Sickle as Aparrot; How, at the Height of the Cold War, Arsenal and the Foreign Office Handed the Soviet Union a Humiliating Propaganda Coup
Byline: MARTIN DELGADO
THE Cold War was at its frostiest: the nuclear arms race had entered a terrifying phase, Soviet tanks had crushed a workers' rebellion in East Berlin and Nikita Khrushchev was ruling the Kremlin with an iron fist.
So when, in 1954, Arsenal became the first British football team to be invited to the USSR, the visit took on huge political significance, triggering a flurry of secret messages between the British Embassy in Moscow and the Foreign Office in Whitehall.
A Soviet victory would be exploited by the Kremlin to prove the sporting supremacy of the communist world.
It would be humiliating for the capitalist West and show that Britain could not even succeed at the one activity it was supposed to be supremely good at: football.
Arsenal, after a series of championship triumphs, were in the doldrums under manager Tom Whittaker. And the Government believed the Russians had deliberatelyinvited a poorly performing team so that their star side, Dynamo Moscow, could thrash them.
Britain feared the Russians might sap the visitors' energy by taking them on exhausting sightseeing trips just before the match, according to Foreign Office documents just released by The National Archives under the 50-year rule.
Even worse, they might try to get them drunk.
So serious was the situation that Foreign Office spooks indulged in a bit of gamesmanship of their own, suggesting that talented players from other English clubs be drafted in to beef up the side.
But a British Embassy official in Moscow put a cold sponge on that idea in a gloomy message to London: 'Arsenal are bound to be beaten whether or not they include "guest" players. If Arsenal are going out, I think it would be better if they are represented by a strictly Arsenal team. …