Sport's Style Icons - Goalkeeper Lev Yashin
Widely regarded as the best ever goalkeeper Lev Ivanovich Yashin was born in Moscow in 1929. Variously nicknamed the Black Spider, Black Octopus or Black Panther, he is credited with ushering an era of modern goalkeeping in his 20 year career, showing athleticism, positioning and influence like nobody who wore the number 1 shirt before.
His proactive style saw him come to collect crosses, organise his defence and generally take a more assertive role in the team. Prior to Yashin, goalkeepers often found themselves only involved in the game intermittently, while the Soviet legend made that a thing of the past. Born to a family who worked in industrial settings, aged 12 Yashin left school to help family in the factories, as part of the war effort.
His talent for sports saw him excel in both football and ice hockey, though at the end of a tough childhood he found himself in the grip of a nervous breakdown. What ensued in the aftermath of this, Yashin credits as his salvation. Relocated to a military factory, he began playing for the company football team which then brought him to the attention of a youth coach from Dynamo Moscow. Here, he shadowed the established Alexei "Tiger" Khomich, making a shaky debut in 1950, before finally getting a chance to shine in 1953 when Khomich was injured. This was the start of a golden era for Yashin. Not content with three Soviet league titles in four seasons, he established himself as number 1 for the national team, winning a gold medal for them in the 1956 Olympics, before going on to shine again on the world stage in the 1958 World Cup. By 1963 he was regarded as an icon and fittingly won the Ballon d'Or. He is the only goalkeeper to have ever taken that prestigious prize.
Part of his allure came not from his skill and his influence on games, but from a self styled image, long before endorsements and celebrity footballers became commonplace. His all black outfit wasn't the norm at the time. In this era, football kits were merely something functional, a far cry from the technical fabrics we see today. In the early years of football at the end of the 19th century, the term 'jersey' was coined to describe a close fitting knitted top without a collar. Goalkeepers who would spend a lot more time inactive were often found wearing a thicker garment called a 'guernsey', similar to what fishermen wore.
By Yashin's time the standard outfit was still a very practical one. Hats were worn for warmth and for keeping the sun out of their eyes, while gloves were sometimes worn just to keep warm. Eventually, things evolved, but the iconic and imposing figure of Lev Yashin, dressed to impress in all black still endures, and will for decades to come.
The style of Lev Yashin and other legendry goalkeepers from the first half of the 20th Century inspired a new Admiral Sporting Goods knitwear collection.
Words by Mark Smith