Saturday, January 3, 2009

1970 did not look like a big change at first: accidental and expected winners at the time. From a distance it is different: a shirt to the north may be sniffed – Dutch invasion plus dominance of the British at the club scene. British clubs dominated Europe until mid-1980s and their success may be obscured the sharp decline of England’s national team. I was huge English fan back then, and no so now. British championship was and is the most attractive in the world to watch. Club football rarely disappoints me. The national team… I gave up in 1982 and after 1990 I actually prefer England not to emerge above qualification group for a major tournament. Boring! Germans are boring too, but unlike England, they win. However, the crisis plaguing England was unforeseeable in 1970. New football was not evident yet, old powers still held strong. But… the boat was rocking, however slightly: new clubs disturbed the establishment here and there. Cagliari won the Italian championship – for the first, and, so far, last time. Borussia (Moenchengladbach) won the West German title for the first time. Atletico (Madrid) was on top in Spain – the only club taking the laurels from Real (Madrid) in the 1960s (twice – in 1966 and 1970). USSR had new champion as well – CSCA (Moscow). They did not have a title since 1951! (And had to wait until 1991 for the next one). Just the previous year a second division club – Karpaty (Lvov) – won the Soviet Cup. It is the only occasion a second division club won the national cup in USSR and its successors Russia and Ukraine (Lvov is Ukrainian city after the collapse of USSR). Did those new champions signify something big? Hard to tell – most countries in Europe had their ‘usual’ champions. Atletico (Madrid) faded after 1973. CSCA (Moscow) sunk quickly and even was relegated to the second division. Cagliari also returned to its ‘normal’ lowly place in Italy. On the other hand, Karpaty went up – they won promotion in 1969 and stayed more or less steadily in the top Soviet division in the 1970s. Nothing remarkable, unless you are Karpaty fan – those were their best years. Borussia was much bigger story – one of the leading West German and European clubs during the 1970s. Their title in 1970 was only the beginning.
Well, were few new winners significant? After all, football is unpredictable – sometimes entirely unexpected club wins. That is what make football great, right? Novelty teams pop up once in awhile and disappear immediately without a trace. What is the big deal? I think the above novelties were signs of major changes, though. I will place those clubs against England: Everton was champion in 1970. England was (and no more, regretfully) unique – every year there was new champion. Many clubs had a good chance to win the championship and ever better chance not to repeat their success the next year. Exciting, unpredictable, highly competitive championship: the richest, most popular, and studded with national players and lesser stars club were not automatic favourites.

Continental Europe was rigidly predictable – few top clubs, most often just three or two, were always on top, by far better than the rest. They had the means to get any player of value too, thus perpetuating their domestic dominance. And national teams depended heavily on those few clubs – if the clubs had strong teams, the national squad benefited as well, since those clubs provided the backbone of the national team. Decline of the top clubs almost always meant decline of the national team. (There were some anomalies – good clubs and weak national team, or the opposite – but the rule of thumb was strong clubs make strong national side.) In this respect, surprise champions were more likely to show decline, rather than improvement.
Everton 1969-70:Back row : J. Barnett, G. West, A. Rankin. Middle Row :W. Dixon (trainer), J. Hurst, J. Royle, B. Labone, R. Kenyon, A. Brown, H. Kendall, Harry Catterick (manager).Front Row : A. Whittle, J. Morrissey, G. Humphries, J. Husband, T. Jackson, T. Wright, A, Ball, C. Harvey.Surely not a bad squad, yet, Everton’s previous title was in 1963, and their next – in 1985. However… Manchester City ended 10th and Arsenal – 12th in this season, but got European trophies. Four Everton players were selected in the national squad for the World Cup – Keith Newton, Thomas Wright, Brian Labone, and Alan Ball. Leeds United also had 4 players in Mexico’70. Manchester United – 3. Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspurs, and West Ham United – 2 each. Stoke City, Liverpool, and West Bromwich Albion – 1 each. Arsenal – 0! Neither the European winners, nor the English champion dominated the national squad. Even by mere names Everton were hardly ‘stronger’ than other English teams at that time.