The Jersey That Wasn't Black
Lev Yashin's widow and Eusébio remember the great Soviet goalkeeper
Several times during our chat of around four hours, Valentina Timofeevna Yashina asked, "Have I tired you?" or "Maybe you're in a hurry?" My God, how could I have been in a hurry to leave the legendary apartment at Chapaevsky Pereulok, between Sokol and Polezhaevskaya Metro stations, where the Yashins settled in 1964. Just to think that at that kitchen table, Lev Yashin had a meal every day. Franz Beckenbauer, Michel Platini, Gavriil Kachalin, Mikhail Yakushin, all of them ate dinner here. All I wanted to do was ask and ask and ask.
[Yashina indicates an old refrigerator in the corner and starts talking] The fridge has been here since 1971. Lev wasn't able to ask anything for anything for himself. If it was a matter of asking for an apartment or something for somebody else, he did it with great pleasure. But not for himself. He was at a loss: "How will I go about it, what will I say?" These fridges at that time were given for special licences, so he also asked one of his friends to bring him this licence. He was too shy to go and ask for it by himself.
Everywhere we would stand in the queues, as everybody did. Once, after he'd retired, we went to some game at the Luzhniki and met [Nikita] Simonyan there. For whatever reason there were no passes and so these two great former players had to wait at the ordinary ticket office. People were surprised and some of them were outraged: how could Yashin and Simonyan wait for tickets!
Everybody who remembers Yashin speaks of him as of world champion in kindness. Is it true?
Yes. His father's second wife told me, that during World War II little Lyova [a diminutive of Lev] kept bringing to their home a boy named Izya, who lived with a large family somewhere nearby, in barracks. Lev told her, "They have nothing to eat," and his father and stepmother always fed Izya. Once he took off sweater and gave it to him, telling his parents, "There are many children in their family and they have nothing to wear." His stepmother was a little bit offended: the sweater was new and Lyova had a younger brother and could have given it to him.
So, this kindness was in him from childhood. On the pitch he would shout loudly at his teammates, but when I asked him about it, Lev replied: "I'm not swearing. I'm giving advice about what to do." And he even gave instructions gently: "Vitek! Tolik!" [which are diminutives of Viktor and Anatoly].
He hated gossips, never blamed anyone or said spiteful things, and he was reticent in general. Sometimes I would say, "Why does this player keep passing to the opponent?" and he would make a helpless gesture. "He's just not able to! He doesn't see the pitch!" It was his favourite saying in general — "He doesn't see the pitch!"— and he transferred it from football to regular life.
The rivalry between different teams never affected off-pitch relations. In the USSR national team he became good friends with Spartak Moscow players. For example, he would call Simonyan and would say things in Armenian [Simonyan's native language] and laugh. He was close friends with him, Isaev, Ilyin and Paramonov and I was with friends their wives. We watched all the national team games together. We still talk on the phone and I'm friends with Khusainova, Paramonova, Ivanova, Ludmila Simonyan...
Once I saw a game between Dinamo and Spartak in which Tolik Isaev ran into Lev with his chest, preventing him from kicking the ball. I asked him after the game at home, "Why did Isaev behave so strangely?" He told me that he had also been surprised and had asked him. Isaev quietly replied, "Sorry, Lev, the coach ordered me to make you anxious." He hung his head, went back to the centre of the pitch and never did it again.
These people had clear consciences; they appreciated each other. They didn't have any choice other than to become friends because they spent all their time together. Imagine: we married just before New Year 1955 and already on January 6 they went to a training camp for two months! And their friendship lasted all their lives.
In all countries, kids would instinctively approach him and that shows his kindness. They would even put him right. In Sweden at the 1958 World Cup, he went across a park, smoked a cigarette and threw the butt to the ground. There was a boy running near him and he ran up, dug a hole and put the butt in. We have dozens of photos of Yashin at his favourite pastime, fishing. There were always kids around him and he would give them interviews.
Is it true that one of your sons-in-law is a Spartak fan?
Yes. And I don't see anything terrible in that. When our friends gathered at our home, there were just a few footballers — Shabrov and Tsarev [both teammates of Yashin from Dinamo]. The others were mainly those who had worked with Lev at the aircraft works in Tushino when he was young. One of them became an engineer, another even a director... All them were supporters of different teams and one was a die-hard Spartak fan. They were always chaffing at each other. But even in the national team he almost always played in his club jersey with the letter 'Д' [D]. We have a photo: all the players walking on the pitch with the USSR crest and Lev in a Dinamo shirt. It was allowed at that time.
I've heard no stories that he had any rivalry with other goalkeepers…
No! There were none. For many years at Dinamo the reserve goalkeeper was Volodya Belyaev, who maybe surpassed Lev in terms of pure talent. They were even taken to the national team together — although Belyaev played very rarely. And they were very close in life: we even travelled to his native town of Nalchik [in the Caucasus mountains]. My husband worried about Volodya a lot and blamed himself that Belyaev ended up never leaving Dinamo and never had a chance to be a first-choice keeper at any other team. Lev told him, "Volodya, I'm not eternal. I've played already for many years and I could get hurt at any moment. And then who will go in nets?"
But he ended up playing through three generations of national team players. This way of dealing with his colleagues he adopted from Khomich [Alexei Petrovich Khomich, 'the Tiger', his predecessor in the national team], whose reserve he was at Dinamo. Even when Alexei Petrovich became a photographer, he spent a lot of time behind Yashin's goal taking pictures. There are several photos taken by Khomich of Yashin.
I read that at the beginning of his career Lev Ivanovich would not only carry Khomich's goalkeeper's bag but also stayed behind his goal and copied his movements…
I can confirm that he stayed behind his net. At that time at all Soviet stadiums there were special benches behind goals and the reserve goalkeeper would sit not on the general bench but on this one.
Was he friends with other great Soviets, the cosmonaut Yury Gargarin, or the poets who wrote about him, Vladimir Vysotsky, Yevgeny Yevtushenko or Robert Rozhdestvensky?
No. Lev wasn't a Party man. Only German Titov [the second cosmonaut to orbit the earth] was at our home. When Lev was studying at the Supreme Party School, a replacement for Titov studied with him. He got them together and they met in a restaurant. That's how relations were formed.
Why did he go to the Supreme Party School?
There was a big Dinamo fan teaching political economy there. He asked, "What will Lev Ivanovich do after finishing at the Supreme Coaching School?" Yashin never wanted to be a coach; he didn't think that he had the character for that work. Finally Lev graduated from coaching school but went to the Party school as well. He learned a lot there and even became a good public speaker towards the end of his life — which he wasn't before. I remember how he came home from the school and started to use some unexpected philosophical words. Once he came home out of breath. "There was an exam of political economy," he said. "After 70 years they don't know how to adjust the economy, yet they want me to explain in one hour!" We all laughed.
Once I talked with Peter Shilton and he told me that he had admired Yashin's black strip. He thought opposing strikers were demoralised by it…
Actually it was not black but a very dark blue, a woollen jersey with a number 1 sewn on it. I suppose at his time all keepers played in a dark strip. When, in 2000, I accepted the prize for the best goalkeeper of the century on Lev's behalf, Sepp Maier said, "Formerly all keepers were in black so you couldn't have mixed them up with anyone else. And now they are red, yellow, blue — like parrots!"
So it wasn't you who told him to play in dark colours?
No, he always played in them. For 20 years, he changed jerseys maybe two or three times, when the sleeves on them became worn with holes. But then he took new ones that looked the same.
You said they were woollen. But in summer, isn't it too hot to play in wool?
But on the other hand, it's not painful. Also, Lev always wore quilted trunks underneath. He would get angry at colleagues who didn't do that. He said, "I'm telling everybody: you cannot play without them! You could easily hurt your thigh, bruises are guaranteed, your muscles will tear. And you'll start to be afraid of falling down. And how can you play in goal if you are afraid?"
Have you kept his jerseys?
No, because you had to return all the kit at that time. Even after Lev had played in his farewell game in 1971, Dinamo sent him an order to return the kit and even the gloves which he personally had sewn up when they were torn. We laughed but he really had to collect everything up and return it. He didn't keep a single Dinamo jersey. It was the same story every year: at the end of the season I washed all his kit to return it looking good.
He kept only one jersey, but it was yellow not dark and had the number 13 on it. It was the jersey in which he kept a clean sheet in London for the Rest of the World team in the famous game that the whole world saw. Nobody wanted to wear 13, but Lev said, "OK, give it to me. I don't care." After that great game he regarded 13 as a lucky number for him.
Why did goalkeepers of that generation play in dark colours? Because pitches, especially in the spring and autumn, were muddy and on a black kit this dirt was not so noticeable. When he brought home his kit, the whole bath became black and filled with sawdust: goalkeepers' boxes were powdered with it, so goalkeepers didn't sink in the slush.
One other indispensable accessory of goalkeepers at that time was a cap. Is it true that sometimes, coming for a high cross, Yashin could take off his cap, head the ball clear, and put the cap back on?
Yes, it happened several times, but only when there were no other players around. At that time penalty boxes were not so crowded as they are now. The first time he headed the ball clear, he came to the dressing-room at half-time and hung his head, thinking that [Dinamo's coach Mikhail] Yakushin would criticise him. The coach could be sly and biting. But he was silent. Lev asked, "Is something wrong?" "No, everything is all right. But you have to take off your cap!" That time he had headed the ball with his cap on. Fans liked it a lot and reacted with a storm of cheers. A few more times he headed it without a cap but later he stopped doing that: the game became faster and tougher.
Is it true that his cap was stolen when the USSR won the European Nations Cup in 1960?
Yes. The newspapers later wrote that French police found the cap after the game and gave it back to Lev, but it's a lie. It disappeared forever. At that time, security was not well organised. After the USSR team won the final, thousands of people ran onto the pitch at the Parc des Princes. It was real chaos. Some fan in all this mess took the cap from Lev's head and ran away. The crowd was so huge that it was impossible to find him. Lev said that he looked around but couldn't see anybody with the cap.
Is it true that Lev Ivanovich suffered from a gastric ulcer all his life?
Yes. He had it from childhood as a result of poor food during the war, which started when he was 11. When he was just 16 or 17, he was sent to the south — to have treatment in a health resort. Also hard training sessions made it worse, especially as Lev worked like the damned. Throughout his long career he wasn't late for a single session; he was punctual and demanded the same from others. If I kept him before he left, he would drive me mad.
After every training session, he always remained in the goal and asked other players to take a number of shots at him. Once I saw that, I said that I would never watch it again. He took 30 or 40 of the hardest shots to the stomach — I couldn't watch it. It seemed to me that all his abdominal cavity was punched out. Lev, though, told me that his abdominal muscles were very strong and also that he caught the ball with his hands so it didn't touch his stomach. But I saw that it did.
After some win I met Yakushin at the Savoy restaurant. Mikhail Iosifovich called me over and asked, "Did Lev complain about me?" "No. What happened?" "I suppose he must have been hurt. He said during pre-game training that he felt stomach pain and he couldn't dive, but I urged him to do it once. He stood back up with difficulty and plodded to the dressing-room at a snail's pace. Naturally, the next day in the game he jumped and dived as usual..."
He had stomach aches permanently and finally he died from stomach cancer. Because of the very high levels of acidity he always had in his pocket some household soda in a small paper bag as well as some water when possible. The heartburn was so bad that if he didn't have water with him, he couldn't wait until he was able to dissolve a teaspoon of soda in a cup of water. Sometimes he poured soda from the paper bag into his palm, put it into his mouth and then desperately searched around for something to take it with.
Once I saw a TV documentary about Lev. Lesha Paramonov said a lot of nice things about Yashin. But I was puzzled about one thing. Talking about his stomach ache and the soda, Paramonov made up the fact that in his other pocket Lev always had a bead of cognac. He said that Lev took soda with cognac and then went to training.
Are you sure it's a fiction?
Absolutely. Not only because it's impossible to take soda with cognac but also because Lev didn't like cognac. He drank it only when there wasn't anything else. Also he drank neither wine nor beer — vodka only. Doctors told him to do that because of the ulcer.
Sometimes you hear such fantastic stories... Once I was travelling on the train from a holiday in the south of Russia and there were two important ladies in the same compartment. One of them was high up, almost on the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and the other was from a trade union. For whatever reason they started to talk about football and the first one said, "I was at a reception at the Kremlin and I saw that all these footballers are alcoholics. Yashin had a big glass of vodka in one hand and a big glass of champagne in the other. He drank the first one and washed it down with the second!"
They didn't know who I was and I kept silent, although I wanted very much to speak. Lev never drank champagne. And he never drank full glasses, just small portions. Yes, he could have been drunk, anything can happen. But he was never an alcoholic or he could have never played 20 years at the top level. But when he was drunk, his conduct was always normal. And he had to take vodka with water, otherwise he started coughing. Even while he was fishing, when he would have to take water from the pond, he had to take water with his vodka.
What did Lev Ivanovich like to eat? In the interview in the first ever issue of Football [a weekly magazine] in 1960, he replied to a question about his favourite meal saying he liked lobster with mayonnaise, which is best cooked in France…
It was a joke. Not long before the interview the team travelled to Sweden and one of the guys was unhappy about the quality of the restaurant food. He said, "You should give us lobsters with mayonnaise." Lev was furious with him. After coming home, he said, "You never ate anything better than carrots at home, but abroad you are starting to show off." Actually, he ate everything. He liked porridge which is not too common among men. And he himself cooked pretty well.
Was he a reckless driver of his Volga [a Soviet manufactured car introduced in 1956 that tended to indicate high status]?
No. He was a very good driver. I felt absolutely safe with him. As a European, he always made way for everybody — both other cars and pedestrians. He stopped at zebra crossings. I never learned if he liked driving fast.
Yashin was well-known for his friendships with great footballers. How was that possible when he spoke only Russian?
I was amazed as well. Even abroad he could stop a pedestrian and find out with a few words and gestures how to go somewhere. Footballers have their own words, terms, gestures, facial expressions... Also, Lev's smile attracted everybody. I remember how in 1971, after his farewell match in Moscow, the Italians also decided to organise a game in Milan. So, he was standing and talking with one group of players, then with another. They were laughing, waving hands — and perfectly understood each other.
Lev, along with some of the other players, was sorry that he didn't learn languages, though. I talked many times to Kachalin and Yakushin, telling them they could organise lessons, given how much time they spent hanging around the training grounds. In the first year of our marriage, I counted how many days Lev spent at home: just 144 out of 365. But nobody listened to my idea.
Sir Bobby Charlton said that Yashin helped to establish good relations between people of different countries and political systems.
Once he arrived somewhere in South America after a military coup. The situation was rather tense; nobody was leaving their houses or hotels. But it was impossible not to have some sort of reception because of Yashin's visit. So, people from both camps came there, because all of them wanted to see Lev and talk to him.
I read that the West German defender Karl-Heinz Schnellinger gave Yashin 15 stylish ties for his Dinamo teammates, which Lev himself wouldn't have been able to afford…
Yes, it's true. There were a lot of decent people among the foreign stars. For example, Franz Beckenbauer came to Moscow after Lev's death and visited his grave. And when we were flying to Barcelona and I didn't know where to go to change flights in Frankfurt airport, he took me right to the gate.
There was a situation in 1992 when I was invited to a ceremony of announcing the world team of the past half-century and Lev was included in it. Vitechka Gusev [a popular Russian sports broadcaster] called me and said, "Valentina Timofeevna, they are waiting for you here. Please, call the Russian Football Union; the invitation and air tickets were sent there." I called Vladimir Radionov [the general secretary of the RFU at the time], he asked somebody and it was somewhere in the foreign department: they'd forgotten to tell me about it. But the most important thing was that our comrades bought a return ticket for the following day so I couldn't watch the opening ceremony of Euro 1992. So, what did I travel for — just to pick up the prize and go back?
During this ceremony I met the famous German sportswriter Karl-Heinz Heimann who spoke fluent Russian. He knew Yashin very well. I explained the situation to him and Beckenbauer was walking past us right at that moment. Heimann told me, "Wait just a moment." And Franz in a few seconds settled the problem, and I flew back two days later. I was very grateful to him, because the opening ceremony was beautiful.
I talked to Beckenbauer and he told me with great warmness how he had dinner with Yashin at your home. With vodka, of course.
Yes. But Franz himself was drinking Bavarian beer which we'd found in the Moscow International Trade Centre. Gennady Logofet [a former USSR defender] translated for us. Beckenbauer had a great idea for a book and made it happen. He visited everybody with whom he had played in the Rest of the World team; he went to the home of Pelé, Eusébio, Charlton, Yashin and others, and then he described everything that he saw and sent us the copy of his book.
Lev Ivanovich introduced you to Pelé in 1958, right?
Yes, it was in the hotel where they were all staying. This black boy was running by the stairway and Lev grabbed him by the neck. He told me, "Look at this boy. He'll become the greatest footballer in the world soon." Actually, I doubt that Pelé understood what was going on: there was no translator nearby. Later Lev always regarded Pelé as the best ever.
Was Pelé ever arrogant?
No, he always behaved properly. Look at this photo: we are celebrating Oleg Salenko winning the golden boot at the 1994 World Cup with Salenko, Pelé and [the senior Russian football bureaucrat Vyachelsav] Koloskov. The King of Football was there in a bow tie and everything felt at least as good as the Academy Awards. When Pelé visited Moscow, I presented him with a big coloured samovar.
Is it true that in 1962 Yashin wanted to quit football, when he was blamed for the USSR's early exit from the World Cup?
Yes, he wanted to quit. When he went onto the pitch in Moscow for first time after Chile, the crowd whistled and shouted many bad things... It happened for two or three games. There was no TV in Russia at that time and everyone only knew about the game against Chile only from a report by the only correspondent of APN [the state news agency], who knew much more about politics than about football. Because of his reports, everybody decided that Yashin lost the World Cup.
But how can you explain this kind of reaction from fans in Moscow to one failure of a great footballer and person, somebody who achieved so much for his country? Where did this aggression come from?
It happens not only in football. We are the same with everything… If something bad happens, somebody must be blamed. The big bosses wanted to evade punishment and so shifted the blame onto Yashin. For some time he even didn't train. The [Dinamo] coach Alexander Ponomarev supported Lev and told him everything would be fine. He realised what was going on and let us leave Moscow for a while to go fishing. Much later my husband started to train with the reserve team. His first game back with the first team wasn't until close to the middle of the following season.
English journalists wrote that at the height of the criticism fans left threatening messages on his car and even broke windows in the apartment. Is it true?
Yes, our windows were broken twice — but I don't know if there is a connection. There was a street lamp under our window. Maybe hooligans threw stones at it and hit the windows. Regarding writing in the dusty on our car — yes, it happened. Unspeakable words about him. I think, though, that media inflamed it and that influenced people.
The former Dinamo player Vladimir Kesarev said that Yashin disappeared from Dinamo and you let slip where he was fishing and that it was only then the club sent a delegation to bring him back…
No, no, we went there together with the children and Ponomarev gave him permission. Lev had a good relationship with all his managers. We had great family relations with the Yakushins, Kachalins, and even went to Karlovy Vary [in the Czech Republic] with Ponomarev and visited [the goalkeeper] František Plánička's home...
Lev didn't come back to the first team in Moscow. It happened in Tbilisi. The atmosphere was more sympathetic there. Somebody shouted with a Georgian accent, "Yashin is in the hole!" and everybody laughed. But it was meant so kindly that even he enjoyed it. You couldn't compare it with what was going on in Moscow.
Yashin's comeback to the national team was also pretty tough. Right up to his brilliance in the Rest of the World team at Wembley, [the manager] Konstantin Beskov didn't pick him…
Beskov always called him into the squad when they trained at the base at Ozerki. But every time, not only before the games but also before training sessions, the manager told him, "Lev, you rest, rest!" It went on a pretty long time. Even his teammates lowered their eyes; they felt uncomfortable. He was lonely.
Once I came to their training camp by the suburban train. He told me, "I'll probably go back with you now." "Why?" "Beskov won't let me train. I want to work but he keeps saying, 'Rest, rest.' He doesn't say anything offensive, doesn't drop me from the team, but it's obvious he doesn't trust me." He picked [the Georgian goalkeeper Ramaz] Urushadze that time.
I responded, "He said, 'Rest,' so you should do it. You'll train with your club. But you don't have to leave, because if you do that you'll be quitting both the national team and football." At first he refused and said he'd leave with me. I only just put him off.
In 1963, after his comeback, Lev let in only six goals for Dinamo in 27 games. Urushadze was nonetheless ready to play in the away leg of the European Championship game against Italy, but at that moment Yashin was invited to London and played great there... I watched that game at the radio committee where I worked. I had to pick up our daughters, one from the school, one from kindergarten. I was in a hurry and when the game ended I caught a taxi. The driver said, "Did you hear? We won in London." "We didn't win; we lost 2-1!" "Yashin was in nets in the first half when score was 0-0 and I don't care about anything else!" I wanted so much to tell him that he was my husband... But I was too shy for that.
What did Yashin think of the fact you worked all your life as a radio journalist?
We were both from working-class families. In our society it was necessary to work. There wasn't even a question about that.
Did Beskov change his mind after London?
No, he still wanted to play Urushadze. Nikolay Ozerov [a famous TV journalist] later told us that there were phone calls from 'upstairs'. Beskov was told, "Nobody will understand it if you don't play Yashin after such a performance in London." That persuaded him and Lev saved a penalty kick from [Sandro] Mazzola to earn a draw that qualified us for Euro 64. Yashin got the Ballon d'Or for that year .
Where is the Ballon d'Or?
It's in the Museum of Sport at the Luzhniki. I've been wanting to go there and pick it up for a long time.
Yashin was one of the great symbols of Soviet sports, but he communicated a lot with foreigners. The KGB didn't have a problem with him doing that?
It wasn't allowed to walk alone when abroad — to prevent provocations. But I can't remember it being prohibited to communicate in the hotels. But there were some other situations. Once Yashin was invited to Brazil for Santos's anniversary celebration. He was going to perform a kick-off with Pelé. But the functionary who received our invitations was afraid of going to his bosses with them. It was impossible for him to imagine that Yashin should go abroad with his wife but without a 'translator'.
You mean a KGB officer who would control you?
Yes, without 'a teacher from the physical training school', as they called them. Lev had already retired by that time and I took time off at my own expense. But then we found out that we were not allowed to go. Next day I went in to my work and one spiteful employee laughed at me. But a couple of days later, Lev met one of federation bosses by chance. That official was surprised by the story and helped to issue all the documents rapidly. The problem was that we arrived in Brazil after all the celebrations were over. The local papers wrote, "The Russians were late as usual."
Did Lev Ivanovich believe in God?
No. Neither did his parents.
They were simple working people, right?
Yes. His father was a turner or a metalworker. His mother worked at the Krasny Bogatyr rubber factory but died from tuberculosis very young — Lyova was about six years old. His sister was a baby and, when his mother was lying in the hospital, she also fell ill and died. Within a year Lev's father married again — a telegraphist from Central Telegraph. They soon had a son, Boris, who is still alive. When the Great Patriotic War started in 1941, their family moved from Moscow to Ulyanovsk [a city on the Volga river]. An aircraft plant was built there and little Lyova worked as well. After the war, this plant was moved to the Moscow district of Tushino and my husband worked there as a teenager.
I can't imagine that Yashin had many enemies.
He had a personality such that you had to do something terrible to become his enemy. Even when he didn't like somebody, he just didn't get close to him but still greeted him warmly.
He had some unpleasant moments after the end of his playing career. One of them was with an important official called Nikolay Rusak, who became chairman of the Soviet Sports Committee. Every spring, Soviet football clubs went to the south of the USSR to prepare for the season. Also there was a conference in which all managers, coaches and referees participated. Lev was a team director of Dinamo. One day the head coach Kachalin and his assistant Tsaryov had some urgent business and they asked Lev to take the training session.
Later he told me that the players had been working and he was sitting on the bench and sometimes telling them something. Every spring he had a worsening of his stomach ulcer, so he sat, holding his body to diminish the pain. At that moment this Rusak came over, sat down near Lev and asked why there were no coaches and how the players could prepare by themselves. My husband replied, "I suppose, I understand something about football. Maybe you want me to explain something to you?" As he was speaking, he held himself even more tightly because of the pain.
The next day that conference happened and Rusak spoke. He said that he visited Dinamo. He said there was no head coach, no assistant, only Yashin sitting drunk on the bench and managing the training session. Oh, how furious Lev was! He stood up, went to the microphone and, in spite of all his gentleness said a lot, how some people who didn't understand anything about football were coming to the sport and wanting to govern it. "What did you say now that was useful?" he asked. "What exactly was wrong with the training? You can't say anything!"
The allegation he was drunk was especially insulting for him. Lev wasn't an ascetic but he never drank in the mornings. And he never drank alone. A bottle of vodka at home could have stayed in the fridge for very long time — until some of his friends came over. And nobody saw him drunk in public...
Also Lev was very offended by and said a lot of bad things about General Bogdanov, the chairman of the Central Soviet of Dinamo sports society. In the seventies there was an extremely talented young striker, Anatoly Kozhemyakin. Lev even said once that he could become better than Pelé. Once Tolya was in the elevator with his friend and it got stuck between floors. There was a hole to climb out, and his friend did. But as soon as Tolya started to do the same, the elevator started moving and the guy was killed. Lev cried...
But after this episode he as well as Kachalin and Tsaryov were dismissed from working with the Dinamo first team for the bad educational work! For what? What was the connection between Yashin and the accident in an elevator? He was moved to the Central Soviet of Dinamo, to do meaningless paperwork. He was thrown away from the team, from doing live work. Lev felt pretty comfortable as a team director. It was his business — to help players away from the pitch, to make them live better. Also he worked with goalkeepers, even though there was no specific profession of goalkeeping coach that time. And he enjoyed all that.
Paperwork was something very alien to him and he had problems with the chairman Bogdanov. Once Bogdanov said to him, "Your work is bad, you are always travelling." "Where do I travel?" "There are tons of invitations from abroad for you on my desk." Lev was at a loss: "You are keeping them. I don't know anything about them and I'm not travelling." Bogdanov even blamed him for the bad performances of the team, even though Lev was no longer team director.
Lev was very upset about it. At 48, right after that conflict, he had his first heart attack. Not a long time ago I learned from another general that Bogdanov recently told him, "I cannot forgive myself for one thing: that I pressured Yashin and treated him this way. I didn't sort out the real problems. I listened to some functionaries..."
One of the popular theories was that smoking damaged his health a lot.
Doctors said that his heart attack was because of smoking and the leg amputation later was also partly caused by smoking. But I don't think so. I heard from some specialists that if a person is smoking for many years, it's very dangerous to stop at an advanced age. He was smoking even when he was a player and coaches allowed him. Of course, he didn't smoke in the dressing-room in everyone's presence, but Yakushin and Kachalin allowed him to go to some back room and smoke a cigarette. He smoked a pack per day, I suppose.
Once there was a Party meeting in the club. Lev was a member of Communist Party and he was criticised by the Party: everybody discussed Yashin's smoking and even made a resolution to prohibit him from doing that! I think only [the writer] Leonid Soloviev stood up and said, "What are we doing? Yashin doesn't have to run; he is a keeper. We know how well he does it so what are the complaints? Not everybody can stop smoking." Finally, the resolution was rejected.
Did he try to stop?
He didn't smoke for about two months after the heart attack. But later he tried again and felt OK. So he went on. Also for the last couple months of his life, when he felt very bad, he didn't smoke. Coming back to the heart attack, it was caused, most of all, by bad feeling, from the fact that he was turned away from the team and that he didn't deserve the attitude towards him. The second reason was that he stopped playing very suddenly. He didn't play for a veterans team so he didn't have a proper physical load. When he was a team director, he was moving at least, training with the goalkeepers. But when he was pushed to office work, he immediately gained about 10kg. And he had a heart attack. A doctor explained later that Lev as a professional athlete had a very large heart and that's why he had to move a lot to keep blood running. But when he stopped moving and started gaining weight, a lot of cholesterol built up in his vessels. The consequence was not only the heart attack but also the amputation of his right leg later.
A few days before his death, Yashin became the first Soviet sportsman to be awarded the star order of the Hero of Socialist Labour medal.
It happened on 15 March 1990, when Lev was still holding out, although he looked awful. He became extremely ill on the 16th and died on the 20th. The order was given thanks to Nikolay Ozerov. He ran from one office to another to persuade functionaries to give Yashin the star of Hero. Ozerov achieved his goal — it's a pity that it came so late. Lev said, "What is it for? I'll not have time to be proud of it." Ozerov wanted Mikhail Gorbachev to deliver it personally to Yashin but Mikhail Sergeevich didn't have enough time...
Was Yashin happy?
He was happy. I saw that. But he never said this aloud.
What did you think when Zenit fans at a Zenit v Dinamo game erected a banner saying "Yashin went to hell, Dinamo will do the same"?
I think it wasn't necessary to make so much noise about that because that's exactly what these people want. I cannot understand why one paper [Sovetsky Sport] makes a contest out of banners, provoking such things. There was nothing shown on TV from the game but next day in this paper it was displayed in full.
Soon afterwards, before one home game, there was a meeting at which some officials near Yashin's monument at Dinamo stadium expressed their indignity about the incident. I asked [the sports minister Vitaly] Mutko, "Why did the press make all this noise? If nothing had been published, nobody would know anything about it." At first he agreed but after the meeting he said, "Maybe it was not wrong to make it public. Did you see how the people reacted? They're going to the game and bringing flowers, a mountain of them!" Maybe he is right.
Do you follow today's football?
Of course. I support Dinamo as well as people from other clubs who had great relations with Lev. I hardly could have imagined that one day I would pray for Spartak success — but when Volodya Fedotov [the former CSKA striker and Beskov's son-in-law] was in charge of Spartak, it happened. The same with Yury Semin when he worked at Lokomotiv.
Also I support all goalkeepers, even when they play against Dinamo. Because I put them in Lyova's place. When they make a mistake, I get upset as if it had happened to my husband.
I visit Lev's grave at Vagankovo [the famous cemetery where dozens of footballers are buried] often. At first I was there almost every day, trying to stop some crazy ideas. They wanted to turn the cemetery into a museum — they kept talking such rubbish. In 2010 I was touched when two Dinamo keepers, [Vladimir] Gabulov and [Anton] Shunin on a matchday that coincided with Lev's birthday, brought a very nice wreath. Every year there are a lot of people at his grave, although I don't especially invite anyone. Not only Dinamo veterans come, all the rest as well. Right by the graveside, we take a funeral repast, drinking a little for the peace of Lev's soul.
I personally support [the Zenit goalkeeper] Vyacheslav Malafeev since I went to St Petersburg to give him a prize as the best goalkeeper in the Russian championship that season. I was one of the first people who sent him a telegram with condolences [in March 2011 when Malafeev's wife Marina was killed in a car accident]. I'd like to ask journalists: please, support goalkeepers! I felt terrible for [Alexander] Filimonov when he suffered the same harsh criticism as Lev in 1962 [after a terrible mistake in the final minutes of a decisive qualifying game with Ukraine in autumn 1999, which meant Russia failed to qualify for Euro 2000]. Yes, he let in that goal. But why didn't they score more?
My husband told me about his second game for the Dinamo first team. It was against Dinamo Tbilisi, and a 4-1 lead turned into 4-4 just before half-time. He went in at the break sure he'd be kicked out of the team. But Kostya Beskov approached him, clapped on the shoulder and said, "Lev, don't worry. I'll score now." He scored and Dinamo won 5-4. When keepers make mistakes, it's necessary to rescue them, because on a lot of other occasions they rescue you.
A goalkeeper's work is very hard. I worry about Igor Akinfeev: he's great guy, he's playing well, but he started very early. When goalkeepers get into the starting XI very young, there is a danger that they finish before the right time.
I don't like the brutality towards goalkeepers in today's football. Lev broke his finger, twice he had concussion, he got a big scar on his chin but overall players tried to protect each other. Look at this photo: in the World Cup semi-final of 1966 Uwe Seeler is jumping over Lev! When in 2000 there was a ceremony presenting prizes to the best footballers of the century, Seeler approached me with a translator. "I want to be friends with you. I wanted so much to score against Yashin but I wasn't able to do it even a single time. I hoped to do that at least in the farewell game but no way!" I replied that it was an honour for me to be friends with Seeler. We still send each other cards at Christmas, New Year and other holidays.
English players and journalists admired Yashin's fair play when in the World Cup semi-final, in the tensest atmosphere, he ran out of his penalty area to help Seeler who had gone down — even though the game hadn't stopped. The whole stadium stood up and started shouting: "Yashin! Yashin!"
I was at that game but I don't remember the shouting. But I remember how a few days later, in the game for third place, Eusébio scored a penalty kick against him, then approached Lev and said something. Later I asked my husband, "What did he say?" He answered, "Eusébio clapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Sorry, Lev. I had to do that.'"
I met Eusébio in Lisbon and at first we chatted about recent events: Russia had played against Portugal not long before and Spartak Moscow were playing away to Benfica the following evening. But suddenly Eusébio changed topic and his voice became much louder and more passionate.
"I feel a lot of sympathy for [Russian] football," he said, "and this feeling has a specific cause.
When you write a story about me, please don't forget to mention the level of warmth I feel when I remember my friendship with Lev Yashin. I think about him pretty often, more and more coming to the conclusion that I as a footballer was formed thanks to him. When you're able to score against the greatest goalkeeper in the history of world football, you remember it for your whole life. You realise that you can score against anyone. Every time when I come to Russia, I meet Valentina, Lev's widow. Every time when I come to Russia, I make sure I go to his grave. It's a great honour for me that I knew him in person and was his friend."
I asked how Yashin was able to make friends with so many players when he spoke no language other than Russian. "We spoke the same language," Eusébio said, "the language of football. Here is a ball. [He embraces an imaginary football.] Thanks to it we understood each other to such an extent that we didn't need anything else. I remember how the Soviet and Portuguese national teams played for third place at the World Cup in 1966. We had a penalty kick in our favour. So, Lev asked me with a gesture, 'Where are you going to kick the ball?' And I showed him: in this corner to your right.
"I did that because he was my friend. And it's a double honour to score a penalty having shown the keeper where you will put the ball. It's not cheating. Mário Coluna was the captain of our team that time, and he approached me, 'What are you doing? This is Yashin, he'll save the ball!' I replied, 'No, he'll not get it, although I'll shoot into the corner that I told him.' So, I hit the ball with such power that the ball only touched his gloves.
"I scored and was happy, of course. But my friend was upset, and immediately after the goal I approached him and told him in Portuguese, 'We are friends, but you are a keeper and I am a striker. My job is to score, your job is defend the goal. Lev, I had to do that. I had to.' And I saw that he understood everything.
"I've had a lot of different presents from Russia. But the most valuable of all was a fur jacket Lev Yashin used to wear which his widow once gave me. I still keep it. I've never had a better gift. This jacket touched me in the heart."
I'd read that in 2004, when Portugal beat England on penalties in the European Championship quarter-final, Eusébio had quoted some words of Yashin to the goalkeeper Ricardo, telling him to stay in position to the final second and to stare into the eyes of his opponent. "I really said that to Ricardo," Eusébio confirmed, "and told him that was how Yashin did it. He followed the recommendation and that's how Portugal won.
"Yashin was not only a goalkeeper, he was a master in the goal. And he was also a great gentleman. It was because he was so respectful towards opponents that he had so many friends. His name is written with a golden letters in the history of Fifa, Uefa and football in general, and Yashin will always be the number one goalkeeper in the world."
Yashin in action for Dinamo Moscow
Yashin in action for Dinamo Moscow
Yashin in action for Dinamo Moscow
Yashin and Igor Netto (right) return to Moscow after winning the 1960 European Championship
Yashin relaxes on the river
Picture from the Yashin family archives
Yashin and Pelé
Yashin passing on tips to Dmitri Kharin
Picture from the Yashin family archives
Picture from the Yashin family archives
Picture from the Yashin family archives