Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sweet is hardly the word coming to mind when thinking of East German football. Boring would be the natural choice. Unlike the West German cousins, the East Germans inhabited the lower regions of European football – even among the countries behind the Iron Curtain they ranked low – only Albania was considered below them. Apparently, the East Germans thought their football lowly too – they run small 14-team league, as every other country at the bottom of European football: the Scandinavians, Malta, Albania, Cyprus, Luxembourg, you get the picture. Even by East European standards, East German clubs sounded extremely industrial and serving not the game, but Communist propaganda – various Dynamos, Motors, Chemie-s (Chemists), Lokomotives, Turbines, Stahls (Steel), Energie, with additional Vorwarts (Forward!) and bested by Second Division club named ‘Aktivist Schwarze Pumpe’, which does not need translation in my opinion. All of it bringing imagery of mechanic puppets.
Lowly football, but unlike most East European countries East Germany was not dominated by two big clubs – rather, everybody was equally lowly. Carl Zeiss (Jena), Dynamo (Dresden), Lokomotive (Leipzig), and 1.FC Magdeburg (Magdeburg) were consistently at the front of the table, but champions varied – until 1979, when the Secret Police – the Stasi - decided to really step in and established the hegemony of their own club Dynamo (Berlin) pretty much until the Berlin Wall fell down. As a whole, East German football was not glorious, yet it had golden years – beginning in 1973, reaching the peak in 1974, and fading away after that. Dynamo (Dresden) won their third title in 1973.

Sitting, left to right: Heidler, Richter, Hafner, Sachse, Boden, Fritsche, Urbanek, Dorner, Riedel, Watzlich, Sammer.Standing: Meyer – administrator, Seidel – accountant, Hanel – president, Geyer, Schmuck, Rau, Kreische, Ganzera, Kern, Schade, Helm, Lichtenberger, Muller, Fritsch – coach, Prautsch – assistant coach, Gumz – administrator.

This squad is curiously anonymous for champion team: apart from two high-ranked East German players, Dorner and Kreische, the rest consists of journeymen, although few were occasionally included in the national team. Hans-Jurgen Kreische was the League’s top scorer for third consecutive year with 26 goals. The squad of the champion does not suggest sudden rise of the East German football, but this is misleading. However, Dynamo (Dresden) is interesting in another aspect – their intricate relation to Dynamo (Berlin) and Secret Police, and their eventual good luck after 1989.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Croatians were miserable, but one Belgrade club was happy – OFK Beograd finished third. Forever in the shadows of giant Crvena zvezda and Partizan, OFK Beograd were much older club and, as almost every old club in Eastern Europe, felt oppressed by the Communist regime. Football folklore is often based on facts, unfortunately: originally founded as BSK (Belgrade Sport Club) in 1911, they were more or less the biggest club in the Yugoslavian capital until 1945, collecting 5 championships in the 1930s – the first title in 1931 and the last in 1939. Soon after came the German invasion and after Nazi Germany lost the Second World War Tito-led Communists took the power. In the domain of sports the presence of the new rulers was quickly felt – Crvena zvezda and Partizan were founded and as everywhere in Eastern Europe the pure Communist clubs were to dominate. Old clubs were destroyed either literally or by renaming and forced mergers. In 1945 BSK got new name – Metalac, supposedly representing some branch of industrial working class, as the name – Metal Worker – suggests. Metalac achieved alarming results: the old BSK fans refused to support it and the industrial working class was urged to support the ‘proper’ clubs, so by 1950 there was sufficient concern about the empty stands and the club was reverted to its original name. But already BSK meant nothing and new attempt to attract supporters was made in 1957 – a new name again: OFK Beograd. The name means Youth Football Club Belgrade and the idea was to attract especially young spectators. These preferred Crvena zvezda and Partizan, so OFK Beograd remained the third Belgrade’s club in term of popularity and success. They achieved some success in the Cup tournaments, but otherwise occupied the middle of the table, the upper half more often than not, but no more than that. OFK Beograd always had famous players – Sekularac in the 50s and Skoblar in the 60s – but never really strong squad. Unfortunately, this is the typical fate of smallish club coexisting with big ones: never able to recruit strong squad and never able to keep talent for long. Occasional success is often deadly for such clubs – and for OFK Beograd 1973 was followed by long years of struggling in obscurity: they lost their top players almost immediately and sunk down the table playing hide and seek with relegation. At the end, the most representative feature of the club is its nickname: ‘the Romantics’. It was coined in the 1950s for their pleasant technical football , but it was befitting on a larger scale – the very courage of this club to exist and try again and again against the odds.
The team going for bronze featured four noticeable players: the striker Slobodan Santrac ( 8 matches and 1 goal for the Yugoslavian national team), the full back Dragoslav Stepanovic (34 matches and 1 goal), the young and promising goalkeeper Petar Borota (4 matches), and the best right winger in the country at the time – Ilija Petkovic (43 matches and 6 goals). The success of OFK Beograd depended on them, but soon they were all gone – Petkovic to France and the rest – to the big Belgrade clubs at first and to professional European clubs later. Much, much later Santrac and Petkovic coached the national team of Serbia, when Yugoslavia was no more. However, the most interesting story belongs to Borota. He moved to Partizan (Belgrade) and got his miserable 4 caps as Partizan player – like Santrac and Stepanovic he faced stiff competition for the national jersey and was rarely called. In 1979 Chelsea got him and although he even captained the Londoners, he is not remembered fondly: Chelsea fans usually include him in the all-time worst Chelsea selection and vote him the all-time worst goalie. This is rather unfair verdict, but could not be otherwise – Borota was part of the unlucky ‘first wave’ of foreign players in England, who were judged harshly and with bias – ‘continentals’ were presumed incapable of grasping the English brand of football and every microscopic mistake served to prove beyond doubt exactly this imagined inferiority. Borota was particularly easy target because of his unusual and risky style: he played often outside the penalty area, as a sweeper, clearing and dribbling – that is, the way goalies are expected to play today, but in the late 1970s it was viewed as dangerous eccentricity. Perhaps Borota was able to correct his style, but something much more important was beyond his powers: Chelsea was in deep financial troubles and heading rapidly toward bankruptcy. As a result, the team was weak and plummeting down the table, eventually ending in the Second Division. No wonder fans did not and do not appreciate players of those dark years.
All of the above was still unimaginable in 1973 – back then OFK Beograd were bunch of happy boys. How sweet it was finishing ahead of Partizan, ahead of the Croatian clubs, ahead of 1972 champions Zeljeznicar (Sarajevo).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Up the European scale, Yugoslavia played her usually competitive championship, won once again by Crvena zvezda (Belgrade). It was disastrous season for the Croatian clubs, though – they finished in the middle of the table, Dynamo (Zagred) one place higher – they were 8th - than their local rivals Hajduk (Split). Those were lean years for Dynamo…

Bottom, left to right: Drago Vabec, Mario Bonic, Zdenko Kafka, Josip Razic, Damir Valec.
Top: Mladen Ramljak, Zeljko Stincic, Mladen Repalust, Ivica Miljkovic, Ivica Car, Josip Lalic. A plain team, becoming even plainer… their captain and former national player Ramljak moved to Feyenoord (Rotterdam) after the season. Only one player donned the Yugoslavian national jersey – Vabec – but two years later. The rest were run of the mill. To the fans, only memories of the glorious 1960s, when Dynamo won European cup, remained for comfort.

Monday, December 21, 2009

If Turkey maintained same champions, their Greek neighbours produced a change – Panathinaikos, contrary to ambitions and boasting, lost the title to their archenemies Olympiakos. Hardly a new name – the club from Piraeus knew many victories before, but how sweet for the ‘working class’ team to beat the ‘bourgeoisie’. It was laughable already to use such terms, considering ownership and fan support of either club, but the rivalry and the corresponding vicious hatred remains to this very day. It was not that violent yet, but a derby is a derby… usually based on some ancient notions of which fans are very fond.

Bottom, left to right: Lossanta, Gioutsos, Delikaris, Papadimitriou, Triantafilos.
Top: Glezos, Kelessidis, Siokos, Synetopoulos, Angelis, Gaitadzis. Having some national players – Delikaris, Glezos, Siokos, and Synetopoulos – Olympiakis succeeded most likely because it had better performing imports than Panathinaikos. The Uruguayan Losada, called Lossanta here, and the French Triantafilos played strongly and regularly unlike the erratic foreigners of Panathinaikos. At the end of the season Triantafilos returned to France and his previous club – Saint Etienne. Losada kept the red and white stripes for few more years.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Down in the lower regions of European football Galatasaray added one more title to their trophy room – third in a row since 1971.
Bottom, left to right: Bulent, Tarik, Savas, Sabri, Birch – coach, Tuncay, Mehmet, Aydin, Ahmet.
Top: Muzzafer, Metin, Ayhan, Cengiz, Yildirim, Nihat, Omer, Yasin, Faruk, Suphi, Olcay, Gokmen.
Under the guidance of the English coach Birch Galatasaray dominated the Turkish league, featuring quite a few national players. But Turkish football was still lowly and the names meant nothing in Europe neither then, nor now. There was an exception, however: the goalkeeper Yasin eventually moved to New York Cosmos, hired by Ahmed Ertegun of Atlantic Records fame. The transfer happened much later in the decade, but at least for the sake of curiousity should be mentioned here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Well, here are moments from the season:
Hristo Bonev scores yet another goal, but is right to worry: he was to be neither top goalscorer, nor champion in his perhaps finest season. Splendid player and terrible person, Bonev led Lokomotiv (Plovdiv) to their best achievement – second place in the final table. However, 8 points behind CSKA… Petar Zhekov fights with Georgiev of Dunav (Rousse). The match ended in scoreless tie, as if to suggest that Zhekov’s days were coming to end: he increasingly depended on goals scored against lowly opponents. And not always anymore… but he was made top goalscorer, robbing Bonev from that. As for Dunav: they appeared strong during the season. Only to be relegated for bribery after.On top – CSKA against one of their most difficult opponents: Lokomotiv (Sofia), who traditionally played their best football against the Army. And winning too – 2-0 for Lokomotiv ended the match. Rumen Goranov, the new star goalkeeper, denies Zhekov one more time. Goranov played his best season in my opinion, somewhat never reaching the same form again.
On the bottom: Akademik – Dunav. The hosts on the rise and winning (1-0), the visitors… well, already mentioned. Their goalie Markov expects one more shot from the sturdy Akademik’s midfielder Todor Paunov.
Players making waves not only of water – the centre-defense pair Vesselin Evgeniev (left) and Evlogy Banchev are late to block the centre-forward Kiril Milanov. In the heavy rain, Akademik (in white) and Pernik (the last season to play under this name) ended in a 1-1 tie. But the three featured players had strong season and were included in the national team.

Akademik were still far from their finest moments and struggled often – here they are denied from a win by visiting Dunav: 1-1. Lyuben Markov blocks the ball while his defensemen Lyubenov and Vazharov watch anxiously.
And one more 1-1 tie of Akademik (in white) – against Lokomotiv (Sofia), which sweeper Christakiev clears the ball surrounded by white shirts – the left winger Simov in the air, and the striker Milen Goranov (10) waiting. In Sofia’s hierarchy, Akademik were on the bottom and Lokomotiv just above them – hence, this was the only real derby for Akademik, while for Lokomotiv confrontations with Slavia and CSKA mattered much more.
Bogomil Simov – the very skilful left winger of Akademik was included in the national team this year, but as a whole he was under appreciated player.
Lokomotiv (Sofia) ended in midtable – reasonably, for they played some very good matches, followed by sloppy performance, like this one against N. Laskov (Yambol), lost at home 0-2. Clumsy Lokomotiv’s left winger Patzev is tackled by clumsy Laskov’s left winger Kovachev. Contrary to the result, the visitors (with white sleeves and shorts) faired badly: they finished next to last and were relegated never to return to First Division again.
Another tie, another scoreless tie… Slavia (in their traditional white kit) unable to beat Lokomotiv (Plovdiv) at home. Slavia ended 3rd, just bellow Lokomotiv (Plovdiv), but with equal points and one match less (either not played at all, or result annulled). Tasev (Slavia) and Peev (Lokomotiv) nicely represent the equality of their clubs, shoulder to shoulder to the end.
Traditionally ‘the surprise team’, because of notorious inconsistency, Slavia was capable of disappointments followed by big wins, like this one against Cherno more (Varna) – 5-2. Here a very young striker attacks – Andrey Zhelyazkov (in white). In a few years he will be major star and in the 1980s will play with Johann Cruiff for Feyenoord (Rotherdam). Unthinkable in 1973.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

CSKA got another double, just like the year before winning both championship and cup. Same squad, same performance. Only one new player – one Stefan Mikhailov, acquired by lowly Second Division club, something unusual for the Reds, but than Mikhailov was hardly intended to be a starter. He was minded to be back up of aging Petar Zhekov, the all-time goalscorer of Bulgaria. Mikhailov eventually became a CSKA legend, for a solitary, yet tremendously important goal, but this happened in the fall of 1973. Apart from this goal, he impressed nobody and after three years of occasional playing returned to his previous obscurity – nobody heard of Mikhailov before he joined CSKA and nobody heard of him again after he left. The rest was the familiar team of the previous years, same names and same results, and perhaps a little over the peak, for they were just a year older players and nothing new in terms of playing came out of them. It was simply very well tuned team, carried on the wings of great familiarity of every player with the rest. Some weaknesses became visible as well – it was clear by 1973 that both wingers, Atanasov and Marashliev, reached their limits and were not going to be any better. Same with Denev, whose egoistic inclinations were no longer repairable, eventually becoming more of a liability than advantage. It was dominant squad in Bulgaria, easily winning everything, and this supremacy perhaps blinded CSKA’s coaches – they continued just to refine the old machine, rather than start rebuilding. But who changes a winning side anyway? Nobody, and that is how self-deception begins. Petar Zhekov scored 29 goals in 34 championship matches. Not bad? In fact, great – he collected one more European ‘Shoe’, a Bronze this year, after having already Gold and Silver. Great! What matters that the man is getting dangerously fat and slow? As long as he scores, no problem… but he was ‘given’ goals in this season: for instance, he was one goal behind Hristo Bonev before the last championship match against lowly Chernomoretz (Burgas, one of the two clubs expelled from the league for corruption soon after the season ended). Zhekov scored twice, the second goal from non-existent penalty. The first was no better – Chernomoretz’s defense was clearly making room for the guy, not even pretending playing. Corruption is one thing, self-deception another – Zhekov was over the hill, yet, with his 29 goals, CSKA thought him still irreplaceable. This Mikhailov guy was not taken to replace Zhekov, but just to substitute him now and then.

17th title for CSKA with a little help from their friends.
Top, left to right: Manol Manolov – coach, Kiril Stankov, Borislav Sredkov, Stoil Trunkov, Stoyan Yordanov, Asparoukh Nikodimov, Drazho Stoyanov, Ivan Zafirov, Boris Gaganelov, Todor Simov, Nikola Kovachev – assistant coach.Bottom: Tzvetan Atanassov, Plamen Yankov, Georgy Denev, Petar Zhekov, Dimitar Penev – captain, Bozhil Kolev, Stefan Mikhailov, Dimitar Marashliev.

Strong in Bulgaria, but on the verge of decline – the team depended largely on their aging first XI. The young reserves were not good enough: from the bunch of Trunkov, Stoyanov, Sredkov, Simov, Yankov, and Mikhailov only Sredkov managed to establish himself and to reach the national team. Yet, he never became real star. The rest are justly forgotten. The ‘silver’ CSKA never achieved the success of the ‘golden’ selection from the 1950s, but they were not to be discarded easily – this squad still had something to say.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Not everything was black, of course: Lokomotiv (Plovdiv) reached their peak, finishing 2nd - a good team, led by the biggest Bulgarian star of the 70s and one of the best ever Bulgarian players, Hristo Bonev. Akademik (Sofia), 5th at the end, played nice technical football, already on the ascent and becoming team other had to reckon with , although not reaching their peak yet.
Akademik (Sofia) played there first strong season. The 1970s were their best years.
Top left to right: D.Roev – coach, Il, Chalev, L. Goranov, V. Nedelchev, Yul. Ivanov, T. Paunov, Iv. Vasilev, N. Kolev, G. Lyubenov, G. Roev, P. Zafirov – captain, P. Petkov – assistant coach
Bottom: Iv. Tishansky, D. Gologanov, St. Parvanov, M. Goranov, Ml. Vasilev, K. Milanov, L. Lozanov, B. Simov, M. Mikhaylov, Ant. Zhivkov.
Lokomotiv (Sofia), 7th in the final table, played well as well, with strong Atanas ‘Nachko’ Mikhailov , often impossible to stop, and fantastic Rumen Goranov between the posts – now Levski-Spartak realized what they stupidly discarded the previous year, but too late…
Unstoppable Nachko Mikhailov, still young and relatively slim, in one of his typical attacks against Beroe (Stara Zagora). He continued the Lokomotiv’s tradition: to have exceptionally gifted and somewhat egoistic player, who, with extraordinary technical skills, is able alone to beat whatever opposition. After Spiro Debarsky came Nikola Kotkov, and after Kotkov – Mikhailov, and after Mikhailov – Velichkov: one player in every decade, the younger playing along established star at first.

But that was pretty much everything good and the rest was boring… Slavia finished third, but it was hardly memorable team and perhaps this picture against Levski-Spartak is misleading, for it looks better than it was – Tzvetkov strikes a header and Slavia’s goalie Tzolov clears away confidently. Yet… the ball does not seem to be on target. The match ended 1-1. Boring.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

First Bulgarian Division showed little quality in 1972-73. It was the second and last 18-team league, so part of the story was the scandal: two clubs were penalized with relegation at the end of the season for bribes and the league was reduced to its usual number of 16 teams. Two matches were not played at all, for unknown reason, (or annulled, according to some sources) but they did not involve culprits. Two clubs changed names – one is ill-fated club from the city of Gabrovo: to this very day changing the name is pretty much the all excitement this club produces. The other is the already mentioned (see earlier posting, covering 1972) Pernik – they returned to their original name Minyor after the season ended. Apart from that, the season was bleak. And especially bleak for Levski-Spartak… one of the worst seasons ever. It was not the disappointing 4th place at the final table, but the selection and the playing of the team. Signs of trouble were alarming the year before and one expected changes – but the changes spelled out bigger trouble: three players were recruited and two released. Only one change was relatively good: the goalkeeper Kamensky was replaced by former Spartak (Sofia) junior Stefan Staykov, who impressed playing for ZhSK Spartak (Varna). The midfielder Stefan Pavlov left too – which was a loss for the team, but apparently the new bosses from the Police did not like his family history and pushed him out. He was replaced by two relatively known players – Metody Bonchev, who used to play for old Levski without success, and Nikolay Radlev, who scored very important goal for CSKA in mid-60s – against Inter (Milan) – and was promoted in the dressing room from private to sergeant by the Minister of Defense himself. And that was the whole achievement of Radlev so far… later he went to play for Pirin (Blagoevgrad), and quite well, but he was not good enough for Levski, the same with Bonchev. Weak squad, not exactly great coach, and on top of it – injuries. Things became so bad in the winter, that Levski-Spartak had to play Zhechev, the central defenseman, in midfield, and to use – amusingly in a way, for Mikhailov was starting matches as a goalie, but was moved to attack in the second half, when Staykov replaced some half-dead player – Biser Mikhailov, the goalkeeper, as a right winger. It was during this season when the fans realized how far the Police departed from the original Levski’s tradition: having only 12 barely healthy players, the club did not include any boys from the junior team, even for the lip-service of making a full squad. Instead, goalie on the right wing and whoever can walk without crutches on the pitch. It was tragic.

Zhechev (in dark), moved to attacking position against Akademik (Sofia). In fact, Zhechev was good in midfield and attack, and often scored too. But his usual position was a sweeper, and there he was best, including his surprising attacks. Moved to more frontal position was desperate attempt to patch up holes – and left the defense weak as a result. There was not much to be done… the team had no healthy players left. As usual, the best Levski’s games were in the derby with CSKA – and in the first match, in the fall, Zhechev committed atrocious foul against the Army star Denev: for no reason at all, he just butchered Denev. I still remember vividly the casual cruelty of this foul, which was not even registered by the referee – I think, because CSKA scored and the goal outruled the yellow or red card. As every Levski’s fan, I interpreted the referee’s blindness as a deliberately staged: CSKA always had difficulties against ‘us’ and without the help of the referee… who knows. The match ended in 2-2 tie, but the very ugly foul I remember in part for its relative rarity – normally, CSKA were starting provocations, and Levski eventually retaliated. Not this time – and curiously, there were no other major problems during the match, contrary to ‘normal’ deterioration of the derby into ugliness after initial provocation.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Up the ladder, Second Division, and another club hailing from Blagoevgrad – not from the county, but from the very centre of it. Logically, the summit of the local football scene. Pirin (Blagoevgrad) finished first in the Southern Second Bulgarian Division and was promoted to top league football for the first time in their history.
Pirin posing during the season. It was quite mature team, which managed to establish itself in the top league. In 1973 nobody really knew the players, but most of them played for many years – well after their 30s. The goalkeeper is perhaps the most interesting player – like most of his teammates, Hristo Hristov (nicknamed ‘The Shack’ for unknown to me reason) was not a spring chicken in 1973. He reached the national team, however – about 35 years old at the time. When he finally retired, he gave amusing reason – he said he decided to quit out of shame. Ashamed of being so old among young fellows and out of touch with them – he was 42, and one of his last teammates was called Berbatov. The father of Dimitar Berbatov, currently of Manchester United. Yet, Hristov retired at strange moment – when 6 Pirin players, Berbatov-the father among them, were sentenced to prison for gang raping a foreign tourist. Hristov was not part of the crime, but his comment brings a sinister question – out of touch with what? But it is only a sinister question – by all accounts, Hristov was a decent fellow. He died miserably forgotten a few years ago. As for Berbatov, with his son’s recent fame, the old story is currently under revision: now it was not rape, but entirely unjust and frivolous sentencing to jail. The old Berbatov may even believe his newly discovered innocence – despite the stories the other participants tell.
The current star of English football also started his career in Pirin. The question is which one… for recently the old club multiplied into 4 separate clubs, every each one claiming (contrary to evidence) the history of the team above. Naturally, all new clubs are called ‘Pirin’ (with slight variations for registration purposes) and are located in the city of Blagoevgrad They are evenly spread from 4th to 1st Division, although not quite because of performance, but because of court orders. One carefully avoided reason for naming so many clubs with the same name is Dimitar Berbatov – every club hopes and claims transfer money. So far Manchester United gives a total of zero pounds. And just after the end of Autumn half of 2008-09 season the first and second division clubs merged – the nightmare continues. It was so simple in 1973… Pirin just won a trophy in Italy, in a tournament with local clubs, which provoked an outcry, for Palermo apparently played brutally against the Bulgarians. The Communist press said so at least. No matter, Pirin was going up.
Translated from Italian article criticizing Palermo and Pirin with the cup – big success for the Second Division club. And rare trophy in Pirin’s history anyway… which club has it today I wonder.
This was also the last season Pirin played in stripes (at least I am not aware of them using stripes after that) – once in First Division, they started with Ajax-inspired white and green kit, and played with plainer combination of these two colours ever since.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pirin (named after the mountain) hails from Razlog, a small town, bringing bottom football up a notch. In 1973 they played in the same 4th Division with Sokol (Zheleznitza), but they represent a fine difference: village clubs hardly ever consider promotion. Small towns are more serious – having some money, they resemble normal football club. There are some constant players, there is some training, and there may be some ambition. Usually, they are much better than the village rabble and less violent. They face less violence too, for they are not immediate longstanding enemy. As a rule, small town clubs do not last very long in a county division – unless they are very short on cash, they tend to go up. And Pirin is not typical 4th Division club – their normal habitat is 3rd Division. They even played in the Second Division – once! Currently they are in the middle of the tough 20-team strong South-Western 3rd Division.

Posing in 1973, when 3rd Division was a dream, and Sokol (Zheleznitza) – the gruesome reality. Well, if one manages to escape the village clubs, one goes out of one’s way not to return to the murderous realm. Which makes 3rd Division pretty vicious environment. Wise small town clubs stay in 3rd – the stupidest mistake is to get big ideas and move to the 2nd Division: money dry up immediately, and the club plummets straight to the barbaric villages.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Since the year was strange, I will change the narrative order, starting not from the top, but from the bottom of footballing universe. An opportunity based on sheer luck: I have rare pictures of teams from the very bottom. Meet Sokol (Falcon, in Bulgarian) from the village of Zheleznitza.

Sokol played in 4th Bulgarian Division in 1972-73 season. That is Blagoevgrad County A Division – Bulgarian 4th Division is the lowest level (occasionally some counties feature 5th level – a B Division) and is played regionally, following the administrative structure of the country. Then and now, there are 28 counties, each governing its own football. Here football comes the closest to its roots – not the roots outlined by Oxbridge ‘gentlemanly’ game, but the raw, violent mob football once outlawed by King Edward II. The King was concerned that ‘many evils may arise’ from such a game, and he was right: down in 4th Division it is entirely different sport, akin to the ‘tumults’ King Edward II disliked in 14th Century. Total football may have ruled 1973, but away from the spotlights it was different: training, tactics, even basic skills were pure abstraction. Money was not an issue – there were none. A team like Sokol had no means and ambitions to climb up the scale – it aimed at very little in reality: just to beat their immediate neighbours. Beating them up physically, not simply winning by scores, but breaking bones. Ancient grudges, their real causes long forgotten, were addressed on the pitch, and the inevitable brawl perpetuated these grudges. It was savage – home ‘selection’ of burly veterans and tough youth faced just a bit less quarrelsome visitors. About 20 local ‘fans’ ominously stayed on the touch line, passing the bottle between themselves. The unlucky referee had to navigate dangerous waters, for he was in worst position: he had to support quite actively the home side, yet, not completely, for if enraging the visitors, the home team was not going to help him. The referee’s choice was small – either broken bones, or death. Wisely choosing broken bones, he favoured the home team, planning which way to run right after the final whistle (if the match stretched that far). As for the game, it was largely a pretext for the big fight. Which must be savage, to ensure the future – for the home team will be visiting their enemies soon, and there was no telling what amount of injuries will be inflicted on the earlier ‘victors’. With time, fighting only escalates until reaching the point when the wisest will not visiting at all – hence, 4th division football was traditionally plagued by awarded results because the visitors did not show up. Many ‘players’ played only home games, justly fearing visiting people who they thrashed a month before. The only reason such leagues survive is geographic distance – remote villages did not bear grudges and played less brutal matches, where the final result was not that much important. Such matches were the only ones where visiting team may win – normally, home team wins, helped by the referee. And this is eternal – what was in 1973, is the same today. Football as a war – well, not very different from ‘big’ football… What is really amazing is the endurance of village clubs because Blagoevgrad County Division had the reputation of the most savage regional division in Bulgaria. Yet, the county has another reputation – traditionally, it produces big amount of football talent. Dimitar Berbatov comes from there, for instance. And finally, it is the county with the second largest number of local clubs in the country – considering the financial troubles villages have, not a negligible achievement. Tough lads, but persistent no matter what. Naturally, nobody knows who the players above were – very likely some played under the names of others, for registered players were not always available, or some drunk from the touchline suddenly got the itch to play and came in at the spur of the moment. Registration has nothing to do with reality down there. Hence, if there were statistics, they hardly tell who actually played. Well, we are not talking Ronaldos at this level. I have no idea where Sokol ended in the 1973 table, but they are not around presently. I am sure they will fly again, though – as soon as they have a few bucks to spare and more than 7 guys willing to risk their lives against mighty opposition with juicy names like Iztrebitel (Terminator).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Without major international tournament, 1973 appears anticlimactic after 1972. This is typical for years between World Cups and European Championships, yet, 1973 was not as plain as many other years ‘in between’. A lot happened: Spain lifted its ban on foreign players – and Cruiff went to Barcelona. Ajax continued its European dominance. Holland finally started to transform, using the innovative strength of her great players. Brazil decided to change her way of playing, feeling inferior to the newest developments in Europe. And qualifications for the 1974 World Cup were well in progress, bringing at least one huge surprise – the elimination of England. And one big scandal – the refusal of USSR to play in Chile. A lot happened in 1973. Yet, from the distance of time, it seems to me that 1973 was mostly characterized by weird struggle between words and deeds.
Total football was the word: recognized as the way to play, the way of the future, and the way to success. Established. But few really played it and the discrepancy was huge: in countless articles the new football was analyzed, its virtues proved, those who did not play it yet – criticized and urged to adopt it. In print, there was no doubt. In print, it was lamented that many a team, a player, and a coach were lagging behind, and if incapable to change, those should go and replaced by progressive youngsters seeing the light. Obvious.
Obvious may had been, but… not really. Old ways were strong. New ways were misunderstood. England was prime example – realizing the need of change, England ‘radically’ introduced new players in the national team. It was urgent, especially after the humiliation from the West Germans. New players, but… the style was the same and no attempt was made to introduce total football. New legs, old ways… England suffers ever since.
Brazil on the other hand went radical – it was felt Brazilian football was no longer match for European football. Curiously, it was not total football to be followed – or if it was, it was a far cry from the model based on artistry as much as on speed and physicality. Brazil attempted to breach the gab by making a new national team playing tough, defensive, physical football. It looked a bit like the football West Germans played after 1976, only slower. There was no beauty in it, technical advantage of Brazilian players was stifled in the name of collective disciplined performance concerned with defense. It worked for awhile – the new Brazil went to Europe to play friendlies at the end of the year, and on cold, rainy grounds extracted minimal wins from the West Germans and the Soviets. The team was tremendously boring, but fit and equal to the European physical strength. Which led to wrong conclusions in the land of samba and disaster in 1974.
As for Italy and Spain – total football seemingly meant exactly nothing there. At the end, total football, the big rave, was practiced by very few teams – others lacked either players or the old established mentality stubbornly refused to change against evidence. Whoever managed to shift gears suddenly became a winner – no matter what, the face of football was changing and at least some elements of total football were very much present.
A moment of the World Cup qualification match between Hungary and Sweden, capturing the difference between total football and any old way of playing: the Hungarian centreforward Bene is marked by Swedish centreforward Edstrom (right). Old Bene and young Edstrom… you will never catch classic striker last in defense. Sweden qualified for the World Cup. But old thinking was reluctant to give up – Bene is about to score here, isn’t he? Doesn’t look like Sweden is going to win, right? This photo beautifully summarizes the problem at the time.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The greatest moment of 1972? Hard to chose. I am leaning towards the second goal Cruiff scored at the European Champions Cup final – to me, it shows perfectly the dominance of total football: Cruiff alone in front of wide open net, the Italian iron defense nowhere to be seen, and Johann just redirecting the ball. Simply. Effortlessly. As if playing against kids, not against some fearsome defensemen.

Good bye, 1972. Good bye, catenaccio. Really?

Monday, November 23, 2009

New blood coming, old blood going. Uwe Seeler retired in 1972.
After 474 matches and 404 goals for Hamburger SV, and 72 matches and 43 goals for the West German national team, one of the all-time finest German players called it quits. It is always sad to see a great player retiring and Seeler was special – his strange bycicle kicks, which were not exactly bycicle kicks, were unique. At least I have not seen anybody else scoring in this manner – with his back to the net, yet, not off the ground like in classic bycicle kick, but rather kicking the ball above his head, a mix of volley and bycicle kick elements. Deadly, powerful kicks, always on target. No wonder he was voted 3 times German Footballer of the Year: in 1960, 1964, and 1970.
Fans loved Seeler, only memories remain of him. Well, not only German memories: in 1978 Seeler went to play one match for Cork Celtik FC. Apparently, the retired player thought that he was invited to play a demonstration match. He scored twice… and after the game discovered that he played an official League game, thus registering in the statistical records of the championship of Republic of Ireland. He may be the only player in the world ever to play champioship match without knowing. Retirement indeed… 1 match and 2 goals.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

After mentioning the Soviet youngsters, to speak of new talent would be redundand. Perhaps, but not surely. Deep down the British football one Bobby Lenarduzzi played.
Reading played in Forth Division, far away from glory. Far away from success even on this level… and the young Canadian played with blue and white hoops. Unlike his older brother, Bobby was born not in Italy, but in Canada, which probably made his inclusion in the British club easier. But he was foreigner and foreigners were not exactly highly valued in England – 4th Division… may be. As for Bobby, he hardly saw himself a professional soccer player in North America at the time and went right to the source instead. He did not last in England, but eventually became a legend, at least in Canada, and the only player of this Reading team to play at World Cup finals. Hard to imagine in 1972 for the all-knowing British experts. Oh, well, Lenarduzzi had to wait until 1986 for the World Cup and playing for Canada was not precisely shattering news. Lenarduzzi may be nobody for the large football world, but his contribution to the North American football – continuing today on journalistic and administrative level – is undeniable.
Much more important player debuted in 1971-72 season:
Kevin Keegin as a young broom – Liverpool acquired him from Scunthorpe United for 35 000 pounds. Bill Shankly was skeptical… soon he was no longer skeptical: Keegan developed into one of the biggest stars of the 1970s.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lastly, a club climbing from Third Division to the Second:
meet Avtomobilist (Nalchik), Second in the Russian Federation Championship in 1972. Which was Third Division level then. Nothing to brag about… some club with strange name – ‘Avtomobilist’ means, loosly, ‘an automobile racer’, which in Soviet understanding most likely really meant affiliation with transportation firm. The name did not last – soon it was changed to Spartak.
The club represented one more example of ‘limbo’ teams: too strong for 3rd Division and too weak for the Second, Spartak moved constantly up and down. Different life started after the collapse of USSR – suddenly the boys from Nalchik found themselves quite high: in the First Division during 1992 - but relegated; climbing again in 1995 – and down again the next season; until 2005, when after winning again promotion they managed to survive and continued playing First Division football. So far.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The veterans were hardly enough to ensure survival in top level football, but Pakhtakor was not in a position to get quality players from elsewhere – the most they hoped to get was occasional veteran like Pshenichnikov or aging mid-level players like Ishtenko. So, they decided to recruit local youngsters – three of them appeared in 1972, all quickly to become stars: Mikhail An, Vasily Hadzipanagis, and Vladimir Fedorov. In 1972 they were so new, the name of one of them is actually misspelled on the photo above – but very soon not only they were spelled right, but were included in various Soviet national formations, reaching the Olympic team. However, the Korean An, the Russian Fedorov, and the Greek Hadzipanagis were perhaps the most tragic cases in Soviet football. An and Fedorov were killed along with the rest of Pakhtakor team in aircrush in 1978. Hadzipanagis escaped death, because… he was no longer playing in USSR. The son of Greek Communist immigrants was born in Tashkent, but was registered as Greek citizen – itself a very unusual occurance in USSR. When he was included in the Youth national team, it became known finally that he was not a citizen of the country, to everybody’s surprise. And he was convinced to take Soviet citizenship – thus, allowed to play for USSR, reaching the Olympic team in 1975. At that time Hadzipanagis wanted to go to Greece and was allowed to do so, another strange and unusual Soviet decision. He was immediately hired by Iraklis (Thesaloniki), a lowly Greek club, which paid him handsomely, but signed him under wicked long term contract and refused to sell him to another club. Hadzipanagis – now no longer Vassily, but Vassilis – became huge star in Greece: many consider him the best ever Greek player even now.
He played once for the Greek national team, which became a scandal – since he played for USSR’s Olympic team, FIFA rules forbade his inclusion in another national squad. Apparently, the Greeks tried to bend the rules by fielding him in a friendly against Poland. He played alright, but FIFA reacted immediately – the Greek Federation was severely warned and the match itself remains in limbo ever since: FIFA does not recognize it. Greece recognize it, often with the provison that it was not regular internatinal match, but a testimonial for a retiring player, hence, exception from FIFA rules. Poland on the other hand does not consider the match a testimonial, but a regular one and counts it as such. As for Hadzipanagis, he was never included again in the Greek squad – FIFA watched hawkishly over that – and the player regrets to this very day that he was not permitted to play for his beloved country. He eventually went back to Tashkent a few years back to play in testimonial match honoring Berador Abduraimov.
Flamboyant Hadzipanagis with Iraklis kit – a Greek legend, many go as far as to argue he was on Maradona’s level.
None of the above was even suspected in 1972 – Pakhtakor returned to First Division, hoping to remain there. Which they did and their young talented players were noticed:
Early article featuring Hadzipanagis and Fedorov (bottom) – looks like from 1973.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pakhtakor (Tashkent) should have been presented before the Ukrainians by right: they won the Second Division. However, Shakhtyor were to play bigger role in Soviet football in the next years. Besides, Pakhtakor never played big role in Soviet football – the club from the capital of then Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan usually dwelled near the bottom of the First Division, a prime candidate for relegation. And relegation they often experienced… followed by quick return.
Second Division champions in 1972:
Front, left to right: V. Hadzipanagis, V. Varyukhin, A. Govorov, L. Morozov, A. Ivankov, M. An, Yu. Ivanov.
Top: V. D. Solovyov – coach, V. I. Kanevsky – assistant coach, A. Lisakovsky, B. Abduraimov – captain, R. Turgunov, V. Shtern, B. Ishtenko, Yu. Basov, V. Fedorov, B. Ibragimov, Yu. Pshenichnikov, V. Kuzmin, H. T. Rakhmatullaev – assistant coach, D. I. Shegay – director of the team.
In some aspects, more interesting team than Shakhtyor – the Ukrainians were… well, Ukrainians. Pakhtakor hardly had any Uzbek players and there was good reason for that: Tashkent was a city where various ‘undesirable’ Soviet citizens were settled. The citizens had no say in the matter… and not only Soviet citizens – foreign Communists taking refuge in USSR often ended in Tashkent. Out of sight… suspect to Soviet authorities. Amusing that, yet real and presented in the squad above – various Russians, but also a Greek, a German, and a Korean. Only two Uzbeks… Anyway, there is more curious stuff.
As a whole, the team was mixed bag of old players nearing retirement such as one of the best Soviet goalies in the 1960s Yury Pshenichnikov, recruited by Pakhtakor when other clubs were no longer interested in his services. Berador Abduraimov, the other veteran, was different story – he was local and is considered the best Uzbek player of all time.
Abduraimov was the top goal scorer of the Second Division in 1972 with astonishing 34 goals. But it was hardly big surprise – Abduraimov shared the same position with 3 other players (none from a big club!) in the Soviet First Division in 1968 with 22 goals. In Tashkent he was a living legend – and along with Ibragimov, the only Uzbeks in the Uzbek team.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

There was going up in USSR too – with different accent from the British one. Shakhtyor (Donetzk) and Pakhtakor (Tashkent) finished first and second in the Second Division and were promoted to the first. Both clubs returned to top football after only a season – they were relegated in 1971. The return was a coppy of the relegation – Pakhtakor placed higher than Shakhtyor. Also, these clubs represented best a peculiarity of football: clubs in limbo – too strong for Second Division, yet too weak for First Division, constantly moving up and down, to the despair of their fans. It is not Soviet phenomenon at all – there were and are many clubs, almost in every country, inhabiting the gray zone. One almost wants a league between First and Second to be established specifically for them… which would not be solution really. However, Shakthyor were a club worth a note or two: they were the first Soviet club not from a capital city to win a trophy (if not counting the Cup won by Zenith Leningrad in 1944 – the ‘tournament’ appears suspiciously staged to serve political goals during the World War II). Shakhtyior won the Cup in 1961 and repeated the same in 1962. Historically, they belonged to First Division, but were also the smaller Ukrainian club to play there – always in the shadows of Dynamo (Kiev) and in the pyramidical Soviet universe – always to serve the needs of the top. That is, not so much to supply points to Dynamo, but to supply it with players. Second place had its own power too – Shakhtyor were to give players to Dynamo, but were to take players from other Ukrainian clubs (provided Dynamo did not fancy them), and thus to maintain… well, second position in Ukraine, which hardly amounted to much in Soviet football dominated by Moscow until 1960. With the powerful emerging of Southern and particularly Ukrainian football the decline of Shakhtyor by the end of the 1960s was somewhat unusual surpize – but they came back.

Shakhtyor, vintage 1972.Front, left to right: A. Konkov – captain, V. Belousov, O. Bazilevich – coach, V. Kashtey, Yu. Degtyarev.Second row: V. Tkachenko – masseur, V. Chanov, V. Onisko – assistant coach, L. Kozhanov – doctor.Third row: A. Vasin, L. Klyuchik, V. Salkov – director of the team, V. Safonov.Top row: G. Denisenko, V. Yaremcnehko, Yu. Dudinsky, Yu. Gubich. An interesting squad – not really great, yet there are people on this photo soon to make waves. Konkov was soon a national player. The reserve goalie V. Chanov also reached the national team – more than ten years after 1972. Degtyarev became respected goalkeeper, and I think also included in the national team – rarely, but included. Oleg Bazilevich should be the best known – as an assistant coach of great Dynamo (Kiev), working in tandem with Valery Lobanovsky. By 1975 Konkov was key player of same Dynamo… and later Chanov too. Shakhtyor continued to serve, but no more relegations for them – in fact, 1972 was a beginning of strong seasons and strong team.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Aston Villa were simply the opposite of sinkers:

Here they are – proud winners of… Third Division. What, Villa in Third? They were, as strangely as it may appear today.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Going up, going down in 1972… Huddersfield Town ended at the last 22nd place in England.
They went down never to return. Today it is not only unthinkable that Huddersfield Town may reach First Division – it is almost impossible to imagine that they have been members of the First Division.
Nottingham Forest finished just a place above Huddersfield – and sunk. Unlike Huddersfield they were not only to come back, but to become conqueres of the football world by the end of the 1970s. Hard to imagine in 1972, though…

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Further down the European scale – the true amateurs. Vejle BK won the championship of Denmark. Just like in 1971.

There is practically nothing to say about the squad. Not a single name speaks to me – if it does speak to anybody, let me know. The only intrigue seems to be the coach – the Hungarian Jozsef Szentgyorgyi. Was he a defector, like some East European coaches, or was he allowd to work abroad, as some East European coaches were? The mistery of time: rarely something was said in real time, East Europe was especially mumm on the subject. Today another attitude with similar result: former defectors are simply mentioned as working abroad. As if it was normal. Revisionism rules.