Give me a boy of impressionable age and he’s mine for life goes the saying. Well I was that impressionable boy in the late 1970s and early 80s and it was the football being played in the Soviet Union that captured this particular heart and mind like little else before or since. With respectful nods in the direction of Minsk, Moscow and Kiev; the standard-bearer of that outstanding Soviet club generation for this football-mad boy was Dinamo Tbilisi. What an impression that team made on me, especially considering how little football I actually saw them play.
In the decades before blanket television coverage of European football became the norm, little was known about teams from the far-flung outposts of the Eastern Bloc. Fixtures were occasional and exposure was fleeting, usually snatched, crackly European competition highlight packages on midweek Sportsnight, crammed in as an afterthought after darts and boxing.
So the provincial Georgians of Dinamo Tbilisi represented a mysterious and exotic bolt from the blue and their extraordinary football operating on a level way beyond anything I had encountered. Who are these players and what planet did they come from? Had you told a young me that these men were footballing aliens brought to earth by Soviet Cosmonauts on a mission to conquer the world game, I might just have believed you.