World Cup 2018: Pele & the KGB – Soviet Union captain Simonyan remembers Sweden 58
Nikita Simonyan captained the Soviet staff on the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. They beat England within the group stage, and went by way of to the quarter-finals, the place they misplaced to the hosts. He spoke to the BBC Russian Service about his recollections of that competitors and his footballing life.
It is 60 years since Nikita Simonyan ran out onto the pitch at first of the World Cup in Sweden, however he remembers it as if it have been yesterday.
“We have been housed subsequent to the Brazilians, and we would sneak in to observe them coaching,” he says, smiling as he remembers. “They’d introduced this wonderful new formation with them, the 4-2-4, and we may solely marvel at how properly they performed. And naturally they’d introduced a brand new participant with them, a thin 17-year-old known as Pele.”
Simonyan, now 91, and three-time World Cup-winner Pele, 77, are nonetheless buddies to at the present time. There are solely 5 Brazilians nonetheless alive from the 1958 squad, and solely two from the Soviet staff. Simonyan shakes his head as he thinks of his team-mates from that long-ago period.
“Properly, they’re going to have their very own staff someplace up within the sky now,” he says wistfully.
What little hair he has left is silver, and lately he is slowed down, however the sparkle in his eyes when he talks of his beloved recreation remains to be there and he chuckles when he thinks again to that World Cup.
He additionally remembers assembly Sir Bobby Charlton in Sweden and the 2 have met once more down the years. He rummages in a field to discover a black-and-white photograph of the 2 of them collectively.
They noticed one another once more in 2010 when Fifa met to determine who would host the 2018 [and 2022] World Cups. “Bobby Charlton and David Beckham have been visibly upset when it was introduced that Russia can be the hosts,” he says. “I hope they have over it now!”
Two years earlier than Sweden, Simonyan had travelled to the Melbourne Olympics, the place the Soviets took the gold medal. On their return – an arduous journey that concerned a 20-day ferry journey to Vladivostok, adopted by an eight-day practice experience to Moscow – the staff got a heroes’ welcome on Komsomol Sq., the place an enormous crowd turned out to welcome them house.
“It made an enormous impression on me,” Simonyan remembers.
Within the wake of the Olympics, there have been excessive hopes for the Soviets on the 1958 World Cup. And to start with, it seemed as if they have been in with an opportunity.
Regardless of being positioned in what specialists thought of to be the hardest group within the competitors, the Soviets made it by way of.
They misplaced 2-Zero to the Brazilians, however beat the Austrians 2-Zero and drew 2-2 with England, Simonyan scoring the primary objective of the match. England’s hopes of profitable the competitors have been dashed because the Soviets then gained 1-Zero in a play-off to see who would attain the final eight.
“We went ahead to the quarter-finals,” Simonyan says, “which meant we have been one of many eight finest groups on the planet.”
However a repeat of the Olympic success wasn’t to be: they misplaced to their hosts, Sweden, who would themselves be defeated by Brazil within the closing.
“In fact we have been anticipated to win the competitors, and so we confronted a barrage of criticism after we bought house,” Simonyan remembers sadly. “I really thought we would performed very properly, however the [Communist] Social gathering thought of our efficiency a failure. Properly, that was the system again then.”
After they weren’t enjoying soccer, they’d go swimming within the close by lakes.
“Our legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin cherished fishing. So he went off and bought himself a fishing rod and off he’d go to catch some fish,” he says, laughing as he remembers.
In fact it went with the territory that they have been adopted in every single place by minders from the KGB, the Soviet secret police. Did it hassle him?
“Oh no,” he laughs. “We knew they have been simply doing their job. We have been even on pleasant phrases with them.”
Born in Armavir within the south of Russia to Armenian mother and father, Simonyan all the time knew he needed to be a footballer.
His father was a cobbler, and when Simonyan was 4, his household moved to Abkhazia on the Black Sea. There he would spend hours every single day, kicking a tennis ball towards a wall of their tiny yard.
“There have been two Cypress timber on the backside of the backyard, and that is the place I would rating my objectives,” he remembers.
After ’58, Simonyan performed yet one more season with Spartak Moscow – he was one of many staff’s finest gamers, and their prime objective scorer in 1949, 1950 and 1953 – earlier than hanging up his boots and turning into the staff’s supervisor and head coach. He additionally coached Armenia’s Ararat Yerevan.
As of late, he is vice-president of the Russian Soccer Union and, regardless of his age, he is at his desk each morning. He was one of many friends of honour on the Fifa World Cup attract Moscow in December 2017.
As for this 12 months’s World Cup, he reckons the Russian staff – which at 66th is the second lowest in the world rankings, one place forward of Saudi Arabia, among the many finalists – will face some robust competitors. However he is hopeful they’ll carry out properly.
“They’re properly ready bodily and tactically,” he says, “however a very powerful factor is that they need to be ready psychologically for the World Cup.”
In fact he speaks from expertise. And can he be watching the matches?
“I am undecided concerning the ones exterior Moscow,” Simonyan says, stretching his creaky legs. “However the ones within the capital? You guess!”