Cliff was part of the side that embarked on a pre-season trip to the Soviet Union during the summer of 1959 – and he says the excursion played a key part in the evolution of the all-conquering side of the early 1960s.
We played three games while we were there –Terry Medwin scored to give us a 1-0 win over Torpedo Moscow, Johnny Brooks scored both goals as we beat Dynamo Kiev 2-1, and Brooks scored again as we lost 3-1 to a Select XI in Leningrad.
Welsh international winger Cliff, now 78, played in all three games, although he remembers the trip was certainly not for the faint-hearted!
“It was a very difficult trip,” said Cliff this week, as he sat down to recall the tour. “Going out to Russia, the games were sort of waving the flag, if you like – particularly the Russians are very patriotic people and they wanted to win those games. It was a difficult pre-season tour, very competitive, but in many ways it started to bond us together because we started to take off the following season.
“It was an experience – there’s no doubt about that! It wasn’t the type of tour you really wanted in terms of taking it a bit easy because you couldn’t. They were games we had to win and it was difficult.
“I remember going to the Red Square, where the Mausoleum was, and Lenin and Stalin were then lying in state. There were thousands of people queuing up just to go in and see.”
Cliff also recalled an unusual sojourn to see a ballet performance while the squad was in Moscow. He admitted it wouldn’t have been his first choice for an evening’s entertainment initially – but as it transpired, the sheer displays of strength demonstrated by the performers led to an overhaul of our own conditioning procedures. This would, in turn, add another ingredient into the overall recipe for our Double success in 1960/61.
“We went to the Bolshoi Ballet – that was an amazing experience,” Cliff went on. “Bill Nicholson had told us we were going out, we all asked where we were going, and he said ‘the Bolshoi Ballet’! We said ‘you’ve got to be joking’ – we thought the British Embassy Club would have been far better.
“But all of us were taken by the extreme fitness and brilliance of these ballet dancers. Bill was so impressed, he wanted to find out what was part of it, and how they became so fit. He made enquiries and a lot of it was down to weight training, so when we got back to London, Bill sought out a weight trainer called Bill Watson, who had been an Olympic weight lifter and had gone into weight training.
“We worked a great deal on our stomach muscles with Bill, and it gave us that extra bit of power to react. Bill Nicholson was very forward thinking when it came to the game of football. That was very much a contributing factor in our success, to the extent that other teams could see our levels of fitness had gone up.”
Always with a smile on his face, the Welsh wing wizard also remembers a part of the tour he found less glamorous – rooming with Dave Mackay!
“I had to room with Dave Mackay and it was a nightmare!” joked Cliff. “The room was a tip and I’m a very tidy character – and the other thing was that I couldn’t understand him!
“I went to see Bill, and I said ‘Bill, can I have an interpreter?’ He said, ‘what, a Russian one?’ and I said, ‘no, a Scottish one!’"