Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Russians may serve for opening of 1972, however, the season already started months ago – in the fall of 1971, for most countries in Europe, and for various international competitions. But the hype of expectations and hopes is the same, no matter the actual time: the European Champions Cup begins. Whoa! ‘Whoa’? Really? The first round, the 1/16 finals, was never exciting – it used to be saner tournament, but still the pairing of big clubs at early stage was avoided. One of the most difficult tasks was to find ‘big’ games at the beginning… and here is what the journalists considered the toughest, hence, most exciting and difficult to predict, opposition in the beginning if 1971-72 European Champions Cup:
The only ‘tough’ pair, the article says, was Olympique Marseille (France) and Gornik Zabrze (Poland). Not exactly strong enough clubs, excepted from early clash; not outsiders either. Tough luck… yet, not so tough. Relatively equal teams, no favorite. Battle of the strikers: Josip Skoblar (left) and Wlodzimierz Lubanski (right) – stars in France and Poland, respectively, well known in Europe, but – just like French and Polish football in general – not the very top. Good clubs… having strong players and national players, and some success, but not heavyweights. The excitement of equality. The best an early stage of a tournament could offer was just that. Tough luck for either club…and nothing more. OM did eliminate the Poles, but they faced Ajax in the next round and expired.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

1972. To my mind, one of the most important years: total football got legitimacy. Ajax won their second European Champions Cup, West Germany were European Champions – both teams playing total football. No more ‘accidents’ – this was the football of the future, everyone to reckon with, and, hopefully, to follow. There were also Olympic games, bringing new winner – Poland. May be the Poles were underestimated in 72: just another team from Eastern Europe, winning their ‘own’ tournament. But this was the team which evolved into the great one which finished third in the World Cup 1974.
There were changes in South America as well. And, of course, much more… but the central issue for me is the recognition of total football.
Big fun 1972, yet, there was a personal tragedy – the drama of ¼ finals of the European Championship, opposing England to West Germany. One of the greatest fixtures I ever saw – the first leg in London. England lost. The penalty against my guys I was unable to watch and left… hoping Banks will save it. He did not. Great match, but I was supporting the losers… little I knew: England just started her long downfall. What difference! Great clubs, great domestic championship, and pathetic national team. Not yet in 1972, though.
A year of ups and downs, in a way. But let’s start this year. Lifting the curtain. For the football fan the beginning of the year is when the new championship season begins. After months of football depravation, finally the great moment arrives. The moment of renewed hope… if we were champions last season, let’s win again; if we sucked last year, this one we will be surely better. Let’s see the new boys in the team, the old great and not so great players, let’s see football. Again. Anew. And, correspondingly, the new season is opened grandly… speeches, suits, banners.

The opening of 1972 USSR Championship – the official paraphernalia, the parade, and the captains of the teams chosen to endure officialdom: R. Shneiderman (Dnepr Dnepropetrovsk, left) and V. Kaplichy (CSKA Moscow, right). They are about to lift up the national flag, the final ceremonial touch, after which the match may begin. By 1972 such ceremonies were becoming rare and I think even the Soviets eventually toned them down, if not abandoning them completely. The reason was simple one: such grand parades belonged to the past, when often tournaments were staged at one place, and most teams were present. Routine modern national championship begins in many cities simultaneously and the grandeur of parades is lost. Big ceremonies are reserved for international competitions such as the World Cup. Domestically, who cares – the fans want to see football, not raising of flags and endless speeches. I even doubt that today’s fans really crave the ‘first’ match of the season: various tournaments already are in progress on one hand; football never stops on TV, on the other. The magic is lost. It was largely lost in 1972, I may add, so this is a curious tribute to long gone days.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A problem here: I am trying to narrate year after year. But what is a football year? Seasons differ – traditionally, European football season is fall-spring. Thus, two years really. However, northern European countries play one year season – spring-fall. Same in South and North America and most of Asia and Africa. South America actually play fall-spring season, but in one year instead of two – because the seasons are the opposite of the European ones over there. It is confusing and difficult to follow at times, and chose to follow not the European football season, but the actual year. Which means some division: most European countries and the international club tournaments belong to the first half of the year, when I speak of them. The rest is either scattered through the whole year, or belongs to the end the actual year. Meantime new season is in progress in most of Europe, ending in the late spring of the next year. Confusing, I know. Vutzov’s retirement belong to 1971, but he quitted at the end of 1970-71 season. In the fall, when the new 1971-72 season started, he was no longer a player. In the same fall Soviet, Norvegian, Swedish, Finnish championships of 1971 ended – the rest of Europe was already ending the first half of 1971-72 season, their champions of 1972 were to be known in the late spring of 72, when the northern countries were not even at the middle of their 1972 season. And the rest of the world was in the same situation. Finally, major national team competition are scheduled for the summer and finals belong to one year alone – another reason to follow real years and not classic European seasons.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The greatest moment of 1971? Must be George Best stealing the ball from Gordon Banks and scoring in the match between England and Northern Ireland. Banks possesed the ball and was about to kick it ahead. Best figured out that he might be able to steal the ball in the moment when Banks tossed it in the air before kicking it. It was an old dream of Best and this time he decided give it try and it worked: he managed to chip the ball away before Banks reached it with his foot, run quickly after it, and kicked it in the empty net. Amazingly, the referee disallowed the goal and ruled a faul for England. Opinions differ ever since, but I am with Best: there was no interference, no obstruction, no faul, it was a clean goal. In the air, it was nobody’s ball, not Banks’s anymore. Best did not even touch Banks, no contact whatsoever – it was not against the rules to be in close proximity to the goalie. To his death, Best maintained he was robbed from this goal. Banks is a bit obscure: ‘on this one, I am with the referee’, was his repeated comment, but quite in jest, not entirely seriously – after all, a goalie is not going to say that the goal he allowed was righful goal. Especially when the goalkeeper looked like a fool. Yet, there is serious opinion that Best scored against the rules. This action was so unique – and hardly ever reapeted – that either the rules did forsee it at all, or the referee was entirely confused what to do and took the safest action. Personally, I think the goal was to be allowed.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Another, much more important page was closed in 1971 – Lev Yashin officially retired. In a very rare, if not entirely unique, gesture the Soviets permitted thorough tribute: the match between Dynamo (Moscow) and the Rest of the World Stars. 100 000 fans went to the stadium. Born in 1929, Yashin debuted in 1950, but his first season was 1949 (he did not play a single game in 1949). At that early years Yashin also played ice-hockey – a goalie, although with his 180 cm height he was too tall for hockey net. Not bad hockey player either – he won the Soviet Cup with Dynamo in 1953. As a footballer success was much bigger: 5 times champion of USSR, 3 times Cup holder. With the national team he won the Summer Olympics 1956 and European Championship 1960. He played 3 World Cup Finals – 1958, 1962, and 1966. He was in the 1970 Soviet selection at the World Cup finals, but in rather strange role – listed as a third goalkeeper, he was really assistant coach and did not play. He was voted European Footballer of the Year in 1963. After 326 official games for Dynamo and 74 for the national team, Yashin called it a day at 42 years of age. Pele, Eusebio, and Beckenbauer, along with lesser international stars, went to Moscow to pay their respects. The man more than deserved it – it is still considered the best goalkeeper of all time.
Soviets were very strict with their players, right? Iron regime and clean image. Yashin (allegedly) saved more than 150 penalty kicks during his career. When he was asked what was his secret, he answered "to have a smoke to calm your nerves, then toss back a strong drink to tone your muscles." This revelation came late, though – when he was in the World XI, to play against England in the 1963 FA Centenary match (one of his best ever), Yashin was shocked to see the Spanish players casually ordering glasses of wine with their lunch. He timidly asked Ferenc Puskas about this open breach of sporting discipline – the former Hungarian merely shrugged: what was the big deal? It was normal in the proffesional world – a glass of wine was not going to ruin a player. Yashin’s habbits were kept secret in USSR – actually, he got special individual permission to smoke and drink in the dressing room only he got quite old.

Monday, May 18, 2009

To end the year it is may be best to mention those who stepped down. New players emerged; old horses went into retirement. Every year is like that in football, but in the early 1970s benefits were still rare – only massive world stars got final match against ‘the rest of the world’. Not everybody among the top players either. Largely, the procedure was simple: before a regular championship game the veteran comes out on the pitch, few words are said, flowers are given to him, he runs around the field, waving at the fans, who cheer him, he is honored to start symbolically the match with one fake opening kick, and that’s all. Because of simplicity of low-keyed procedures I am not choosing high-profiled player here, but rather one of the many not so great. One of the typical cases.

Ivan Vutzov retiring in 1971.
Vutzov, born 1939, started his football in his hometown, Gabrovo, playing for the local club – Yantra. He moved to Botev (Plovdiv) – this was his military service: recruited in army-sponsonred club. In 1960 he went to Levski (Sofia) and played with blue shirt 213 matches, scoring 4 goals. He was playing central defense, so the number of goals is rather normal. Twice Bulgarian champion with Levski – 1965 and 1968. A national player and member of the national squad in World Cup 1966. In England he got international recognition: he managed to score twice in his own net. The second goal was wrongly listed under the name of another player, but it was Vutzov’s achievement. He moved to Akademik (Sofia) in 1968 – I think his transfer was related to the forced mergers, when extra players from Sofia clubs were transferred to Akademik, but I may be wrong: Vutzov was getting old and Levski no longer needed him. He played the next 3 seasons with Akademik’s shirt (above) and retired as player of that club, but he is largely considered Levksi player by football historians. Hardly a star, though… Levski, historically, has a large list of stars and Vutzov ranks lowly. In the same time he is traditionally considered part of Levski’s history, thus disqualified as Akademik’s legend.
In real time – it is hard to say. He played for Levski when the club had its best ever players, all strikers, which made it difficult for a defensemen to be noticed. But I don’t remember the fans were enchanted with Vutzov – other defense players were much better liked, commented, and remembered. Not exactly ‘also run’, but not a star either, Vutzov. Somewhat controversial too – a national player, with ill fame because of England 1966; often photographed among the stars of Levski; a key player for many years; yet hardly remembered for great moments on the pitch.

He became a coach after quitting playing – long, but also controversial career: never thought a genius and more often criticized, if not dismissed out of hand, he is related to some remarkable successes: the elimination of Ajax by Levski in the second half of the 70s; the highest place Spartak (Varna) ever achieved in the Bulgarian championship – third place in the early 80s; and he coached the Bulgarian national team at the World Cup qualifications and finals in 1986. Bulgaria reached 1/8 in 1986 World Cup, but it was hardly Vutzov’s coaching – it was the championship formula. The team performed poorly, so Vutzov was blamed – and rightly so – for lack of competence. During the 1990s he moved into highest echelons of the Bulgarian Football Federation, where he manipulated everything and everybody. Never really loved, he was really hated in the 1990s – nicknamed the ‘Grey Cardinal of Bulgarian football’. He was eventually removed, but still operates from the shadows. No matter that – he retired from playing in 1971, was briefly celebrated… just like most veterans were and are celebrated. The typical story of yesteryear heroes, having their brief moment of recognition, and immediately forgotten by the fans. Fans largely prefer actual players and heroes… it is a bit sad to see someone stepping down. But football is not forever. A page closed.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

ZSK Spartak went up. The second team of Varna, Bulgaria, won promotion by ending first in the Northern Second Division. Unlike Rome, Varna has glorious football past – three clubs won Bulgarian championships and Varna, not Sofia, was the leading football power of Bulgaria. But that was before 1944… after Communists came to power Sofia became the football centre of the country. Most likely Sofia clubs were going to dominate Bulgarian football even without Communist government, but Communism helped: it promoted the clubs from the capital. Old clubs were dissolved quickly – the three strong clubs from Varna disappeared. Eventually Cherno more and Spartak were established, both clubs taking over the history of the old clubs. Thus, Cherno more is considered inheritor of Ticha and Vladislav, having three Bulgarian titles between themselves and merged together in 1945. Spartak took over the history of Shipchenksi sokol, which was champion once. It is hard to say how much, if at all, the old clubs evolved into new ones. Cherno more became a military club, attached to the Navy, and thus into the sphere of CSKA (Sofia). They played mostly in the first division and with relative success. In Varna, they were the ‘big’ club. Spartak was modest club, less supported, and most likely to play in the second division. By the end of 1960s they moved constantly up and down – one year in first division, relegated to the second the next season, winning promotion once again, somewhat too strong for the second division and too weak to survive in the first.
In the early 1969 Spartak was one of the clubs ‘amalgamated’ by government decree – they were merged with lowly Lokomotiv (Varna), thus becoming ZSK Spartak. It was a merger of little import and hardly anybody paid attention – Spartak had few fans; Lokomotiv – most likely none. Neither club was worth mentioning. Perhaps because of that this was one of the longest lasting mergers of 1969 – it was dissolved in the earl1980s. However, 1969 created new constellation of satellites – until than only CSKA had a network of helping affiliates: the army clubs. Cherno more in Varna. The merger of Levski with Spartak, belonging to the Police, created another network – Police clubs became donors of Levski-Spartak. ZSK Spartak in Varna. It is hard to say for certain how much of ZSK Spartak belonged to the Police and how much to the Railroads (Lokomotiv was railway’s club and this remained after the merger), but clubs with the name ‘Spartak’ became related to Levski-Spartak. Players moved from the ‘mother’ club to the ‘satellite’ and from the ‘satellite’ to the ‘mother’. Hardly helpful for the ‘satellites’ and hardly helpful to football and fair game: in the case of Varna, her clubs played insignificant small role in the championship. But in 1971 ZSK Spartak went up one more time – in terms of the club, a success.
Here they are: front, left to right: R. Nyagulov, H. Mesropov, Iv. Tanev, D. Dyakov, M. Bonchev, P. Gochev, D. Angelov – captain.
Top: Iv. Filipov- assistant coach, D. Donchev, St. Staykov, P. Dimitrov, B. Kotzev, Al. Goncharov, Iv. Kolev, Y. Borisov, N. Dimitrov, D. Berov, P. Kalchev, St. Semov-coach

Well, nothing much in this squad. Some Spartak legends (Mesropov, Angelov, Goncharov, Kalchev) with some status in Varna’s football history. But two players soon to move to Sofia and Levski-Spartak – Stefan Staykov and Metody Bonchev. Satellite system already at work – both came from the ‘mother’ club. Bonchev played for Levski before the merger of 1969 and Staykov came from Spartak (Sofia) youth system. Not needed in the new Levski-Spartak ,they moved or were given to ZSK Spartak. Both played well in Varna and were recalled back to Sofia. Bonchev, a mediocre player, never made much of an impression and didn’t last in Levski-Spartak. Staykov was another story – he established himself as first goalkeeper and was invited to the national team. He played for Bulgaria in the 1974 World Cup. He became a star of a kind – but in Levski-Spartak, not in the small ZSK Spartak. Yet, he was noticed as a big promise when playing in Varna. And that is all to say about this team.
I have soft spot for small clubs. I like them going up. They deserve mentioning now and then. After all, that’s football – surprises, ups and downs. Lazio relegated, ZSK Spartak promoted. Who is ‘big’ and who is ‘small’? Staykov, Chinaglia, and Wilson played in the World Cup 1974.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Champions, award winners, stars, superstars… the glory of the top end of football. Which is not the whole football – most of football is actually well under the flashy top. The world of the losers… and the world of change too. Some went down, others went up in the vast universe of smaller clubs, secondary championships, lower divisions, etc. Going down… Lazio was relegated in 1971. Lazio?! Well, Lazio were rather small club at that time. The football roads did not lead to Rome yet – Rome was insignificant, and Lazio was even less significant, usually struggling to survive in the first division, if there at all.

Lazio going down… nothing to suggest that Giorgio Chinaglia and Wilson will be Italian champions and national players. Nothing to suggest that Lazio will be big name, causing troubles with its Fascist inclinations and followers… Nothing to suggest that Rome will have big derby and big clubs… But fate is strange: Mazzola II captained the sinking team. This is Ferruccio – the younger brother of the superstar Sandro, and the second son of the great Italian legend Valentino Mazzola. It was still common in Europe to mark relatives by Roman numbers instead of first names, but what a faith: in 1971 one brother was champion and the other – relegated to the second division. Ferruccio soon moved to Fiorentina, but nothing helped: justly or not, he was not a star, always in the shadows of his father and his elder brother. At least Ferruccio got a title to his name: he returned to Lazio for his last top division season, when Lazio won the Italian championship. He played one game this season, so is a champion by default. Football fate is strange: in 1971 Lazio went down.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Josip Skoblar won the Golden Boot or Shoe trophy in 1971. The youngest and the most ill-fated European award was established in 1967 by the magazine France Football. It was award for the European top goal scorer in the season – all championships were treated equally. True, it was not the same to score goals in the Albanian and the Italian first divisions, but those were still innocent romantic days. The first winners were at least well known strikers and goal scoring geniuses: Eusebio, Petar Zhekov, and Gerd Muller. By mid-1970s Cypriots and others from lower leagues got the upper hand and the Romanians discovered that they can arrange a winner: just allow a guy to score 15 goals in 3-4 matches at the end of the season and he will top everybody else by a goal or two… which eventually killed the award. The new version is organized differently and championships are no longer considered equal. Anyway, in 1971 it was still fair competition. Skoblar scored 44 goals in the French First Division for Olympique Marseille, a record so far. Another French-based player, Salif Keita followed closely.

Josip Skoblar is a legend of Olympique Marseille today, yet he was hardly a mega-star. Born 1941 in Yugoslavia, he is a Croat, which today is a mild statistical problem: where to place him? He played 32 matches and scored 11 goals for Yugoslavian national team between 1961-67. He played in the 1962 World Cup. Yet, Yugoslavia always had much more famous players. By 2008 Croatia has bigger legends as well… Skoblar hardly played for a Croat club – he had one early season for lowly NK Zadar (1958-59) and moved to OFK Beograd, where he stayed from 1959 to 1966. Interestingly, he did not join one of the big Yugoslavian clubs – neither Serbian, nor Croat – but the smaller Belgrade club OFK Beograd. Generally, a mid-table club, always in the shadows of Partizan and Crvena zvezda. Then he went to Olympique Marseille – in 1966. Played 15 matches and scored 13 goals, but somewhat did not impress and was transferred to West German club – Hannover 96. Again not a big name. In 1969 moved back to Marseille – the Germans were reluctant to let him go, but eventually did, and finally Skoblar became known. His best years were in Marseille, where he played until 1975, collecting impressive total of 169 games in which he scored 138 goals. Getting long in the tooth, he returned to Yugoslavia and joined again small club – the Croat based NK Rijeka. He played for them from 1975 until his retirement in 1977. But he is well remembered in Marseille and is voted in the all-time 11 of the club. Mind, people like Jairzinho, Alen Boksic, and Rudi Voller (to name just a tiny few) graced Marseille’s squad – and they are not legends, but Skoblar is. He scored and scored, and scored. Recognized as a great player in France, he made modest impression to larger European mind: noticed as a great goal scorer, but hardly at the level of Cruiffs and Mullers, and other giants. Nevertheless, nobody disputes his marksmanship.
The last curiosity about Skoblar is his original transfer to West European club: Yugoslavia always exported players, but there was a rule – a player to be minimum 29 years old and no longer needed for the national team. It was kind of reward for ‘old horses’ - after giving glory to Yugoslavia, to spend their late years making money in the West. But Skoblar was 25 years old when he joined Olympique Marseille in 1966… no longer needed for the national team, obviously, yet too young. Why the ‘iron rule’ was not applied I have no idea. Was it the first time the rule was ‘twisted’ a bit, I don’t know either. I suspect, the reason was that Skoblar was not huge Yugoslavian star and quietly allowed to go abroad. I may be wrong, of coarse, but Yugoslavians abandoned the 29-years-old rule after 1975 and carefully at that.
Well, if nothing else, Skoblar deserved his Golden Shoe in 1971. He scored his goals fairly and his total of 44 in the season is a number unlikely to be bettered.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

And yearly individual awards. Every country has them, so this is only a sample – the best goalkeeper for 1971 was Evgeny Rudakov, Dinamo (Kiev) and the National team. It was his second award so far. The award was established in 1960 by the weekly magazine ‘Ogonyok’ – Lev Yashin won it three times, but he hardly dominated the Soviet football: Kavazashvili and Bannikov won the prize twice, and Rudakov just added a second one to his name. Unlike Yashin, the competition was still playing.
So… who is the best goalkeeper of the world? Yashin? Not in USSR, judging by the list: he won the prize in 1960, 1963, and 1966. Still leading in 1971, but Rudakov had many years more to play. And Rinat Dasaev was only a kid… Awards are misleading… or aren’t they?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Soviets were running a separate championship for ‘reserve teams’ for years. Actually, many countries practiced the same , and these ‘lesser’ championships attracted solid interest and attendance. Nobody remembers such championships today, but there was good reason for them: rarely playing reserves, promising juniors, titular players recovering from injuries played in the ‘second team’. It was good system to my mind – these tournaments paralleled to schedules of the first teams, usually games played just before the first team match. Often well performing players in the second team were directly included in the selection of the first team, thus, some players had to play two games in the same day. The second teams were middle ground with its own atmosphere and fun: it was not uncommon crowds watching the reserves to be bigger than those watching the first teams – recovering from injury star combined with raising young talent was the bait.

Dinamo (Moscow) won the Second Teams Championship of USSR in 1971:
Front, left to right: S. Nikulin, A. Yakubik, A. Piskunov, G. Arkhipov, N. Antonevich, S. Kamensky.
Top: V. Ilin – coach, V. Balyasnikov, S. Chernov, V. Komarov, V. Utkin, A. Petrushin, A. Mosin, A. Golodetz – assistant coach.

A typical ‘second team” – some players reached the national team, some sunk to oblivion. Some already known names and some promises… Few of this team played at the Cup Winners Cup final a year later.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Ararat (Erevan) finished second in 1971 – the biggest and generally unexpected success of Armenian club so far. A novelty? It turned out to be just the beginning of the best years ever for Armenian football. It was another sign of the shifting centre of power in USSR from North to South. In the same time Soviet football was plummeting into decade long crisis… the national team was full of Southern-based players and losing.

Top, left to right: E. Grigoryan – director of the team, N. Glebov – coach, O. Zanazanyan, S. Kapidi – doctor, N. Kazaryan, N. Kolpakyan – masseur, F. Abramyan, S. Israelyan – administrator, L. Ovsepyan, A. Kegyan – assistant coach, A. Kovalenko, A. Sirakanyan – assistant coach.
Front: E. Markarov, R. Avanesyan, A. Abramyan, S. Bonaderenko, N. Mesropyan, A. Andriasyan, L. Ishtoyan. Soviet teams present an interesting question, which emerged after 1990: foreign players. Two Ukrainians and one Russian in Ararat’s squad (Bondarenko, Kovalenko, and Markarov). Similarly, Spartak featured two Georgians and Dinamo (Kiev) – an Armenian. In USSR they were all domestic Soviet citizens. After 1990 – different countries claim some players as their ‘own’ legends. No matter what one thinks today, Soviet clubs often recruited players from ‘other’ republics of the Union. The closest Soviets came to import of players – a nightmare for contemporary football historian, but interesting topic for investigation nevertheless.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Cup was won by Spartak (Moscow). Somewhat curiously the winners of 1971 forecasted the future – Dinamo (Kiev) and Spartak (Moscow) dominated Soviet football from the late 1970s until the collapse of USSR. But football is ironic and full of twists: in the first half of the 1970s Dinamo was ascending and Spartak was rapidly declining, eventually ending in the Second Division. Neither of the above was obvious in 1971… winners both clubs.

Front, from left to right: M. Bulgakov, V. Papaev, V. Mirzoev, S. Olshansky, G. Logofet, G. Husainov, S. Osyanin, D. Silagadze.
Top: E. Lovchev, N. Kiselev, V. Kalinov, A. Isaev, V. Egorovich, A. Kavazashvili, N. Simonyan, N. Starostin.
Spartak were also in transition, but unlike Dinamo (Kiev) the new recruits were disastrous. Note Evgeny Lovchev – the first red-carded player at the World Cup finals (in 1970). And also Nikita Simonyan – the legendary player and now a coach, is to be one of the reasons for the glory days of Armenian football.