The Black Spider: Lev Yashin

Thane Macdonald examines the incredible story of a young lad who grew up in a war-torn Russia working in a factory as a 12 year old before becoming arguably the greatest goalkeeper to ever play the game. Yashin was voted as the #27  in our Top 250 countdown earlier this year - the highest goalkeeper on the list. Astoundingly he is a name which although respected and revered by his peers, is often forgotten by many modern writings and publications. So just who was the 'Black Spider' and what legacy has he left? 

Lev Ivanovich Yashin was born in Moscow in October 1929. He was from a family of industrial workers and was only twelve when he was required to support the war effort by working in a munitions factory. Fortunately, this afforded Yashin the opportunity to play for the factory football team. Playing here, he was spotted by Dynamo Moscow and was invited to play for the youth team on the spot.

It took Yashin until 1950 to break into the first team. He played poorly in a friendly and only featured in 2 league games that season before being demoted back into the reserves. An early test of his resilience and determination followed as he was forced to play for the reserves for an extended period of time. Here, his loyalty to Dynamo was forged and Yashin remained at the club to earn his way back into the first team.


Yashin played ice-hockey alongside his footballing pursuits whilst trying to get his first team break again. During this period, he won accolades as goalkeeper for Dynamo Moscow's ice-hockey team.
Eventually his patience and perseverance was rewarded after 3 years! When compared to some of today's professionals, Yashin provides an inspiring example of loyalty to one club and faith in his own abilities. In 1953 his long awaited opportunity came and he was determined not to let it slip through his grasp again. Yashin was a 1 club man and stayed at Dynamo until his retirement from the game in 1970. In 1954 Yashin was called up to the Soviet Union national team where he would go on to attain 78 caps for his country.


Yashin was widely known as a trailblazer and he grabbed the attention of the footballing world for his performances. Yashin hated conceding goals. He hated it.

"What kind of a goalkeeper is the one who is not tormented by the goal he has allowed?"

So much so that he refused to wait around in goal for a shot to come along. Yashin saw an opportunity to be proactive between the sticks and he took it. He would organise and command his defence at set pieces. Yashin would come out to claim crosses, he would advance towards oncoming strikers and wore black to intimidate the opposition. Yashin was as eccentric as he was unorthodox at times, with an unusual pre-match routine involving alcohol and a smoke.

“The trick is to smoke a cigarette to calm your nerves and then take a big swig of strong liquor to tone your muscles.”


Yashin's performances elevated him to superstar status and he earned the nickname the “black spider” in part to the black kit he wore and in part to his outstanding displays. At one stage during his career it was considered a personal achievement for anyone who was able to score past Yashin. This seems unbelievable until you consider that the Moscow stopper was estimated to have saved approximately 150 penalties and had 270 clean sheets in a 812 game career. That is a clean sheet kept for over a 3rd of the professional games he played! At national level the “black spider” conceded less than a goal a game. From 78 caps for the Soviet-Russian national team he only let in 70 goals.

Stopping Pele
The Moscow 'keeper had no peers in his era. He single-handedly revolutionised the position of goalie. But how good was he? The best players in the world at the time Yashin kept goal were some of the best to ever grace a football pitch. Jimmy Greaves, Sir Stanley Matthews, Puskas, Pele, Di Stefano, Eusebio and Sir Bobby Charlton to name but a few and all regarded the goalkeeper who started playing at the Moscow munitions factory as the best.


Lev Yashin was highly decorated during his career. He won 6 domestic league titles and 3 USSR cups. For his national side he appeared at 4 World Cups, won a European championship and an Olympic championship. Personally Yashin collected the USSR Goalkeeper of the year award 3 times. In 1963 Yashin won the European Footballer of the Year award and won the Ballon d'Or. Yashin, to this day, remains the only goalkeeper to ever win the Ballon d'Or and this is testament to the man and the way in which he pioneered and revolutionised the position in which he played. He was also recognised after he retired with a FIFA Order of Merit, a place on the FIFA World Cup All-Time Team, the World Team of The 20th Century, the FIFA World Cup Dream Team as well as being announced as the FIFA World Keeper of the Century and finally in 2003 the Golden Player of Russia award.

Ballon d'Or winner

Lev Yashin is regarded as the greatest goalkeeper to every lay the game. From humble beginnings, he went on to change the way in which 'keepers are viewed and the way in which they played. His command of the defence and his penalty-box led to a change in the way goalkeepers thought about the game. His Ballon d'Or in 1963 was a fitting tribute to the man and his unequalled performances and the vast array of awards collected at the highest levels along with the respect he had from fellow players ensure that the boy from Moscow will remain at the head of the goalkeeping hall of fame for many years to come.


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