Which goalkeeper was nicknamed the ‘Black Spider’?
The short answer is the late Lev Ivanovich Yashin, who represented the Soviet Union at three World Cups, in 1958, 1962 and 1966 and was, arguably, the greatest custodian of all time. Indeed, such is his legacy that ever since the 1994 FIFA World Cup the best goalkeeper in the tournament has been presented with the Lev Yashin Award, in his honour.
Yashin earned his nickname because of his athleticism, instinctive reaction and, in particular, his trademark jersey, shorts and socks, which were actually a deep, dark navy or midnight blue colour, but easily mistaken for black. He is credited with revolutionising the art of goalkeeping, being the first of his kind to communicate effectively with the defenders in front of him to position them to maximum effect. The Ballon d’Or, awarded annually to the best footballer in the world, was established in 1956 and Yashin, who won it in 1963, remains the only goalkeeper ever to do so.
Born in Moscow on October 22, 1929, Yashin made his World Cup debut in Sweden in 1958, when the Soviet Union reached the quarter-finals, but were beaten 2-0 by the hosts. Nevertheless, one match per round was relayed across Europe by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), bringing his performances to a wider, international audience. Four years later, in Chile, despite concussion and uncharacteristically poor form – which led Yashin to be written off in some quarters – the Soviet Union again reached the quarter-finals, where they were eliminated 2-1 by the hosts.
Yashin achieved his highest-placed World Cup finish in England in 1966, when the Soviet Union were beaten 2-1 by West Germany in the semi-finals at Goodison Park and again, by the scoreline, by Portugal in the third-place playoff at Wembley Stadium. The antithesis of a modern sports professional, he once quipped, ‘I like to have a smoke before a match to calm my nerves, then drink a strong drink to tone my muscles.’