Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Domestic football appeared equally bright: domestic leagues were established everywhere. If this sounds strange today, it was not so then – Bundesliga did exist before 1964 and the Second league was organized after 1970. Most African and Asian countries established their domestic championships during the 1960s and regularity was still wanted. Brazil organized national league in 1971 – the last of the major football countries to have one. Structurally, everybody copied the British model – a pyramid of divisions, from the elite first to whatever bottoms, with winners promoted to a higher division and loser relegated down. And in parallel was the national cup tournament, giving chance to small clubs sometimes to reach to glorious heights. Generally, the system was fare – even countries dominated by two-three big clubs provided opportunity for small clubs either to play top level football or to surprise everybody by winning the cup. It was also possible big clubs to face relegation – if today no matter how bad Manchester United plays, nobody imagines a final place lower than 10th in the final table (may be even this is a big stretch of imagination), the same club went down to the Second Division in the early 1970s. Yet, United had players, at least judging by the names, more talented than half of the First Division. Unlike today, final tables were not so obvious before even the season started yet. And national cups were still important and attractive for both clubs and supporters. The element of surprise continued to be important – the relatively unknown outside Brazil Atletico Mineiro won the first Brazilian championship. The club did not have world-class superstars, unlike its famous rivals, some of which had to wait many years before winning domestic title.

Atletico Mineiro, the first champions of Brazil
First row left to right: Ronaldo, Humberto Ramos, Dario, Lola, Tiao
Second row: Renato, Humberto Monteiro, Grapete, Vanderlei, Vantuir, Oldair

Note their irregular jerseys. Not the first club to play with awkwardly mixed kit, but certainly one of the very last – in the 1970s kits became homogenous. Out of date jerseys perhaps, but champions! By contrast, Fluminense finished 16th in the 20-team league. On the strength of the title, Atletico Mineiro purchased a star – the Uruguayan Ladislao Mazurkiewicz, one of the best all-time goalkeepers – after the season. Alas, no second title…