It is claimed that the first international match in Soviet Russia was in 1922 when the Finnish Workers’ Sports Team played a team in Petrograd. However in May 1920, two years before the Finns crossed the frontier, Leonard Vining organised an international match between the British Army and a Soviet team in the city of Irkutsk.
The British, bolstered by a Sikh named Jiht Singh, played four matches, which they lost. Vining included a couple of rugby players in the team, who lacked skill but flattened the opposition and this brought loud cheers from the spectators on the touch line. The match against the German and Austrian former PoWs, who were now employed as guards, was a surprisingly friendly affair, but Vining was very irritated to lose 2-4.
Vining kept two footballs in his possession. One was used in the matches, but in the other, he placed his photographs between the bladder and the outer skin. These were never found in the searches by the Secret Police and he managed to smuggle them out of the country when he was released six months later.
A photograph smuggled out of Soviet Russia in Vining’s football
On the night of Good Friday, 2nd April 1920, Captain Francis McCullough was arrested by the Soviet Secret Police in Moscow and taken from his room at the Savoy Hotel to the notorious Lubjanka prison. He was arrested for sending a signal to the War Office informing them about Captain Brian Horrocks and the other British Army prisoners-of-war he left behind in Krasnoyarsk.
He had just removed the photograph with Director of Military Intelligence stamped on the back from the lining of his coat, which is just as well because the armed guards searched his belongings thoroughly. In Lubjanka, he suffered the de-humanising process of three intrusive body searches and was then shoved into a cell with a wrenching smell of urine and excreta. On the third day of solitary confinement, with his senses tortured by light and noise assaults, he was interrogated by the infamous Tcheka inquisitors Xenofontov and Mogilevsky.
After several hours of questioning, they switched tack and tried to recruit him into the Soviet intelligence network. All this is revealed in the MI6 report written after he returned to London and was interviewed in the Hyde Park Hotel.