BRITS, WHO GAVE RUSSIA FOOTBALL
The death of the class enemy
It was 1919. Man was dying on а prison hospital bed. He would be identified later only by the white cloth around his wrist with the shaky letters of his name that he had scribbled on it. He had been arrested and tortured in a Moscow prison as an English spy (а pretty standard accusation) and аs a class enemy. His kidneys were failing from the violent beating he was subjected. He was getting no medical help – it was too late . He was dying of typhoid infection he had contracted in prison. A male nurse Moroshkin who had happened to be nearby had recognised him and had not been afraid to approach him to fulfil the wish of the dying man for a pencil. He had watched him writing the unfamiliar foreign letters: Arthur MacPherson.
Nurse Moroshkin lived in St Petersburg before moving to Moscow and he remembered well the grey day of the 24th of September 1893 when he saw something astonishing happen on the Semenovsky Military Exercise Ground.
It was difficult not to notice then this man who was dying right now. He had looked very different-stocky, dressed in expensive coat and top hat and he had a bushy moustache. What was really astonishing was that this respectable gentleman did not act like one. He was laughing loudly and excitedly like a child and shouted something in English without taking off his eyes from the event on the Ground for a minute.
Semenovsky Military Exercise Ground was a place where sad events had occurred in the past, or example, the public execution of members of the Petrashevskiy society and the civil execution of Feodor Dostoevskiy. But at the end of the XIX century the Ground became a place of recreation and entertainment. There were races between horses and cyclists, to see who will win – a machine or a horse’s muscles. People adored these competitions as they saw it as a competition between the Past and the Future. The cyclist Pokhilsky won by 2 minutes from a cabby that day despite the wet ground. The Future from which all sorts of miracles were expected had beaten the Past. After the interval a normal horse race was announced. Something astonishing happened during the interval.
The Ground suddenly was filled by men in white pullovers and white trunks: their knees were naked. One old lady in a shawl near Moroshkin looking at their naked knees spat on the ground in disgust and quickly crossed herself saying:”No shame in them bloody foreigners!” but did not move to leave and watched with interest.
The men in white were Brits from the textile mills of Vasiliev Ostrov (Island) where they worked as engineers, foremen and equipment repairmen. The game they played was very strange indeed.
In the liquid grey mud they were kicking with their feet a leather ball looking like a cabbage head. Their clothes soon became grey and brown in colour but they did not pay any attention and were fighting obsessively for that leather object as if their lives depended on it and shouted at each other in their foreign language.
People around were dying with laughter looking at this mock battle but Moroshkin started to understand that there were certain rules in the chaos, which were refereed by the man in the black pullover. The two teams of players were not allowed to touch the ball with their hands and in order to win they had to get the ball inside the opposite “gates”. Moroshkin felt that he was completely taken with this new and strange spectacle.
He turned to the respectable gentlemen in the top hat with moustache who stood nearby – the very one who was dying now on the hospital bed – and asked him:
—What sort of game is it?
—This game, my friend, is called foot–ball.
The gentleman had answered this in Russian without any foreign accent at all.
Moroshkin could not get the game out of his head since that day. He attended every game that was advertised by the tabloid “The Peterburgskiy Listok”.
During the Great War he started playing himself between battles. Then the Revolution happened in 1917…
…The man on the bed had died at last – his sufferings were over. There was a piece of white cloth on his hand with his name “Arthur MacPherson”.
It was impossible to recognise in the dead man the President of the very first All–Russian Football Union, the President of first All–Russian Lawn Tennis Union, the Head of Rowing Society “The Arrow (Strela), benefactor of a dozen charities, timber trader, St.Petersburg stock Exchange dealer and a Laureate of the Imperial Order of Stanislaus, the first order in Russian Empire which was ever given for sport activities.
But in 1919 sport was not on the Russian agenda: they were building a new and wonderful world order which had an extremely bloody start.
Brits in Russia
In the late XIX century the Industrial Revolution, which started in England, soon swept Europe. Because of that quite a lot of British people lived in Russia at the end of the XIX – beginning of the XX century. The ancestors of many came from Manchester, Lancaster, Bridgetown, Strathaven etc.
Many came as early as 1819 after the mutiny of Henry Hunt (the “Peterloo massacre”) and after the discovery of the Cato street conspiracy which threatened the assassination on the entire British cabinet. The spectre of the French Revolution was walking around Britain. The leaders of the conspirators were executed, some were transported to Australia, others made themselves scares someplace else. St Petersburg was a good choice for self imposed exile as it was possible to disappear there successfully from any unwanted interest of the European authorities. Besides Russia had just entered a very active stage of the Industrial Revolution in the mechanisation of the industry and there was a great demand for the qualified hands and heads that British could offer.
That is why around the factories of Valsilievsky Island and around the Imperial Yacht–club on Krestov Island since XIX century there was an active and large British ex–part community. Playing sport was an important part of their British identity.
Not all of them were fugitives and their descendants. For example one of the leaders of diaspora was a grandfather of the dead Arthur MacPherson, Murdock MacPherson who had moved from Scottish Perth where he had owned a shipyard in 1830s. Just a thought: he could have bumped into Pushkin himself on Nevsky Avenue. In 1856 he became a founder of the famous historic Baltic Shipyard where a significant number of Brits worked. He married a Scottish lady Julia Elizabeth Maxwell and they had in Russia 15 children together, including their son David, who also became an engineer and was the father of Arthur MacPherson, the founder of Russian football who met such a tragic end in 1919.
Arthur who was born in Russia spoke Russian as a native but longed for the opportunity to play sport as was customary in Britain. Soon the first football teams were established in St.Petersburg. The Nevskyteam comprised mainly English players, Scotts were playing for the team called Nevkaand Victoria was an international team: Russians, Germans and other foreign nationals were playing for it. Many of them were not “guest workers” but were second and third generation ex–pats born and bred in Russia. They would have probably considered it home forever should it not be for the October Revolution of 1917.
In England football was played from the times immemorial but due to the relative expensiveness of the kits and the ball this sport was becoming popular in the elite educational establishments – Eton, Harrow, Ofxord and Cambridge.
It was in Cambridge at Parker’s Piece that students who used to have matches there in 1848 nailed to a tree the 11 rules of football (by Winton and Tring) which have not significantly changed since.
Legend has it that the number of players in each team (11) was determined by the number of students that lived in the same dormitory in the colleges and ofter one dormitory competed against another. But I have not found any credible source to confirm it, so it remains a mystery.
There was some strange magic appeal in this sport, so it was soon played everywhere and teams mushroomed at every pub, school, church and factory.
In 1901 during the Cup Final in London at the Crystal Palace stadium there were staggering 110 thousands spectators in attendance! Football rapidly was becoming the king of British sports in popularity and was included in the school program of every elementary school in the UK.
From Blackburn to Orekhovo–Zuevo
In the same time with its appearance in St Petersburg, football started in Orekhovo–Zuevo, a small town not far from Moscow. There were a lot of textile mills owned by a rich and successful Russian entrepreneur and pious Old Believer Savva Morozov. He had a talented engineer Andrej Charnok. I have no idea why he had chosen this specific Russian name for himself because his real name was Harold Greenfield and he was born in Blackburn and played for Blackburn Rovers at some point. He came to Russia at the age of 21 as a technician, but his talent and hardworking nature propelled him, in few years, to the position as Head of the Morozov’s Firm “Nikolskaya Manufactura and Co”. Ever since coming to Russia Harold became obsessed with the idea of establishing a football team in Orekhovo–Zuevo.
But it was not to be: pious Morozov could not stand the idea of men frivolously running after a ball with their knees naked! The police also were nervous about the gathering of Russian people even for the reason of sport. They worried about the spread of Marxist and revolutionary ideas ( probably considering it as an air born infection) amongst the football crowds.
Harold decided to appeal to the Regional Governor Grigory Sazonov (the conversation took place at a tea–party at the Governor’s house). The main argument that helped to persuade Mr Sazonov was the photograph of the German Crown Prince in his football kit (“who is a cousin of our merciful Emperor”) playing at Tempelhoff field in Berlin.
Another similarly valid argument that persuaded the owner of the weaving mills Morozov was that football distracted workers not only from Marxism but also from heavy drinking that resulted in absenteeism and injuries. It was a big problem and Morozov saw the point. It was still early days to realise that football and alcohol can be successfully combined.
Thus, the football came to town. Simultaneously, it came to Moscow too. There was a link between the weaving factories in Orekhovo–Zuevo and the big Moscow Michelson machine repair plant, built by the English, which serviced the textile equipment (it was at this very plant on 30 August 1918 Fanny Kaplan would fire three shots badly injuring Lenin).
But back to football. It helped enormously that the Cambridge Football rules were translated into Russian by the Frenchman Duperon and that jeweller Roman Fulda, another foreigner from Prague who became obsessed with football, started investing in building football pitches all over Russia.
Finally, in January 1912 Russian teams, which comprised quite a lot of Russian players too, thanks to Arthur MacPherson’s activity, were accepted by FIFA and on the 30 June 1912 Russian Olympic team played it’s first international match against Finland at the Stockholm Olympics. Russians lost 2–0 but they were firmly on the world’s football map now.
The rest is history.
What is really interesting is how strong was the British presence in pre–revolutionary Russia and how strong the contribution was of well known and some less known Brits in the industrialisation of Russia, let alone the development of football.
In 1927 Mr Charnok – Harold Greenfield— has left Russia for good at the right time, otherwise he would have unlikely to have survived Stalin’s Terror of 1930s.
The place of burial of Arthur MacPherson in 1919 is unknown. That is why in Smolensky Lutheran cemetery in St Petersburg a cenotaph was erected next to the grave of his mother and father.
After the 1917 the life of the British diaspora came to an end. However not all of them left or were killed. Their descendants stayed and became Russian. Some of them might live in Moscow, St Petersburg, Orekhovo –Zuevo unsuspecting of their roots. I wonder, whether the love of football is something genetic or not?