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EURO cult heroes: Viktor Ponedelnik, 1960

"My surname was a dream for headline writers," said forward Viktor Ponedelnik, whose header in the 1960 EURO final heralded a glorious Monday for Soviet fans.

USSR forward Viktor Ponedelnik
USSR forward Viktor Ponedelnik ©AFP

Viktor Ponedelnik was uncapped until a couple of weeks before the 1960 UEFA European Championship. A fine hat-trick in a pre-finals friendly against Poland sealed his place in the starting XI for the four-team tournament in France, and he was on target again in the 3-0 semi-final win against Czechoslovakia. But it is his fifth international goal that he is best remembered for.

Seven minutes from the end of extra time against Yugoslavia in the Parc des Princes decider, and with the scores locked at 1-1, the 23-year-old's header clinched the title. "The final kicked off at 22:00 Moscow time on the Sunday, and by the end of extra time it was gone midnight – basically Monday," recalled Ponedelnik. "My surname [literally translating as 'Monday'] was a dream for headline writers!"

Best goals of EURO 1960
Best goals of EURO 1960

Tipsy clerks and wartime

His surname actually dated back to the 19th century when Emperor Alexander II abolished serfdom in Russia. Names of former serfs were recorded in a ledger, but an inebriated clerk reputedly mixed up the columns at some point and wrote the day of the week instead of the family name. Thus began the Ponedelnik (or 'Monday') dynasty.

Viktor Ponedelnik's forefathers settled in Rostov-on-Don, where the striker was born in 1937. He was four when the town was first invaded during the Second World War. "They were firing all over the place; a lot of people died," he said. "We managed to catch the last train out but had no time to take personal belongings."

Watch highlights of the 1960 final
Watch highlights of the 1960 final

Factory team

Ponedelnik spent the remainder of the war in Tbilisi before returning home. There, he made a prodigious and unprecedented rise after starting his pro career aged 19 at FC Rostselmash, a works team for a combine harvester factory. The club played in the expansive fourth tier of the Soviet league system, but his attacking talent nonetheless came to the attention of national selectors.

Shortly before his 21st birthday, in 1958, Ponedelnik became the first lower-league player to be called up by the Soviet Union; he was soon in the top flight too, moving across town to join SKA, the army team. He helped them finish fourth in his first elite campaign and was impressing again in the second when he departed for the inaugural UEFA European Championship.

Real Madrid opportunity

The EURO triumph in France brought its reward, with each victorious Soviet Union player receiving 200 US dollars. They all ended up at the Eiffel Tower for a reception also attended by Real Madrid president Santiago Bernabéu. "He was ready to buy half of our squad, with no hesitation – [Lev] Yashin, [Valentin] Ivanov, [Igor] Netto, [Slava] Metreveli, myself," Ponedelnik remembered. "We avoided the conversation..."

Highlights of the 1960 semi-final
Highlights of the 1960 semi-final

Post-script

Ponedelnik was one of just three survivors – with Netto and Yashin – still in the side four years later when the Soviets lost the 1964 final to Spain. Within two years he had retired, though, after failing to recover from an appendix operation – he was 29. He never won a trophy at club level yet 20 goals in 29 internationals secured his legend.

He eventually followed his father's footsteps and became a respected journalist and author. Ponedelnik is long retired, although he remains a regular at the Rostov Stadium in Rostov-on-Don, where since 2015 a statue has stood of him holding the Henri Delaunay trophy. The image of him scoring in 1960 is forever etched in Russian minds.

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