This is a true story that I was told by my father. It has inspired athletes, filmmakers, children, and sports fans around the world—but most of all it inspired a nation.
In 1942 during the height of World War II, the German army steamrolled across Europe. War was waged on many fronts. France, Britain, Northern Africa were all close to falling to German rule. But Hitler wanted to prove he was the greatest military general of all time, so he focused attentions towards Russia.
As the Nazi forces swept through Eastern Europe on their conquest they eventually came to the Ukraine. Wehrmacht forces crushed any resistance, while the Luftwaffe bombed from above. The Germans rolled into the city of Kiev with little or no resistance.
All the citizens were rounded up and forced to listen to the German military decree themselves their new rulers. It was here that Major General Eberhardt decided that the population were too great to police and he decided on a plan to placate the people of Kiev.
His idea was to stage a football match between a German team and Ukranian Champions Dynamo Kiev. During the occupation, the Kiev team had been rounded up by a soccer mad Wehrmacht officer and he had decided to spare their lives when all other citizens of a certain public stature were being executed.
During this first match things did not go as Eberhardt had planned. And despite not having trained for many months because of the war the Ukranians skill shone through. Kiev led 1-0 at half time, and received a half time speech from Eberhardt telling them they would be executed if they did not lose. Kiev went out to the second half and buoyed by a stadium full of Ukranians they went on to win 4-1.
Nobody was executed but news of this defeat had reached Eberhardt's superiors. They insisted on a re-match. The Kiev players were banned from training and their rations reduced. And five days later they took to the field against a stronger Nazi select team.
Kiev again were threatened with execution, but they paid it no heed and recorded a resounding 6-0 victory.
Under extreme pressure, Eberhardt brought in a professional team from Hungary, MSG Wal. As they were Nazi sympathisers they had continued their professional training throughout the war. They were brought to Kiev to restore Nazi pride and to put the Kiev team where they belonged.
This was a malnourished untrained Kiev team's third match in seven days. And this time it was against a professional outfit. Undaunted by what faced them, Kiev won 5-1 and then 3-2 five days later.
The Kiev players knew they had to win every match because their lives depended on it. They knew that the arrogant Wehrmacht officers would want to win the match and not make martyrs of the players. So this time unbeaten German team Flakelf were brought in to restore pride.
On August 6th 1942, Dynamo Kiev took to the field against the unbeaten Luftwaffe team of Flakelf. The match was played in front of a stadium of entirely German soldiers. No Ukranians were allowed to even be near the stadium on the day.
The Dynamo Kiev players were warned before the match. Lose and they would be spared. Win and face execution.
Kiev won 3-2.
As the winning goal went in, members of the SS in parts of the stadium began taking potshots at the Kiev players. After the game Kiev waited in the dressing room accepting their fate.
But Eberhardt did not come in. Instead a Gestapo officer informed them they would be given one more chance to lose. A match had been arranged for four days time against another German team, Rukh.
Kiev went into this match knowing it would be their last. Win or lose. National pride was at stake and they knew that they could inspire the Ukranian people to face this occupation with their heads held high.
Dynamo Kiev played the match of their lives. They won 8-0.
After the match they were rounded up by the Gestapo. Some were tortured. Some were executed. Some were sent to concentration camps. None survived.
Kiev had inspired when others would have wilted.
A statue dedicated to the Kiev team of 1942 stands in Kiev today.