December [?], 1945: Arsenal 3 (Rooke, Mortenson 2), Dynamo Moscow 4 (Bobrov...[other scorers unknown])
You draw deeply from your Victory, feel the smoke expand your lungs as it goes about its lethal but invigorating work. Now you rub your mittened hands against the wintry chill, exhale and watch your breathe dissolve into the general fug, see it thicken and expand to fill the ground. You're here, at the Lane, to write about the Dynamo and the Arsenal for the Tribune. Or, at least, that was the idea. You were going to write about the game, but instead you're stood here shivering and sniffling and staring at low cloud. You take another puff of Victory. It draws a rattle from you as stirring as that of any whirled above their head by a young enthusiast. You peer out and vaguely sense there's still a pitch behind the secretive curtain of fog. You're here, at the Lane, to watch the Arsenal play at home and somewhere a clock must be striking thirteen.
You're here to watch the Dynamo play the Arsenal at the Lane, but this isn't really the Arsenal. How could a team containing Matthews, Mortenson and Rooke be called an Arsenal team? That is what the Soviets will claim. And you know, if no one else does, that this is not a Dynamo team but a Soviet team. You don't want to admit it, don't want to be their stooge or help do Pravda's work for them, but deep down you acknowledge that the men from Moscow are correct. How could it be otherwise? This is Dzerzhinsky's team. So this will not be Dynamo v. Arsenal. This is England v The USSR. This is not football, this is propaganda; this will not be sport, it will be war minus the shooting.
And you are here, at the Lane, recording the particulars, tugging on a Victory smoke and grimacing a little with every waft of the whiff of the flat-capped crowd around you. They are mainly here to see these sporting heroes from the realm of Uncle Joe. Uncle Joe. There's nothing avuncular about the reign of the Soviet Tsar. You've tried to tell them, but they will not listen. But you'll keep going, trying to find the words to nail this slippery, wriggling and inconvenient truth to the cathedral door. After the match you'll peel away from the dispersing crowd, head back to Islington and tap away at those sturdy iron keys, alone once more with that interrogating consciousness; the last man in Europe.
You peer through the fog at where the teams should be. You can see the ghostly frames of the two Soviet linesmen, their boots hugging the chalk of the same righthand touchline in a Soviet perversion of the norm. The game kicks off and straight away the Russians score. "Bobrov", suggests a flat-capped cockney in the crowd. Then Rooke scores; then another two for Mortenson before the Russians pull one back. There's a scuffle between the players, a white shirt arm strikes out through fug. Half time arrives, a break in the hostilities; this war without the weapons pauses for a brisk cup of of tea.
The fog grows ever thicker; the restart is delayed. Low heavy cloud obscures the machinations in the tunnel. A rumour starts to work its way around the ground; the Soviet officials will call off the game if their team has not drawn level before the end. Finally, into the murky gloom the 22 emerge. Red and white shirts flash out of the fog like plane tails plunging through low cloud. The Russians score. They score again. The final whistle blows; the air is foul.
You'll trudge back down the Seven Sisters, past beastly charred facades. Ill and filled with ill-will, you'll shuffle up the stairs. Another whooping, rattling cough as you unwind your tight pulled, 'tache tickling scarf. You'll roll and shift and clunk and jab until gradually the black words seep and thaw the sheet of snow before you. Your spirit slowly warms. Another Victory. You let it dangle, downward pointing, held steady by a tight-lipped smile. Tap tap tap. Clunk. Tap tap tap tap tap tap as you type your weekly Tribune piece: As I Please, by George Orwell; "The Sporting Spirit"...
L.U.V. on y'all,
Hear Bob read extracts from his diary of the 2007-08 season, "The Road to Moscow"!!
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