First International Football in Soviet Russia

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.

IMG_2097A photograph smuggled out of Soviet Russia in Vining’s football

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