. Seemingly admitting the fallibility of grown men in the 70s, FIFA used the “innocent hand” of a young, local choir boy to draw the teams, eliminating any element of potential dirty play from a morally corrupted adult.

With West Germany automatically placed in Group 1 as hosts, the dramatic moment came when East Germans were also drawn in the group, drawing first a moment of hushed shock from those in attendance before emotional, spontaneous applause. Even though it had always been a possibility, along with the fact that the tournament was on “enemy” soil anyway, it was later falsely rumored that the East German regime would withdraw the team to avoid the overtly political encounter.


Group 1 with the two Germanys, World Cup 74 draw, Frankfurt, 31/01/1974.

Adding to the intrigue, one of the locations for games in the group was the enclave of West Berlin, amazingly meaning that East Germany would play a World Cup game in a city entirely surrounded by itself. Unfortunately, the all-German clash wasn’t scheduled for here, but both sides fittingly took on none other than Chile in the Olympiastadion, less than 10 kilometers from the Berlin wall.


World Cup 74 opening ceremony in the Olympiastadion, Munich, 13/06/1974.

The political atmosphere was matched by surprisingly poor June weather for the tournament, with particularly dreary and wet conditions – perhaps the worst ever (at a World Cup that is, not of all time). As Chilean protesters attempted to grab the attention of the world with regards their country’s dictatorship in the match against Australia in West Berlin (three out of three at the venue for Chile, who technically could still progress), most fans and non-fans alike were concentrating on what was to come that evening across the country in Hamburg for the final group game.

On June 22nd more than 60,000 crammed into the Volksparkstadion – where West Germany had also taken on Saar in 1953 – for the 19:30 kick-off and thankfully the setting sun shone low in the sky. There was a respectful silence for the DGR’s national anthem and a section of East German supporters was visible in the ground.


East German team and fans after their national anthem, vs West Germany, World Cup, 22/06/1974.

East Germany, who had been primarily using white shirts and blue shorts as a first preference by this time, were the official “home team” in the tie, but had graciously emerged in their change kit of blue shirts and white shorts allowing West Germany to continue wearing their usual home white jerseys. Interestingly, the East Germans were in short sleeves while the hosts were in long sleeves.


Short sleeved blue shirts of East Germany vs the long sleeved white shirts of West Germany, World Cup, 22/06/1974.

Finally the time came and the heavy favourite western professionals kicked-off against a team who all had day jobs back in the East. Early on West Germany were close to opening the scoring, but it remained 0-0 until the 77th minute when Jürgen Sparwasser – a member of the 1. FC Magdeburg side that had just impressively beaten AC Milan to win the Cup Winners Cup in Rotterdam – broke through the West German defensive to score for East Germany.


Sparwasser scores the most famous goal in East Germany history, vs West Germany, World Cup, 22/06/1974.

The TV cameras went to the celebrating away supporters in the crowd, who were doubtlessly all involved in the East German government in some way rather than regular fans who may have taken the chance to defect. Permits had been in effect since 1972 that allowed younger East German citizens to cross the border (pensioners, who were less valuable to the state, had been able to visit the West since 1964), although in reality they were only usually granted to ruling party elites and their ilk.


East German players and social elite supporters celebrate the only goal of the game, vs West Germany, 22/06/1974.

The shocked home crowd looked on as the clock rolled down before the final whistle confirmed it: the lowly East had conquered the West. Granted, West Germany’s two prior victories against Australia and Chile had already secured them a place in the next round, but, like in qualifying, East Germany ended the group in pole position.


Classic graphics after a replay of the winning goal, East Germany vs West Germany, 22/06/1974.

In the end the result was possibly the best thing that could have happened for the hosts, as they entered a manageable Round 2 group alongside Poland, Sweden and Yugoslavia, while the unfortunate East were placed in the far tougher group with Argentina, Brazil and the Netherlands. Elimination came after two defeats, with respectable 1-1 draw against the Argentinians in the other game.

West Germany of course went on to secure their second World Cup trophy in the tournament, but East Germany had won the arguably more important all-German cup final, and would always have that. Well, until the 3rd of October 1990 at least, when the state would formally cease to exist.

  • 1980 European Championships Qualifiers

Group 1

Bulgaria
Denmark
England
Northern Ireland
Republic of Ireland

In the 1958 qualifiers, Ireland had met their former colonialist masters of England for the first time in a competitive setting. But following the the Irish War of Independence in 1921, not all of the country had been freed from the British crown.

Before it would happen to Germany, Korea or Vietnam later in the century, Ireland was partitioned as part of it’s independence treaty, with the Anglo-Scots-dominated north-east becoming “Northern” Ireland and remaining in the United Kingdom. As we have discussed before, Northern Ireland inherited the old Belfast based Irish Football Association that had been established under British rule, while a new organisation – the Football Association of  Ireland – was founded in Dublin to represent what would become the Republic (first the Irish Free State).

As with East and West Germany, there had been no football meeting of any sort between the two going in to the 1970s; a decade that would show the world that tensions on the island had not gone away. Sparked by civil rights protests from the discriminated ethnic Irish population, conflict between Irish nationalist paramilitaries, their British equivalents and the British Army exploded, with civilian atrocities from all sides along the way.

As things escalated and the body count rose, the slightly less significant soccer qualifiers for Euro 80 brought the Irish and English football teams into direct competition once again in Group 1. But this time, Northern Ireland were thrown in to the mix to create truly the “Group of Troubles” (not an official UEFA title), with Bulgaria and Denmark filling up the rest of the “non-Troubles” spots.

Ireland started the group away to Denmark with a thrilling 3-3 draw on May 24th, 1978; typically it was the home side who had clawed back the point from 3-1 down after 79 minutes. This would be followed by 3-4 and 2-2 affairs at home for Denmark against England and Bulgaria respectively, showing that Copenhagen was an unusual place to play at the time.

But next was to be the inaugural all-Ireland clash (at least in an association football sense, rather than the Gaelic games version) with Dublin as the location on September 20th for the first of the two ties between Republic and North. As soon as the Northern Ireland team bus had crossed the border it was joined by a police escort, which stayed all  the way to the stadium – the indomitable Lansdowne Road.

By the standards of the time, a heavy police presence was on hand at and around the historic ground also, as “football special” trains from the North arrived at the nearby station with groups with energetic away fans. Unease was in the air as Union Jacks were waved and unionist songs sung en mass in Dublin for the first time in about 57 years, but, despite some minor confrontations, no violence broke out.




Northern Ireland fans arrive by train near the stadium for the match vs Republic of Ireland, 20/09/1978.

Minor confrontation between home supporters with large Irish tricolour and Northern Ireland fans chanting "The Ulster" (province of Ireland within which Northern Ireland is located) on the way to the match, 20/09/1977.

Inside the ground, the traveling contingent occupied a large section of the North Terrace, which remained unsegregated. Like many of the continent’s major stadiums, imposing fences had at least been installed around the Lansdowne Road that year in an attempt to prevent any potential rowdies from taking their trouble away from the stands where it belonged.


Northern Irish away fans singing "Protestant songs" (according to the BBC News report) in Lansdowne Road's North Terrace ahead of the match with Ireland, 20/09/1977.

Even though green was worn by the Northern Irish team for historical reasons, many of their fans chose the blue, white and red colourscheme of Belfast’s Linfield, Glasgow Rangers and the Union Jack. With the Republic also of course usually in a green, sportspersonship akin to East Germany choosing not wearing white against West Germany seems to have been displayed, as the home side donned a fetching all-white change kit with delicious green and yellow trim.


The captains before the match with Ireland's white change shirt being worn at home, vs Northern Ireland, 20/09/1977.

The sense of anti-climax for those who had come to witness any potential trouble will have been matched by those who came solely for the football, as an Ireland containing stars like Brady, Giles, Highway, Lawrenson (who’s bloodied shirt suggests the tone of the game) and Stapleton were held to a 0-0 draw against a North led from the back by legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings. Apparently nothing further of note occurred among supporters either, but things may not have been so serene had the events of the very next day – when the Provisional IRA bombed an RAF airfield in Derry destroying a terminal, two hangers and several planes (although no lives were lost) – happened slightly earlier.

Ireland next kept their streak of draws going with a somewhat satisfactory 0-0 in Lansdowne against England, while the North picked up excellent back to back wins at home to Denmark and away to Bulgaria, spurred on by striker Gerry Armstrong. Despite more good performances from the the Republic, results like England 4-0 Northern Ireland, Denmark 4-0 Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland 1-5 England, put the North out of the running going into the final series of games, with an unbeaten England looking set to claim the sole qualifying spot and their first tournament appearance in ten years.

Following a 3-0 win over Bulgaria in October 1979, Ireland still had a mathematical chance to pip the English in the unlikely event that the Bulgarians went to Wembley and won, followed by Ireland doing the same in February 1980. But first on November 21st would be a trip to Belfast’s Windsor Park, home of Linfield FC, for a Northern Ireland keen to kill any any Irish hopes in lieu of their own failed prospects (and not for the last time).

Unlike in Dublin, it will have been very unlikely that many, if any, away supporters traveled north of the border for the encounter, due to the potential “security risks” for those with caught with a “southern” accent among a certain type of hardcore British loyalist. In the 13 months since the reverse fixture, there had many more bombings, high profile assassinations, and civilian casualties from Northern Ireland to London and even The Hague, meaning the game was even more emotionally charged than before.

Keeping in the spirit of fair play though, the North returned the kit favour of the year before by emerging in their away strip. Minorly problematic was the fact that their white/green/white created an “overall clash” against Ireland’s green/white/green, an effect previously negated by Ireland’s use of all-white in Dublin.


Northern Ireland in white/green/white at home to Republic of Ireland, 21/11/1979.

With 15,000 creating an intimidating atmosphere in the small fortress of a ground, that man Gerry Armstrong popped up on the 54th minute to give the home side a lead they would hold on to until the end, thus dashing Ireland’s theoretical qualification hopes (had England not gone and defeated Bulgaria the next day anyway). Again blue was the most prevalent colour of those celebrating on the caged terraces.


Gerry Armstrong scores for Northern Ireland, vs Republic of Ireland, 21/11/1979.

The Windsor Park terraces celebrate the only goal of the game, Northern Ireland vs Republic of Ireland, 21/11/1979.

Unlike the Germanys, this would not be the last time that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would be drawn together before one ceases to exist. And with the Troubles not ending any time soon in our timeline, we shall quite possibly see the tie rise again when Groups of Death continues into the 80s…

*

Video Links:
Chile vs Peru, 1973
Estadio Nacional, Chile, 1973
Chile vs USSR, 1973
Chile vs USSR, 1973
Australia vs Chile, 1974
Albania vs East Germany, 1973
1974 World Cup draw
East Germany vs West Germany, 1974
East Germany vs West Germany, 1974
East Germany vs West Germany, 1974
Republic of Ireland vs Northern Ireland, 1978
Northern Ireland vs Republic of Ireland, 1979

*****

What Football Is Supposed To Look Like #8 (Gallery)

Last time in WFISTLL, we zoomed in on the Belgian league scene of the late 80s and early 90s with a whirlwind of pics and gifs illustrating the gritty supporter culture present in that time and place. Now we return to our usual format of a selection of images that demonstrate what used to make football so interesting, in a variety of classic 20th century ways.

Superb away jersey, Northern Ireland vs Republic of Ireland, World Cup qualifier, 14/09/1988:

Umbrella crowd, fence, classic hoarding and graphics, Chile vs Yugoslavia, Under-20 World Cup (hosted by Chile), 10/10/1987:

Raised stands and large entrance-way with row of people, Turkey vs West Germany, European Championships qualifier, 24/04/1983:

Snow-patch pitch, East Germany vs Scotland, European Championships qualifier, 16/11/1983:

Competing anthem bands (although the lot on the right look like children in comparison?) and angular team line-ups, West Germany vs Netherlands, World Cup 74 final, 07/07/1974:

Confetti pitch, Internazionale Milano vs AS Roma, Serie A, 24/03/1988:

Arabic Marlboro advert, Zaire vs Zambia, African Cup of Nations 74 (hosted by Egypt), 12/03/1974:

Amazing old-old school end with supporters on roof, Portugal vs Italy, friendly, 15/04/1928:

Rain plus no roof equals many, many umbrellas, Czechoslovakia vs Netherlands, European Championships 76 semi-final (hosted by Yugoslavia, match in Zagreb), 16/06/1976:

Classic graphics, USSR vs Netherlands, friendly, 28/03/1990:

*****

 

Politics On The Pitch #4: Groups of Death Part 1 (1950-1969)

Back in Politics On The Pitch #3 we looked at how the football world adjusted to life after World War 2, with carefully selected qualification groups removing the chance of “politically awkward” clashes. Now we take a look back to when this was not necessarily the case, and at some historical competitive fixtures with a non-sporting significance that could not be ignored.

Background:

Despite being widely recognised as one of the most corrupt organisms on the face of the planet, and turning their flagship tournament into a money making facade where sport is basically an afterthought (it is on this site too to be fair), FIFA is responsible for some good.

The World Cup’s hideous over-commercialisation can always be countered by the fact that the festival of football does bring simple folk from random corners of the world together when their teams are drawn. The often good-natured affairs, as well as the conscious global gaze upon each match, displays through the medium of football that no matter where somebody’s from, their class, race or if they’re religious, humans do have common ground through our unifying love of the game.

Even teams representing states of competing ideologies and their fans can come together in friendly rivalry, as an average population can often be far less enthusiastic about hating their fellow members of the species than their national regimes, or stereotypes, might lead you to believe. With countries like Cuba and North Korea joining the USA and it’s allies in the organisation’s ranks, the case of FIFA’s corruption is at least equal opportunity corruption.

But of course FIFA’s global inclusiveness also creates the opposite situation, where two peoples with a genuinely tense political or ethnic history (or present) are occasionally brought together for a sporting manifestation of their international grudge. At times this will be deemed concerning enough an issue for a country to not play altogether, as was the case when the British nations withdrew from FIFA in 1919 in protest at the continued inclusion of the Central Powers teams after World War 1.

Many times these games have gone ahead though, which inevitably creates interesting situations in the stadium, and on some occasions the simple novelty or expectation of an interesting draw is enough to secure its place in history. In this vein we will now look back at some of the most noteworthy groups, tournaments and match-ups from the 20th century that had elements beyond mere football competition.

  • 1954 World Cup Qualifiers

Group 1:

Norway
Saar Protectorate
West Germany

For the 1954 World Cup qualifiers, FIFA itself rather than it’s regional confederations was still arranging all qualification groups. They were organised by geographical consideration, although not necessarily by continent as Egypt and Italy proved in Group 9. Groups 7 (Hungary and Poland) and 8 (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Romania) comprised solely of eastern European communist representatives.

However it was Group 1 that stood out for it’s inclusion of a small side making it’s one and only appearance in a competitive campaign, and another much larger new state making it’s first in it’s current form. The group did not actually pit sworn rival nations against each other, quite the contrary. But the two referenced participants were born out of the greatest period of slaughter the world has known.

Located in southwest Germany, the Saarland (after the River Saar, which flows from northwest France into Germany) had become the French and British ruled Territory of the Saar Basin in the aftermath of World War 1. A plebiscite with 90.4% in favour returned the region to German hands in 1935, but ten years later the Allies would be back and again take control of the now renamed Westmark of the Third Reich. Following the end of World War 2, the region was partitioned from the rest of Germany and placed squarely under French control, becoming the Saar Protectorate in 1947.

The mostly ethnic German population still considered their land as part of Germany and never intended Saar to become it’s own country. Never the less, such national symbols as a flag (paying homage to both nations involved with the colours of the French flag divided by a white Nordic cross) and an international football federation were created. The clubs of Saar competed in the local Ehrenglia league, with the strongest club 1. FC Saarbrücken competing and winning in France’s Ligue 2 as guests in 1948/49.


Flag of The Saar Protectorate.

Three months after the Saar Fussball Bund was admitted to FIFA in 1950 (having rejected merging with it’s French equivalent the previous year), the Deutscher Fussball Bund also rejoined, now representing the Federal Republic of Germany, aka the partitioned state of West Germany, but claimed mandate over Germany as a whole. Both teams were placed in Group 1 of the upcoming World Cup qualifiers along with Norway, whose status as part of the Nazi occupied lands in WW2 under the puppet Quisling regime officially made this the “Reich group”.

By the time the qualifiers were to begin in 1953, Saar had already played a number of friendlies and had participated in several other sports at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. But as stated, they preferred not to be referred to as their own country, and in football the term “selection” was more commonly used than national team. Given the area’s German self-identification, it seems slightly frustrating that one of their few shots at international football competition was “wasted” on their follow countrymen, and not someone more exotic.

The Saarlanders would go on to display the prowess of German football even if  confined to a very small area, by defeating Norway 3-2 away from home and earning a 0-0 draw in Saarbrücken. Logically then, their bigger, but no more proudly Germanic neighbours would prove impassable. A 3-0 home win in Stuttgart on 11 October 1953 was followed by the last game of the group in March 1954, as West Germany again scored three (with the home support politely applauding each goal) but Saar at least grabbed a consolation penalty on home soil.


Interesting section of Hamburg's Volksparkstadion, West Germany vs Saar Protectorate, World Cup '54 Qualifier, October 1953.

The West German’s 5-1 demolition of Norway also guaranteed that Saar would not finish bottom of the group, securing a German one-two final positioning. As West Germany went on to win the World Cup they had qualified for, the people of Saar doubtlessly would have been rooting for them and over joyed at their success. As the following year, 20 years after the original plebiscite to join Nazi Germany, another referendum was held with the same result. The Saar Protectorate was absorbed into West Germany and once again became the region of Saarland in 1957, ending it’s brief adventure in international football.

 
The crowd applaud the home side's goal in a 3-1 defeat, Saar Protectorate vs West Germany, World Cup '54 qualifier, March 1954.

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  • 1958 World Cup Qualifiers

CAF/AFC Second Round

Egypt
Indonesia
Israel
Sudan

For the next World Cup, FIFA handed over responsibility to the regional confederations for the organisation of their own qualification systems, and enforced defined geographical zones. This proved particularly problematic in Africa/Asia (with the CAF and AFC sections combined for this campaign), first as Turkey withdrew in protest at not being included in Europe. They had been scheduled to play Israel, who progressed automatically into a second round group (somewhat surprisingly Cyprus were also in Asia, giving it three different teams who would later “become” European)

This created another issue due to the Arab League boycott of Israel, the current iteration of which being in effect since the end of the Arab-Israeli War in 1949. The Arab League members of Egypt and Sudan hence refused to play Israel – who had actually previously competed as Palestine British Mandate before their independence in 1948 – and withdrew. It was to be the first of two successive World Cup qualification campaigns from which the pair would withdraw without playing a game, as for 1962 – with Egypt then competing as United Arab Republic –  FIFA refused their ultimatum to reschedule matches to avoid the monsoon season.

Another mostly Islamic state in Indonesia was the remaining team left in the group, and although they were prepared to play the Israelis, they were not prepared to travel the entire length of Asia to do so. Like Israel, the Indonesians had once competed under their pre-independence colonial name: the Dutch East Indies. But this time FIFA refused the Indonesian request for the game to be played on neutral ground which forced them to also withdraw, meaning that Israel had made it through two rounds to an intercontinental play-off without touching a ball. Here they would be at last stopped, as Wales were happy to play and defeat them for a place at the tournament.

UEFA Group 6

Finland
Poland
USSR

Back in the UEFA section itself, countries were also still placed in groups rather than drawn by seed. Cross Iron-Curtain encounters were now becoming more common, although still somewhat regional with Finland going to the USSR and Poland, Greece to Yugoslavia and Romania, but again slightly further afield for Wales who were placed with Czechoslovakia and the newly created East Germany (who’s entry during the years of Saar existence meant there had been three different German federations in FIFA at one point).

Group 6 with Finland, Poland and the USSR was the most emotionally charged on paper with both the Finns and Poles being former colonial subjects of Russia, and much more recently the Soviets’ (unsuccessful) Winter War against former and partition of the later (as well as events such as the Katyn Massacre, although Poland was by this time a satalite-state of the USSR). But knowing the steadfast resolve characteristic of all three peoples, it was surely business as usual as the Soviet Union ultimately made it to their first finals (Poland had previously competed too at 1938).


Finland vs USSR, World Cup '58 Qualifier, August 1957.

UEFA Group 1

Denmark
England
Republic of Ireland

On the other side of Europe, the Republic of Ireland met their own former colonial masters of England for the first time in a competitive setting, along with Denmark in Group 1 (with the English coming out tops). Although distrust of Englishness remained for many, with 36 years having elapsed since the Irish War of Independence the encounter was perhaps now not as significant as it would become later in the century when tensions on the island of Ireland dramatically increased once again.

At this time Ireland was also somewhat sportingly-divided between football and it’s own native Gaelic sports, with the rules of the latter forbidding those who played, or indeed watched, the “foreign” (English) sport of soccer from their ogranisation. Those who preferred football were sometimes scornfully looked down upon as “less-Irish” than those involved in Irish games, with more nationalist types therefore likely avoiding international football altogether.

  • 1966 World Cup and Qualifiers

World Cup Semi-Finals and Final

England
Portugal
USSR
West Germany

The ’66 World Cup in England was somewhat of a reunion for several of the major players from World War 2. While England, the USSR and West Germany had all qualified for the previous two editions, the West Germans had avoided their old regime’s two European enemies in ’58 (who played each other in the group stage) and all three had been knocked out in the quarter finals of ’62 before having a chance to meet.

But in 1966 the Germans would finally come up against their former double-fronted foes, first beating the Soviets in a Goodison Park semi-final before the famous final defeat to the hosts, which also crucially involved a Soviet linesman erroneously awarding England’s third goal.


Many men in suits and ties watch West Germany vs the Soviet Union in Goodison Park, World Cup 1966.

Asia/Oceania Qualifying Group

Australia
North Korea
South Africa
South Korea

The other stand-out thing was the appearance of North Korea, although the authoritarian dictatorships present in their fellow qualifying countries of Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Hungry, Portugal, Soviet Union and Spain at the time makes it not so novel. Their surprise debut at the finals was helped by the withdrawal of their South Korean cousins, citing logistical reasons in the combined Asian/Oceanian qualifying group. Given that few states held political ties with the North Koreans, all games were to be hosted by their allies Cambodia, but South Korea had been expecting Japan and left the group after the decision.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the group was also to contain South Africa (a weak Australia was the fourth team). Kicked out of the Confederation of African Football in 1958 due the apartheid regime’s player policy – by law only an all-white or all-black team could be selected – South Africa were in fact admitted to FIFA in the same year and placed in the Asian zone for the time being. But FIFA did give them one year to comply with their own anti-discrimination laws, which of course wasn’t done.

While the rest of the African teams boycotted the qualifying system entirely due to the lack of an automatic qualifying spot – as well as the original acceptance of South Africa into FIFA – South Africa were banned before their group games started (formally expelled in 1976 following the Soweto uprising) and wouldn’t play another international until 1992. This left North Korea with just two easy games against the Australians to qualify.

  • 1970 World Cup Qualifiers

AFC/OFC Second Round, Group 1

Australia
Rhodesia 

The following tournaments qualifiers saw a similar situation: this time the unrecognised state of Rhodesia switched continents to play in the Asian/Oceanian section. Like South Africa, the country was ruled by a white minority elite, who had broken away from the British Empire in 1965.

But as Rhodesia agreed to FIFA’s regulations regarding mixed-race squads, they were allowed to stay in. Their only group opponent was Australia, with both games (and a third play-off game after two draws, won by Australia) played in Mozambique after the Rhodesian players could not attain Australian visas.

AFC/OFC Second Round, Group 2

Israel
New Zealand
North Korea 

Israel were also back in Asian/Oceanian having played in the UFEA zone for geographical reasons at the previous qualifiers (and originally Syria too before withdrawal). Although no other Middle Eastern side was involved this time, their presence still caused an issue as now North Korea refused to play them on political grounds and withdrew.

Victories over New Zealand and Australia meant that Israel were now going to their first World Cup, but under the initiative of Kuwait they would be expelled from an AFC with more middle eastern influence in 1974, and return to playing European and, later, more Oceanic opponents in the following decades.

CONCACAF Semi-Final Round, Group 2

El Salvador
Honduras

One of the most famous war related match-ups occurred during this campaign in the semi-final round of the North/Central American and Caribbean CONCACAF section, when El Salvador were drawn with neighbours Honduras. It is often said that their violent three games (again a play-off was needed and held in neutral Mexico City) sparked what is known as the Football War between the two countries, a 100 hour conflict (and so also known as the 100 Hour War) that remains officially in dispute at the time of writing.

While intense rioting had occurred at the two regular group games (as it was considered a group of two as opposed to a two-legged knock-out game), as well as violent play on the pitch, it was more a case of perfect timing rather than the actual cause of the war, as tensions had already been growing between the countries for bigger reasons. With the backing of large American fruit corporations, harsh new land and tax laws had come into effect in Honduras, that were particularly threatening to the large, undocumented El Salvadorian ethnic minority in the country.


Supporters of both teams and riot police, El Salvador vs Honduras, World Cup '70 qualifier, June 1969.

By the day of the play-off on 26 June, 1969 (3-2 to El Salvador after extra-time), the smaller but more populous El Salvador officially cut of ties with Honduras and would invade on July 15th starting the war. The situation was resolved through negotiation from the Organization of American States, lasting 100 hours, but the reluctance of El Salvador to withdraw meant their troops remained occupying part of the country until August. The bad blood between the two states, who share a common language, religion, general look and very similar flags, proves that not matter how close groups of humans seem, we can always find other reasons to hate each other.

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Youtube Sources:
West Germany vs Saar, 1953
Saar vs West Germany, 1954
Finland vs USSR, 1957
USSR vs West Germany, 1966
El Salvador vs Honduras, 1969
El Salvador vs Honduras, 1969

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Champagne Kit Campaigns #3: Russia 1992/93, World Cup ’94 Qualification

With the World Cup currently taking place in their country at the time of writing, it seems appropriate that our latest Champagne Kit Campaign goes back to look at Russia’s first ever time to compete in qualification as an independent state. We say “seems” since this is pure coincidence, as we are not doing anything special for the World Cup (although we will say it does contain the best collection of kits at a tournament since 1994 in our opinion).

This is our second look at World Cup ’94 qualifiers in the series after our examination of Norway’s 92/93 kits in episode #1 (followed by the Dutch at World Cup ’78 in #2), and it will definitely not be the last time that we revisit the period. Back in Politics On The Pitch #1, we also broke down how the collapse of communism in Europe at the time effected these qualifiers, which is of course extremely relevant to this Russia team, so check it out for more information if that type of thing is up your street. Now, on with CKC#3.

Background:

Russia’s international footballing history began at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, as following unofficial games against amateur sides in 1910 and ’11, the Russian Empire would field a team for the first time at that year’s tournament. Amber shirts and black shorts were used in these early years, representing the old imperial horizontal tri-colour flag of black, yellow/amber and white; colours which continue to be associated with nationalism in the country today.

The first opponents were Finland, who were in fact part of the Russian Empire at the time, and a 2-1 loss to their subordinates was followed by a 16-0 massacre at the hands of the German Empire.


Flag of the Russian Empire, 1858-1883.

This modest start on the pitch continued, as Russia’s first games on home soil saw them concede a combined 21 goals and scoring none over two games in three days against Hungary in Moscow in July, with both games drawing 3000 spectators. This grew to 8000 for the visit of Sweden the following May, when Russia would score their first home international goal in a 4-1 defeat.

Things continued to improve as a 1-1 draw with Norway in September came next, before away games in July 1914 saw back-to-back 2-2 and 1-1 draws in Sweden and Norway respectively.

But any chance for further progress stopped here, as international sports competition was interrupted by the international political competition of World War 1. The away game against Norway, as it turned out, would be the last match that a “Russia” would compete in for 78 years, as after the War, the Empire was overthrown before another match could be played.

The new entity of  the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Союз Советских Социалистических Республик (CCCP) in Russian, or simply the Soviet Union, was created on December 30th, 1920. Several unofficial games would be played in the ’20s and ’30, but the first and only official match of the era for the Soviets came against Turkey in 1924. Naturally, red shirts were adopted by the new side reflecting the red of socialism and the state’s flag, with a stylised “CCCP” for a crest.


Flag of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union take to a snowy field for their first official match, vs Turkey, 1924.

After World War 2, the USSR and their communist ally countries of Europe refused to take part in the the qualifiers for the upcoming 1950 Brazil World Cup, as the Cold War began to set in. But they would return to the international scene for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, and by the Melbourne games four years later had adapted their shirt with what would become one of the most iconic shirt features of all time: the “CCCP” letters were now displayed across the chest.


Blurry "CCCP"s across the Soviet shirts, vs Yugoslavia, Olympics, 1956.

The Soviet Union would go on to win the first ever European Championships in 1960 and would remain as one of Europe’s most prominent sides for the next three decades, rarely missing out on World Cup qualification. At the 1966 edition, a change strip of white shirts with red trim and blue shorts was used against North Korea that would inadvertently foreshadow the future Russian colourway, but was quite possibly based on the flag of the Soviet naval ensign.


USSR's "Russia kit", vs North Korea, World Cup 1966.

Soviet naval ensign.

By the 1980s, a hammer and sickle themed crest was added to the shirts, which were now being made by Adidas. In this decade several iterations became quintessential examples of kit-style in the era, and would go on to be some of the most favoured shirts of many kit historians and casual fans alike.


USSR in one of their several iconic shirts of the '80s, vs England, Euro 88.

Classic USSR away kit, vs Netherlands, friendly, 1989.

As the 1990s began, the state of the Soviet Union was closing in on the end of it’s existence as communist regimes across eastern Europe collapsed. The football team would make the most of the little time they had left though, as after World Cup ’90 they would contest a whopping 27 games across friendlies, minor tournaments, unofficial games and Euro ’92 qualifiers, until the dissolution of the USSR in December 1991.

A friendly away to Scotland in February 1991 seemed to be the last time that the CCCP lettering was worn across the torso of the shirts (in this instance an away shirt), as the following month against Germany a new strip was debuted employing an eccentric Adidas template. The new shirt featured a “checkers” design on one shoulder and sleeve, and other patterns reminiscent of World War 1-era dazzle camouflage for ships (so henceforth we shall refer to this template as the “dazzle shirt”), but was devoid of a CCCP.


One of the last times the "CCCP" would be seen on a Soviet shirt, away to Scotland, friendly, 1991.

USSR, for the first time wearing what would turn out to be their last home kit, vs Germany, friendly, 1991.

A Euro ’92 qualifier away to red shirted Hungary in April saw the debut of the away version of the shirt, as part of an all-white ensemble. But then, a May game against England in Wembley for the “England Challenge Cup” saw a return of the previous “CCCP”-baring home shirt. It seems this was brought for it’s short sleeves as a warm weather alternative, as for their other game of the competition – vs Argentina at Old Trafford – the long sleeved dazzle shirt was again used. The England tie would prove to be actual the last time that the CCCP would be seen on a Soviet national team shirt.


USSR wearing their last away shirt for the first time, vs Hungary, Euro '92 qualifier, 1991.

USSR going back to CCCP shirts one more time as a warm weather option, vs England, friendly tournament, 1991.

USSR back in the "dazzle shirt", vs Argentina, friendly tournament, 1991.

Later in the month, the home shirt’s own short-sleeved version saw use for the first time at home to Cyprus in the European qualifiers, as part of an all-red strip. A warm weather version of the away shirt was also worn that summer, such as against Italy in another friendly competition: the Scania 100 Tournament.


USSR wearing the short sleeved version of their home shirt as part of an all-red strip, vs Cyprus, Euro '92 qualifier, 1991.

USSR's short-sleeved away shirt, displaying "dazzle camouflage" features, vs Italy, friendly tournament, 1991.

The year concluded with a final Euro qualifier away to Cyrpus in November, with a 4-0 win securing qualification for the Soviet Union had they continued to exist as a political entity. The white kit worn would be the last ever strip to be used by a Soviet side, as amid continuing turmoil, the Union formally dissolved on the 26th of December, 1991.


The last ever match of the Soviet Union, vs Cyprus, Euro '92 qualifier, 1991.

However, it was not to be the last time that the dazzle shirts would be seen in international football. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) had been formed immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union as a confederation of the former Soviet republics, and as a “successor state” of sorts, a football team was created to inherit the USSR’s Euro ’92 spot.

The CIS played it’s first international in Miami against the United States in January 1992 in the short sleeved version of the last Soviet away jersey, with the long sleeves used in a follow up tie against the same opposition (who wore all-blue on both occasions) in Detroit days later.

In the absence of anything else, a Spanish language report of the game used a Russian flag to represent the CIS in match graphics, the presence of which – along with the continued use of a shirt featuring a hammer and sickle on the crest – demonstrated the confusing transitional nature of the era. The red ’91 Soviet home shirt also saw a revival and was worn one last time in a pre-Euro ’92 friendly against England.


CIS wearing the USSR's away kit in their first international match, vs USA, friendly 1992.

The Russian flag being used to represent the CIS, vs USA, friendly, 1992.

CIS wearing the USSR's all-red, vs England, friendly, 1992.

By the tournament itself, CIS would finally have their own kit in the form of the new Adidas Equipment range, and it was confirmed that like the USSR, red was being used as first choice shirt colour. White stereo shoulder bars dominated the shirt, with the CIS initials appearing in the centre of the chest in lieu of an actual crest. The new “Adidas Equipment” brand logo replaced the trefoil for the first time, while the white shorts only added a player number to said brand logo, both in black.


The CIS finally debut their own kit, vs Germany, Euro '92.

The numbers on the back of the shirts were white, but the presence of the shoulder bars proved problematic with regards players names – being used along with front-numbers for the first time in an international tournament. So as not to clash with the white of the bars, black was used for the letters, which over the red background were not exactly legible either.

The issue seemed to demonstrate that the template had not really been designed with the new kit requirements in mind (France also used the template at the competition but did not experience the same problem due to their two red outer bars, while Sweden in the other “mono-shoulder” version used yellow trim on their outer-right blue letters to avoid the issue).


The back of the CIS shirt, demonstrating the black lettering used for player names, vs Germany, Euro '92.

In their following game against the Netherlands, the CIS would use the away version of the new shirt for the first and only time, before returning to the red shirt for their last game of the competition against Scotland. It would be the last time that a CIS team would ever take to the field, making them what has to be the shortest-lived international side to ever compete at an international tournament.


The one and only outing for the CIS away kit, vs Netherlands, Euro '92.

The CIS' last appearance in international football, vs Scotland, Euro '92.

Finally we are approaching the conclusion of what is still just the background to our featured campaign. But this has all been relevant to what was about to happen. Well, maybe not that stuff about the colour of the player’s names, but we though it was interesting.

With the conclusion of the Euros, the need for a combined CIS side was no more and a new Russian team officially succeeded both the USSR and CIS in FIFA cannon, taking their allocated spot in the upcoming World Cup ’94 qualifiers in the process. The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were also granted places, but as the earliest former-Soviet states to declare independence, they were the only ones besides Russia allowed to take part.

The likes of Ukraine had lobbied for a tournament between the nations who had made up the USSR instead, but this was blocked by Russia who naturally didn’t want to miss out on their chance at World Cup qualification.

 
Flag of Russia.

Before the qualifiers got under way though, there was still time for one friendly game and on August 17th, 1992, Mexico visited Moscow’s Lokomotiv Stadium to play in what was to be the Russia’s first international match as a modern state.

Amazingly, the short-sleeved version of the white Soviet dazzle shirt was brought back from the dead yet again (insert some sort of obvious Rasputin joke here), now being employed as a home jersey for Russia who were to wear white as a primary shirt colour. The only difference to what the USSR would have worn the year before was the shorts, which were the same as the CIS (minus numbers) rather than the shorter in length red-trimmed pairs used by the Soviets, which also meant that the kit contained both a trefoil on the shirt and Adidas Equipment logo on the shorts.


Russia wearing the old Soviet Union away shirt as their first ever home shirt, vs Mexico, friendly, 1992.

This meant that the jersey in question had now been worn by three different teams representing three separate political entities – also surely the only instance of it’s kind – as well as  the interesting dichotomy of a post-communist Russian side wearing a hammer and sickle insignia on their chests.

The use of the shirt did make sense though, as considering the turmoil of the time, it is not really surprising that producing new sports gear was not on top of anyone’s agenda. Of the available options to hand, it was evidently felt to be more appropriate to revert back to the less obviously Soviet shirt, rather than wear one which blatantly proclaimed “CIS”.

And so would be the state of Russian football and it’s kits going into the World Cup qualifiers of October 1992. With the upcoming tournament set to be hosted by their old Cold War rivals in the United States, surely a country with such stature and proud sporting tradition would have their own national team shirts ready to start a journey that would lead to a first appearance on the world stage…

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Russia, 1994 FIFA World Cup Qualification

On December 8th, 1991 – eighteen days before the USSR dissolved – the World Cup qualifier draw took place. The addition of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania helped to boost the number of participating European teams from 32 to 39, which dropped to 38 after the withdrawal of Lichtenstein who had been set to take part for the first time.

But the the changing political map inevitably meant the disappearance of  states also, with this having a profound effect specifically on Group 5. The group as originally drawn had contained the USSR and Yugoslavia – itself in the process of collapsing into chaos – as the first and second seeds:

While Russia would ultimately be awarded the Soviet Union’s place on June 1st, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (now not including Croatia, Slovenia, or FYR Macedonia) had been suspended by FIFA and UEFA a few days earlier, after UN sanctions relating to the region’s escalating war. The immediate impact was losing out on their Euro ’92 spot, but also removal from the World Cup qualifiers (now down to 37 teams).

As the top seeds had lost a significant portion of the available players who would have joined the Russians in a united Soviet/CIS side, and the second seeds having vanished entirely, Group 5 was left unusually weak. Five groups of six teams and one of seven had originally been intended, but the Yugoslav suspension also created the odd situation where Group 5 contained only five teams, compared to the bloated seven of Group 3. Also worth mentioning is that only two points were still being awarded for a win rather than three at this stage, and the ultimate top two teams in each group would qualify.

Four of the five countries in Gourp 5 weren’t involved in the 1992 European Championships, so some qualifying games had already taken place in May and June of that year. Further fixtures in September and October meant that some teams had played two, or in the case of Iceland, three times before the brand new Russian side had even taken part in a group game. But later that month, the wait would finally be over.

UEFA Qualifying Group 5:

Russia
Hungary
Greece
Iceland
Luxembourg

Match 1, home to Iceland , 14/10/1992:

18,000 fans braved the cold in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium for Russia’s first ever competitive game in their modern form, and the somewhat appropriate visit of Iceland (especially considering the tradition of playing Scandinavian teams in the pre-WW1 era). The low temperature was evident at the two benches, where hats, gloves and indeed blankets were the order of the day:

But more important, of course, was what was being worn on the pitch, and in answer to our rhetorical pondering at the end of the Background section, Russia in fact did take to the field once again using the old Soviet away shirt as a home jersey; naturally now employing the long sleeved version for the more wintry conditions.

However, someone had at least dug up a set on which the crest had yet to be applied, and additionally the trefoil was covered up with a Russian flag. Perhaps this shows that bitterness towards the west hadn’t just dried up over night, or else more likely that there was no actual deal with Adidas in place and Russia were just “pirating” the shirts:

But in the absence of their own bespoke national team shirt, a way was still found to further differentiate that it was in fact Russia playing and not the USSR, as the shorts and socks were now blue and red respectively. This amazingly meant that a shirt originally intended to bare a hammer and sickle in it’s crest, was now the top section of a kit that’s colours made up the Russian flag:

Added to this brilliance is the sheer delight of a shirt matched with shorts and socks that it wasn’t designed to be used with. After the Adidas Equipment shorts worn against Mexico, the shorter in length trefoil style was back, and we also get what appears to be another of our old favourites; an outfield player wearing goalkeeper gloves for no other reason than to keep warm:

Iceland for their part were in their first choice strip of blue and white, and the white/blue vs blue/white of the two team’s shirts and shorts created a clash situation the likes of which we have seen Bulgaria continually try to avoid before (again see link above). But it was clearly a minor miracle that Russia were able to take to the field in “their own” kits at all, so it is maybe no surprise that nothing was said here:

With their nearly Soviet shirts/Russian flag kits, a second half goal by Sergei Yuran – a Ukrainian who like Andrei Kanchelskis had chosen to declare for Russia – was enough to give the hosts “all 2 points”,  in what was a historic game for the nation.

Russia 1 – 0 Iceland

Match 2, home to Luxembourg , 28/10/1992:

If conditions were bad for the Iceland encounter, then things were about to hit a whole new level two weeks later for the visit of another of Europe’s “minnows” in Luxembourg, as the Russian winter really began to set in. The match would most likely have been postponed in modern times, but as this was 1992 it went ahead and as a result may be one of the most heroic games in the history of the sport.

In comparison to the 18,000 in attendance for the previous fixture – modest for a country of nearly 150 million but respectable, all things considered – only 1750 spectators made it to the same venue. Part of the reason was a heavy snow, which from certain camera angles made it seem like the game was being played in the middle of desolate tundra rather than a football stadium. Despite obviously having been cleared using some sort of vehicle, a fine layer also covered much of the pitch, but enough was visible to allow for the sports game to proceed:

And it was a good thing too, as finally Russia were able to wear jerseys that they could call their own – albeit quite bare ones which clearly weren’t made for them. Adidas was again the brand, with the trefoil on the chest again covered with a Russian flag as the “caretaker crest”. But dark blue raglan sleeves were accompanied by red Adidas stripes, as well as the branding on the shorts and socks, making it quite clear what was being worn:

The blue shorts from the Iceland game were retained, but since Luxembourg were wearing all-red, white socks with blue trim were introduced.

The away team’s shirt was noteworthy for it’s use of another elaborate Adidas template of the era (a sort of cousin of the Soviet dazzle shirt, in spirit if not design), which may not have been used by any other national side (seen here worn by Legia Warsaw). The near-turquoise shade of blue as a secondary colour only adds to the beautiful strangeness:

As you can see above, leggings were employed by most if not all the players, another of our favourite old school practices (and you better believe someone was wearing goalkeeper gloves who shouldn’t have been). The eccentric Luxembourgian manager-legend Paul Philipp (apparently nicknamed “The Spasti One”) was well prepared for the Moscow freeze too, donning a stylish-but-practical parka, while also exhibiting the equally fetching orange Adidas Tango ball:

Continuing the impressive the side-line style was the unmistakably Adidas jacket being warn by the official in charge of substitutes. Bonus points are added for the large manual number indicators, while the sparse crowd can be seen on the snow covered terrace opposite:

The fans who had braved the elements were rewarded with an early goal from that man Yuran, which was followed by another from Dmitri Radchenko to give Russia their second victory. While the game against Mexico had been historic for being their first match, and the Iceland game their first competitive match, now Russia had played their first game in what were their own actual shirts. Kind of.

Russia 2 – 0 Luxembourg

Early 1993 friendlies:

Russia’s next two games came the following January in the Nehru Cup, an annual tournament hosted by India that the Soviet Union had participated in and won several times. While it is pretty irrelevant to our main subject, the make up of that year’s competition may be one of the most amazing and diverse assortments of national teams you could find, with Finland, Bolivia, Cameroon and North Korea (the eventual winners) joining Russia and the hosts. What we do not know is if Russia maintained their makeshift kits for the tournament, as presumably short sleeved versions were at least needed for the Indian heat.

But by the following month, when Russia took on the United States in Orlando – just over a year after CIS had played there in Soviet shirts – they did so at last wearing a kit that was entirely made for them. Adidas had been replaced by Reebok, who at this stage were just beginning to wade in to the football kit market, and a template that was used that we have seen before (see Retro Shirt Reviews #3).

The brazen incorporation of a huge Reebook logo motif on the shirt was quite the turn around from covering up the Adidas logo the previous year, with a smaller Reebok logo within the left shoulder section, and interestingly there were front numbers as well as finally an actual real crest. The shiny shorts, which too were shorter in length than the Adidas Equipment style, also featured a modified version of the big Reebok logo:

With this modern and stylish outfit, the last remnants of the previous era finally faded away (although the red away shirt and white shorts used due to the USA’s white shirts and blue shorts, gave quite an almost Soviet feel to the kit). Or so you would have thought…

That is because after completing the North American tour with two more games against El Salvador and the USA, Russia traveled to Israel for one last friendly in March before the qualifiers resumed, and incredibly went back to old Soviet shirts. This time the red version of the dazzle shirt was worn, again using a batch with no crest, but unlike the Iceland game the trefoil remained unobscured (perhaps not seen as an issue since this was a lower profile game). White “per-Equipment” Adidas shorts were used, but based on the stripe count, the white socks appear to have been of another brand:

Match 3, away to Luxembourg , 14/04/1993:

After the hellish conditions in Moscow for the previous tie (although hell is hot so that’s not really apt), 3180 were in attendance on a calmer spring evening at the classically European Stade Municipal in Luxembourg for the return game, thus giving a nation of less than half a million people a greater turn out than the biggest country in the world.

The hosts wore the same red kit as seen in Russia, while the visitors chose to go with all-white rather than blue shorts as before. But more notably, after having paid homage to their Soviet predecessors by bringing back a shirt that seemed done and dusted, Russia returned to Reebok once and for all.

The home version of the red shirt seen against the USA was used, but curiously the number was moved to the right rather than centrally like on the away. This seems to be because the red section of the big Reebok logo comes down at a more diagonal angle on the home shirt; too close for comfort to the also red numbers. The white socks used with the otherwise Adidas kit against Israel were also back, indicating that they were indeed Reebok made:

Goals from Kiryakov, Shalimov and Kulkov delivered a 4-0 victory as expected for the Russians, seen below following the third goal with marvelous Germanic country names and frilled flag graphics:

Luxembourg 0 – 4 Russia

Match #4, home to Hungary , 28/04/1993:

On a fine evening for football, 25,000 were in attendance at the Luzhniki for the visit of Hungary next, now the de-factor second seeds in the group. Having only come up against the two weakest sides so far, this was to be somewhat of a sterner test for Russia, although the visitors were in the midst of a particularly weak era.

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As Hungary’s red, white and green Umbro-made strip did not produce any sort of clash, Russia could go back to their first choice “flag kit” of white, blue and red:

It was the first time that the blue Reebok shorts were being seen (at least in a competitive setting) and what a shade of blue they were, as well as that amazing shininess:

To top off the day, goals from the two Ukrainian born players mentioned earlier and one from Kolyvanov in between gave Russia a 3-0 victory, keeping up their impressive 100% record in competitive football to date and with zero goals conceded. Of course more impressive to use was their streak of not yet wearing the same kit more than once.

But with the respectable crowd and comfortable weather conditions, full first-preference colours and kit with actual crest, and an emphatic victory over a regional rival with a proud football tradition, this finally felt like Russia’s first true big day as a national team.

Russia 3 – 0 Hungary

Match #5, at home to Greece , 23/05/1993:

As Russia’s march towards qualification went on, so too rose the crowd as the visit of  Greece attracted 35,000 spectators. Before the game, a minute’s silence took place. If anyone knows the reason why, do get in touch.

The all-white kit seen away to Luxembourg made a return for Russia, making it the first time so far that they had actually worn the same kit twice. This allowed the visitors to use their all-blue Diadora affair, which made more sense than the over-all clash that would have occurred if they had gone with blue shirts and white shorts against Russia’s apparent first preference of white shirts and blue shorts, like what happened at the Iceland game:

This seems like a good point to give our customary nod to the goalkeeper’s attire. Here, cult-hero Dimitri Kharine was in a classically early ’90s top featuring black sleeves, a busy yellow and purple/pink design on the torso with no crest, a multicoloured horizontal band (seeming to be dark yellow from a distance) that also appears at the end of the sleeves, and of course his trademark tracksuit bottoms:

More delightful Adidas FIFA gear was being worn by the sideline official; a tracksuit in the style (and colourway) of the shirt template that had been used by France a couple of years prior, among others. A less well-dressed, slightly suspicious individual (purely due to his out of place-ness) stands near by:

On the pitch Russia finally conceded a goal and dropped points, but a penalty from another Ukrainian born player Igor Dobrovolski was enough to keep the ever growing Luzhniki-faithful confident of progression to the World Cup:

Russia 1 – 1 Greece

Match #6, away to Iceland , 02/06/1993:

Russia next traveled to Reykjavík, and with a similar athletics ground and attendance (3308) to the Luxembourg away game, the visitors  were no doubt equally expectant of a similar result here which would secure qualification. But Iceland had taken a point in Luxembourg in their previous match, and more impressively had beaten Hungary 2-1 in Budapest a year and a day before this visit of Russia. Although conditions were better than for the reverse fixture the previous year, you wouldn’t have been able to tell it was summer time by the Icelandic bench who were wrapped up very snugly:

Meanwhile, in the ten days since the Greece game, Russia had only gone and got themselves another new kit. The big Reebok logo was replaced by a solid blue shoulder/sleeve with red border, and both the crest and front number had been moved from their respective sides to the centre of the shirt. The more contemporary longer and non-shiny shorts style was also back on Russian lower-halves:

With Iceland in the same strip as in Moscow, Russia debuted another new combination in white, white and red, helping create more of a difference than before, although the large blue element on especially the shirt (but also the shorts reflected from the shirt sleeve onto the opposite leg) meant that there was basically enough similarity to potentially still cause problems:

Kharine was also in a new shirt which still featured purple prominently while grey replaced yellow as the accompanying colour, but like the previous version, no crest was to be seen:

For the second match in a row Russia went a goal down, before Kiriakov pulled one back for another 1-1 draw:

The point earned gave Russia 10 points to date, behind Greece on 13 who had already mathematically qualified. Iceland would continue their good form with 2-0 and 1-0 home wins next against Hungary and Luxembourg respectively to conclude their group games, but it was not to be enough as they could only finish on 8 points. Hence, Russia had qualified for their first World Cup finals.

Iceland 1 – 1 Russia

Summer Friendly:

In late July, Russia went to Paris for a friendly match against France. With the way the new Russia kit had fit together against Iceland, it seemed that perhaps white shirts, white shorts and red socks had been decided on as new first preference colours. But with the French also in their usual white shorts and red socks, a change was already needed.

Russia went to white socks not yet seen, featuring a Reebok logo half way down. But the all-white look was decided against in favour of blue shorts, and since apparently none had yet been made to go with the new shirt template, the big Reebook logo/shiny style made a return creating another mis-matched kit (both in design and shade of blue):

Match #7, away to Hungary , 08/09/1993:

With the pressure now off, Russia could go to Hungary in September in a relaxed mood, although top spot in the group was still up for grabs between them and Greece.

As we have seen before in our debut edition of the Cold War Classic, Hungary seemed to have a habit of inexplicably wearing their away shirts at home. This seemed to have been the same here as both teams turned out in change kits, with the hosts ending up in Russia’s own home colour of white; odd since the two countries home strips had clearly been proved compatible at the reverse fixture in Moscow.

But the issue may have stemmed from the visitors, as Russia debuted another new shirt: a blue version of the template on the home shirt, with red replacing blue on the sleeve. Why this shirt was brought instead of the white one is a mystery, but presumably the presence of the large red block was deemed significant enough by the referee (who must have been stricter than the one in charge of the Iceland away game) to clash with Hungary’s red shirt, who instead then used their white away shirt and white socks to match instead of the usual green:

To make matters stranger, Russia had still yet to come up with accompanying blue shorts to match the new template, despite now even having a blue version of the shirt itself. As a result, the big Reebok logo shorts in blue used against France were retained, while red socks with solid white turn overs were seen for the first time:

Uzbek-born Andrey Pyatnitsky opened the scoring for the visitors, a player who was on his 4th national team, exceeding even the dazzle shirt. Pyatnitsky had featured in one match for the USSR in 1990 and was a CIS regular in ’92, but had also earned two caps for his home country of Uzbekistan before finally switching to Russia in 1993.

Hungary pulled one back shortly after, but a Kiriakov goal in the second half gave the advantage back to the visitors and was met with a hail of projectiles from Budapest’s unhappy Népstadion as the Russian players celebrated:

Aleksandr Borodyuk strike in the 89th minute secured an away win to keep Russia undefeated and end their mini-run of 1-1 draws.

Hungary 1-3 Russia

Autumn Friendly:

Russia had now played 7 of their 8 games in the group, and with final opponents and top-spot rivals Greece still play to Luxembourg in October in between, Russia used the time to play a friendly in Saudi Arabia. With the Saudi’s in white shirts, green shorts, and white socks, the Russians channeled the French by going blue, white and red:

But even though Russia could have worn the white shorts seen against Iceland which would have perfectly complimented the away shirt, for some reason the white big Reebok logo shorts were resurrected to also get their chance to be mis-matched with the away shirt:

Match #8, away to Greece , 17/11/1993:

After Greece had won in Luxembourg as expected, the last match of the group when Russia were to visit Athens became a virtual play-off to see who would top the group as both teams had 12 points going in to the game, although Russia had a superior goal difference in the case of a draw. But with both sides already on their way to their respective debut appearances at a World Cup, there was a festive atmosphere with plenty of pyro from the 75,000 in attendance at the Olympic Stadium to greet the teams:

Better late than never, but here we finally get a look at some excellent Russian tracksuit tops as the players  pose for their team photo:

This was another game where it seems like it would have made most sense to repeat the kit configuration of the previous tie, with Greece in all-blue and Russia in all-white to eliminate any confusion.  Instead we got a repeat of the colour swatch from Russia’s opening game of the group against Iceland, as Greece wore blue, white and blue with Russia in white, blue and red.

But the issue with the shirt template that seemed to have caused the away-kit vs away-kit situation in Hungary reared it’s head again, as evidently it was felt that the amount of blue on the sleeve of the home shirt would clearly clash with the Greek jerseys. And so the big Reebok logo joined it’s shorts counterpart and was resurrected, the first time it had been seen since Greece came to Moscow in May, but unlike on previous occasions front numbers did not feature. To appropriately conclude things, news socks were debuted; red versions of the ones which displayed a Reebok logo halfway down:

This is a game that we will come back to cover itself on the site some day, as unsurprisingly there was pyro on the pitch, and plenty of it as it was to be Greece’s night. The only goal of the game came in the 69th minute to seal the game and give Russia their first competitive defeat, and the team who had originally been fourth seeds topped the group.

In the light of their own qualification, this won’t have mattered too much to the Russians in the end. But more impressive than their achievements on the pitch in their first 14 months as team, was their amazing record of having worn seven distinctively different kits in their eight games of the group, summing up and wrapping up this incredibly interesting time period for the team, and the series of events that had led to it.

Greece 1 – 0 Russia

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Breakdown:

Team: Russia 
Years: 1992, 1993
Competition: World Cup '94 qualifiers
Kit Supplier: Adidas(unofficial?)/Reebok
Competitive Games: 8
Kit Colour Combinations: 5
Kit Technical Combinations: 7

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Aftermath:

This was not to be the end of Russia’s relationship with the big Reebok logo shirt as at least three more versions would be used through home and away kits in ’94, ’95 and ’96,  between various other Reebok kits. Which is perfect really considering what we have seen here. The other template with the blue seelve, meanwhile, never saw the light of the day again, clearly being deemed more hassle than it was worth. But it was a nice idea.

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Politics On The Pitch #1: Changing Eastern Europe and the World Cup ’94 Qualifiers

We had originally planned on only briefly discussing the topic for this very first edition of Politics On the Pitch (yes, another POTP acronym) as a prelude to an upcoming Champagne Kit Campaign (For the debut of Champagne Kit Campaigns, focusing on Norway in the same time period, click here).

However, it quickly became apparent that an in depth look was needed as we felt more and more compelled to delve into the crux of where politics and football met leading up to the UEFA qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup (We have no idea if one can “delve into a crux” or not but we’re bloody well doing it).

We look back on this campaign as THE all-time classic qualification phase in Europe, partly due to age and nationality, but the changing political face of the world at the time also created some unique situations and contributed to the general magic.

On December 8th, 1991, thirty seven national teams were entered into the UEFA section of the draw to decide groups for the upcoming World Cup ’94 qualifiers. Political turmoil in eastern Europe meant that three of these countries would either not compete in their current form or not take part at all: the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

But a further three in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were freshly reformed nations competing for the chance to play at the tournament for the first time in decades. One side had already disappeared since the last World Cup as East Germany had been reunified with West on October 3rd, 1990.


Sepp Blatter and Franz Beckenbauer at the FIFA World Cup draw in 1991 for UEFA.

Some other former communist states such as Poland (1989), Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania (all 1990) had also already completed the transition to new “democratic”, capitalist regimes. These changes were first evident at an international tournament when Romania competed at World Cup ’90 under a restored, pre-communist flag and played in shirts devoid of a badge, the previous one being synonymous with the recently booted government.


Romania kit at World Cup '90, sans a crest.

Romanian supporters also displayed the banner of the revolution against President Ceaușescu; a Romanian flag with the coat of arms of the old regime literally cut out of the middle. Eight years earlier at a World Cup ’82 in a match against the USSR, Polish fans had displayed banners of the anti-communist Solidarity movement showing a sign of what was coming down the line, until Spanish police forced their removal upon pressure from Soviet TV.


Polish banners of the Solidarity movement at World Cup '82.

But the above were all nation states that had not been absorbed into into bigger unions. For countries within these unions, it would take a little more time to reemerge on to the international stage. Elections had taken place across the various republics of the USSR and Yugoslavia in 1990, but a complex sequence of events would still need to take place before independence could be achieved.

Eventually, after the chaos of the failed August 1991 coup, a weakened Soviet Union recognised the independence of the Baltic states on the 6th of September,  in time for them to join UEFA and enter the draw for World Cup qualifying.

On January 1st, 1992, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. The other former Soviet countries were not as lucky as the Baltic nations and would not be entered into World Cup qualifying, but a more pressing matter was the fact that the failed state had already qualified for the upcoming European Championships in Sweden.

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) had formed in December ’91 by the soon to be former Soviet republics as a loose international confederation, but on January 11th, 1992, a football association of the CIS was also formed and swiftly accepted into UEFA to replace the USSR at the European Championships.


CIS shirt at Euro '92.

The CIS team represented the following 12 countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia (despite not entering the actual CIS until 1995), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. But at the Euros the team contained mostly Russians and Ukrainians, with one Georgian and one Belorussian.


CIS supporters celebrate a goal against Germany at Euro '92. The white flag with the red star, hammer and sickle, and blue bar at the bottom, is the former Soviet naval ensign.

Meanwhile, the situation in Yugoslavia had deteriorated into war. The Balkan state had been out been outside the Warsaw Pact and had been led by what may be as close to a benevolent dictator the 20th century had seen in Tito, and throughout the Cold War some eastern European players had used away games in Yugoslavia as a chance to defect to the west. Despite this, it’s exit from the communist era was the bloodiest of all and the ramifications of this rippled through to the sporting world.

Like the USSR, Yugoslavia had qualified for Euro ’92 in the midst of it’s socialist state dissolving. As Croatia, Slovenia and FYR Macadonia broke away, the remaining territory became the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, later known as Serbia and Montenegro.

Their football team was set to take the place of the original Yugoslavia at the Euros but just ten days before the tournament, on May 31st, 1992, the team was banned from competing and replaced with eventual winners Denmark. This was in accordance with the UN Security Council’s Resolution 757 which placed sanctions on the country as the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina went on.

The ban lasted until 1996, meaning Yugoslavia were also out of World Cup qualifying. They had originally been Pool 2 seeds and drawn in Group 5, fittingly along with top seeds the Soviet Union.


The original World Cup Qualifying Group 5, featuring the USSR and Yugoslavia.

The CIS concluded it’s brief existence in international football losing to Scotland at the Euros on June 18th, 1992. Ukraine had proposed a new tournament for the teams who had made up the CIS so they would have something to compete for in lieu of the World Cup. This was supported by Armenia and Georgia, but blocked by Russia.

In August, Russia was officially recognised by FIFA as the USSR/CIS successor state and take it’s place in qualifying Group 5 along with Greece, Iceland, Hungary and Luxembourg, but without the stricken Yugoslavia.

Most interesting to note was that in Russia’s first international since 1914, a friendly against Mexico in August ’92, they would in fact continue to wear what was previously the white away shirt of the USSR, now apparently repurposed as a home shirt. The only difference in the kit was that the Adidas trefoil-era shorts of the Soviets (white with red trim) were replaced with shorts of the new Adidas Equipment line (plain white but for a black brand logo).


 Left: USSR vs Italy, October '91. Right: Russia vs Mexico, August '92.

Russia playing in Soviet shirts vs Mexico, August '92.

The shirt would again be worn when Russia made their World Cup qualifying debut at home to Iceland in October but with blue shorts and red socks, amazingly meaning that the Soviet shirt was now part of an overall Russian flag. By the following game at home to Luxembourg, Russia finally wore their own shirts, albeit very bare.


 Russian kit vs Iceland, October '92.

Although plain, Russia finally gets it's own shirt against Luxembourg, October '92.

This unusual kit sequence clearly needs it’s own article, which will happen in due course. But back to the actual group and the absence of Yugoslavia, along with Russia’s smaller talent pool than it’s predecessor, meant that it was far weaker than when originally drawn. This paved the way for Greece to top the group and qualify for it’s first World Cup, with Russia joining them in second.

While their fellow former Soviet republics were denied the right to play competitively until Euro 96 qualifiers in 1994, the Baltic states were all happily placed as bottom seeds in Pool 6 of the draw.


Sepp Blatter draws Estonia as the first country out of the hat after the top seeds had been assigned their groups.

After original independence from the collapsed Russian Empire in 1917, Estonia had first competed as a national team in 1920, with Latvia following suit in 1922 and Lithuania the following year. Estonia and Lithuania had taken part in qualifying for the 1934 and 1938 World Cups, with Latvia also competing in the latter, so it would not technically be new ground for any of the three. However, as all were annexed by the USSR in 1940 and as UEFA did not form until 1954, the 1994 campaign would be their first as UEFA affiliated countries.

Estonia were drawn in a tough Group 1 along with Italy, Switzerland, Portugal, Scotland and Malta. Unsurprisingly, they only managed one point from a 0-0 draw away to Malta and only scored one goal in the entire campaign during a 3-1 defeat to Scotland.


Estonia score their lone goal of the campaign away to Scotland.

Latvia and Lithuania had been drawn against each other in a group of two back when they last competed in 1937. Since both were bottom seeds, it should have been impossible for the neighbours to clash this time. However, due to the uneven amount of teams in the draw, fate would have it that after the long wait to rejoin international competition they would again be drawn together in Group 3, along with an eastern country that we have not mentioned yet in Albania.

Spain, Ireland, Denmark and Northern Ireland made up the rest of the group, creating the unusual situation where this group had seven teams, while due to Yugoslavia’s suspension Group 5 only contained five (the other 4 groups had six each).


Albania, Latvia and Lithuania drawn together in Group 3.

Albania had originally been a Warsaw Pact member but broke away in 1960 and remained a deeply secretive and less well known state. Despite this, it had been a founder member of UEFA in 1954 and competed in Euro and World Cup qualification in the ’60s.

But then, due to internal political reasons, the country would not compete at all in ’68 and ’69, and again from ’74 until ’80 (apart from three Balkan Cup games against Yugoslavia in ’76 and ’77, and one friendly against Algeria in ’77). They would return for the World Cup ’82 qualifying campaign and remain in competition ever since.

Like the rest of the region, Albania held democratic elections by 1991, but the transition from communism was difficult and the country remained poor. The turmoil was evident when they visited Dublin to play Ireland in May 1992 without a kit (a shame as they had worn some beautiful kits in the 80’s and very early 90’s). For more information on this episode, and Lithuania ending up in a similar situation away to Ireland the following year, check out this Museum of Jerseys piece.


Albania in a hasitly prepared kit away to Ireland, May '92.

Lithuania, Latvia and Albania would unsurprisingly finish 5th, 6th and 7th in the group, mostly taking points off each other. But delightfully, Latvia did manage respectable 0-0 draws at home to both Denmark and Spain.


Latvia holding Spain to a 0-0, September '92.

Lithuania 1-1 Latvia, October '92.

The last of the former communist states to cover is Czechoslovakia. Over the course of ’89-’90, the communist government collapsed and the country formally transformed on April 23rd, 1990, from the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic to the Czech and Slovak Federalist Republic. This was seen in effect at the World Cup draw the following year as “CSFR” was used to represent the country on the group board.


Democratic Czechoslovakia of '89-'92, aka CSFR, seconds seeds in Group 4.

They were drawn in Group 4 along with Belgium, Romania, Wales, Cyprus and the debuting Faroe Islands (San Marino in Group 2 and Isreal in Group 6 were the other new sides added to UEFA’s system) and would compete as Czechoslovkia for the first three matches. But as 1992 progressed, Slovakian calls for greater autonomy resulted in the break up of the federation, and on January 1st, 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovkia both came into existence as independent states.

Like the the USSR becoming the CIS in ’92, the team completed the group as a new entity, the Representation of Czechs and Slovaks (RCS). Unlike with the CIS though, this was purely a sporting union and not representative of an actual political body.

Most notable was the team’s away shirt which saw use away to Wales in September ’93, a template also infamously used for Arsenal’s ’91-’93 away shirt.


RCS away shirt away to Wales, September '93.

A win on the last day of the group away to Belgium would have meant qualification through 2nd place, and presumably the continued existence of RCS until at least the following summer after the World Cup. However, the game ended 0-0 and Belgium took 2nd instead with RCS finishing 3rd.

Slovakia had previously competed while a Nazi puppet state in the World War 2 era and fielded unofficial teams again from 1992, but they would officially reemerge in February ’94 away to the UAE. The Czech Republic would go on to be official successor of the Czechoslovakian and RCS teams and play their first match, away to Turkey, three weeks after their new neighbours, in a way putting an end to the era we have disucssed.

Only 2 of the 6 groups for the World Cup ’94 qualifiers did not contain the results of states breaking up or gaining independence since the 80’s. This continued fragmentation meant that the draw for Euro ’96 qualifying would rise to 47 countries with the addition of the other post-Soviet European countries and former Yugoslav states. This would increase even more into the future as the Balkans further divided, and the likes of Kazakhstan eventually joined.

As Europe and the world in general continue to evolve rapidly, who knows how differently qualification groups of the future may look compared with today, as the addition or removal of even more states is as inevitable as it always has been. That is, of course, should the concept of modern states continue to even exist.

Cold War Classic #3

You now love Pyro On The Pitch as an international institution, but did you know that we also contribute to the wonderful MuseumOfJersey.com? The third installment of our guest series over there, the Cold War Classic, is now up.

If you enjoy any combination of interesting retro football kits, beautifully vivid illustrations of said retro football kits (by main man Denis Hurley), a bit of sociopolitical history and classic cold war era match ups (with maybe a bit of trademark Pyro On The Pitch absurdity), then we think you’ll dig it.

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Cold War Classic no. 3 – France v USSR, 1972

“A World Cup qualifier in Paris on October 10, 1972 between France and the Soviet Union was one of 12 meetings in total between the two before the latter would cease to exist. At a time when diplomatic relations were strained between east and west, such friendly sporting relationships must have only strengthened ties between peoples divided by competing political systems, with sport acting as a lingua franca to remind humanity of it’s common ground.

No matter your skin colour, religious background, social class or ideology, worldwide appreciation for a good old game of ball showed us that at the end of the day we were all the same (that is, a weird, mostly hairless, over-evolved primate thing with a universal fascination for this possibly esoteric activity)….”

Read on:
https://museumofjerseys.com/2017/12/07/cold-war-classic-no-3-france-v-ussr-1972/