(EXCLUSIVE) — One of the most famous moments in the history of “Dinamo” Tbilisi was an outstanding victory over the legendary Liverpool team. On 3 Oct, 1979, in the second round of the European Cup, “Dinamo” won 3-0 against Liverpool and moved into the next round of The European Champions Cup. This victory over one of the strongest European teams in history and the quality of the Tbilisian soccer team were highly regarded by the international press and media.
The key to this victory came during the first match between the grand European football team and Dinamo on 19 Sept, 1979, when Dinamo played a beautiful game of soccer against the English, scoring 1:2 in Liverpool. At that time in the Soviet Union it was practically impossible for a local sports fan to see a game outside of the country. Such opportunities were only occasionally made available to elite cultural and sports figures. For the most part, only descendants of 1921 Georgian immigrants and Georgian Jews were allowed to emigrate from the Soviet Union to Europe or Israel in 1971-1972, and made up the relatively small number of fans cheering for the Tbilisian soccer team at international championships. There were only a few other exceptions to this rule.
In my recent interview with Alexander Chivadze – the legendary Dinamo Tbilisi and Soviet Union team captain, winner of the UEFA Cup Winners Cup (1981) and a 1980 Olympic bronze medallist, he told me that in 1979 came a childhood friend of prominent soccer player Vitaly Daraselia (Dinamo Tbilisi) to watch the game in Liverpool from the US. I met with Kristina Daraselia, daughter of Vitaly Daraselia (1957-1982), who currently manages women’s teams in the Georgian Federation of Soccer. She told me that this friend who came from the US to the 1979 game was Ruben Tantsikian and that he had visited Tbilisi just a year ago.
My interview with Ruben, who lives in California (Aliso Viejo), turned out to be quite interesting.
Ruben, had did Vitali Daraselia come to be your friend?
My parents lived in Greece, then found themselves in the Soviet Union’s Yerevan, where I was born in 1955. When I was about 2 years old, our family moved to Sokhumi, and later to Ochamchire. Vitaly and I both went to school #2 in Ochamchire.
I was about a year older than Vitaly, and we became friends by playing soccer every day, going to the beach, and hanging out at each other’s houses. Vitaly was phenomenal – despite his height (1m 72cm), he was excellent at playing basketball, handball, and ping pong. He was a great swimmer too but of course he was most passionate about soccer. He was trained by a renowned coach, Bondo Kakubava, who was loved by all the kids. Since Vitaly was 16, he played on the Ochamchire team “Amirani” in the Georgian state championship. Vitali kept playing for Amirani, for the Georgia and USSR national youth teams, and towards the end of 1974, at the age of 18, he got recruited to play for Tbilisi Dinamo.
Ruben, how did you end up moving to the US and coming to Liverpool?
It is a special story. Our family wanted to move to the US since 1969, where some relatives on my mother’s side had been living since 1912. Back then, emigration cases in the USSR took a very long time. Ours took 6 years. In early 1975, we got approval from the USSR government to move to the US. We left very quickly – in April of that same year (my father, mother, two brothers, sister, and me). We lived in New York for 25 years and then eventually moved to California. The last time I saw Vitaly before leaving the USSR was January 1975. The Dinamo Tbilisi team was on the Black Sea coast preparing for the USSR championship, and came to Ochamchire to play a friendly game against Amirani.
After I’d moved to the US we kept in touch through letters. Back then it was the main means of communication – there was no internet, and calls between the US and USSR were entirely impossible, so we just kept writing letters. They would take a very long time to arrive. From the newspapers and TV, I learned about Vitaly’s successes playing for Dinamo in the USSR Cup and international European tournaments. In September 1979, I received a letter from Vitaly where he told me about the upcoming European Championship Cup game in Liverpool, and that he would be excited to see me in England.
Did you go to England by yourself?
Having received Vitaly’s letter, I asked my parents for their advice. I was 24 years old; we had a very modest lifestyle in New York. My mom was very supportive. She said, “Ruben, you have to go to England. When else will you have a chance to spend some time with Vitaly and other Dinamo players?!” We collected enough money through our family and relatives. I went to England with two of my friends. We flew to London, then went to Liverpool. I knew where the team Dinamo Tbilisi was staying.
Meeting Vitaly and the Dinamo coaches and players was very emotional for me. Our arrival from the US was meaningful not only for me and Vitaly but also for the entire Dinamo team. They were thrilled that Vitaly’s friends had come to support him and the team all the way from the US. We brought presents for Vitaly and his teammates, and became friends with the outstanding footballers Chivadze, Gabelia, Kipiani, Gutsaev and Shengelia.
I think our arrival had a positive influence on the team. Remember, back then no one from the USSR could come to an international game other than the designated officials and perhaps an occasional cultural figure. And here we were – three of us from the US coming to England! During the game, we sat right behind the Dinamo team extras.
The Liverpudlians of course were cheering for their own team but also applauded Dinamo because the game was truly beautiful. In the return game however, Dinamo won with a score of 3:0. In the end, on 13 May, 1981, Dinamo won the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup, and I am proud that my childhood friend Vitaly Daraselia scored the winning “Carl Zeiss” goal! Vitaly died in a car accident in December 1982 in Georgia.
It was a tragedy for everyone; my family was shocked and devastated. By losing Vitaly Daraselia, Dinamo Tbilisi and the world of soccer lost a true master. A few years ago, I connected with Kristina Daraselia, Vitaly’s daughter, online. When my wife and I went to Tbilisi in 2019, we met with the Daraselia family. I hadn’t been to the former USSR since 1975.