In 1958, at the height of the Cold War, Walter Winterbottom’s side had to put up with shadowy figures trailing their every move, rice pudding, being badgered for razor blades, training under streetlights, paying homage to dead former leaders, getting dragged out to the ballet and, for one poor soul, sharing a room with Brian Clough.
Gareth Southgate’s squad may find things easier in their luxury spa retreat in Repino, but the current England manager would have loved to have had some of the players on that pioneering visit: Johnny Haynes, Tom Finney, Billy Wright, Bobby Robson, Don Howe and a young Bobby Charlton were all on the trip.
Former Blackburn striker Bryan Douglas remembers it like it was yesterday.
“The Cold War was at its height then and you had to be a bit on your guard,” he said. “It was always in the back of your mind that you were in a Communist territory. So it was mentally tiring too.
“It was the year of the Munich air crash and we had lost some bloody good players as well as friends so that put a downer on everything.
“On top of that, it had been a busy and tiring season with Rovers getting promoted and we had just got beaten heavily in Yugoslavia. Relations between East and West were a bit rough at the time and we were right in the middle of it. I was not worried exactly, but it was in the back of our minds. It was a lonely place.
“The hotel was okay – very near Red Square – but it was not great. Compared with this side of the world, it was a bit dire.
“They took us around a university with about 900 rooms, trying to impress us. We went to see the coffins of previous dictators in the Kremlin. They took us to the ballet and the circus. They were very obliging in everything we did but I was glad when I got home.”
For Spurs defender Maurice Norman, there was a more sinister edge. “We had to go around in pairs, followed everywhere by the ‘secret service’,” he recalls. “People clamoured for anything from us: shoes, clothes, money, razor blades.
“We trained at the youth stadium, a bumpy meadowland, where the pitch consisted of clover interspersed with tufts of grass six inches high. Floodlights weren’t available and the only illumination came from a street light 200 yards away.”
Sadly, Bill Slater’s memories are now clouded by dementia, but his daughter Barbara, the BBC director of sport in charge of overseeing the corporation’s entire operation in Russia this summer, recalls two stories that have become part of the family folklore.
“Dad was one of the last amateurs to play for England and I remember he told us that the university docked his wages as a lecturer so he could go on that trip,” she said.
“Then when they got there, they did not want to risk eating the food so they sent out for rice, milk and water and survived on rice pudding.”
For Douglas, though, there was one extra hardship to endure – sleeping alongside the effervescent Clough.
“I roomed with him – he was hard work!” Douglas chuckled. “He always had so much to say! That got him a lot of headlines as a manager but did not help him as a player.
“He was in the practice line-up the day before the game and we all thought he was going to be given his debut – then he wasn’t. There were rumours he had had words with Walter Winterbottom and when the final squad for the World Cup was picked he was not among them.”
If the venom of his 2002 autobiography, ‘Walking on Water’, is anything to go by, there is every chance Clough did say something at the time.
“I was a centre-forward with one of the best goalscoring records of all time who was scandalously disregarded by his country mainly because Winterbottom preferred a player called Derek Kevan, a big bruiser of a player from West Brom who wasn’t in my class, nowhere near it,” he wrote.
As it was, though, Kevan was the only player to find a way past ‘Black Spider’ Lev Yashin as England settled for a 1-1 draw and Clough had to wait another year for his only two caps.
This summer, the course of a number of international careers could also be decided on Russian soil.