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Footballers who excelled at other sports (Part One)

Some players when they are growing up are just natural athletes. They excel at multiple sports and are often forced to make a decision about which sport they want to follow professionally.

At one stage it was not uncommon for a player to actually follow two parallel careers – Denis Compton, for example, played for Arsenal between 1936 and 1950 and won the League title and the FA Cup with them. He also played cricket for Middlesex and England, and featured in 78 test matches.

Nowadays, the demands of modern football are such that there is little time or energy left to pursue other activities. Nevertheless, there are a few who have had professional; careers in sports other than football.

This series looks at some of them though, who have managed to successfully combine more than one sport.

Lev Yashin

Lev Yashin is considered by some as the finest goalkeepers of all time. Known for his athleticism, positioning, stature , acrobatic reflex saves and imposing presence. Nicknamed the Black Spider (because he always played in black) he is reputed to have saved more than 150 penalties in his career.

What is less well remembered is that he also played ice hockey for the Dynamo Hockey team as a goal minder, although, despite the similarities with football, the position did not come naturally to him. He tried to catch the puck with his fingers, and it was not uncommon after a match for his hands to be covered in blood.

However, he learned to adapt thanks to Karl Liiv, who was the main goalkeeper of Dynamo at the time, and they shared a room at the training camp.

Although he was number two behind Liiv, by the 1953 season he  played regularly for the team and won a bronze medal in the national championship.

He was also picked to start in what was the most important game of the season the Soviet Cup final against CDSA. Dynamo won 3:2 and Yashin was named Man of the Match.

At that time he had arguably achieved more on the ice hockey rink than he had managed on the football field.

However, the following season his football career began to really take off and he decided to concentrate on it.

Incredibly though, ice hockey was not the only other winter sport Yashin played.

During his early career with Dynamo, his coach Arkady Chernyshev became concerned that he was not strong enough and too prone to errors.  Therefore, he encouraged him to take up bandy, which is similar to ice hockey in that it is a ball sport played by two teams wearing ice skates on a large ice surface using sticks.

Yashin proved so good at it that he was even invited to play for the national team before deciding to devote himself exclusively to football.

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