Sunday, November 30, 2008

Blast the colours! The kid, beginning his collection, struggled to get pictures of teams dressed in football gear. The kid hated – and still hates – teams in civilian cloths. Photos like this were collected regretfully:
Dimitar Penev is invisible here, but he was a member of the Bulgarian national team climbing the stairs to Mexico bound airplane in the summer of 1970. Second from left is the coach ‘Dr.’ Stefan Bozhkov – one of the biggest Bulgarian stars in the 1950s and disastrous national coach in 1970. Bulgaria qualified for the World Cup finals and the good doctor (he had medical degree, although never practiced medicine – one reason for me to place his title in parenthesis) deigned that the best way to prepare the national team for the summer Mexican heath was to stage winter high-mountain training camp. Plowing in January snow was his view of acclimatization. Penev later ‘coached’ Bulgaria to 4th place in World Cup 1994. Wisely, he tackled USA summer heath by not staging any training camps and not coaching at all. For this he was voted Bulgarian coach of the 20th century and was nicknamed ‘The Strategist’. Without irony! (Which is the biggest irony.) However, here is the opportunity to move away from team colours and return to football issues. Back to 1970 and forget about suits.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Orlin (Pirdop) may not be big deal compared to other colour headaches. The first glance at Ajax (Amsterdam) puzzled me:
I was happy to take a look at the fresh winners of the Cup of European Champions, but which was Ajax and which – Panathinaikos? It looks like the ‘dark’ players scored here… which led me to think Ajax were the ‘dark’, since they won 2-0. The first colour pictures of both finalist reinforced my youthful mistake: my first Ajax (now lost, regretfully) was dressed in blue and white and my first Panathinaikos was in white jerseys. Not knowing yet that I got reserve kits of both clubs, it took some time until I corrected my ignorant mistake. By the way, the first time I saw Ajax, they played again in their reserve kit against Bulgarian champion CSCA (my Bulgarian archenemy, since I am Levsky fan). Actually both clubs played in reserve kits for their first kits were red and white.
Captains looking for the ball – Johann Cruiff in blue and white and Dimitar Penev in white. CSCA eliminated Panathinaikos in the 1/16 finals after curious three games - thanks to Soviet referee mistake, the second match was annulled and replayed. Ajax eliminated CSCA in the 1/8 finals, winning both legs – 3-1 in Sofia and 3-0 in Amsterdam.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Brown kits came late to me. When I lounched my collection club colours were big problem. I was ignorant of most clubs and my first fotos were black and white. Like this very rare now picture of:
Orlin (Pirdop) finished 9th in the Second Bulgarian Division in 1964-65.
Standing from left to right: Gaydarsky, Spasov, Hristov, Mishev, Milenov, Georgiev, Serafimov.
First row: Kostov, Stoynov, Georgiev, Banov.
The club from the small city of Pirdop was founded in 1945. Since the name is personal male name, most likely the club was named after some unknown to me Communist ‘hero’, according to the custom of the time. Not the real name of the ‘hero’, mind, but his underground nickname. The name posed no problems in the long run and survived the fall of Communism – ‘Orlin’ is a name based on the Bulgarian word for eagle, and thus appropriate for club name (think predatory and glorious club). Seems alright without obsolete Commie mythology. The club was renamed once – in 1997 it became FC Pirdop, but in 2000 returned to the old name. Its last season was 2003-04, when it finished 10th in 13-club 4th Division Sofia Region tournament – one place above the new local rival Spartak 2001 (Pirdop). The club withdrew from participation before the beginning of next year season and this is the last known info about it. It may be reincarnated yet, who knows. Of course the club was modest one: largely dwelling in 3rd and 4th divisions. Its glory came in the 1960s: due to reorganization of Bulgarian football Second Division expanded in 1962 – 40 clubs were to participate, divided in two groups – Northern and Southern. Orlin, winning the Sofia Region championship, was included in the Southern group. It was not only the expansion, though: at that time Valko Chervenkov was still the leader of Bulgarian Communist Party , the most powerful man. He was born in Pirdop and in the custom of dictators showered his birthplace with gifts: brand new metallurgic plant was constructed, which immediately killed and poisoned its surroundings. The new industry benefited the football club – although not immediately attached to the plant, care was taken via hot Party lines: it was only proper a city of industrial glory to have corresponding glory in sports, and what better sport than football. Money went from plant to club; ‘amateur’ players received salaries as ‘industrial workers’ and Pirdop enjoyed Second Division football until 1970, when the club ended in the relegation zone and never came back. By that time Chervenkov was forgotten and the plant was no longer neither big news, nor profitable. (Only its poisonous fumes remained constant.) Orlin’s best season was 1966-67 – they finished 4th in the Southern Second Division and reached 1/16 finals in the national cup tournament. Apart from politics, rather typical story of small club from small town. And because of that, I have no way – so far – to establish neither team colours, nor club’s logo. Judging by team photo, white may be ruled out, but that is the end of guesswork.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Perhaps one more club should be added to the brown cohorts: Dukla. Unlike Platense and St. Pauli, this is newer club associated with establishment. It was found in 1948 as a club of the Czechoslovakian army and thus representing the Communist Party in a way: it was to be the correct proletarian club, opposing the old ‚bourgeaosie’ clubs. In the familiar pattern of Communist East Europe, Dukla was a club from the capital, Prague, heavily promoted by having free hand in recruiting the best players from the country.
Naturally, it was successful club, winning 11 Czechoslovakian titles – the only brown club not struggling to avoid relegation. Dukla’s best years were the 1950s and 1960s. Unlike the rest of the ‚browns’ Dukla had many great players, including Josef Masopust, voted European Fottballer of the Year in 1962.
The star in the famous brown and yellow jersey... but is it brown? Or is it Rouan red? Or terra cotta red? Whatever it was, it was changed by the middle of the 1970s – Dukla started playing in yellow (keeping the brown for away kit, however). The changed look in 1976-77:
Sitting, left to right: Netolicka, Stambachr, Samek, Vejvoda (coach), Brumovsky (assistant coach), Nehoda, Bilsky, Viktor.
Second row: Dr. Minarz (medic), Pelc, Fialka, Novak, Stastny, Tabor, Borovan (masseur).
Third row: Gajdusek, Mikus, Macela, Dvorak, Svehlik, Bendl, Rott, Vizek.
Good days... 11 national players from various years; 3 European champions from 1976 in the above foto. Good days ended after the fall of Communism. By 1993-94 Dukla had financial difficulties and was relegated directly to 3rd Division in part because of them. Having been ‚Communist club’ did not help either – there was no more enthusiasm for saving the club in post-Communist Czech Republic. Eventually, it was merged with another club under the name Marilla and moved to the small city of Pribram. Recently Dukla was revamped as indepependent club (the other club in Pribram existing separately), currently playing in the 2nd Division. The curse of the brown, I may think – no ‚brown’ club is successful in a long run. And, to end with similarities, like Platense and St. Pauli, the only famous donning brown jersey in the last 20 years – Pavel Nedved – achieved fame elsewhere. Tough legacy for Coventry fans... are they not in Second Division now? Whoever wears brown goes down.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

FC Sankt Pauli is the second club of Hamburg, hailing from the notorious district of the same name.
Similarly to Platenese, St. Pauli has cult status and oceanic nickname – ‘The Pirates’. Similarly to Platense, they reached First Division for the first time in 1977. They did not last at top level. Actually, the Pirates are very unstable – moving up and down between first and third division, but more or less preferring the second Bundesliga. This is a club with a sense of humor – unlike everybody else, St. Pauli is not founded in 1910, but ‘non established since 1910’. And similarly again with Platense: the only known players gracing the brown jersey were the Czech national player Ivo Knoflicek and more recently the Croat Ivan Klasnic. Klasnic, like Trezeguet, became famous after moving away from brown jersey. Here are the brown Pirates in 1997-98, getting ready for some Second Division action:
First time in the Bundesliga, 1977:
Aufstiegs-Elf 1977 v.l.n.r.: Höfert, Rynio, Rosenfeld, Gerber, Mannebach, Frosch, Neumann, Tune-Hansen, Oswald, Ferrin, Demuth. Foto aus "Wunder gibt es immer wieder", von René Martens.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

May be a ballet of a special kind, considering football aesthetics. Later kits will be discussed in length, yet, a hint here: the colour brown. Can’t blame football people for lack of taste – the away kit of Coventry City from the second half of the 70s speaks loud and clear:
Ian Wallace’s hair is a perfect match to the ill-famed ‘chocolate brown’, known as ‘excrement’ to Coventry’s fans in 1976. Voted the worst kit ever in England. However, no need fans to die of shame – they are not alone. Two other clubs proudly display brown – C. A. Platense from Argentina and Sanct Pauli from Germany. Brown is not their reserve kit either – brown and white are their original colours. Platense, a smaller club from Vicente Lopez, Greater Buenos Aires, nicknamed ‘Calamares’ (the Squids), founded in 1905, finally ascended to the First Division in 1976:

First row: Niro, Orlando, Pinasco, C. Gómez y Ulrich.
Standing: F. P . Rivero, Morelli, Peremateu, Belloni, Miguelucci, Gianetti.
This is the squad in 1977, when they finished 20th in the 23-club league, barely escaping relegation. The Squids managed to survive in the top league until 1999, achieving a cult status by their last minute escapes from relegation. Apart from that, the only interesting fact about them is one David Trezeguet, who played in brown jersey before moving to Monaco and fame.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Fine arts didn’t shy away from football either. Here is a sample:
The painting by Bulgarian modernist Kiril Tzonev (1896-1961) is appropriately named ‘Boy Football Player’ and most likely was done in the 1930s. But similarly to the other arts, painting and sculpture did not produce major works. Football resists artistic representations. In my view, it is because the high drama of the real sport. No representation can make it livelier or more dramatic. No representation can substitute the real game – representation is always cheap substitute, pale and lifeless, predictable. Even the notorious lack of culture characterizing both players and fans is not important here: the sport itself prohibits artistic representation, because it is art itself, containing all artistic elements and tensions. Thus, football art comforts to realism – a statue of an old star adorns a stadium or two, preferably a faithful copy of the real person. Photography is favoured most: from collectors to club museums, it is the photos collected and displayed. Fine art is left for the official posters of big tournaments. Yes, Juan Miro made the official poster for World Cup finals 1982. I, however, prefer another one:
- the poster for the first World Cup in 1930, Uruguay. The art-deco design of Guillermo Laborde (1886-1940).
No real football fan can be fooled by some highfalutin ‘art’ – he knows art. He knows this:
toothless Joe Jordan, wearing the national jersey of Scotland. Yes, he was known as ‘Dracula’ in England and ‘The Shark’ in Italy because of absent teeth, but football was still ‘the poor man ballet’ in the 1970s.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Football and literature, football and movies, what about football and music? May be better not going there… Sure, Rod Stewart, Elton John, fans songs, ‘You’ll will never walk alone’ at the end of Pink Floyd 1971 record Meddle (incorporated in ‘Fearless’) . But…
Barcelona in the studio, recording ‘Azur y Grana’ (Blue and Red).
Back row, left to right: Juanito, Rexach, Torres, Rife, Marcial, De la Cruz
First row: Juan Carlos, Asensi, Sotil (Peru).
On the right Cruiff either getting ready to belt out a solo, or expelled for lack of singing form. Or lack of Spanish. The goalkeeper is absent. If you never heard the profound song of the 1974 Spanish champions, you are lucky.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Football in books can be enjoyable, but football in motion pictures is rare. Starngely, the exciting game never makes good film script. I have seen few films based on football and did not like any of them. Not memorable films and not up to my own taste. But here is an example: in 1981 Escape To Victory came out. A Second World War adventure film, more or less structured around a ‘life or death’ match between prisoners of war and Nazi military team.
Nazis and dog excluded, back row (left to right): Russell Osman (England), Paul Van Himst (Belgium), Mike Summerbee (England), Sylvester Stalone (Rocky/Rambo a goalkeeper?) John Wark (Scotland), Kazimierz Deyna (Poland), Soren Lindsted (Denmark)
Front row: Hallvar Thorsen (Denmark), Osvaldo Ardiles (Argentina), Michael Caine, Pele (Brazil), Bobby Moore (England), Co Prins (Holland).
What a selection? Well, except the goalie, but remember Brazil 1982? Holland 1974 and 1978? Even the great Ajax had no goalie to speak of. Now, the Nazis had no player of any standing and our boys won.
A moment of the match: POW Pele tricks a Nazi.
I always had the feeling Hollywood adapted a horrible actual event from the Eastern Front: there was a match in Kiev between Nazi team and Soviet POWs – the story says it was practically Dinamo Kiev, and is incorporated in the club history, but in the recent years the Dinamo version is refuted. But there was such a match. No black player and no Rambo, however.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Club Union de Excursionistas was found in Belgrano District, Buenos Aires on February 1, 1910. The name was changed to the current one – Club Atletico Excursionistas (CA Excursionistas) in 1920.
The glory days of the club are deep in the past: 10 seasons in Primera Division from 1925 to 1934. It should be mentioned this is old amateur Primera of Argentina, recognized by FIFA. It was much bigger league than today’s Primera – 36 club participated in 1928 and 1930. Our heroes were not big success, usually finishing in the bottom half. Their best year was 1931, when they finished 5th in the 16 club league. But in 1931 18 clubs left Primera to organize their own professional league – Excursionistas finished high, but among the remaining smaller clubs. Until 1934 there were two concurrent leagues, the amateur still the legal one. Once the professionals became legal, they became the Primera Division and Excursionistas plummeted to their contemporary existence in the 4th Division (Primera C Metropolitana). In their entire history only one player of notice played for the club – Rene Houseman (in the Argentine squad for World Cup 1974 and World Cup 1978) – he made his name in Huracan, but ended his long career in Excursio.
Rene Houseman – Argentine champion with Huracan (this is a photo of those days), played 15 minutes as a substitute in the World final 1978, played for River Plate, Colo Colo (Chile), Amazulu (South Africa), and Independiente before joining Excursionistas in 1985.
In 2006 it was rumoured that Maradona was going to play for Excursionistas, but nothing happened.
The team in 2005
La Pampa – the Excursionistas stadium in Buenos Aires with 8000 capacity and hardly any grass.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Football appears in the ‘high’ literature as well: the great Austrian writer Robert Musil was even prophetic – in his enormous and unfinished masterpiece The Man Without Qualities, Musil saw the football player (along with the tennis player) as the new ‘profane’ modern hero. He placed the emergence as early as 1913. On the other hand, Albert Camus attributed positive qualities to football in terms of morals and ethics. But he was speaking about 1930s and early 1940s. The little moment in The Outsider, where the crowd carries the goalkeeper on their shoulders through the city’s streets is nostalgically touching. Another Austrian, Peter Handke, published in 1970 one of his most famous novellas: ‘The Goalie’s Anxiety At The Penalty Kick’. The central character is Joseph Bloch, ‘a construction worker who had once been a well-known soccer goalie.’ (3 X Handke, Collier Books, New York, 1988)
Those are fiction books, of course, and little football knowledge can be extracted from them: no real players of teams, or fixtures. But occasionally football appears in fiction surprisingly real. Two examples from the Argentine great writer Adolfo Bioy Casares: ‘In a Sport-Dimanche that somebody left in the waiting room of the Hotel de Roma I was able to find out that today Reims plays Paris-Saint-Germain a match that I wouldn’t want to miss for anything, because Reims number 9 – the center forward, as we’d say in my day – is none other than Carlitos Bianchi.’(the short story ‘Our Trip (A Diary)’, A Russian Doll And Other Stories, New Directions Books, New York, 1992, p. 75). The episode is hilarious, at least for a soccer fan – it is going to the match with annoying ignoramus, forcing the narrator to leave the stadium before the game ends. Carlitos Bianchi is none other than Carlos Bianchi:
Carlos Bianchi still playing for Velez Sarsfield (Buenos Aires)
He played for Reims from 1973 to 1977, before moving to Paris Saint-Germain (1977-79), RC Strasbourg (1979-80), going back to Argentina and Velez Sarsfield (1980-84), and finishing his career in France – his last season is again for Reims, 1984-85. Bianchi played 14 games for the National team of Argentina and scored 7 goals between 1970 and 1972. He was 5 times top goal scorer in France (1974, 1976, and 1977 with Reims, and 1978 and 1979 with Paris SG). Curiously enough, another Argentine, playing at the same time in France is also 5 times top scorer and all-time top goal scorer of the French League with 299 goals – Delio Onnis. The two replaced each other as leading scorer – Onis in 1975, 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1984. And finally: Onnis played for Reims between 1971-73. Bianchi took his place in 1973, when Onnis moved to Monaco. Unlike Bianchi, Onnis was not born in Argentina, but in Rome, Italy, the son of Greek emigrants, and was less known in Argentina. Bianchi was Argentinean champion in 1968 and three times top goal scorer – 1970, 1971, and 1980 – with Velez Sarsfield.
Delio Onnis, the great rival of Bianchi in France. Here with the colours of his third French club – Tours in 1981.

But perhaps the player means nothing to you. Try the more familiar coach Carlos Bianchi: three Intercontinental Cups – 1994, coaching Velez Sarsfield; 2000 and 2003 coaching Boca Juniors. 4 Copa Libertadores coaching Velez and Boca. Three Argentine titles with Velez, and 4 with Boca. Coach of Paris SG 1990-91. Coach of AS Roma in 1996. Coach of Atletico (Madrid) 2005-06. One of the best coaches of the 1990s – voted South Americam Coach of the Year in 1994, 1998, 2000, 2001, and 2003. Such is the little Carlitos popping out of the story by Bioy Casares.
But the writer had more in his sleeve: ‘Dante, who always got angry when he lost (though as a fan of the Excursionista soccer team, he should have learned to accept defeat philosophically), chided him for not keeping his mind on the game’. This sentence occurs in the beginning of the novel Diary of the War of the Pig (E. P. Dutton, New York, 1988), on page 5. The outlandish name sounded suspect, most likely an author’s invention, but knowing Bioy Casares I decided to check and make sure. It was real.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Football is never clear cut, only good or only bad. The sport is always very diverse and a sick man (a fan) is largely fueled by hope. Yes, the last match was terrible; yes, the season is lost; yes, my favourites angered me again; but tomorrow would be different. Every new match is a hope renewed against reason. The sick man goes to matches and continues reading match reports, and collects. And he is not alone… his cravings are continuously fed. Sometimes by unusual sources. Football literature is an obvious supply for the addicted. With the years passing, I became somewhat skeptical and selective when it comes to football books.
I dislike and avoid two types of football books – the histories of the World Cup and players autobiographies. The histories concentrate on the most recent tournaments. I rather read about World Cup 1938 in detail – the World Cup 2006 I remember painfully well… it was not as great as the upbeat pages of the book tell me. But the older the tournament, the less pages it gets.
Players fail to interest me when writing of themselves. Few of them have to say anything about great games and the opposition. I want to read about football, not about weddings, vacations, and purchases of cars and houses.
Once the above categories are eliminated, there is a sea of football books. Some good, some not so. However, two books I recommend highly:
Why? Read the books and you will know for yourself.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Scandals are scandals, but was it not the general state of football bright in the 1970s? The optimism of the beginning of the decade did not last long. Neither the Brazilian samba, nor the total football survived - rather, they were transformed into something else: domination of tactics, great physical emphasis, and sharp decrease of creative players. The grave signs were already present in 1974: on one hand was Brazil, and West Germany was on the other. Seeing what was going on in Europe, coaches in Brazil were alarmed – they detected lagging behind and urgent need of change. The result was the dreadful Brazilian team at the World Cup 1974, which was to catch up with European football. It was defensive minded, disciplined team. There was no spark in it, no imagination, no fun. Only victory mattered, not how it was achieved. Yet, Brazil had to surrender its title and finished 4th. Many, myself included, felt even 4th place was too much, Brazil did not deserve to be that highly placed. Meantime the West Germans were on another road: after Ajax destroyed Bayern in 1973, the Germans realized that attractive football was not going to win anything. In 1974 Bayern won its first European Champions Cup. The Bavarians added two more cups in the next two years. None of their games was pleasant to watch – they barely survived the nasty final with Atletico Madrid and won the Cup in the replay thanks to superior fitness. In 1975 the whole final was played in the penalty area of Bayern, but it was not Leeds United victorious at the end – Bayern won 2-0. In 1976 Bayern scored one goal against St. Etienne (France), and it was enough. The French played much more pleasant to the eye football, and lost. Bayern was winning largely because they were able to outrun the opposition, to terrorize it everywhere on the pitch, to defend themselves shrewdly, and to wait for rare counter-attacking opportunities. By the end of the 1970s practically everybody learned to run non-stop 90 minutes, to pressure the opposition, to fight for the ball cynically, to waist time by endless passing between defense and goalkeeper. Players became the same, there were no more outstanding individuals. The game was moving and more into the central area of the pitch, where both teams fought not that much for the possession of the ball, but fought to block and prevent the other team from developing attacks. Superficially, attacking football, total football dominated the decade, but teams were happy to score one goal and the rest was just speedy running around and tackling the opposition. Defensive football did not die at all – for the most part of the 1970s the Italian championship showed 0-0 ties. The Soviets were the same and tried to introduce changes, hoping to break the scary habits of clubs to end half of their matches 0-0. Ill fated reforms, though… the first was no points for 0-0 ending matches for both teams. No problem, winked the clubs – by silent agreement, both teams were quickly scoring a goal each in the first minutes of the match and whatever ‘real’ playing followed after point giving 1-1 was established. The Soviet federation fought back: no points for more than 10 ties in the season. But the clubs were not to give up – very few clubs lost points for having too many ties. Instead, clubs started exchanging wins in a ‘gentlemen agreements’ : A wins at home against B, and gets 2 points. Later, when visiting B, A loses and B gets their 2 points. At the end, the same number of points for each, as it used to be before with two ties. From this perspective, the 1970s were hardly exciting decade. Franz Beckenbauer delivered warning as early as 1974: talent was drying out and grave days were coming. He spoke for the German football, but his prediction applied to the whole of European football. Everybody can prepare players to run 90 minutes non-stop, but so what? Of course winning is very important, but what about beautiful football? The new reality seemingly had no place for skilful players and they were disappearing fast – no new Netzers, Beckenbauers, Cruiffs emerged. Players were look-alikes workaholics without individuality. Teams looked the same, games looked the same, football was quickly becoming very boring.
Bayern won the European Champions Cup third time in a row in 1976. As in the previous years, Bayern failed to inspire fans. St. Etienne was the better playing team at the final, but the Germans were once again physically stronger and tactically more disciplined. Rummenigge was already displaying the features of the new breed of footballers: supremely fit, disciplined, forceful, but not exactly shining player
Hoeness and Hansen with one more cup. They even don’t look particularly happy; rather, businesslike – job well done and nothing more. Tactics prevailed: only 2 years earlier Hoeness was fun to watch. By 1975 there was no big difference between him and ordinary player Hansen on the pitch: both running and fighting endlessly. Hoeness did not risk anything skilful or extraordinary, it looked like he sunk to the level of Hansen, not the other way – an ordinary player becoming imaginative and skilful like earlier Hoeness.