The Untold Invincibles: Genesis & End of FC Start
During the half-time interval, an SS officer entered FC Start’s dressing room. In a stern tone, he darkly said:
“You really cannot expect to win, however. Just consider for a moment what will happen if you do.”
The FC Start players knew what this meant. Lose this game and end their winning streak in the league. Win and they would be killed. They chose death.
Mykola Trusevych, Mikhail Svyridovskiy, Mykola Korotkykh, Oleksiy Klimenko, Fedir Tyutchev, Mikhail Putistin, Ivan Kuzmenko, Makar Goncharenko, Vladimir Balakin, Vasil Sukharev and Mikhail Melnyk. They might not be familiar names in the world of football but these were the players that took part in a game which turned out to be one of the saddest and terrifying stories in the history of sport.
In the pre-war years 8 of these players had played for Dynamo Kiev, while 3 were part of their city rivals, Lokomotiv.
During the second World War, all of these players were taken captive by the invading Germans but later released in the city of Kiev on grounds of being ‘harmless’. Josif Kordik, a local bakery owner and a dye-hard Dynamo fan in the pre-war years, one day spotted legendary goalkeeper Mykola Trusevych on the streets of Kiev. He had gone from being a star player to being reduced to a homeless and jobless wanderer in the Ukrainian capital. Kordik decided to pay his hero a favour by offering him a job as a sweeper at his bakery.
THE NEW TEAM IS FORMED
While the war was going on, the Germans had introduced their own ad-hoc football league to the country as a way of trying to win the support of the very people they were oppressing. The league, run by former footballer and sports instructor Georgi Shvetsov, consisted of invited teams made up mainly from the German army and also squads assembled from the Hungarian and Romanian units fighting alongside them.
Kordik decided it would be a good idea to set up his own bakery team to participate in the league. He asked his goalkeeper-turned-sweeper Mykola Trusevych if his teammates were still in town.
Over the next few days, Trusevych set out in the streets of Kiev in search of Dynamo Kiev’s former players. He first got in contact with pacey winger Makar Goncharenko who was illegally staying at his former mother-in-law’s house. Goncharenko helped Trusevych get in contact with 6 other Dynamo players. To complete the playing eleven, 3 players from city rivals Lokmotiv Kiev were invited. Many of the players opposed the idea at first, asking questions such as…
Would participating in a league set up to help the Nazi propaganda be considered as fraternizing with Germans?
Their captain Trusevych, however had a clear agenda:
“We may not have weapons, but we can fight for victory on the football field. We will play in the colours of our flag, and the fascists will come to see that our scalps are not easily taken”, he boasted.
All his colleagues finally agreed. The decision was made to play in red. Football Club Start was formed.
FC START BECOME DIFFICULT TO STOP
The Ukrainians’ first game of the season was up against the Sports Instructor Georgi Shvetsov’s own team – Rukh. Such was the state of the poor bakery sweepers that they turned up at the stadium with old work boots and ragged, cut down trousers instead of proper football shoes and shorts. Even their red jerseys were found in some old abandoned warehouse. The result? FC Start humiliated Rukh 7-2 in front of Shvestov’s own eyes. Insulted and gutted, he immediately stormed to the German commandment and requested the team be banned from training at the ground.
This of course did not slow down FC Start’s progress at all. Over the next few weeks, they defeated the Hungarian and Romanian garrison’s 6-2 and 11-0 respectively (or rather irrespectively- pun intended).
The next teams that came in their way were routed 9-1, 6-0, and 5-1.
As FC Start’s popularity grew Germans began to realize these results meant more than just victories on the field. Each and every win gave the Ukrainians belief. Belief that the Nazis could be looked upon in the eye and beaten. Could this act of resistance and bravery inspire into a local revolt in the future?
The Germans could of course kill the players straight away but then they would be considered as heroic martyrs who died on the battlefield. No. They had to be defeated on the football field in front of Kiev’s supporters.
FLAKELF OF LUFTWAFFE ARE CALLED UPON
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal boys in 2004 aren’t the only team to be given the title ‘Invincibles’ in history. Apparently, a team drawn from the army ranks of Luftwaffe also couldn’t be beaten. They were called ‘Flakelf’ and they were called upon to finally put an end to FC Start’s morale boosting dream run in Kiev.
Start’s players were told that if they defeat the Germans again they would be killed. The warning didn’t seem too threatening to them as they once again ran out convincing winners 5-1.
This result didn’t go down with the Nazi commandment at all. They decided to give the players one final chance. There were no reports on the game on the radio the next day. A re-match was offered and this time there were to be no compromises. Win again and you die.
On the 9th of August 1942 the rematch was played. This time, advertising posters were hung around the city and heavy security was arranged to guard the stadium. Nazi officials attended the game. They wanted to make sure FC Start’s defeat would not go unnoticed. Rather cruelly, an SS officer was appointed to referee the game. Right before kick-off, he visited Start’s team room and reminded them they were not to win this match. He also instructed the players to give the Nazi salute to the German soldiers when they walked out on to the field.
As expected, no salute was offered. The referee sinfully ignored all the rough tackles by the Flakelf players to the point that Start’s goalkeeper was completely knocked out on the floor when the Luftwaffe team scored their first goal. The Kiev boys responded with three of their own.
With the score FC Start 3-1 Flakelf at half-time, the officials knew that despite the referee’s help, the result was only going one way. The Sports instructor and the man in charge of the league, Shvestov was sent to along with an SS official to Start’s locker room. The players were clearly instructed one last time to lose the game. They were also reminded of the consequences if they didn’t.
As the game continued, both sides scored two goals each. When the result was clearly in sight, defender Oleksiy Klimenko decided it was a good time to embarrass their enemies even further. He ran through the whole Flakelf team with the ball, conned the goalkeeper and when he had an empty net to shoot at and score Start’s 6th goal, he turned around and kicked the ball back into the centre of the pitch. The referee blew the whistle straight away.
THE GRUESOME EVENTS WHICH TOOK PLACE NEXT
A week later they played Shvestov’s Rukh again. This time however they knew their fates were already sealed. Win or lose, the events against Flakelf wouldn’t be forgiven. Knowing this was the probably the last time they stepped out onto the pitch together, they played their hearts out. Rukh was demolished 8-0.
Soon after, the Gestapo arrived at the bakery and arrested all the players. They were tortured and interrogated until they would confess that they were secret spies so the Nazis could offer a reason for their execution. None of them budged. One player, Mykola Korotkykh was finally tortured to death when his sister confessed that he was indeed a member of the Soviet Intelligence.
The rest of the detainees were taken to the concentration camp, Siretz near Babi Yar. Very few of them survived. Three of the players were killed when the camp commandment once decided they wanted to shoot every third person in the camp. The three unlucky names from the squad were Ivan Kuzmenko, Oleksey Klimenko, and the goalkeeper and legendary captain, Mykola Trusevych. Among the few survivors was one Makar Goncharenko, the winger who has been the main reason we now know of this sad tale today.
It is said that when the goalkeeper Trusevych was shot in the camp, he stood up on his feet again and shouted on top of his lungs ”Red Sport will never die!”. He passed away standing in his red FC Start jersey.
P.S The 1981 film ‘ Road to Victory’ starring the likes of Sylvestre Stallone and guest appearances from Pele and Bobby Moore, was inspired by this very incident.
by Ahmed Bilal (Pakistan),
for 11Gunners (India).
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