It’s often said that sport and politics don’t mix but all too often they become uncomfortable bedfellows. Whether it be boycotting of Olympic Games or rebel tours to apartheid South Africa, money and politics are never far away. A country’s hopes and national pride are all too often staked on one of their sports teams. This was the case for the USSR and their ice hockey team who carried the aspirations and ideals of communism into the capitalist heart of North America.
Probably the best squad ever, the Soviet team captained by Slava Fetisov wiped the floor with all opposition in Canada. Along with Alexei Kasatonov, Sergei Makarov, Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov they formed undoubtedly the best unit of hockey players the world has ever seen. They were trained from a young age by a mercurial and forward thinking coach who they also looked-to as a mentor and father figure. This changed when he was removed and a Politburo favourite was put in charge. What once was fun became more like a prison camp, leading to the star players casting their eyes in the direction of the West.
Gabe Polsky documentary focusses on Fetisov, who’s now a member of the Russian government and is not always overly cooperative. Using archive footage and interviews with other players and commentators, Polsky tells the tale of how they grew up together to the backdrop of the Cold War before setting their sites on North America. Red Army is a fascinating film, especially when historical events are recounted from a completely opposite perspective. It’s clear that if these players were to emerge now they’d be world famous and their skills would revolutionise a sport.
Red Army is out in cinemas on Friday.