Classic Players

Lev Yashin, the impregnable Spider

Soviet Union's Lev Yashin makes a save from West Germany's Uwe Seeler at the 1966 FIFA World Cup England™
© imago images
  • Today marks the 30th anniversary of Lev Yashin’s passing
  • He is widely regarded as the greatest goalkeeper ever
  • We pay tribute with quotes and facts

“It’s a funny old game."

Jimmy Greaves’ first FIFA World Cup™ certainly underscored his catchphrase. A pitch-invading pooch urinated on the striker’s England shirt after he caught it. Garrincha adopted the dog and took it back to Brazil. Marcos Coll scored an Olympic goal. And a Wild West brawl, AKA ‘The Battle of Santiago’, provoked its referee into inventing yellow and red cards.

But was anything more bizarre than the final goal celebration in the first quarter-final at Chile 1962? When Eladio Rojas scored the hosts’ winner, he didn’t sprint to celebrate with masses of ecstatic Chileans or embrace his team-mates. Instead, he body-swerved several of them to go and deliriously hug the man he’d scored past!

“I was in disbelief that I’d scored past the great Lev Yashin,” he recalled years later. “I still am. I was overcome with excitement that all I wanted to do was hug him. Scoring past Yashin was like a trophy.”

Innumerable exalted players failed to seize that badge of honour’. ‘The Black Spider’, indeed, kept around 275 clean sheets, and saved a world-record 150-plus penalties, for Dynamo Moscow and Soviet Union.

Yet when he returned from Chile 1962, illustrious French sportspaper L’Equipe described Yashin, who also conceded the aforementioned Olympic goal, as a “fading force”. One year later another Gallic publication, France Football, was handing him the Ballon d’Or.

Football hasn’t been shy of outstanding goalkeepers since – Messrs Banks, Maier, Zoff, Schmeichel, Casillas, Buffon and Neuer embolden that – but the Muscovite remains the only one to have claimed that award or The Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper.

Despite his 6ft 2ins, barrel-shouldered frame, Yashin remains arguably the finest reflex saver in history, but he was so much more than that. He was as brave as a Kamchatka Bear – he was KO’d twice during Chile 1962, came to and continued – and barked orders at his defenders like a Russian Bear Dog.

His positioning, catching and punching were impeccable. And he was a forefather for the en vogue, albeit modified, sweeper-keepers of today such as Neuer, Hugo Lloris, Ederson and Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Yahsin’s 13 years in that CCCP-emblazoned, dark jersey inspired halcyon days for Soviet Union. They won the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Melbourne 1956 and 1960 UEFA European Championship, reached the quarter-finals at Sweden 1958 and Chile 1962, and finished fourth at England 1966.

He hung up his gloves in 1970. He’d won 74 caps, and conceded less than a goal a game, at international level and given 20 years’ service to his only club.

“I don’t know if one man one has ever meant so much to one club,” said Igor Chislenko of his team-mate.

Over 100,000 fans turned out for his testimonial the following year. So, too, did Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Eusebio. Lev Yashin evidently meant so much to more than just one club and one country.

Quotes by Yashin

“I ran, did the high jump, shot put, discus, took fencing lessons, had a go at boxing, diving, wrestling, skating, tried basketball, played ice hockey, water polo and football. I spent my winters on skis and skates. I’m not sure what I was best at.”

“My secret? Before a game I smoked a cigarette to calm my nerves and sunk a nice vodka to tone my muscles.”

“The joy of seeing Yuri Gagarin flying in space is only superseded by the joy of a good penalty save.”

“What kind of a goalkeeper is one who is not tormented by a goal he has conceded? He must be tormented! And if he is calm, that means the end. No matter what he had in the past, he has no future.”

Quotes on Yashin

“Someone once said that a team with Pele started [a game] with a 1-0 lead. A team with Yashin started winning 2-0.”
Pele

"Lev Yashin was first-class, a real super goalkeeper. Everything he did was top-class. He was the model for goalkeeping for the next ten to 15 years. I visualised myself doing some of the things he was doing. Even though I was already playing in the top division, I used to learn from him."
Gordon Banks

“He made me as a footballer. 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.”
Eusebio

“The fans always called Yashin by his first name. To them, he was one of them, like a brother or a friend. He used to walk home from matches with masses of fans – he’d let them carry his sports bag.”
Vladimir Pilguy, who succeeded Yashin as Dynamo keeper

Did You Know?

  • Kids used to call Yashin ‘Eiffel Tower’ during his childhood. He admitted it got him into a lot of fights and provoked his father into sending him to boxing lessons.
  • Despite being only 12 when World War II broke out, Yashin was drafted in for national service and assigned to the munitions industry. He was an ice hockey goalkeeper at the time, but the factory didn't have an ice hockey team, so he decided to join the football team as a forward. He was pushed further back positionally until he reluctantly agreed to go in goal and ended up enjoying it.
  • Yashin kept goal for Dynamo in both football and ice hockey in his early years at the club. He became a national champion in both sports.
  • While in London to represent a Rest of the World XI against England in 1963, Yashin went out for dinner with Ferenc Puskas. “I’d never seen so much money in my life,” Yashin said of Puskas getting his wallet out to pay. “I never wanted two things: money or to live outside [Soviet Union].”
  • The first part of his ‘Black Spider’ nickname came because it was universally accepted he wore an intimidating, all-black kit. It was, in fact, dark blue.

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