Spartakiad in 1928, first TV broadcast, 1980 Summer Olympics and Michael Jackson's show: what has Dynamo Stadium witnessed for 90 years

May 31, 2019

The Stadium boasts eventful and interesting history. It hosted both teams from all over the Soviet Union, and teams from all over the world as well. The Arena hosted the 1980 Summer Olympics  and for decades remained the major sports ground of Moscow, and hence of the whole country. The Stadium has been rebuilt  and reconstructed for a number of times. During the war, soldiers trained here before joining the front, and in the 1990s, Michael Jackson performed in its arena. After a 10-year break and large-scale renovation, the Stadium is ready to delight football fans with spectacular matches again.

We will tell a brief history of the stadium, valued by not only Dynamo fans — from the first Belorussian SSR — Switzerland game until the last game with Tom (Tomsk football club) in 2008.

The beginning

Dynamo Stadium was built in 1928, in landmark area. In 1774, after the Russo–Turkish War was over, it was decided to build the Petrovsky Palace on this location in honour of the victory. It was completed in 1782. During the war of 1812, the Palace housed Napoleon's headquarters for five days. After it was over, Petrovsky Park was laid out here, where noble Moscow residents with estates located nearby used to rest. 

Petrovsky Palace

Petrovsky Park witnessed top-class sports in the 1920s, when the Dynamo football club chose it for construction of its stadium. Previously, Dynamo club played and trained on a small site in Orlovo-Davydovsky Pereulok (1st Grazhdanskaya Street then). The management of the 1st Children's Tuberculosis Hospital (better known by its pre-revolutionary name St. Olga's Children's Hospital) granted the athletes wastelands nearby.

The football players immediately started to develop and improve it. In 1924, the old site with three rows of wooden benches was converted into an arena that could accommodate 3,000 spectators, with changing rooms and hot water showers — it was a luxury for that time. Today residential houses occupy the site of the first Dynamo stadium.

The football club popularity was growing. By 1925, football games were bringing together about 5,000 fans, and it required a new spacious site more urgently than ever. Dynamo boasted not only talented players, but also professional managers. During the NEP (New Economic Policy) period, Club's Commercial Director Alexander Lurye and his assistant Semyon Loyevsky managed to save enough money to build a new stadium.

Arena construction

Construction launched in 1925. They started to construct the stadium at the intersection of two central alleys of Petrovsky Park, Moskovskaya and Teatralnaya. The Government had not provided any considerable assistance in its construction, all the work was carried out at the expense of the club, by football players and fans without necessary machinery, with the help of primitive tools, such as picks and shovels, with horses engaged  instead of trucks.

A shot of the CDKA and Dynamo game at the Soviet Football Championship at the Dynamo Stadium. Author L. Dorensky. Moscow. 22 July 1949

At the Dynamo metro station before a friendly game between Wolverhampton Wanderers (The United Kingdom) and Spartak (Moscow) teams. Author D. Sholomovich. Moscow. 7 August 1955

August 1927 changed everything. By the 10th anniversary of the Soviet regime, it was planned to hold the All-Union Spartakiad, but it required a spacious site. The Government decided to provide assistance to Dynamo players. Stadium construction accelerated with outstanding architects Arkady Langman and Lazar Cherikover involved.

Horseshoe-shaped Stadium's construction completed in the late 1920, with its field surrounded by three stands. Instead of the fourth stand, sports grounds, courts with ancient trees had been arranged. Later, cycle tracks had encircled the arena, but they were removed.

All-Union Spartakiad

The sports arena stands could accommodate 25,000 people. But the most spectacular games were attended by nearly 45,000 fans. The Soviet newsreels describe it:

"All Moscow residents were rushing to sports arenas. It was not easy to get there. To reach Petrovsky Park and the Dynamo Stadium, first you needed to go to Sokolniki, on Preobrazhenskaya Square. And there, at the final stop, people forced their way to get into trams or bus No.6."

Aerial shot of the Dynamo Stadium during a football game. Unknown author. 25 April 1950

The All-Union Spartakiad was held in August 1928. Moscow welcomed more than 7,000 athletes with about 700 of them arriving from foreign countries. That summer, guests from Germany, Finland, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, England, France, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Uruguay, Latvia, Argentina and even Algeria walked through Moscow streets, with the highest number of athletes (195) coming from Germany accounting.

The Dynamo Stadium was the central event venue. It hosted major matches of Spartakiad football tournament. Belorussian SSR and Switzerland national teams' game was the first event held in the new arena. Switzerland team comprised the Lucerne sport international players. Belorussians won 6:3 and got to the tournament quarterfinals, where they lost to Ukrainians (2:6).

In the semifinals, also held at the Dynamo Stadium, the Ukrainian SSR team defeated the Uruguayan team 7:1 and it played with the Moscow national team in the final. Remarkably, Moscow residents did not participate in the qualifying games as hosts.

The final was very intense. Muscovites literally snatched the victory from the Ukrainians scoring the only goal during the 61st minute of the game.

A shot of the Soviet Cup game between the CDKA and Spartak teams at the Dynamo Stadium. Author A. Ustinov. Moscow. 24 October 1948

Comments on the very first football game at the Dynamo Stadium by 'Physical Education and Sport':

"The match of Belorussiya and Switzerland was the day's highlight... The Dynamo Stadium that has been specially opened to host this game, accommodated on its grand stands about 7,000 spectators under strict control and subject to the order of the stadium administration... The whole game was extremely revealing: technically stronger Switzerland team was mostly playing on the Belorussian field part, and lost to Belorussian team that played with great enthusiasm. They say that the Swiss were very tired of the previous day's carnival, but this does not detract the victory of Belorussian team, which took the game seriously, having kept its players strong."

The following year, the stadium hosted the first radio broadcasted football game in the USSR. Thousands of listeners followed the game of the RSFSR and Ukrainian SSR national teams with the first words of the announcer Vadim Sinyavsky: "Attention! Attention! Our microphone is installed at the Dynamo Stadium!".

The USSR national football team started to play on the Dynamo Stadium. Since the Soviet Union was not a member of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) until 1946, it could not officially hold football matches with national teams of other countries. The national team of Turkey, which technically played on the field under the flag of the People's Houses, was an ongoing rival team of the  Soviet national team between 1924 and 1935. As a rule, it was either one game a year in Moscow, or a visit of the Soviet Union team to Turkey, with several games in different cities.

The first game in the history of the Soviet Union national team took place on 16 November 1924 at the Vorovsky Stadium (it was located in Kaluzhskaya Street opposite Neskuchny Garden, there are residential buildings now). The Soviet Union national team defeated Turkish team 3:0. 15,000 fans watched the game. The next home game of the Soviet national team  took place at the Dynamo Stadium. On 20 August 1931, the Soviet team won 3:2 against Turkey, with the stands filled to capacity (50,000 spectators). Before the war, the USSR and Turkey had played at the Dynamo Stadium twice. In 1933, guests won with a 2:1 score, in 1934 the host team won with the same result.

Reconstruction and the first Championships

The first reconstruction of the Stadium launched in 1934. The arena did not need renovation, but the eastern stand was to be finished, with the cycle track removed, as it turned to be not popular, and a lower tier with spectator seats added. As a result, the stadium's capacity increased to 53,000 people, and taking account the upper areas without seats, where the fans could watch the game standing, its capacity actually reached 70-80,000 spectators.

Dynamo Stadium during the evening football game. Author M. Ozersky. October 1951

There were three new weightlifting, fencing and wrestling gyms arranged under the stands, as well as a rowing pool, a cinema, a restaurant and medical facilities. The reconstruction ended in 1936, and two years later, a metro station was opened near the stadium named after the sports arena.

In the year of the Dynamo Stadium's reconstruction, the first national football championship was held in the USSR. 7 games out of 21 were held in the main Moscow arena. Dynamo Moscow was the first champion of the Soviet Union,  Dynamo Kiev won the silver medal, and the third place was taken by  Spartak Moscow.

Championships became annual, with the most important matches held at the Petrovsky Park Stadium. Before the war, champion titles were awarded to two teams. Dynamo was the winner in 1936 (at the spring championship), 1937 and 1940. Spartak won in 1936 (at the autumn championship), 1938 and 1939. The most 'high-ranking' football fan of those years visiting Dynamo stands was Lavrenty Beria. In his youth, he played football in Georgia and his interest in football was no surprise.

"We got used to his visits and at first we were even happy to have our fellow football player in the top leadership of the country. We could not even assume that the former left midfielder will take our success so bad," Spartak founder Nikolai Starostin recalled in his memoirs.

On 30 September 1939, the Dynamo stadium hosted a unique match — play-off of the semifinals of the Soviet Cup between Spartak and Dynamo (Tbilisi), which took place after the final was held and Spartak won the Cup. Nikolai Starostin noted that the order to play off the semifinals was given allegedly by Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR Andrei Zhdanov. But he was certain it was Beria who ordered to play off, since he was a Tbilisi's Dynamo fan and was not fond of Spartak. The play-off ended with another 3:2 victory for Spartak, and Starostin observed that when Spartak scored the third goal, Beria stood up, threw off his chair and left his box for honoured guests.

The Soviet Championship of 1941 was not completed, as the tournament was interrupted by the war. The last pre-war football game at Dynamo Stadium took place on 19 June. The hosts played with Traktor Stalingrad (the game that ended in a draw (1:1) was attended by 30,000 spectators). On 24 June, after the start of hostilities, there were two more championship games held — in Tbilisi and Donetsk.

Ariel view of the Dynamo Stadium. Unknown author. The 1930-ies

The Stadium during the war

To protect the stadium from air raids, it was decided to disguise it, and in the winter of 1942 fir trees were planted on the field. Dynamo Stadium was converted into a camp for soldiers' military training with a shooting range arranged to train snipers and shooters. Within five days after the war began, the groups of Independent Special Purpose Motorized Rifle Brigade started to be arranged. Soldiers that had been trained at the Stadium were sent to the enemy's rear to conduct special operations.

The arena resumed its sports activities when the front moved to the west. The first football game was held on 18 July 1944. The hosts played with Torpedo and won 3:2. On July 30, the Soviet Cup games started. Dynamo Stadium had the honour to host the final of the tournament. On 27 August, Zenit Leningrad won CDKA Moscow 2:1.

Immediately after the victory in the Great Patriotic War, the Soviet football championship resumed as well. The first games took place on 13 May in Kiev and Tbilisi. On 3 June 1945, Moscow Dynamo Stadium hosted the first game of the 8th championship season. 

The Soviet Football Cup. A shot of the game between CDKA and Dynamo (Moscow). Author M. Botashev. Moscow. 17 October 1948

The first TV broadcast and the winning game with the world champions

After the war, football game became incredibly popular. Earlier, the stadiums could hardly accommodate all the fans, but in the 1940s, the country experienced a real sports boom with sold-outs at the ticket offices.

In 1947, the Dynamo Stadium hosted a grand celebration of Moscow's 800th anniversary. The American novelist John Steinbeck wrote:

"The show in the stadium went on all afternoon. There were parades of bicycles, and races of motorcycles, and finally there was a last show that required a great deal of preparation.  A line of motorcycles rode around the track.  In the seat was the motorcycle driver, and standing on each motorcycle was a girl in tights, and each girl held a great red flag, so that when the motorcycles went at full speed, the huge flag flapped behind.  This parade circled the track twice, and that was the end of the show.” 

On 28 June 1949, CDKA and  Dynamo Minsk played on the Dynamo Stadium,  and it was the game the fans could watch at home, since it was the first TV broadcast. Vadim Sinyavsky was the game's announcer.

In 1953, the Stadium had its light towers installed allowing to hold evening games. However, yet before the war there were attempts to arrange games with electric light with common large lamps used. The first attempt was in 1933 with the last one in 1940.

At the Dynamo Stadium before the Soviet Cup football game between CDKA and Spartak. Author A. Ustinov. Moscow. 24 October 1948

On 21 August 1955, the Dynamo Stadium hosted one of the most unusual and unexpected games featuring the USSR and the Federal Republic of Germany national teams.

The German Democratic Republic was under the Soviet Union's rule of influence, it had not yet established diplomatic relations with West Germany, but Federal Republic of Germany had recently joined NATO. So the game was rather politically charged. Moreover, there were still German prisoners of war kept in Moscow. Only in October 1955, Nikita Khrushchev signed a decree on repatriation, and about 14,000 Germans came back to their homeland. That time, in August, they also followed radio broadcast of the football game.

Sports  background was as follows:  in 1954, the FRG national team became the World Cup champion and was  the strongest team in the world at that time. It was the Soviet Union to offer playing a friendly game.  And it was a challenge the German side took.

Member of the Political Bureau of the CPSU Nikita Khrushchev at the  Dynamo Stadium. Author B. Vdovenko. Moscow.  21 July 1947

Preparation for the event was very stressful. The party leadership constantly reminded the players of the importance of the upcoming event. Anatoly Ilyin, who played in that game, recalls:

"For many it was not just a football game, but politics. Executive comrades from the Committee of Physical Education, the Central Committee of the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League and others were constantly reminding us that we must win by all means. And this excessive pressure did not help at all, it only made us nervous. We perfectly understood that we must defend our country's greatness and power, and every international game was a great responsibility for us."

The game ended with the victory of the Soviet team with 3:2 score.

Sports journalist Lev Filatov listed that game among his favourite matches described in his  'My Football Years'  book:

"Dynamo Stadium. It is warm after a rainstorm. Stands look light due to white clothing of spectators: the cutest decoration for football game. I remember my heart sinking experiencing a lot of feelings at once: curiosity (after all, the field hosts the world champion and the team of such a high level we have never seen, neither the Uruguayans nor the Italians visited us before!), and anxiety (after all, it was only the tenth competitive game of our national team and we did not know whether it would be strong enough), and, finally, pleasant anticipation of the approaching hour of top-class football we have not witnessed so far".

The 1980 Summer Olympics

The next year after the legendary game with Federal Republic of Germany, a stadium in Luzhniki was constructed. It was larger and more capacious than the Dynamo Stadium, so it acquired the status of the major sports arena of Moscow and the whole country. But that did not mean that the former leader had remained on the sidelines. In 1964, the Dynamo Stadium had an electronic scoreboard mounted, and between 1977 and 1979 its major reconstruction was conducted. Arena was getting ready for the 1980 Summer Olympics.

International football game at the Dynamo Stadium. Match between Dynamo (Moscow) and Atlética Portuguesa (Brazil) teams. Author M. Botashev. Moscow. 19 July 1956

The south, north and east stands were rebuilt, with four lighting towers with bright spotlights erected. A hotel was constructed near the stadium, as well as football and athletics arena, a gym and an artificial ice rink.

The main Dynamo field hosted the football tournament of the 1980 Summer Olympics with seven games held. The match for third place between the USSR and Yugoslavia was one of them. The Soviet team won with 2:0 score and became the bronze medalist of the Olympics. 45,000 fans watched the game.

Small stadium arena hosted field hockey competitions. For the first time in Moscow, not only men competed for medals, but women as well.

Fans, concerts, Cherenkov and the last reconstruction

Sports life of the stadium after the Olympics did not suspend. The new arena continued to host matches of the Soviet Championships, and after its collapse, it host Russian championships. In the 1980s, the first fans came to attend the games, although the old-timers say that in 1976 they witnessed some tough guys in blue and white scarves on the western stand of the Dynamo Stadium.

Since the late 1980s, the stadium has been hosting musical performances. The most famous ones were  British rock legends Deep Purple and pop king Michael Jackson concerts in 1996.

Emotional fans during the football match of the Russian championship between Dynamo (Moscow) and Shinnik (Yaroslavl) at the Dynamo Central Stadium. Author V.  Mariño. Moscow.  9 may 1998

The Dynamo Stadium was chosen to host a symbolic farewell to football of the legendary Spartak's player Fyodor Cherenkov. His club and Parma Italy game took place on 23 August 1994. 'Kommersant' wrote:

"During the break, Cherenkov was honoured as none of the Russian (and Soviet) football players. And the game lost all its appeal, as midfielder Cherenkov said goodbye to football."

In the 1990s, the stadium underwent another reconstruction. In 1998, its lawn had heating, and wooden benches had been replaced with plastic seats. As a result, the arena's capacity reduced to 36,500 people. Bu the stadium managed to meet international requirements and the same year it hosted the World Youth Games.

In October 2007, Moscow authorities decided to close the stadium for large-scale reconstruction. On 22 November next year, it hosted a farewell game between Dynamo Moscow and Tom (Tomsk). The hosts won 2:0. After that, the stadium was closed for 10 years.

The new complex was built actually from scratch. Nothing left from the old Soviet Colosseum but a part of the east stand.

At the time being, the upgraded stadium with a capacity of 26,319 spectators is ready to welcome players and fans again. On 26 May, in the last round of the Russian Championship, Dynamo played with Arsenal Tula. Thus, all the Moscow teams playing in the Russian Premier League (Lokomotiv, Spartak, CSKA and Dynamo) have now their own state-of-the-art football stadium.


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