Injuries, dodgy penalties and Russian ringers - When Sheffield Wednesday visited Russia

The Luzhniki Stadium is very different to when the Owls played there in 1960.  Nick Potts/PA Wire.
The Luzhniki Stadium is very different to when the Owls played there in 1960. Nick Potts/PA Wire.
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When the Luzhniki Stadium hosts the opening game of this year’s World Cup on Thursday, it will bring back memories for Sheffield Wednesday supporters of a certain age.

Back in 1960, the Owls visited Eastern Europe as part of a pre-season tour and played in the very stadium that will open and close this year’s World Cup extravaganza.

The club took in three matches; two in Russia sandwiching a hop across to Georgia.

Their fixtures in Russia took place at the former Lenin Stadium - which was later to be renamed the Luzhniki.

Today, the stadium looks pretty different to when Wednesday played there 58 years ago.

The Moscow arena has a capacity of 81,000 and has a rich history, previously staging the 1980 Olympic Games and the Champions League Final in 2008.

It will host seven games in total, starting with Thursday’s opener between Russia and Saudi Arabia and concluding with the final on Sunday, July 15.

When Wednesday visited there, the stadium was only a few years old and a far cry from today’s state-of-the-art setting.

Wednesday club historian Jason Dickinson has researched the trip to Russia for his previous books on the club.

He says the decision to venture to Georgia whilst out in Russia would have involved a great deal of travelling for the party - who had already gone via Copenhagen to reach Moscow.

“Georgia is thousands of miles from Moscow,” he told the Star.

“To do such a huge trip there and go all the way back seems chaotic.

“Wednesday also travelled to Bulgaria and Poland in the mid-1960s but this would have to go down as one of their longest treks.”

It wasn’t all plain sailing during the excursion for Wednesday, as dispatches from the Star show.

Before the trip, star striker Johnny Fantham was rushed to hospital after being struck down by illness.

He was duly replaced by John Quinn, who then had to hot-foot it to Moscow for an arduous 2,000-mile journey to meet up with his colleagues.

The Owls’ first game against CSKA saw torrential rain turn the pitch into a quagmire but that didn’t deter 50,000 spectators from turning up.

Despite ending up on the losing side, Wednesday were applauded off the pitch by the Russian fans.

They then set off on their trip to Georgia, where they faced off against Dynamo Tbilisi and lost 1-0.

Again, Wednesday were struck down by bad luck as Gerry Young was taken to hospital after sustaining an injury during the match.

Such was the lack of depth in Wednesday’s ranks that they had to appeal for a Russian player to cover for Young, as reported in the Star.

To add insult to injury, a contentious penalty for the hosts saw them seal the win in front of 26,000 fans.

Wednesday’s party then headed back to Russia where they rounded off their trip with a 3-2 defeat to Lokomotiv Moscow.

The long trek didn’t seem to do too much harm to the Owls in the long run.

The following season, 1960-61, would see them finish second in the top flight behind only Bill Nicholson’s Tottenham Hostpur.

That remains their best season on record since the halcyon days of the late 1920s when the club won back-to-back First Division titles.