With long hair and a beard of several days, wrapped in a winter jacket with the Dinamo kyiv shield, Oleg Salenko travels through kyiv by car participating in the citizen patrols that guard the Ukrainian capital in the midst of the Russian invasion. The video viralized by Twitter shows the former Valencia striker from the 90s looking for “cat food”, but also very aware that, when the time comes, he can wield a rifle: “We have to end this now, I’m Soviet but now There is nothing Soviet left, they have divided everything they could divide, ”says who continues to hold the record for top scorer in a World Cup match since the United States 94 and who has broken ties with his Russian family branch in St. Petersburg. It is not the only case of an athlete, active or retired, directly involved in a military conflict. The tennis players Sergiy Stakhovsky and Alexander Dolgopolov, or the Olympic champion basketball player in Seoul 88 Alexander Volkov, have published images in uniform, ready for combat. The linking of idols with wars has been constant. In many cases, the outbreak of a conflict coincided with the exercise of their careers. Due to his youth and physical conditions, as well as the charismatic aura of his social relevance, his presence at the front raised patriotic fervor and collective self-esteem. In other cases, soccer matches are attributed to the symbolic outbreak of a conflict, as in the Balkans, with the kick of Croatian Zvonimir Boban to a Serbian policeman at Dinamo Zagreb-Red Star, in May 1990. Of stars, to heroes and martyrs.
First World War. The Christmas Truce
The miracle of the Christmas truce of December 24, 1914 sprouts in those places where the trenches had brought the sides within a few kilometers. German, British and French soldiers stopped fighting for a week to wish each other happy holidays, exchange cigarettes… and play football. It was the first months and it was still believed that it would be a short war, without Somme or Verdun. In Ypres, on the Belgian front, German Lieutenant Johannes Niemann notes in his diary: “Suddenly a Tommy (derogatory name for the English) came with a soccer ball.” Among the notes of Charles Brockbank, Lieutenant of the Cheshire Regiment, it appears that “there was a crowd of people in the trenches. Someone produced a small ball. So of course a football game started.” In frozen wastelands, next to the graves of dead compatriots, football becomes a language of brotherhood. Organizing one such match is credited to the 16 Scottish Hearts players who volunteered. Seven of them would end up dying, including their star James Speedie, whose body was never recovered.
Civil war. From Guerendiain to Arater
The outbreak of the Civil War did not stop football, but it did condition and cut short many careers. Between bombs, and with the initiative of the president of Valencia FC Josep Rodríguez Tortajada, sentenced to death after the war and later amnestied, the Copa de la República won by Levante was organized. Many footballers took part in the conflict. Levantinist Joaquim Arater, enrolled in the People’s Army of the Republic, died in September 1938 in the Battle of the Ebro. Agustín Dolz, also Levantinist, enlisted on the Teruel front. Nicolás Guerendian, the first starting striker for Valencia in 1919, a republican activist, was shot dead in the Vera de Bidasoa quarries. Several Valencian managers and players were imprisoned, exiled and some, like captain Juan Ramón, saw how his entire family was retaliated against. Other illustrious Mestalla players, such as the striker Mundo or the winger Gorostiza, were part of the national side, fighting in the Levante Recovery Army and in the Tercio Requeté Ortiz de Zárate.
WWII. The party of death and Enrique Molina
At the Start Stadion, on the outskirts of kyiv, the so-called “Match of Death” was played on August 9, 1942, which inspired the movie “Escape or Victory”. Several members of FC Start, the combined Lokomotiv and Dynamo kyiv players recruited by a baker, Iosif Kordik, were killed for not wanting to lose out against Flakelf, the Nazi army team. A story with gaps, idealized over the decades as a symbol of the Ukrainian resistance against the Nazis. After humiliating them in a first duel 5-1, in the revenge match after three days and under very strong pressure, they beat the Germans again (5-3). Legend has it that with the score settled, defender Oleksiy Klimenko dribbled past the entire rival team, also got rid of the goalkeeper and, with an empty goal, turned and shot towards the center of the field. The referee (German officer) decreed that there was enough humiliation for the invader. Final.
In the Second World War, Enrique Molina died, the undisputed star of the team that rose to the First Division in 1931, and an idol of Mestalla who wore red boots with studs that he patiently sharpened and repaired, and which wreaked havoc on rivals. Raised in a conservative and clerical family, the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War would have an emotional impact on Molina. During the war, four of his brothers were killed —three of them priests, plus a nun—, so he decided to defend his longstanding ideological convictions beyond 1939, once the war was over. Molina enrolled in the Blue Division, the volunteer army that enlisted to defend the Nazi cause in World War II, in the encirclement of Hitler’s troops to Leningrad, the current Saint Petersburg. With a great physical condition, inherited from his football stage, he was not out of place in a squad with a considerably younger average age. Thus, in the summer of 1941 he was part of the army that, from the German base in Graffenworth, crossed more than 1,400 kilometers on foot to reach the bloody scene of Leningrad. In the summer of 1942, the year in which Valencia won its first league, Molina had the opportunity to be relieved and return to Spain, but he decided to continue on Soviet soil. In July 1943, when he was transporting a German officer in a side-car, he died when he was hit by a Soviet shell. His remains were buried in the Mestelevo Divisional Cemetery. His pilot card was found among his belongings, a sport that he practiced at the Alameda Jai Alai fronton.