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.