The leg­endary for­ward was nick­named the “Sovi­et Pele”, but he almost lost every­thing due to a mys­te­ri­ous crime.

Eduard Streltsov played for Tor­pe­do, where he became one of the best foot­ball play­ers in the his­to­ry of the USSR. He start­ed play­ing as a starter at the age of 16, and at 18 he became the top scor­er of the USSR Cham­pi­onship.

Football star convicted of rape

Streltsov was con­sid­ered a bril­liant for­ward and was even nick­named “Sovi­et Pele.” There were oth­er nick­names: Russ­ian Tank, Sagit­tar­ius, Foot­ball Chali­apin and Bab­by.

Streltsov was a foot­ball star when he received 12 years in prison for rape in 1958. There were dif­fer­ent the­o­ries: accord­ing to one of them, Streltsov alleged­ly refused to meet the daugh­ter of the influ­en­tial USSR Min­is­ter of Cul­ture Eka­te­ri­na Furt­se­va at one of the recep­tions. He told the offi­cial that he already had a fiancee.

Niki­ta Khrushchev demand­ed the most severe pun­ish­ment for Streltsov. He believed that such an act defames the image of the Sovi­et man. Accord­ing to rumors, the Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al per­son­al­ly wrote a note on the prisoner’s accom­pa­ny­ing papers that it was rec­om­mend­ed to use him “exclu­sive­ly for heavy work.”

Conflict with thieves and work as a librarian

Behind bars, Streltsov was greet­ed loy­al­ly due to his pop­u­lar­i­ty. The foot­ball play­er was respect­ed and hard­ly touched. First he worked at a log­ging site, then at a defense plant. In the Tula region, a foot­ball play­er, with the help of “author­i­ta­tive” pris­on­ers, took the posi­tion of librar­i­an.

The most dan­ger­ous inci­dent occurred in Vyat­lag, where Edward was severe­ly beat­en due to a con­flict that arose between him and a local author­i­ty. At night, the thieves con­spired to teach Streltsov a les­son and bru­tal­ly beat him, after throw­ing a blan­ket over him. The foot­ball play­er spent four months in a prison hos­pi­tal.

Streltsov spent five years in prison; in 1963 he was released on parole. But it was not pos­si­ble to return to foot­ball — Khrushchev inter­fered. When Brezh­nev came to pow­er, Streltsov was allowed to play. He again played for Tor­pe­do: in 1965 he won the USSR cham­pi­onship, and in 1967–1968 he was rec­og­nized as the best foot­ball play­er of the USSR.

Triumphant return to sport and death

Streltsov was the youngest Sovi­et foot­ball play­er to receive the title of Hon­ored Mas­ter of Sports. At that time he was only 20 years old. After the tri­al, Streltsov was stripped of his rank and was nev­er returned after his release. But in 1967, the foot­ball play­er will achieve his goal and re-receive the title.

Eduard Streltsov died at 53, the day after his own birth­day. The cause of death was lung can­cer, the devel­op­ment of which was facil­i­tat­ed by smok­ing. The impris­on­ment prob­a­bly also had an impact, which affect­ed the footballer’s health.

In 2001, the Streltsov Com­mit­tee was formed with the aim of review­ing the crim­i­nal case and com­plete­ly reha­bil­i­tat­ing Streltsov. The chair­man of the com­mit­tee, world chess cham­pi­on Ana­toly Kar­pov, said that the ver­dict destroyed Streltsov’s career. How­ev­er, the new­ly dis­cov­ered cir­cum­stances did not impress the experts; the crim­i­nal case was nev­er reviewed.