James Riordan

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James Riordan
Personal information
Full name James Riordan
Date of birth (1936-10-10)10 October 1936
Place of birth Portsmouth, England
Date of death 10 February 2012(2012-02-10) (aged 75)
Place of death Portsmouth, England[1]
Height 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m)
Playing position Centre half

James Riordan (10 October 1936 – 10 February 2012)[2][3] was an English novelist, broadcaster, sports historian, association football player and Russian scholar.[4]

He was well known for his work Sport in Soviet Society, the first academic look at sport in the Soviet Union, and for his children's novels.

He claims to have been the first Briton to play football in the USSR, playing for FC Spartak Moscow in 1963.[5] There are, however, no documents, match reports or eyewitness accounts that support his claim, and many details in the story were inaccurate.[6]

Life and career[edit]

Born in Portsmouth in 1936,[7] James Riordan learned to speak Russian during National Service training in the Royal Air Force from 1955 to 1957. In 1960, he graduated in Russian Studies at the University of Birmingham, before qualifying as a teacher at the London Institute of Education.

In 1963, Riordan studied at the Communist higher party school in Moscow; he was an avowed Communist, and was one of the few English students at the school.

His autobiography Comrade Jim: The Spy Who Played for Spartak includes an account of his games for Spartak Moscow; some Russian commentators have questioned these claims.[8]

When he returned to England he became lecturer at Bradford University before moving on to the University of Surrey at Guildford where became head of the Russian Department and was awarded a personal professorship. In 1980, he was the Olympic attache for the British Olympic Association of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. He held an honorary doctorate of Grenoble University and was President (2003-5) and later Fellow of the European Committee for Sports History.

His autobiography, Comrade Jim: The Spy who Played for Spartak, was published in 2008.[9]

His 2008 novel The Sniper tells the story of Soviet sniper Tania Chernova and is based on Riordan's interviews with the subject.[10]

He has also made a study of "The Death Match" — the 1943 non-official association football match between Soviet POWs and soldiers of the Wehrmacht — and has written a scholarly article[11] and a children's novel, Match of Death, on the subject.

Select bibliography[edit]


  • Comrade Jim: The Spy Who Played for Spartak, Harper Perennial, 2009. ISBN 0007251157


  • Sport in Soviet Society: Development of Sport and Physical Education in Russia and the USSR. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1977. (partially Birmingham, Univ., Diss.). ISBN 0-521-21284-7.
  • Sport in European Cultures (2002)

Children's novels[edit]

  • Sweet Clarinet (1998)
  • When the Guns Fall Silent (2000)
  • The Secret Telegram (2001)
  • The Prisoner (2001)
  • War Song (2001)
  • Match of Death (2003)[12]
  • The Gift (2004)
  • Escape from War (2005)
  • Rebel Cargo (2007)
  • The Sniper (2008)
  • Blood Runner (2011)

Children's anthologies[edit]

As editor[edit]

  • James Riordan (ed.). Sport under Communism. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1978. ISBN 0-7735-0505-9.
  • Riordan, James & Arnd Krüger (eds.). The international politics of sport in the twentieth century. London: Routledge, 1999. ISBN 0-419-21160-8
  • James Riordan & Arnd Krüger (eds.). European cultures of sport: examining the nations and regions. Bristol: Intellect, 2003. ISBN 1-8415-0014-3
  • Arnd Krüger & James Riordan (eds). The story of worker sport. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics (1996). ISBN 0-87322-874-X

As translator[edit]

Literary awards[edit]

Riordan's first novel Sweet Clarinet won the NASEN Award, and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Children's Book Award. Match of Death won the South Lanarkshire Book Award. The Gift was also shorted for the NASEN Award.[7]


  1. ^ Riley, John (2012-04-03). "Jim Riordan: Russianist and children's author". The Independent. Retrieved 2015-05-07.
  2. ^ "Popular columnist Jim Riordan dies". Portsmouth.co.uk. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  3. ^ "Patricia Stephens Due, James Whitaker, Josh Gifford, Jim Riordan, Whitney Houston, Last Word - BBC Radio 4". BBC. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  4. ^ "Professor James Riordan". University of Worcester. 2007-03-07. Archived from the original on 2012-12-23. Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  5. ^ Kevin O'Flynn (7 November 2006). "Introducing the first Briton ever to play in the USSR". Football. Guardian. Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  6. ^ Comrade Yakov Iordanov: Spartak Moscow’s Lone Englishman?
  7. ^ a b "James Riordan". Oxford Education. Oup.com. Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  8. ^ "В "Спартаке" играл английский шпион!". Utro.ru. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  9. ^ Comrade Jim: The Spy who Played for Spartak. Fourth Estate, 2008. ISBN 9780007251148
  10. ^ Riordan, James. The Sniper. Frances Lincoln, 2008. ISBN 9781845078850
  11. ^ Riordan, James. "The Match of Death: Kiev, 9 August 1942" in Soccer & Society, Volume 4, Issue 1 March 2003, pages 87-93. DOI: 10.1080/14660970512331390753
  12. ^ Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-275268-0

External links[edit]