Saturday, August 30, 2008

Perhaps it is time to reveal my sympathies – football fans are hardly objective creatures and I am no exception. Scandalous may be, but these are the five teams, of particular vintage on top of it, which are my favourites:

1. Levski, Sofia, Bulgaria, 1965. Can’t help it – I am with ‘blue’ blood no matter what. Arguably, the best team in the history of the club. Coached by Rudolf Vitlacil – the Czechoslovakian coach born in Vienna, Austria, who led Czechoslovakia to the final of the World Cup in 1962.
First row (left to right): S. Nikolov, Al. Manolov, G. Sokolov, G. Asparukhov, Chr. Iliev – captain, Al. Kostov
Second row: B. Mikhailov, T. Botev, Iv. Zdravkov, G. Zlatkov, R. Vitlacil, Iv. Vutzov, G. Georgiev, G. Stoyanov, B. Aleksandrov

2. Manchester United. Can’t remember when and why became a ManUnited fan… this is not the famous team of 1968, but the one on the verge of decline and disaster – 1971-72. Still, most of the heroes were there. It was my first photo of United, so sentimentality plays a role. Not to mention the long hairs of Best and Morgan – in Bulgaria long hair was against the law at that time.

First row, left to right: Francis Burns, Brian Kidd, George Best, Denis Law, Pat Crerand, Willie Morgan, John Aston, Carlo Sartori.Second row: John Fitzpatrick, Alan Gowling, Paul Edwards, Willie Watson, Jimmy Rimmer, Alex Stepney, Ian Ure, David Sadler, Tony Dunne, Bobby Charlton-captain.

3.Ajax, Amsterdam – 1972-73. Honestly, the team I enjoyed most, but comes third…subjectivity, you know. Rinus Michels already gone to Barcelona, Velibor Vasovic retired, but Cruiff at his best. Pure magic.
Second row, left to right: Haan, Blankenburg (West Germany), Wever, Suurbier, Stuy, Keizer, Krol, Schilcher (Austria), Arnold Muhren, Neeskens, Hulshoff
First row: Swart, Rep, Kovacs (Romania) – coach, Grijzenhout – assistant coach, Kleton, Mulder, Cruiff -captain, Gerry Muhren.

4. Brazil 1982. I know, I know… a team without a goalkeeper. What joy, though. For me, the ‘beautiful game’ was murdered in 1982…

Standing: Valdir Peres, Leandro, Oscar, Falcao, Luisinho and Junior;First row: Socrates- captain, Cerezzo, Serginho, Zico and Eder.

5. West Germany 1972. The same team as in 1974, but enormous fun to watch in 1972, when they won the European Championship. Breitner and Hoeness were too young for professional contracts yet. (This is a grudging bow to objectivity… I was supporting England and refused to watch the penalty the Germans scored on Wembley at the quarter-final.)

Second row (left to right): Franz Beckenbauer- captain, Helmut Schon – coach, Karl-Heinz Schwarzenbeck, Jupp Heynckes, Gerd Muller, Horst-Dieter Hottges, Gunter Netzer.
First row: Erwin Kremers, Herbert Wimmer, Paul Breitner, Sepp Maier, Uli Hoeness.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Since I have been with the old fogies so far, perhaps is good to mention the beginning of the endless football journey: the oldest photo of photo of football team is well known – Harrow School Soccer XI from 1867.

My picture comes from old issue of the Soviet fat weekly newspaper ‘Football-Hockey’. The guys above looked like prisoners to me and contrary to their name – 12 players, not eleven.

And this is England vs Scotland in 1879. Comes from unknown Bulgarian newspaper.

The first Bulgarian club was established in Sofia, 1912 and appropriately named ‘Football Club”. Almost immediately a second one was formed – called (think originality!) ‘Club Football’. By 1913 there were 5 clubs – none of them existing today. Early days were shaky, no doubt.

Monday, August 25, 2008

As far as football history is concerned, I am not going to trace to the ancient origins of the game – there is no need: every fat book on football begins with that. However, there is a problem a collector faces sooner or later – finding material lacking information. I was looking at old family photos in 2006 and suddenly found football…
This is a tournament, probably in the 1930s or early 1940s, judging by general look. Three teams are photographed, but only one is recognizable to me – Slavia, Sofia, the oldest Bulgarian club still existing. I recognize them by their distinctive emblem – Was it a domestic tournament? Was it a tournament abroad? No one can tell… clearly, the team traveled by train to some other city to play. Must be some distant relative playing for or involved with Slavia, but now everybody is dead and there is no way to gather information. And another complication: neither I, nor my father is Slavia supporter. In fact, Slavia is enemy… and one is negligent when it comes to detailed knowledge of enemies. Saying so, I love the photos and am dying to discover their mystery. Any help is welcome and this goes across the board: I will appreciate any correction of mistakes, wrong impressions, and enlargement of information. Of course, we have entirely different football today, but I am getting old and with that, I am becoming more nostalgic and curious for the ancient days of the game. Old photos fascinate me and not knowing details drives me nuts.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

I know I am incurable, but when and how I got sick? And what are the symptoms? Precise date cannot be established, as is often the case of genetically transmitted deceases. My father took me to the stadium one day in the early 1960s and that was enough. I suspect it was sometime between 1963 and 1965, in Sofia, Bulgaria. The first symptom was watching, and after that the infection spread, producing new symptoms. For instance trembling of the body and complete impossibility to think of something else when football (FOOTBALL, not soccer!) match begins. Soon I started playing and since the biggest appeal of football is the minimal requirements – one needs only a ball – you can imagine the fury of demon Mother entering the room at the very moment when I was recreating the fatal miss of my favourite team… I just hit the side poll of the net… the old ceramic vase shattered to thousand pieces. The battle of wills started, still going strong. Naturally, collecting was the next step – a small scrapbook at first, quickly replaced by bigger ones, and after that – football magazines. Today it is huge, although a big part of it was lost – I had to run away from Communism and it was impossible to take anything with me, the collection stayed back in Bulgaria. I gave it up. Meantime, a new one took shape in Canada. By chance, I discovered my oldest scrapbooks in the basement of my parents in 2006… bringing the old books to the surface restored my Mother’s instincts at once. The spark in her eyes, the predatory look, savagely hissing ‘If I only knew those things were in the basement…’ One may not expect a 70 years lady to transform into a tigress, but there is huge difference between expectations and reality.
Anyway, I recovered the scrapbooks and eventually, when I managed to get my eyes away from them, a question developed: what to do with my collection? And with my football knowledge? This is the result: telling you football stories of life-long obsession. The passion of millions through the eyes of one. Which brings back the problem of dating the symptoms…
Since a child started somewhat flimsy collection, accident played a role. The exact moment is beyond recall, but looking at my oldest pictures, it must have been in the summer of 1971. Here is a specimen of the oldest scrapbook:

Coming from old Bulgarian newspaper, the picture had imbedded problem, unforeseen by the kid who cut it once upon a time: this is Girondins de Bordeaux, but from which year? An afternoon of intensive search produced happy results: this is the line-up from 1968-69 season. First row, left to right: Jean-Louis Masse, Gabriel Abossolo (Cameroon), Carlos Ruiter (Brazil), Yves Teixier, Didier Couecou
Second row: Bernard Baudet, Robert Peri, Andre Chorda, Christian-Jacky Castellan, Guy Calleja, Christian Montes.

This photo tells a few more things: my preference for saner football and the game of 1970s (so this picture is somewhat a turning point). It is a typical selection of those days: two native stars (Chorda and Couecou, both French national players and participants in the 1966 World Cup) and two foreigners (Abossolo and Ruiter, both generally unknown, yet Ruiter was the first Brazilian to play for Bordeaux, and had long spell in France). The rest is relatively solid bunch of journeymen. The year points at the change – the end of romantic soccer years and the beginning of serious and competitive fun. The beginning of the 1970s was looking very bright. This is what I think in retrospect; in the real time I was only a kid obsessed with football and making discoveries.
Lastly, the picture hints at my collecting preference: team pictures, rather than individual players and moments from matches. Statistics are also important as well football history.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

In the beginning She was floating in the great emptiness. Then Coach arrived, observed Her mesmerized, and made the first tactical decision – created Earth in Hers image. ‘Let there be game!’, shouted Coach and kicked Her mightily. Dropping from high, She bounced few times and settled on the soft grass near the centre of the pitch. Coach saw the pitch was good, yet, something was missing. And he created Superstar. Superstar loved Her from the first moment and She loved him too. Everybody was happy, but still something was missing. At this moment Coach made a tactical error of great importance – he created Supporter to cheer the two lovers. However, Coach was distracted by the incoming match and his work was sloppy… Supporter was not created right and developed envy… and out of envy, one day Supporter gave something to Superstar. It was shaped like She and Superstar swallowed it without thinking, thus spoiling his diet before the match of the season. Superstar played badly and Paradise Saints lost to the archenemy Satanic Filths. Coach’s wrath was beyond measure: he sacked Superstar on the spot and kicked out Supporter too… and everything changed – instead of a week of happy training, now Superstar had to work six days and play only on Sunday. But Coach still had pity in his heart and permitted Superstar to dream of the old lost days… to dream of Paradise, where one plays football, watches football, reads about football, collects football, and thinks only football. Superstar always hopes the good old days will return. As for Supporter - once a faulty scheme, always a faulty scheme: Supporter only hates the beautiful She and lives only to prevent Superstar from happiness. Supporter most often appears disguised as one of the two awful demons, called Mother and Wife – devious enemies of She, constantly obstructing Superstar from meeting the beauty. And because of this eternal battle between good and evil, Superstar has to meet Her in secret and rarely, having to lie to the watchful and experienced demons. Sometimes Superstar is successful, but mostly not… and his gentle soul bleeds. And he accuses bitterly Coach for the ancient mistake, and the demons laugh at him, and life is terrible, but the hope remains and deep in his heart, Superstar loves only Her. For that love he lives, enduring working week and dodging the terrible demons, and waiting for Sunday, when She smiles at him again.