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.

Monday, November 2, 2009

P. Volov were surprise winners of the North Second Division – they never played in the First Division before and traditionally were not considered a likely candidate for promotion. Unlike Pernik, they had no noticeable players in the squad.

Panayot Volov (Shumen) proudly posing before their debute in the First Division. This is not an advertising on their jersyes, but the club’s name. The club is named after 19th Century revolutionary, but nobody used the official combination of first and last name – they were called simply ‘Volov’ and the abreaviated first name appeared only in print. Later the club was renamed Shumen – the name of the home town – and restored their original name in 2008 after some pressure from the fans. P. Volov, unlike Pernik, did not survived the trial of First Division football – they were unable to recruit decent squad. Only two players of the team are worth mentioning: young, rugged, fiary, and lethal defenseman Tzonyo Vasilev was the only impressive player Volov had. CSKA recruited him and he became the regular left full back of both CSKA and the national team during the 70s. Vasilev never played clean football and was somewhat a liability, for he often collected yellow and red cards, leading to suspencions. The other player is the goalie on the right – Kandilarov. It is not his skills worth mentioning, but freak statistical point: he was the only player of the above squad surviving to the next time Volov played in the First Division. In 1972 Kandilarov was young player, but he appeared only in few games, for he was severely suspended I don’t remember for what crime. Ten years the club, called Shumen and no longer playing in yellow and blue by then, reached promotion again – Kandilarov, a veteran by that time, was their regular keeper… and Shumen lasted only one season in the First Division, just like in 1972-73…