Prince Alexander Sergeevich Obolensky made his name on a cold January day at Twickenham in 1936, his achievements captured for posterity by the newsreels of the time.
On his England debut, having already scored one exhilarating try, the striking blond winger collected a pass on the right and, path blocked, veered left at such a pace that a line of opponents were left grasping at thin air. It was a historic try, unrivalled in skill and speed – and it inspired England’s first ever victory over the All Blacks.
Born to a noble family in St Petersburg in 1916, he had been due a life of wealth and privilege, until revolution forced the Obolenskys to flee Russia. Arriving in Britain with just a handful of possessions, they were reduced to relying on handouts, little Alex’s very education resting on the charity of others. But as the young boy began his new life in a strange country, it was his natural sporting ability that would bring him lasting fame.
The controversial selection for England of a Russian-born prince was a huge story in the press, stirring up xenophobia as well as excitement at the 19-year-old Oxford student’s sheer pace. His later exploits on and off the field would keep his name in the papers, yet Alex was destined to win only four international caps, despite touring with the Lions and appearing for the Barbarians. After joining the RAF to serve his adopted king and country, he died at the controls of a Hurricane in March 1940.
He was at Brasenose College from 1934 to 1938 and played 44 times for Oxford including the Varsity Matches of 1935 and 1937, scoring 29 tries.
Bringing a fascinating era to life, The Flying Prince explores the mystery and mythology surrounding Alexander Obolensky, and for the first time tells the full story of the sporting hero who died too young.
(The book, written by Hugh Godwin and published by Hodder & Stoughton, is available in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats at all the main online book stores.)