The international break gives clubs an excuse to jet off for ‘warm weather’ training, or play lucrative friendlies in Dubai. For Albion, the early-90s saw some friendlies against unusual opposition.
In February, 1990, Sergei Gotsmanov came in on trial from Dinamo Minsk. Barry Lloyd’s gamble on a player virtually unknown outside the Soviet Union paid off with impressive results.
The Belarusian was clearly a cut above the players around him and his impressive performances endeared him to the Goldstone faithful.
As part of the deal, we agreed to play a tournament at the end of the season and in May, 1990, we travelled to the USSR. We gained a creditable 1-1 draw against Dinamo Minsk, who were in the middle of their season, Albion’s goal coming from everyone’s favourite football genius, Johnny Crumplin.
The split of the USSR was imminent and as part of the relaxation in travel outside the Eastern Bloc, Minsk arrived in Hove in October, 1990, for a short tour. Their season had just ended with Dinamo finishing just outside the relegation places in the Russian Top League. Gotsmanov had moved on to Southampton by this time, Albion having failed to make his move permanent.
It was the first visit to the Goldstone by a team from the Soviet Union and after playing the Seagulls, they went on to play Bristol City. Our game was close-fought, with the men from Minsk coming out winners by two goals to one. Our goal was scored by Mike Small, who went on to be top scorer that season, as we narrowly missed out in the play-off final at Wembley.
Over the next two seasons, we played host to two other Eastern Bloc sides. In August, 1991, Steaua Bucharest were the visitors in another spin-off from a player loan. Stefan Iovan joined at the end of the 1990/91 season and was in the team that lost the play-off final.
Twelve months later, we entertained Inker Zapresic from Croatia. Their country was embroiled in the Balkan conflict and the visit gave their players a welcome respite from troubles at home.
They had finished fourth in their National Championship as well as winning the national cup. This gained them a place in the European Cup Winners Cup, before UEFA refused them permission to take part. Albion won the game 3-2, with John Robinson (two) and Steve Foster scoring the goals.