The Death Match. The Widely Told Story Of An Epic Game Of Soccer Between Ukrainians And Their German Occupiers.

by Daniel Russ on September 16, 2012

StartFC,  Ukrainian Soccer Team

StartFC, Ukrainian Soccer Team


This is one of the strangest tales ever to come out of World War II, not because it might be true, but because it probably isn’t. We all know that soccer is the number one sport played around the world and that Europeans watch soccer with a fanatical dedication we see hear only to things like NBA and NASCAR. So it would seem that in Kiev, during war time occupation of the Soviet Union, a team of Ukrainian soccer players played a German team comprised of members of a German anti aircraft battalion manning a Flak 88mm gun. The Ukrainians worked in a bakery and before the war played on a professional Kiev team named Dynamo.

The game as the story is told is a wonderful story. The Ukrainians were rail thin and starving under the harsh treatment of the Germans. The German turned a blind eye to the bakers keeping more provisions for themselves and time off for training. The game came around to Start Stadium in the capital of the Ukraine, emotions roiled; National pride on the German side, and a cathartic wish on the Russian side for comeuppance with a win.

The Germans as it turned out were pretty good. Semi-pro perhaps. Most of them wee members of Flakelf, literally “Flak eleven,” a battalion designation for air defense.  The Ukrainians were among the top soccer players for a thousand miles. On August 9th, 1942, the game bell rang. The story goes that the Ukrainian goalie was knocked out blocking a kick and was too woozie to really play to his abilities. The Ukrainians won 5 to 3.

The reaction to the win was humiliating to the occupiers. One version of the tales that at the end of the game, a Ukrainian player got within scoring range and kicked the ball upfield rather than score on the hapless Germans. There are a lot of version to the story. But the real tale is in the rematch. The Germans insisted on it and it was schedule for three days later. And of course the story goes that at the half it was 3 to 1 in favor of the Ukrainian team. A visit to the team locker room at half time by SS officers admonished against winning against Germans.

The story goes that the Ukrainians first thought just to tie it as the Germans referee would never allow a win. National pride, and soccer are a match and a can of kerosene. One mixes with other and the explosion burns effulgent for all to see and heats anyone who can feel. The final score was 5 to 3.

In the next few months, key members of the winning team were killed for their win.

The story is even honored in the eponymous stadium today in the form of artwork representing the four soccer players who met their demise because they would rather die for their country and their soccer team than give the Nazis a victory.

Great story it turns out. But just that. There might not have ever been a death match. Like stories in particular, they almost tell themselves. Some times they even grow themselves. There was a game, but the Hollywood Death Match is probably a fiction.


Source: The Death Match, NYT,


Related Posts:

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Louis September 19, 2017 at 6:27 am

Flakelf, meaning FLAK eleven, could also mean “the football team of the FLAK arm of the Luftwaffe” (Yes, I do realise you Americans would have written soccer). Elf (eleven) being the amount of players on the field during a game, and Elf is also the colloquial term in Germany for a soccer team. So Fliegerelf Could be the pilots team, and flakelf the Flak team within the Luftwaffe. Sort of like Army or Navy football teams.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: