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Football’s cultural side helped Britain wage the last Cold War

3 2 10
14.06.2018

Football is not often linked to warfare, but as the 2018 World Cup begins in Russia – during what some political commentators have deemed a new Cold War – the mixing of people from all over the world will be part of a global governmental competition for prestige. It may not seem like the most straightforward tactic, but football’s ability to bring cultures together previously formed part of the British government’s waging of the original Cold War, in the 1950s.

England’s assumed superiority at football meant that the football association did not enter FIFA’s World Cup until 1950. But in the first two tournaments the national team took part (1950 and 1954), they were rather uncompetitive. Worse, in 1953 the team suffered its first home defeat to a team from outside the British Isles, being crushed by Hungary’s “Magnificent Magyars”. The national game was in disarray with defeat to an iron curtain nation compounding the issue.

Britain did have an ace up its sleeve, however. Many clubs organised exhibition matches against Soviet sides. In the same way that the World Cup provides a great opportunity for Valdimir Putin to showcase the best face of Russia now, so the mid-1950s allowed the post-Stalin Soviet leadership to tell the world that things had changed. What became known as “the thaw” – when the Soviets lessened censorship and repression and attempted to show the benefits........

© The Conversation