"The following is a complete, unedited, unverified interview, portions of which were utilized in the Red Files PBS broadcast. Statements therein are the sole opinion of the interviewee, and do not reflect the views of PBS, DDE or Series and Web Site producer Abamedia, which are not Responsible for the interview content."
Interviewer: Could you tell us how ice hockey started in the Soviet Union from Bandy?
Firsov: I assume "Bandy" is what is here called "ball hockey?" Hard to tell, how it started at all, because in post-war years many boys were just rolling it in yards, just picked up a hook, a stick. I spoiled, cut, a lot of cherry-trees in order to make a hook. They played just in the yard, in the street, yard against yard. Our skates were without boots at all: we just fixed them to our boots with a thread and played. So we did not think about it, because it was just coming in post-war years. There was no such information, advertising.
Once, when I finished playing, already at a stadium, and was returning home, boys wanted to snarl a truck with a hook and so have a ride. But the driver stopped and cut out my skates, and, in fact, I was without skates for about half a year and played in my boots only in the yard. So it was pity. I'd just got skates, and they were cut out from me. So it started in this age. Apparently, these difficulties which happens in yards, they let know about themselves. We realized that one could play at any age, nine years, while grown-up guys, having served in the Army, were coming, and we were playing in the stadium without respect for age. So this trying to prove to adults that you are not worse than them, allowed me already at about eleven years to play for a youth team "Krasnyi Bogatyr" [Red Knight]. We did not know about a puck. I learned only in 14-15, that there is such game as puck. In Russia ice hockey is called "hockey with a puck", while Bandy is called "hockey with a ball", so he often calls them just "puck" and "ball".
Interviewer: You told, that a length of bandy field - 100 meters helped to players, switched to ice hockey with its 60 meter box to develop a speed.
Firsov: Well, the thing is that, certainly it was a little bit uncomfortable initially, because after a small Bandy hook to transfer to a big hockey stick, it certainly interfered a little. But that speed tolerance, after which we returned to normal field, in fact, allowed us. An ice-hockey player could stay in the field 1-5 minutes, while we could play ice hockey about 5-7 minutes without leaving the field. Why, because those same long distances of ice were working out our lungs. It is the same as when sportsman swims very well or plays water polo. Then he works out his lungs and by so doing enables to stay longer in a hockey field or on water. Therefore I call list everybody from this generation. It was unclear and Kuz'kin, and Mayorovs, and all guys which constitute some 80% of ice hockey, they all went out of Russian hockey. Why? Because ice hockey just began to develop over here in about 1951-1953. Even such our masters as Bobrov, Sologubov, who started first, they were starting in 1947, if there would be opportunities to show along the scene, the sticks won't look like sticks at all, they are semi-Russian semi-Bandy. And, in fact, they all the same; they all came from the Russian hockey. But earlier, why else it was easier for us to play, because we during summer period all played soccer. As a rule, we had a hockey sport in winter and soccer in summer. Therefore we were training practically always, without rest and without pauses. Therefore it was much easier for us than for those who directly started ice hockey.
Interviewer: Could you tell us a story how you had to make your own stick?
Firsov: First we did that from cherry trees, some 8-9 years. There was no money at all to purchase a hook, yet there were shaft-bows, which were put on horses. So we were getting into horse yard at night, certainly, stole these shaft-bows, and they sufficed for about three hooks each.
After that we were certainly sitting with guys and gluing to make it possible to saw out a good stick, because in Bandy earlier there were very big, long hooks. And once sawed, we, certainly, went with what we've done ourselves. As rule, certainly, they broke very fast. Certainly, what if I fixed a stick with a plywood, that sufficed for 10-15 minutes, no more. Therefore that big hooks certainly sufficed us for a long - nearly until the end of season.
Interviewer: Were you are good player at young age?
Firsov: Well, in fact, I already played for a youth team at 11-12 years. It was the 3rd youth team when I was about 10-11 years, then the 2nd and 1st, they were already about 16-15. I already played for the 3rd youth team for Spartak club, then I played for the 1st youth for Krasnyi Bogatyr and for the 1-man team for Zenit and Almaz which were next to my home. For the 1st men [team], played guys who had already served in the Army, and I was taken, a boy of 11-12 years, too. Practically, I was not any worse than them.
Interviewer: You did not to turn with your face to gate, you saw everything with your side view?
Firsov: When I came to Spartak, there was an outstanding coach there. He was named Alexey Ivanovich Igumnov; he was called "Satan in the Russian hockey". And he gave me first skills already in the 2nd youth team. It is very important at the corner to stand correctly with respect to a gate, and a goalkeeper to be able to feel him with a "second sight", and these training, which I had in the Russian hockey, gave me an opportunity to become a practiced hand and to learn to correctly put my body and feel where is a goalkeeper and certainly to feel weak places of a goalkeeper, how he holds a stick. If he holds it this way, I will certainly pass it to him to be inconvenient. I can do this until now. Therefore I consider that the Russian hockey gave me very much. Although I had been already invited to a professional team of Russian hockey, but ice hockey is more interesting. Sometime one can even fight, in general, to check oneself completely, therefore I transferred.
Interviewer: When you were recruited for Spartak. first impression from your?
Firsov: The matter is that when for the first time went to Colorado for combined youth team, it was when I still played in Spartak, I was 19.
Interviewer: Clarification of what was the first trip.
Firsov: The matter is that when I had been just taken to the Spartak team, the same year, just before the New Year, our youth team was invited to America, to Colorado Springs. For me that was something wonderful, because I in fact lived in an outskirt of Moscow. Like in a country, both hens and horses and pigs and cows walked by the streets. In such an environment we lived. And when I was invited to Spartak, I, in fact for the first time, learned what there is an ice hockey. Because I had occasionally heard about this game by radio and had only seen it when I played in Spartak. But it is hard to convey, because that environment itself, when we came and we were taken to see the city, just to have a rest, we were told "Tomorrow you will be skyng." Our coach said "Mr. Tutt? What are you talking? How it is possible?" It was warm, no snow, nothing. We were told, you don't worry, tomorrow everything will be. When we came to ski, it was unbelievable for us. There was about a meter of snow. We were allowed to take cars. Therefore, when we came to an ice hockey field and met with an Olympic combined team of America, it was hard for us to convey. What are Olympic games was not clear to me at all. I for the first time made it to Spartak. I myself could not understand, when I became an Olympic Champion, what I won, what is it?
So these first meetings had left an impression for my entire lifetime. Then, we were coming, our boots with skates such that they were falling apart. We looked at American hockey players. Their speed capabilities are better, they maneuver better, while we could not somehow used to everything. Although we had a first trio which met with them and knew guys. For us that was certainly something. It was even unclear.
Interviewer: Did you think about...?
Firsov: No, at that time I did not even think about going to America or Canada. When I for the first time went to Nizhniy Novgorod with Spartak or to Riga with TsSKA, it was already supernatural, I thought. I went somewhere like abroad, to some other city, that was something absolutely new for me. When I went to Riga with TsSKA I had an impression that I am meeting with a team of a foreign country. Yet I did not even dare to dream about Sweden, Swiss, Austria. At that period I did not have a thought that I will ever play and live in America.
Interview: When you join TsSKA and Tarassov re-joined, how was that?
Firsov: So in this age, time comes to serve in the Army and certainly, everybody is nervous and scared. So I was scared as well, because I already knew that there are Army teams in Khabarovsk, in Urals, in Siberia. Therefore, if I won't go to the Army, they could drive me there, where I could not play hockey. One day I came home and saw big Army traces next to my apartment. I understood that they were coming to pick me up. Police came; I was picked up in order to fly to Riga that same day. Before that, both Puchkov, goalkeeper, and Alexandr Ivanovich Vinogradov talked to me, invited. I was refusing. I was hiding at coach Novokreshchenov, nobody could find me at home. Then the coach Novokreshchenov himself told me to go to TsSKA, because, "That gifts which you've got only Tarassov can develop." And after that I had come.
Interviewer: When Tarassov...?
Firsov: I saw him, when I played with TsSKA for Spartak in Sokol'niki, we won 3:1. I drove to Puchkov such a puck that nobody could see it. There was no Tarassov yet at that time, but I felt that this was an idea of Tarassov coming. That was in September, and in November I was already recruited to the Army. And sometime in early January Tarassov had come, and it was here, where the most horrible suffering had begun. I came puny, 67 kilograms, weight was light, technical and mental abilities were so much faster, that physical capabilities were not enough. And so Tarassov started 2-3 trainings [per day] with me. I did not imagine [before] what are these trainings. Guys, who were trained under Tarassov before that, sustained that. But I, during first days, fell down after trainings and could not even stand up.
These trainings continued sometime until April. In April he gave me a schedule, how to spend vacations, and he wrote me three trainings for every day.
Interviewer: How important was hockey for Tarassov?
Firsov: That was Tarassov could be called a dictator of the hockey. It could not be in any kind of business, either in art or sports or politics without a dictator of some kind. It was not clear to me who that might be, how one can train himself, self-trainings. First time under his leadership I could not train quietly; I could not understand what he demands from me. But then, when he rooted me love to these trainings, I trained permanently until 27. I did not understand how it is to train once or twice a day. Even on vacations, when I went to Zhemchuzhnyi, there was a stairway of 150 steps. I necessarily in the morning went down on my left foot, than on my right foot, then went to swim, made big exercises with a weight in the afternoon, played tennis in the evenings, forces permitting, run on a hill in the evenings. Therefore today this stairs was named after me.
Interviewer: Did he want to be the best team in USSR or in the world?
Firsov: Well, his purpose was to make our hockey team the strongest in the world, while taking up a little bit of all the best from other countries, but primarily to give that the Russians the best, which are famous for. These are great physical training, big strength and certainly, mental skills developed starting from childhood. Everything what was characteristic for the Russians, what ours has been abandoned today, he developed. He was cruel on trainings, cruel to games. He did not admit sicknesses. I had a temperature on world championship. He told "Firs, it is necessary," and I went out to play, broke a rib, -- I played with a broken rib, like it is normal. He believed that if your legs pain, you must train on arms, if legs and arms pain, let even on ears, but you must make a training. Even when I got a pneumonia, I could not stand up; three days later I went to world championship in Finland. So, for him disease did not exist. Full devotion to hockey. It was a real dictator.
Interviewer: What did he mean to you?
Firsov: He know that I did not have a father, who died on the war. He told, "If you want to become an outstanding hockey player, admit me not like a coach, but like a father, and I will be doing everything for you to become one, because you have all data prerequisites for that. Many people think, that Tarassov, like other coaches, required to lift large weight. No, he gave between 30 and 50 kilograms, but forces to do it up to a limit at a fast pace. You should play with a weight, jump, sit down, make 2-3 exercises, leap, play football. He developed our adroitness this way. One exercise we had difficult times making. One had to throw a small weight up, pass under the bench, and catch it. Nearly all other exercises, which he was inventing, we made rather easily.
Interviewer: Mushroom story?
Firsov: Lucky were those who were close to him. All out free time with him we were going out. He especially liked to go for mushrooms. He had a place slightly farther than I now have my dacha. We arrived in the evening, went into forest while it is slightly going darker. He gave us some 15-20 minutes, and then we returned after a whistle. And then the most sweet began -- preparation of mushrooms, in oil, in sour cream, in own juice. Then we laid down to rest. Early in the morning we wake up, he about 3:00 a.m., we a little bit later. And here I realized for the first time what it costs to me. When he saw, how I pick up mushrooms, -- when you calmly came by, bend, cut, put it in, get a joy -- he shouted for a half of the forest, "Firs, what are you doing! You must pick up mushroom! To sit down on one leg, on another leg, land on one buttock, and then tear off the mushroom, not only with one hand, but with another as well, and keep an eye to make sure, that nobody else could pick the mushroom up!" So he in every moment looked for an opportunity to train.
Once, when we after Olympic games, went by train was it to Sverdlovsk or where? Olympic champions, we went in a common 3rd-class carriage, together with everybody else, no special compartment, nothing. On one station, in Kazan, it seems, he suddenly says, "Well, boys, everybody quickly out and begin training. We have 10-minutes stop, and we must train very well." We had been going already about two days, and for him it was very fearsome that we are without training. So he forced us to jump on steps of a carriage, run, tumble, we were looked at like strange people. "Olympic champions, what they are doing?" But for us it was important to hold a training in any conditions, and when we were tumbling on a platform, people could not understand what are they doing, is it an Olympic team or they are being transported to a crazy house? How it is possible to jump, leap and tumble on a snow, on an asphalt? But for Tarassov there was nothing more important than training with a use.
Interviewer: Did you consider yourselves amateurs?
Firsov: No, we for a long time considered ourselves professionals.
When I played for TsSKA, we all considered ourselves as professionals for a long time, while we were called "amateurs". But when we first met with the Canadians, that was sometime in 1963, we were asked, are we amateurs or professionals, we certainly answered "amateurs." We were answered, "You live 11-months per year on assemblies, trainings three times a day, games, how could you be amateurs?" So when we thought, by about 25 we already considered ourselves as professionals. An amateur should work until 6-7, then by eight he come for a training. While we had three trainings on assemblies, we in fact spent just one month at home, with a family, therefore they were laughing at us: are you amateurs or eternal students, for how many years do you study? We study for a lifetime, until we got all diplomas (laughs). Therefore we considered ourselves professionals, while a salary of an amateur.
Interviewer: Were you playing for yourself or for your country?
Firsov: In fact we always played for victory; winning was always most important for us. To tell honestly, sometimes we have been paid some money for winning. If, for example, we made about nine games in Canada and won eight we were getting a bonus about 100 dollars. Therefore we did not even think about that. The prestige was important. We had a very good backbone of hockey players: that was a trio of Akhmetov, Alexandrov, Starshinov brothers, our young with Vikulov and Polupanov. We all were sober; nobody drink nor smoke. Hockey for us was a job and a joy. So we did not even think, when they told to us "If you win, we'll pay you good money," We knew, that they will pay us practically nothing anyway, but it was just a love to hockey. We devoted ourselves completely, without any pity to ourselves. And certainly, Tarassov was a strong psychologist. He tuned us so that we forgot about families, about kids. We only knew that we have only a hockey. We went to bed and woke up thinking about hockey. When we lived in Arkhangelskoe, he stood up at six, I at seven. We went out to clean up snow, have a breath. And again, he taught me: you have to grab snow with a shovel. He again, "Firs, how do you throw?! You should throw it so that your wrist and elbow junction work." I tell it is convenient for me this way, but he says, no, you must do it that way to perfect a movement, necessary in the game.
Interviewer: There is an impression in the West that the Soviet sports was completely devoted?
Firsov: For us it all passed by our ears. Although Tarassov tried to tune us even in this respect "We are Communists, the Union Unbreakable," but for us nothing existed but playing hockey. During latest years my spouse was traveling along with me, but even she did not exist for me at that time, even though she sat somewhere on a rostrum, I did not see anything. As soon as we went out to the field, we forgot everything. No matter what [they] shouted, what [they] hang out there, Communists or no Communists, we had just a game. That was the most important.
Interviewer: After all this victories did you feel pride for your country or you?
Firsov: We felt just a sense of victory, that we won. The was not such a feeling about a country, a system. There was a first very strong impression [was] in 1967 on a championship in Vienna, when the strongest team in the world played against us, the Canadians. This amateur team won four games from Montreal Canadians. That's where we felt a strength of our hockey. Both our and American teams were amateurs. All they, Canadians and Americans, were students, really. They studied and then played in their spare time. There we felt ourselves combatants, that we can play at the level of a professional hockey.
Interviewer: Despite international victories you still lacked something, perhaps, admittance, that you play like professionals?
Firsov: Yes, we had already for a long time, after 1967, considered ourselves as real professionals, just our salary was different, but we considered ourselves as professionals. And we were surprised that professionals train at home, have a rest, have an opportunity to be with a family, while we are kept at assemblies for eleven months. We could not understand how it is possible. We began to unrest even in those years, but it was in vain to talk with Tarassov about this. He would make you five, ten trainings instead of three for you not to "Speak out." The system itself forced us to keep silence about that. But we considered ourselves as professionals also because of those with whom we happened to meet and play. I was lucky to see many professionals, to see professionals of that Six, to see both Boris Rishar and Henry Rishar and many others, and Jack Plant, an outstanding goal keeper. Although many consider Tretyak the strongest, I believe, that Plant was an outstanding goalkeeper. I happened to meet with Jack Plant on an ice hockey field and me, not only me, but our entire team could not drive him a single puck at all.
Interviewer: Did you feel, that political leaders expect from you only victories?
Firsov: The matter is that it had been already driven into our heads that we are amateurs, although as I have already said, we felt inside that we are professionals. But there were games when ambassadors came just to the game or to the hotel. It was an ambassador in Sweden, Mal'tsev, he visited us two years in a row, he just told, "Guys, if you will win now, we will solve very large political issues." That has remembered. Before that we were only invited to the Embassy after the World Championship for a banquet to socialize with us, and that's all. So, in 1967-1970, Mal'tsev was very glad that we in Stockholm twice became World Champions.
Interviewer: We heard, that Tarassov had problems with sport officials?
Firsov: It's hard to tell, because, in fact, a hockey was his entire life, and for the sake of hockey he did not admit anybody. If, for example, his boss or somebody went just a little bit against of hockey, he just destroyed him, morally destroyed, if he could not destroy him physically. At the level, say, of the Chief of TsSKA, he could so morally humiliate in the presence of the Minister of Defense that that person stood red and did not know, what happened and what to do. Tarassov did not admit anybody on hockey fields.
I remember one case when we played with Spartak and a fate of golden medals was at stake. As they checked later, Anna Ilyinichna Sinilkina, the Director of the Palace of Sport, looked through this game and said that the goal was made incorrectly. But Tarassov put our team on hold. We were approached both by the Chairman of Sports Committee and Chief of the Club The Minister of Defense came, but for us there was only Tarassov. We did not go to the field for 28 minutes until Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev, who apparently got tired to wait for this team, he went out and told to his aide: let Tarassov start. I am already tired. And after 20 minutes Tarassov told to us, and we went out. For us Tarassov was not a coach, God, but also psychologist, who influenced not only an adversary, but us as well.
Interviewer: Did you dreamed to play for the Canadian team in late 1960s-early 1970s?
Firsov: Personally I did not have such thoughts. I don't know why, hard to tell. Knowing the idea of Tarassov, he wanted to test himself and feel what is a professional hockey, what it holds on. So, after 1972, when I went to Canada, coaches or managers came to me. They invited me to "Montreal Canadians." I told that of course I will come with pleasure, if upper leadership will give a permission. They sent a letter to Tyazhelnikov in the Central Committee of Komsomol, to Sergey Pavlovich Pavlov in the Sports Committee, and to Kosygin [Prime Minister]. It was then, when they started to mull me over. We told "We will leave all these money, savings in the Union, take them, leave us only for existence. Let us feel what is it, how they prepare to learn something best, or see maybe they have taken something from us." But after this agreement they mulled me about a year, so that, perhaps, this bald place has left from that. Therefore, after 1972, there was a desire to play, to try myself in a professional hockey, but there was no thought about making money, just to know, to meet and to be in that kitchen. A lot was written, a lot was told about a professional hockey, especially about that Six, which was in that time Montreal, Toronto, Boston, Detroit, New York, Rangers. That was the Six which we wanted just to learn.
Interviewer: Have you ever thought about defecting?
Firsov: No, I've never thought about emigration, although now, in recent years I work a lot in Switzerland with purchase of a hotel, trainings, consulting. Even though they suggested to me, but the Russian nature reveals itself, and it pulls.
Interviewer: When did you first learn about super series? Did you want to meet?
Firsov: Yes, the first plan we had in 1967, when we came to Canada, played 9 games and won all nine. We stopped in Montreal, no, in Toronto. "Toronto Maple Leaves" suggested us to play several games. Because we had three free days, Tarassov agreed, but said, that we need to get a permission from the Sports Committee, because we were treated as amateurs. And if we would play with professionals, we may be barred from playing in Olympic Games of 1968. In the eve of these Olympic Games, a leader of the delegation informed us that Moscow did not permit us to meet in Toronto and compare forces. Although we had a desire, and we had already tuned for that -- Tarassov had essentially gave us a go-ahead. But when we came to Moscow and began to inquire why we were not allowed to play in Toronto, although, as it turned out, it was possible to get permission for us to play both in Toronto and at Olympic Games, it was revealed that there was no call from Canada. And in fact, the leader of the delegation had given us a false information about that we have no right to play. So in 1967, out first games broke. That was very pity to us, and we, all guys, still recall that these games did not happen.
Interviewer: When in 1971, 1972 negotiations came to that games are going to happen, why did Tarassov disappear?
Firsov: After Olympic games Tarassov wanted to just have a rest, because starting from 1963 practically till 1972 he, with Arkadiy Ivanovich (Chernyshov), were coaches of both TsSKA and combined team without a replacement. They left for a little rest for other coaches to go to World Championship, while they after the Olympics to relax from hockey during 3-4 months, just to have a rest from hockey. They thought that after world championship, when ours lost in Prague, they will be invited again to train a team for professionals, but they bore everybody with their victories, and Tarassov with his hockey insistence, that neither Sport Committee nor others -- nobody supported his return. So once Tarassov was not taken, I, relating to him like to a father, just said, that I don't want to work with these coaches, which did not take me to World Championship to Prague. Or let they write a whole truth, why they did not take me. Coaches did not write anything, and they began beating me again for a whole year, because I refused from a combined team and did not go to play with professionals. But I was devoted to Tarassov, and it was psychologically fixed at me that once there is no Tarassov, there won't be a victory. I already did not believe into any of other coaches.
Interviewer: When the series began, what was your emotions?
Firsov: It's hard to recall now. One, that Tarassov insisted that we are not already amateurs, but real professionals. That proved once again, that we played at a professional level. Well, certainly, victories of our combined team -- it was joyful, especially of those hockey players, who were strongest. These were Vladik Tretyak, who grew up on my eyes; Valera Kharlamov, who generally speaking, started together with me. Therefore I was very glad for them, but it was very pity for those hockey players who was not making it to the combined team for many years and they did not participate in these meetings. They on the last Olympics were admitted as the strongest five in the world, while we were not taken into account. Of course that was very hurting.
Interviewer: Did you watch it with Tarassov?
Firsov: No, I watched it alone.
Interviewer: Did you discuss it?
Firsov: Yes, we often met with Tarassov, discussed these games, and although our ideas had been already correct, we'd already been professionals, it was a pity. That training process which Tarassov gave me during many years I could not maintain with other coaches. Once it was, when Tarassov left, Kulagin came in, the second coach. We immediately got a gap. We were loosing twelve points to Dynamo, the nearest adversary. I psychologically could not obey to other coaches. When they gave me an exercise, I either laughed at them in my soul, or, in reality, behaved so that they were angry at me; understood, that I, as they say, was making fools of them. Yet I could not do otherwise, because Tarassov could give me to play tennis for one hour before training or to go play football, because he felt me, felt that, I calmed down and I needed to be angered. And I could only be angered by trainings. On the Olympic Games he drives me out and forced to throw bricks or stones for 30 minutes, just in order for me to become angry about somebody. That was Tarassov. Other coaches could not do that, and I could not work with them. Although in June before preparation, Bobrov did take me for assembly in Archangelskoe, but I made about two trainings and refused once again, not only because they did not take me to the world championship, but also because they are not giving me what Tarassov gives, and I could not already perform.
Interviewer: When this series came here, were you able to watch?
Firsov: Yes, I went to see the games. But how I went -- I went only to see trainings of Canadian professionals, to see how they train, how they prepare. I was completely barred from visiting games themselves. These were directives of coaches Bobrov and Kulagin, because I would have psychologically prevent our team from winning over the Canadians, and therefore it was forbidden to me. And I practically did not show up there. I only came to see trainings of Canadians. I was not allowed for the games. I had already been "an enemy of the people," once I refused to play with these coaches and I was not let to the games. So here is the whole epic story, which did not let me to meet. I can tell you one moment, very strong, when I held a car, Volga, without wheels on one hand and on legs. I went to repair it just here at the dacha. Removed all wheels, put it on a lifter. The lifter had gone and it had gone to me, 1.5 tons. I held it, and I had one thing in my head, what Tarassov told me, "You must survive in this conditions." And so about 5-7 minutes I held a car without wheels, just on my arm and legs. So the arm was broken. And I had just one thought -- you must survive. After that I went to play tennis with Tarassov at these dachas of Moscow Council. My arm was like that, but we played as if nothing has happened, i.e. he psychologically acted from inside, that you must do so. Here is a psychologist who let us to become world champions during 9nine years. I was holding 1.5 tons!
Interviewer: When you were not allowed, that must have been very painful?
Firsov: That is not a proper word. In fact we revived the entire hockey in Russia, and suddenly we are not allowed. To tell honestly, I came home, and we with a spouse had a good drink. I felt so hurt that it was necessary to remove this stress. Because, in fact, there were no such players like we in the world. I don't want to praise myself, but there is no other player who was nominated the best attacker three times and about 6-7 times I was the best attacker of the Union. There was not anything like that in the Union also. And when I am declared nearly an enemy of the people, certainly I felt very hurt, and I can't forgive this to them so far. So these feeling accumulated in me until I have already entered politics, made it into the Supreme Soviet, when I could fight with them as equals, independently from them. There were cases some our leaders tried to bribe me. I should have a car and a dacha, but when we came to the Supreme Soviet, we said that we refuse all that, and we will be completely independent from the state. Because we need to work. And here I began to try to protect our guys, who wanted to go out to play for professionals for the first time. While Fetisov and Kasatonov could, Volodya Fetisov was not allowed, because he was an officer. I addressed a Minister of Defense on TV, and the next day Volodya had a paper in his box that he is being decommissioned and released to play for professionals.
A similar case we had in 1967, when after we had already become world champions we won 2:1 from Canadians, I told. We had one game remaining with a team of Czechoslovakia, our Slavic brothers, as we were told. And so one very interesting telegram came, the sense of which was that we must loose to the team of Czechoslovakia. Somehow the Swedish learned that first. They came to us we lived in the same hotel. They had already been like close, good friends to us. They came and said: "Anyway, Communists will force you to loose to Czechs." We did not agree with that, but they did not believe us and later stood behind our gate during the entire game. We told that we won't do that, because there must be fairness in sport, and there must not be any sale. But they did not believe until the very end, until we won 4:2 from Czechs. In so doing Swedish become 3rd, we 1st, while Czechs -- 4th. But when we arrived to Russia, we once again become enemies of the people. We were deprived of bonuses, deprived of Orders, were had not been even met in Sheremetievo by anybody who usually came to meet us, but our wives and children. As if we did not exist at all. That was the case which proves once again that there must be only fairness in sports.
Interviewer: Talking to generals?
Firsov: After I refused, and there was a short gap, TsSKA team once went to play at the Cup of European Champions in Sweden. When I arrived to Sheremetievo, they took my passport and by so doing deprived me of an opportunity to go play for TsSKA team, although I in fact had already finished playing, and said "You are called upon to the Old Square." Old Square is the Central Committee of the Party. Once you get there you then remember that you've been called up there for a long time. One of Generals ( it was few years later, when I learned, that he was a General, then he was in civil clothes) holded me there for an hour inquiring, "Have you understood?" I told: "Sorry, what should I understand?" He kept me and continued for an hour, "Have you understood or not?" Finally I understood, that this is such a person, whom one can not tell or prove anything, and I told "understood," and he let me go. When I came home, I had began to accumulate a question: who leads us? A person who could not just call up and explain what's the matter. Although the next day I was called up. Deputy Commander of Ground Forces, very interesting little uncle, and he said "You know Anatoliy, you throw away your Orders and medals; I put off my general's shoulder straps. I am your father, you are my son. Do you know how it is to piss against wind? I say "understood, comrade General", he answered: "Well, act so as you've understand"
After that I left, and it became clear that it was very hard to fight with them at that time. Therefore we, with Yevgeniy Mikhailovich Tyazhelnikov that was out Secretary of the Central Committee of Komsomol, very good and decent man, we with him wrote a small letter, after which he worked for several years, and then was sent to work as an Ambassador to Romania. Apparently they in the Central Committee of the Party also recalled everything for him. They did not like him either. They had not liked him as well. Yet we wrote few words, so tricky, that nobody understood from them, do I apologize or not? After that I was allowed to further go abroad and to train a team.
Interviewer: How did the state treated sportsmen?
Firsov: They valued us when we won and brought victories. Even when we brought these victories, we could not afford many things to us. Today I purchased this dacha. Earlier, I had parents of my wife, father and mother, who were above 70 and who needed a toilet, water, and a shower in the house. I applied for permission, but was refused. Not allowed! How is that possible? I will live better or apart with them officials! Certainly [they] prohibited all that to me.
When I was winning, they, of course, treated me as a champion, as an outstanding hockey player, but when that was over, we no longer existed for them. They in TsSKA threw me everywhere, could send to pick up beer, or tickets, or to meet somebody or somewhere else. A worker at a tool was treated better than us after we finished to perform. That was certainly very hurting.
Interviewer: Looking back on your career, what do you feel?
Firsov: Well, how that could be said? It was not us; it was Tarassov. He changed that process. It remained in my soul long time ago. Never stop at, the achieved. I remember, when I became an Olympic Champion, I in fact calmed down, considering that I am the best, I am provided for the entire life, that was in my head. Tarassov began to prove me year after year that why you should not be a world champion? Why in 1967 you become the best attacker? Again, we go with him by train, and all of the sudden he begins to criticize me: you are this, you are that, you cannot train, nearly that I am a shit. Next day he approaches me and says, "Why wouldn't you become the best attacker for the second time?" There are no such people. So year after year he rooted to me -- don't stop on the achieved. Something needs to be changed. Something needs to be done. And so, that going out in 1989, when our guys went out for the first time, I am satisfied that I helped them a little bit with something, and I am glad that finally our guys, outstanding hockey players, can go and make money somewhere, because for example, that pension, which I get today, about $50/month does not allow me to live even at the level, to which I used to, not the one I should have. A lot of foreigners visit me. I consult them, make demonstration trainings; they treat me with respect. Yet here I could not even survive with my family on that money with are allocated for me.
Interviewer: How did you lived away?
Firsov: There we lived, in fact, like in sanatorium. We had a wake up sometime at eight, about nine, work-out/training for 45 minutes. After that breakfast, then go to Moscow on ice from 11 till 1, then return for a lunch, rest for couple hours, and again leave for a training, return, have supper about eight and we have only time left to have a rest, and if there is an opportunity, to call home to inquire how is family, how are kids. And so was, year after year, beginning from 1962 till 1972. In fact, it can be said, ten years were thrown away from my life in terms of family, raising kids. Another thing is that I made outstanding achievements in sports. Until 27-28 I did not smoke and drink. I think Tarassov know that I could, Firsov, Davydov, Vikulov, Mayorov, Starshinov, could well live at home, and we would not train, and they would not play any worse. But they said, if we will release you, how this will be looked at by other unmarried guys, who could violate regime. So, because of them, we were also kept on assemblies in order that the entire team could prepare for games. For me it was irrelevant, do it at assembly or at home. It would have been even better at home, because I knew, I've been to the families of professionals and saw, and they told how they prepare living at home, and play not worse than we.
At Olympic games we certainly always admired our sportsmen. We made very many trainings with wrestlers, because they are very abrupt, with boxers, with basketball players. But basketball players began to get very serious traumas and they stopped meeting with us, while with wrestlers and boxers we met to learn to strike back in our meetings with professionals. That was Tarassov's sickness -- no matter with whom you meet, you should expose a little bit of boxing, should be able to strike back. In order to be able to strike back in a future meeting with professionals.
Interviewer: What is your reaction to doctors?
Firsov: I could not tolerate them at all. My psychology is just one: I must train myself. I could not tolerate both massages nor doctors, especially those who rushed to us in the eve of a game. Because I knew, how I prepare, so would I play. Yet when they start, you may count for loosing. Such things happened. We were loosing, they defended doctor, professor theses, for themselves, not for ourselves. Therefore I always drove them away from me. They are not needed if you prepare yourself, if you are a professional, you know how to prepare yourself better for the game. Therefore I treated them very painfully. They are not needed.
Interviewer: Plans today for Olympic center?
Firsov: My main task is to create a large international Olympic school to deviate children from drugs, from vodka, from cigarettes. This is my main idea, plan, to build a very big international -- no matter in what point of the world -- Olympic base, children sports base, in order to get as many children as possible from drugs, smoking, vodka, in order to make an international nation strong. In general, if we will have a strong nation of the world, we will have less weak and useless people. Therefore my task now, if I manage to, I now work a lot with Switzerland to create an Olympic base. I will give away literally everything to deviate children from all these nasty things. This is my main task.
Firsov: No, there was never anything like this with hockey players. Even when I had a temperature 42 [C], I did not take neither aspirin nor anlagen. Our main drug was Tarassov.