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Inside FutbolInside Futbol

26 October 2019

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Specials

The War Generation – Evald Mikson




The Second World War interrupted and cut short the lives of millions of people around the world. The shockwaves of the conflict impacted on all parts of life and football was no exception, with hundreds of professionals being called up to fight and some making the ultimate sacrifice.

This series of articles looks at how the war affected the lives of footballers from all sides of the conflict:


Evald Mikson is a man who divides opinion to this day. He was undeniably one of Europe’s finest goalkeepers in the early 20th century, but it was not his playing career which sparked controversy.

Born in Tartu, Estonia, in 1911, Mikson grew up in a country with a turbulent past and an uncertain future. The region had regularly changed hands between the powers of both east and west and the populace had to do what they could to survive.

During the years between 1934-1938, Mikson was called up to the Estonian national team on seven occasions, resulting in one win, a 2-0 victory away against Lithuania, two draws and four defeats.

Mikson was known for his shot-stopping prowess and earned the nickname of ‘the man with a hundred hands’.

As well as playing football, Mikson served in the Estonian Sicherheitspolizei (security police) where he rose to the rank of deputy chief in the Tallinn-Harju district during Germany’s occupation of the country. In 1941, the Nazis were first widely seen as liberators from the USSR before opposition formed amongst the Estonian population.

 

Following the annexing of Estonia by the Soviet Union one year earlier, Mikson, a staunch anti-communist, went into hiding and led an underground resistance group against the Red Army until the Nazis occupied the country and he ultimately became deputy chief of police.

Being a police chief in a Nazi occupied country was an extremely diplomatic job to say the least, but it could also be highly rewarding and according to some historical accounts this turned out to be the case for Mikson.

In 1942 however, the 31-year-old was arrested and imprisoned. Mikson said this was for failing to turn in completed reports to his superiors, but others claim the Estonian kept a small amount of gold seized from Jewish jewellers.

After two years of incarceration the shot-stopper was released, but during his time behind bars the war had turned and the Germans were now on the defensive. The Red Army was reclaiming land lost and the Allies had successfully landed in France.

With the Russians threatening to retake Estonia, Mikson feared being captured and punished for his resistance role, thus he fled to neutral Sweden where he was interned as an undesirable prisoner.

In 1946 he planned to head for the haven of South America, an area popular with former members of the defeated Axis powers, but his ship, which was bound for Venezuela, ended up stranded in Iceland, where Mikson changed his name to Edvald Hinriksson.

He applied for a US visa in 1947, but was rejected after the FBI learned of his true identity. Mikson was accused of war crimes against the Jews by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who believed the goalkeeper gulity of signing arrest warrants for a number of Jews who ended up being killed by the Nazis.

Mikson resided in the port of Reykjavik and faced the constant threat of being taken back to the Soviet Union for trial whenever a Russian trawler docked.

Despite this though, Mikson raised a family and his sons made a mark on the game – Celtic legend Johannes Edvaldsson and Borussia Dortmund star Atli Edvaldsson.

Finally in 1993, at the age of 82, Iceland set up a war crimes investigation at the behest of a number of national powers and organisations, but the trial proved too much for the frail Mikson who died of a heart attack.

To this day, many people, including his sons, have protested his innocence. Indeed, Mikson claimed he was the victim of Jewish persecution and a Russian vendetta, with much of the evidence the Simon Wiesenthal Center had against Mikson coming from the KGB.

Nonetheless, the Estonian Historical Commission for the Investigation of Crimes against Humanity found Mikson guilty of ordering the deaths of Jews and known communists.

Mikson’s family are part of the fabric of European football’s history, right through from his own heroics between the sticks to his successful sons, who played a huge part in the game in the 1970s and 1980s to the present day; his granddaughter plays for the Icelandic national team.

His sporting pedigree aside, Mikson will continue to be the subject of intense debate, regarded as a victim of circumstance by some and as a brutal war criminal by others.