The ‘Death Match’ stadium, Kyiv

Death Match Stadium, KyivThe ‘Death Match’ inspired a film starring Sylvester Stallone and is still a cause of furious debate more than 70 years after it was played.

The stadium in Kyiv which hosted the game on August 9, 1942, still stages games but is in typically decrepit Ukrainian condition.

It inspired the Escape to Victory movie but if you read wikipedia accounts then eye-witnesses claim players were not killed as a result of inflicting defeat on German players

FC Start v Flakelf

The game, reputedly watched by 2,000 spectators was won 5-3 by Start.

Death Match stadium, Kyiv
A bill for the game, copied from the wikipedia entry on the Death Match

Several players were later murdered by the Gestapo after being rounded up.

Investigations once the Soviet Union disintegrated, into the propaganda version of the famous ‘Death Match’ appear to suggest that no player involved was killed in reprisal for the defeat.

The subject still sparks dispute. A Ukrainian friend rejected the ‘Soviet propaganda’ claim, insisting: “The communists would not have made up a story about the workers.”

So believe what you want. I find it hard to believe that the Germans killed people who, for the most part, appear to have been co-operating with them after the Nazis took Kyiv.

The match, most famously, inspired the Hollywood film Escape to Victory featuring Pele, Bobby Moore and Ossie Ardiles who were roped in to give it footballing authenticity. Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine were among the actors.

Death Match Stadium, Kiev
The bare earth, with a smattering of grass, at FC Start

Former Burnley player Les Shannon choreographed the film match – just found that out. I remember interviewing him for a feature for the Luton News in the mid-1980s when he lived in Dunstable and, had I known, I’d have fished out a few tales on the movie and Pele from him.

The Death Match stadium

The stadium is about five minutes’ walk from the Lukyanivska metro station, which is quite close to the British Embassy.

Death Match Stadium, Kyiv, changing rooms
The entrance to the changing rooms

The ceremonial entrance has colonnades and curves around in an attractive quarter-circle. In one of the pillars book-ending the entrance is a kiosk cafe. The effect of the entrance is usually diminished by the space in front of it being used by drivers to park their vehicles.

Walk through and you’ll immediately see a memorial, as in the top picture.

The cultivation of grass pitches in Ukraine must be tricky due to the weather but it remains a mystery for visitors why patches of green are so rare in cities.

So this pitch is pretty much bare earth and the ‘stadium’ really acts as somewhere families can walk in the open air, or friends meet to drink and socialise.

Death Match Stadium statue, Kyiv. The German eagle is depicted underneath a Soviet figure
The statue at the Death Match Stadium in Kyiv. The German eagle is depicted underneath a Soviet figure

Count the multi-storey blocks you can see from the stand and you’ll give up once you hit 30.

Last November, the wooden slats had been fixed recently and painted in the Ukrainian flag colours – blue and yellow.

Death Match Stadium
This wouldn’t be Ukraine without something being out of place – in this instance the wonky ‘C’ at the ceremonial entrance

For the most part, most users were mums with prams, flocks of them, joggers, moochers, a few dogs, coaches in the ubiquitous coach tracksuit outfits that look silly wherever in the world you are.

As with many public areas, there can be a lot of discarded items – scores of vodka bottles and plastic beer bottles. And there is considerable proof the stadium is certainly frequented by some very big dogs. Enormous dogs, with big appetites!

photo (1)
Seats in the colours of Ukraine – light blue and yellow – have been recently painted

I was slightly surprised to find it still stages games. It’s quite rare to find many such local stadia in Ukraine being used. Football posts exist, but you don’t find many people using them – it’s almost as if they are for show.

But in later November, FC Podil Kyiv youth team were matched up against Arsenal Kyiv.

This happened early on.

A couple of dads were roaring on their youngsters – far fewer than had a similar match of such a good standard been played in Wales.

Despite the Death Match controversy over the site, good to see football alive and kicking in this part of Kyiv.

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