Saturday, January 31, 2009

Nikola Kotkov played for smaller club – Lokomotiv (Sofia), from 1956 to 1969, and most likely would have played there to the end of his career. An attacking midfielder, he was highly technical and inventive footballer, capable to beat the opposition alone. He played a total of 322 games, scoring 163 goals for Lokomotiv and Levski-Spartak. Ironically, the deadly accident tainted memories of Kotkov – when he moved to Levski-Spartak, he automatically was diminished in status: second after Gundy. After their death, the myth relates largely to Gundy, diminishing further Kotkov: it cannot be helped – Gundy was Levski. On the other hand, by moving to Levski, Kotkov was no longer equaling Lokomotiv. After all, he died with blue shirt, not red and black. It is not fair to the memory of either player – they were best friends and two of the best Bulgarian players ever. Yet, the time was not opportune – the merger alienated fans, and non-Levski players were suspect. Unlike the implants from Spartak, Kotkov was accepted – fans loved him before, when he was still playing for Lokomotiv. In 1970 he scored 4 goals against CSKA in 5-2 win – the first player of either team to score four goals in the derby. Yet, Kotkov was largely seen as a victim – fans sympathized with his refusal to play for artificially made club. But he did not join Levski because he wanted to play for the Blues; he came too old; and he played for Levski only two years. It was even felt that former Lokomotiv fans, now joining the ranks of Levski fans, did not really support Levski, but mostly protested the disappearance of their club and cheered only Kotkov, not the team. And finally – on national stage Gundy and Kotkov were great players, but Levski had many stars already and the debate who was the best Blue player ever revolved around Asparukhov and Georgy Sokolov, another great home grown legend, forced into retirement by the merger with the Police club. Unfortunately, Kotkov did not play long enough for Levski to become true legend. In the eyes of Levski fans, he was Lokomotiv legend – loveable, but foreign. For Lokomotiv fans – Kotkov was theirs, yet with a little grudge for moving to Levski
One of the many goals Kotkov scored with the red and black stripes of Lokomotiv.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Another memory of 1971 is tragic – the death of Georgy Asparukhov and Nikola Kotkov. Asparukhov – Gundy and Kotkov – the Kitten or the Tom-cat (the nickname comes from his family name, adoration in this case) were two of the best Bulgarian players in the 1960s. Gundy is still voted Bulgarian all-time best player, ahead of Hristo Stoichkov. Such classifications are always suspect and hotly debated, but one thing is not debated – both are the most loved players. Both were gentlemen players, elegant, never rough, accessible to fans. Kotkov (b. 1938 – d.1971) was Bulgarian player of the year in 1964. Asparukhov (b. 1943 – d. 1971) was Bulgarian player of the year in 1965. They played together in the national team and were close friends – something rare, for they played for different clubs until 1969. On June 30th 1971 they were going to play a friendly in the northern city of Vratza, with Asparukhov’s car. Gundy was driving. In the difficult mountain pass Vitinya the car run into truck carrying gasoline. The cistern exploded and in few minutes the players were dead.
The remains of the burnt Alfa Romeo.
It was not simple accident – it is still debated, and there are speculations that the accident was staged. No proof for that, but the story is dark even without conspiracy. Both players were unpleasant to the Communist government: they were too much loved by fans, and Asparukhov was the closest possible in Communist country to superstardom. Foreign clubs wanted him and the famous coach of Milan, Nereo Rocco, said ‘Asparukhov is my dream of centre-forward.’ Eusebio went to his grave to pay respect when visiting Sofia with Benfica later in 1971. Kotkov had huge fan base too. People, who hated the clubs Gundy and Kitten played for, loved the players. Asparukhov came to football late – almost 15 years old. He played volleyball before invited to join the junior team of Levski (Sofia). In the Bulgarian great divide, Levski is the ‘people’s club’, opposed to the ‘state team’ – the army club CSKA (Sofia). Unlike CSKA, Levski depended largely on players coming from their own junior team. But those players were not immune to obligatory military service – thus, Gundy played two seasons for Botev (Plovdiv), an army club then and satellite of CSKA (to the displeasure of Botev’s fans, for the club is old and founded before Communist rule). Thus, Gundy played for two clubs – Botev and Levski – 247 games in total, scoring 150 goals.
Gundy attacking Milan’s net in 1967. He was particularly dangerous in the air, easily winning high balls and scoring with attractive headers.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The search for ‘new’ Pele. By 1971 it was topical – the King was getting old. If the mark is set high, there is problem: it is not forever, but what comes after the genius? Nothing satisfies – humans are mortal, and death in football comes early. The old player is remembered playing much better few years earlier – it is time to die, or if you don’t like the word – to quit. But you don’t want him to quit – you want him to play as you remember him playing once upon a time. Reason confronts passion. You wait – impatiently – for someone young and new, who will produce such a magic, you will forget old times. Then there is the media… the hype journalists make also confronts reason. Reason says Pele is only one; there are no two players entirely identical. But Pele was so high above everybody else, that the expectations for replacement are… hopeless. To have a younger copy is not good, yet, nothing less is good. Nostalgia tells you the opposite: nobody can be better than Pele. And if you are Brazilian – the torment may lead to insanity. By 1971 the search for new Pele was already frantic. It is still going on on and perhaps it is impossible to trace how many junior players were hailed as the ‘new’ Pele so far. So, welcome the White Pele – or Zico.
Flamengo 1971:
Standing, left to right: Ubirajara Alcantara, Aloisio, Fred, Reyes, Liminha, Paulo Henrique.
First row: Unnamed masseur, Rogerio, Samarone, Ze Eduardo, Zico, Rodrigues Neto.

The picture shows some discrepancies: Flamengo, the most popular Brazilian club, is the ‘poor man’ club. The fans tend to be from the ‘favela’, the slums, and, therefore, stereotypically, in mass imagination,black. The line up is suspiciously white, though. And Zico did not come from the slums. How much mythology is at play here? Garrincha, but not Pele, is associated with archetypical poverty – yet, both are black and coming from poverty. Yet, Garrincha was and is the ‘love of the people’, whether Pele is the King… recognized, respected, but not loved. Yet, neither Garincha, nor Pele played for Flamengo ( Garrincha, I think, did a little stunt with Fla shirt, but not in his best years). Yet, the search was for ‘new Pele’, not ‘new Garrincha’ (an interesting avenue to explore, but not now) – and the white and middle class Zico was one of the candidates. Not so strongly in 1971, but strong enough to stigmatize him somewhat. Zico was 18 years old in 1971 and played 15 games, scoring 2 goals, for the first team of Flamengo. And he was… dropped to the junior team for the next year. At 18 (or 17 years and 249 days old at the beginning of the tournament) Pele was World Champion in 1958. Pele added two more world titles to his bio, appearing in 4 World Cup championships in total. Zico was never champion of the world and his first World Cup was in 1978 – when he was 25. On the other hand, Zico was 33 years old when he played his last World Cup in 1986. Pele played for the last time in 1970 finals – 30 years old and, at least in Brazil, lamented as too old. Pele never went to play club football in Europe, but Zico did. Yet, for a kind of Pele, he went to unbecoming club – Udinese (Udine). Hardly a Pele… the King had to be declared ‘a national treasure’ by the Brazilian government in the 1960s to keep him in the country. If the state did not pay Santos this way, the King would have been snatched by the likes of Real, Barcelona, Milan, or Inter. Udinese did not come close, even by a stretch of imagination, to these clubs. Sure, the King disappointed during the 1966 World Cup, but it was collective disappointment of the whole team Brazil… the King was injured early, and, being the King, blame washed away quickly. As for Zico – he had his lame 1978 World Cup, but no matter how well he played in 1982 and 1986, Brazil did not win another World title. A pale shadow… of which the King himself said that Zico was the only player coming close to him. The White Pele. Unlucky star? Not negative must be white.) Most likely the impossibility of satisfying unreasonable expectations – ‘new Pele’, what the hell is that? A player called Leivinha was also among the endless ‘new Peles’ and he played for Brazil in 1974 World Cup – four years before Zico. Now, who remembers Leivinha? Or may be one should remember him: after all, Pele never won Brazilian championship and Zico did it in 1980 for the first time. Leivinha was Brazilian champion twice with Palmeiras by 1974, and unlike the King and the Negative, he went to play for Atletico Madrid for five years (1974-1979), not for Italian ‘also run’ club or the ‘pensioners’ US league. Football is funny in a way, but in 1971 Zico, one of the brightest players of the 1970s debuted. The closest to Pele. In England, 1971 was the year Trevor Francis was noticed. Not the same expectations as in Brazil – Francis was hope for change, not hope for duplicating insanely high level. The World champions of 1966 were getting old, and youngsters were just the hope of replacing aging stars with new ones. Hence, England was ensured to stay a world football power and may be a champion again. Nobody tried to match 16 years old Trevor Francis to Bobby Charlton (in terms of stardom and high standards, that is, for Francis was centre forward, not playmaker. Then, Zico, a midfielder, was expected to be Pele, an attacker. Go figure.) And England been England in 1971… Francis, unlike Zico, was not a member of top club.
Second from left on the second row in the 1971-72 squad. Similarly to Flamengo above, Birmingham hardly featured any recognizable names that year. England been England in 1971… Birmingham City perhaps up and coming? Alas, no. Francis or no Francis, a mediocre team at best. Yet, Francis was in the first squad already in 1970 – he played his first game in 1971, barely 17 years old. One year younger than Zico. By 1974 he was a national player – not like ‘only promising’ until 1978 Zico. Different football cultures? Different pool of talent? Different expectations or desperations? Yes and no… The fact is, Trevor Francis (although with much shorter hair by then) was one of the great stars of the late 1970s. Like Zico. Like Zico, Francis won exactly nothing with the national team. And nobody would have said in 1971 that Zico and Trevor Francis will play in the same national championship. They did… between 1983 and 1985 both played in Italy: Francis for Sampdoria (Genoa), and Zico for Udinese (Udine). Well, nobody ever called Francis ‘the new Pele’, but in Italy he played for bigger club and longer than Zico. Well… was Trevor Francis a great player? Were Francis and Zico really great, or were they just inflated? Or were they cursed to live so close to legends? Close enough to suffer from unconsciously biased judgment? I love Zico from the 1980s. The one of 1978 did not impress me at all. I hoped highly for Trevor Francis in the early 1970s (must have been the long hair), but he was boring to me in 1980. Where is the truth? What is the truth to a football nut? In a nutshell, Zico and Francis combined do not come remotely close to the joy of watching Cruiff. Yet, both are related mostly to the 1970s, giants of the 1970s. And they started in 1971.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

We have the so-called ‘G-14’ at the present – the group of big European clubs, which formally and informally pressure UEFA about their various needs and interests. One of their desires is the setting of their own international league. The big clubs get more than press attention – the former European club tournaments were reorganized at least in part because of G-14 threats. The Champions League is something like a compromise: the big clubs have their places in it guaranteed and not at all in the shady preliminary stages. They play on that level where big money appear, and the whole tournament comes dangerously close to the idea of separate league of the rich and mighty. All this came out in the 1990s, right? And no matter how much UEFA accommodate G-14, they are still unhappy and threat to run away. Money is the bottom line and it is quiet simple – a match between Real Madrid and BATE Borisov (Belarus) does not bring revenue neither from gates, nor TV, nor sponsors. Real Madrid – Juventus does. Naturally, to the general public the story is presented differently – profits are secondary to the real issue: the quality of the game. And it is true that playing small clubs at shabby stadiums in obscure countries spells low quality and no fun. And both club officials and fans fret that a superstar costing millions may injure himself in Belarus just before the important match in Turin. Well, it is old story.
Which I think I heard of in 1971 for the first time. Back then it was even attractive idea – at least for a kid, who dreams to see big games opposing big clubs. In 1971 it sounded new, just like in the 1990s it sounded new to many fans. Yet, it was old idea in 1971 – recently I was leafing old magazines and there it was:
An article from 1959 criticizes the idea of establishing European Super-league discussed by the owners of big professional clubs and on a meeting of representatives of the British, French, and Italian professional leagues. Santiago Bernabeu, the famous president of Real Madrid voiced the opinion for ‘rebirth’ of the football game, or rather the transformation of it from mere sport into a spectacle. The article was published in short lived Bulgarian magazine -‘Football’ - but it is a reprint from ‘Sovetsky Sport’ (Soviet sport), a Moscow daily, which still exists unlike the political system which christened it. The text is the usual Communist vitriol, unmasking yet another Capitalist plot, and is not worthy translating it even for fun. One thing, however, rings true – it was all about money. Big clubs were not happy playing small ones. It was different reality in the late 1950s, but the fight for independent big-club league remains with same arguments for almost 50 years. And I think – sadly – that the big clubs will get eventually what they want. It is not an attractive idea to me – it will convert European football into variety of US sporting format: same clubs play between themselves endless and largely meaningless games. Actually, the Champions League is already similar to that. Small clubs and very likely many national championships will simply disappear. This is hardly the real question, though – this seems certain and only a matter of time.
The real question is who are the big clubs. What is the criteria for ‘a big club’? Revenue? Success on the pitch? The number of fans? Combination of the three? Or the reputation of a country in football terms? Some culprits are obvious: Real Madrid, Juventus Turin, Milan and Inter from Milan, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid – they have been active promoters of the idea since the 1950s. Successful, rich, popular. Italy, France, and England negotiated in 1959, but the basis here was and is shaky: well established professional championships, but no French club was really rich, popular, or successful. And today is the same. In the same time successful Italian and English clubs from the 1950s went down later and were replaced by others moving up. Germans would have been included certainly, but which German clubs exactly? Bayern were obscure club back then. There was no really strong German club. Benfica Lisbon certainly would have been invited in the 1960s, but they are hardly among the big guys today. Well, who else? Such a league has to be somewhat vaster, not only combining clubs of three or four countries.

Today the mystery is the same: take the G-14. Manchester United and Liverpool (England), Juventus, Milan, and Inter (Italy), Olympique Marseille and Paris Saint Germain (France), Bayern and Borussia Dortmund (Germany), Ajax and PSV Eindhoven (Holland), FC Porto (Portugal), Barcelona and Real Madrid (Spain) are the original 14 from 2000. In 2002 4 more clubs were added: Arsenal (England), Olympique Lyon (France), Bayer Leverkusen (Germany), and Valencia (Spain). In terms of tradition, support, success, and even budgets the selection is weird. What exactly ever won the French clubs? Or Bayer Leverkusen? The Dutch traditionally run tight budgets, no matter what – are they richer clubs than, say, Galatasaray Istanbul or Panathinaikos Athens? Is it possible to think Borussia Dortmund ‘big’ club today? Why not Schalke-04? Is PSV Eindhoven more popular than the absent here Feyenoord? Is it enough to have clubs from only seven countries if the continent has now well over 50 states, and in football terms – even more, for Israel and Kazakhstan are part of the European football map. What about Russian clubs? They have increasingly growing budgets in the last years and the tendency is to get even more money. But if you get the Russians, what about clubs with traditions and passionate support? Like Crvena zvezda (Red Star) Belgrade or Steaua Bucharest? Are Chelsea and Liverpool in the same financial league today? Some giants of the past may be fading, like Benfica, Anderlecht, St. Etienne, but are Lazio and Roma to be ignored? Then again, what exactly Lazio and Roma ever won? The questions run into complete circle, a dead end. No matter what, football fans are conservative bunch – it would not do to create new clubs and spread them evenly around Europe.
On the other hand, 18 clubs is classic football league format. Get those 18 of 2002 and it will be more than decent championship. May be.
In 1971 it looked more interesting than it is today – the revenue was still primarily from the gates. At least for the kid I was then, such a league was attractive. Imagine the thrill of Manchester United playing Real Madrid. Then! The thought of watching game after game between ManUnited and Real horrifies me in 2008. When this happens, don’t count on me paying any attention. Actually, I feel fans have been robbed after 1990 – and I am not alone in that: tournaments became boring business instead of fun and passion. The old news I recall as important moment of 1971 is tremendously sad news. Futile too.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

1971. Perhaps the biggest change was visual – long hairs. There were long haired players before, but not top level players and not that many. Haircuts were modest – even George Best looked like Beatles circa 1965 in 1970. In 1971 it was no longer so and quickly the new look became informative – exciting players were the longhaired ones, the new stars, playing free football. Shorthaired players were clearly boring, fading stars of yesteryear, representing the defensive, slow football of the 1960s. Soon not only long hairs were everywhere – even in Soviet Union – and by 1974 longhaired team was most likely to be the winning team. It is difficult to say why long hairs in football lagged behind long hairs in the other walks of life: after all, the ‘swinging 1960s’ established them. But football was conservative, clubs obviously restricted players’ impulses, and many of the stars from the 60s were not socially rebellious. The shift in football from South to North brought leniency or democracy, or combination of both: players in England, Holland, Germany grew their hairs first; Southern players not so. Club politics as well as larger politics, on state level, permitted or not the freedom of the players. Eastern European countries played state politics, but the story would be too long for narration here. Countries like USSR and Bulgaria often required their top level players to be ‘presentable’, but in the lower football divisions it was not so strict a requirement. Dictatorships in Greece and Spain also prohibited long hairs, but in other countries it was mostly restrictions on club level or simply the players remained old fashioned. Nevertheless, very soon it was evident that long haired teams and players were fun to watch. And add to that jerseys hanging loose, no longer tucked in shorts. And socks rolled down. Depending on the point of view, football was becoming either free, fun, and democratic, or rugged, undisciplined, and disrespectful. Yet, the new image was more than image – it was new football, winning football, wonderful to watch football, no matter who was grumbling against the look of the players. And it was infectious: even older stars grew long hairs. Long hair equaled quality.
Stoke City 1969-70
Looks equal quality? Well… two players born in 1951.
The wild features of Paul ‘Der Afro’ Breitner (in 1974): one of the biggest stars of the 1970s. World champion, European champion, German champion, Spanish champion, etc, etc.
Dusan Keketi was unusually clean cut for his time (the photo is from 1974 or 1975). Like Breitner, he was a big promise and part of the best Czechoslovakian club from the early 1970s – Spartak (Trnava). He was even in the first team of his club before the German was – debuted for Spartak in 1969; Breitner debuted for Bayern in 1970. But Keketi never made it to the top – there was always a better goalkeeper than him in Czechoslovakia. Of course, world fame never came. He remains in the shady category ‘unfulfilled promise’. Does haircut tell anything?

Monday, January 19, 2009

The best moment of 1970? Well, the year was rich and to select is difficult. But must be the amazing save Banks did at the World Cup against Pele. The fantastic save, which was reproduced in detail again and again.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Finally, at home – Bulgaria. Levski-Spartak made a double, winning both the championship and the cup. But I was with mixed feeling… it was my club and it was not. A year earlier, in the middle of the season, Bulgarian football was ‘reorganized’. Meaning, out of the blue few clubs, mostly from Sofia, were amalgamated. My Levski was merged with Spartak and a third division club – Sportist (Kremikovtzi, Sofia’s suburb). The new club was named Levski-Spartak. It was a heavy blow… Spartak were the Police club. Levski was traditionally the people’s club… The whole story is worth telling, but not now. Suffice to say that the merger alienated many old fans, including my father. They stopped going to the stadium and if watching the team at all, it was only on TV. I followed to some point – until I left the country in the late 1980s, I went to see no more than 20 live Levski’s matches.
Levski-Spartak, champions in 1970.
Second row, left to right: G. Kamensky, M. Gaydarsky, D. Zhechev, Al. Kostov, G. Asparukhov, R. Vitlacil (Czechoslovakia) – coach, Iv. Zdravkov, St. Peshev, R. Goranov.
First row: St. Aladzov, Tz. Vesselinov, Sl. Stoilov, P. Kirilov, B. Mikhailov, P. Panov, N. Kotkov, V. Mitkov, St. Pavlov, Y. Kirilov.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Individuals of 1970 were mixed bag, as probably they always are – some established stars playing strong, some getting old and fading, some new talent pushing ahead. Yet, there was change of guard – Gerd Muller was voted European Footballer of the Year. For the first time German player was recognized best in Europe. Muller also got the Golden Shoe (or Boot, depending on translation) – he was the top goalscorer in Europe with 38 goals. He had impressive World Cup and scored 10 goals at the finals. He was 25 years old.
Neither FIFA, nor South America awarded top players of the year yet. Still Pele was the King of the world football.

Still playing for Santos. But… the years of Muller were coming, not of Pele… already they were looking for new king in Brazil. The old one was 30 years of age.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Positive change appeared in West Germany, though. Professional unified national division was new in West Germany – Bundesliga was launched in 1963. (There was no professional Second Division until 1970s; professional Third Division starts this year – 2008 – for the first time. Germans are methodical and do not rush.) Neither Bayern (Munich), nor Borussia (Moenhengladbach) were considered top clubs and were not invited to the new league. They remained in the regional leagues, but both won promotion in 1964, along with bizarre club – Tasmania 1900 (West Berlin). The strange and politically motivated story will be told later, but because of it Bundesliga was increased from 16 to 18 teams – the format it has to this very day. The newcomers showed their teeth in 1968-69 – Bayern won their first title (in terms of Bundesliga, not counting the preceding years) and Borussia finished third. Next season Bayern finished second and Borussia were first time champions.Second row: Hennes Weisweiler (coach), Netzer, Meyer, Kracke, Wimmer, Spinnler, Volker Danner, Ludwig Muller, Kleff, Wittmann, Schlott (assistant coach)

First row: Zimmermann, Laumen, Le Fevre (Denmark), Sieloff, Schaefer, Dietrich, Kaiser, Koeppel.

These were up and coming people – future European and World Champions, national players of smaller caliber, a coach which will be considered one of the best in the world during the 1970s. Berti Fogts is missing in the photo, but he was in the team anyway. The elegant Dane Ulrik Le Fevre played at the left wing, and probably was underrated even in 1970 – under Danish rules no professional was permitted to play for the national team, and Le Fevre played his last game for Denmark in 1969, before joining Borussia. Next year Borussia were champions again – this time with Jupp Heynckes and Rainer Bonhof in the squad as well. Unlike other ‘new’ champions, Borussia did not lose top players, but increased them. It was also young team, its best years still to come. The core of stars were already making their way into the West German national team and Fogts, Heynckes, Wimmer, Bonhof, Kleff soon became European and World champions. As for Gunther Netzer – he was just the superstar. He did not play much for the national team, largely because of constant disagreements with Helmut Schoen, but was regarded as ‘world class’ player nevertheless – on the same level as Beckenbauer. No wonder he was the first foreign player Real (Madrid) bought when Spain lifted the ban on imported footballers in 1973. Borussia quickly became one of the best teams in the 1970s both in West Germany and Europe. The players were among the biggest stars of the decade, and the rise of Borussia went along with the great years of the national team – West German football on every level was becoming high class, and at least until 1975 – promoter of the ‘total football’. In the second half of the decade the Bundesliga became the top championship in Europe, the dream for a footballer. Even Kevin Keegan went to play in West Germany. The new German champion of 1970 was a sign of positive change, unlike the rest of the ‘new’ champions.
And… look again at Everton. Changes are changes, but something remained – clubs remained ‘traditional’ in structuring the squads: few stars, one or two classy foreigners, and the rest – sturdy professionals. Every team above follows this formula.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Lastly, Italy. Cagliari won its only title in 1970. The club from Sardinia was known as ‘the prison’ among football players – living on rural and backward island was not exactly fun, and players were not eager to join Cagliari. A rather mediocre club, far behind the Italian giants Milan, Inter, Juventus. Far behind other Italian clubs of solid strength like Torino, Bologna, Fiorentina (in the 1960s, I mean). A club traditionally concerned mainly with avoiding relegation. Champions? Now, this was a surprise.
Second row, left to right: Vigano (masseur), Nene (Brazil), Albertosi, Niccolai, Domenghini, Tomasini, Poli, Nastasio, Riva, Duri (masseur).
First row: Zignoli, Martiradonna, Mancin, Cera, Gori, Brugnera, Greatti, Reginato.

Five players of this team went to Mexico’70: Enrico Albertosi, Pierluigi Cera, Comunardo Niccolai, Luigi Riva, Angelo Domenghini, and Sergio Gori. If the central defenseman Niccolai was disputable player – he was mostly reliable, but in the habit of making one fatal mistake per match, and even his Cagliari coach Manlio Scorpigno was more than reserved: ‘I expect everything from life, but not Niccolai playing for the Azzuri’ – the rest were not so. Cera and Gori were classy players, but Domenghini and Albertosi were stars. As for Gigi Riva – he was a superstar. Not for nothing fans nicknamed him ‘Rombo di Tuono’ (the Thunder). Albertosi was considered better keeper than his great rival Dino Zoff. Domenghini did not need much introduction either. And finally – Nene. Olinho Claudio de Carvalho is hardly known today. He transferred from Santos to Juventus in 1963 and the next year moved to Cagliari. There he played to the end of his career in 1976, and is the player with most appearances in Serie A for Cagliari – 311. A good attacker, he was somewhat overlooked: never a Brazilian national player and moving to Italy too young, he is hardly known in Brazil. Italy had the most famous stars during the 1960s – Nene was always behind the likes of Riva, Rivera, Mazzola, Sivori, Altafini, and so on. Because he was already playing in Italy, the ban on imported players, imposed in 1966 by the Italian Federation did not affect him and by the end of the 1960s he was among handful of foreign veterans playing for Italian clubs. Nene was good, but Gigi Riva was great… it is somewhat strange that the biggest Italian stars were attackers: the 1960s were the years of the ultra-defensive ‘catenaccio’ system. The Italian stars were either inflated, or… were really great: after all, to beat alone a wall of ten murderers and score a goal needs enormous skill and courage. No matter how good Cagliari were in 1969-70, they never repeated this season, thus, suggesting accidental victory. In a long run, ‘catenaccio’ stagnated Italian football – it was one thing to play against European clubs, but entirely different when facing same tactic week after week in Italy. Most games ending 0-0, even top teams relied mostly on few odd victories to stay on top. Perhaps the ban on foreign players had negative role too – by 1970 there were signs of decline. The stars were getting on years, but no new exciting players were coming. Italian clubs gradually lost their dominance in Europe. To a point, Cagliari’s title was similar to Atletico’s title – not that much great team, but weak opposition. Italy entered terrible years and almost to the end of the 1970s struggled.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Now, was Atletico (Madrid) a surprise in 1970? Traditionally, they are one of the big three of Spanish football, alas, the least successful one. Not for nothing Los Conchoneros (The Mattress Makers) are also known as El Pupas (The Jinxed) and The Sufferers: always in the shadows of Real and Barcelona; always near the top, but not quite on it. The 1960s were good years in view of Atletico’s tradition: the only club to break Real’s dominance – champions in 1966, and now – champions again. However great the year for suffering fans, there was taint as well – Spanish football was already in decline. Spain did not qualify for the World Cup finals. No Spanish club won European tournament since 1966. Spanish players rarely, if at all, appeared among best European footballers. Barcelona was seemingly out of sorts since 1960 and after 1966 Real was going steadily downhill. Certainly Real of 1969-70 was far away from the team of Di Stefano, Koppa, Puskas and the rest of the glory years. Foreign players were banned since 1962 – this hardly helped, although the very reason for the ban was declining quality of home-grown players. Spain was no longer football superpower. And as much as it was refreshing to see different champion, the change was not optimistic – it was not great Atletico, but rather weak Real and Barcelona. Crisis on club level and crisis on national team level.Yes, in terms of the late 1960s Spain and in terms of club legends, Atletico had some good feet – but how good? Who remembers then today? Except for Luis Aragones…

Aragones posing with jinxed shirt and in action. Now… do we remember the player, or we know the coach leading Spain to the European title in 2008?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Enter Karpaty (Lvov). Holding the Soviet Cup in 1969 and winning the Second Division the same year .
Unfortunately, I have no names for this photo, but these are the players winning the cup: B. Turlak, M. Lupol, I. Gereg,
R. Potochnyak, V. Sirov, P. Danilchuk, Yu. Bondarenko, M. Sarabin, I. Kulchitzky, L. Brovarsky, V. Bulgakov, R. Pokora,
V. Danilyuk, Ya. Gabovda, G. Lihachov, Yu. Basalik, B. Greshak. Coach – E. Yust.

Not a single famous name, as befitting second division nobodies. But during 1960s a shift started in Soviet football from north to south, from Moscow to Ukraine. No longer Moscow clubs ruled – Dinamo (Kiev) was establishing itself as the Soviet powerhouse. But it was not only Dinamo – Shakhter (Donetzk), Zarya (Lugansk), Chernomoretz (Odessa), the new boys Karpaty established themselves in the First Division, followed by Dnepr (Dnepropetrovsk) and Metalist (Harkov). Add to them another two successful Southern clubs in the 1970s: Ararat (Erevan, today Armenia) and Dinamo (Tbillisi, today Georgia). It was a major shift – Moscow clubs not only declined, but faced even relegation – Spartak (Moscow) and CSCA (Moscow) eventually enjoyed Second Division football. In the same time the 70s were perhaps the worst decade of the Soviet national team – Soviet football was in a crisis, recognized eventually. Yet, how to measure? Soviet clubs achieved their first European successes during 1970s. Ukrainian players became the backbone of the national team, which missed two World Cups and two European Championships.

Here is a version of the Soviet squad for Mexico 1970:

First row, left to right: Victor Serebryannikov, Mikhail Gershkovich, Yevgeny Lovchev, Givi Nodia, Revaz Dzodzuashvili, Anatoly Puzach, Nikolay Kislov, Anzor Kavazashvili.

Second row: Oleg Sokolov (masseur), Gavrail Kachalin (head coach), Albert Shesternyov, Oleg Belokovsky (team doctor), Vladimir Kaplichny, Kakhi Asatiani, Vitaly Khmelnitzky, Genady Logofet, Vladimir Muntyan, Valentin Afonin, Murtaz Khurtzilava, Yevgeny Rudakov, Anatoly Bishovetz, Vladimir Shmelev (masseur).

Some of the above did not make the final selection, but more or less this is the bulk of Soviet players for the World Cup finals. The final selection included 6 players from Dinamo (Kiev), 5 from Dinamo (Tbillisi), 4 from each Spartak and CSCA (both Moscow), 3 from Dinamo (Moscow). The leaders (CSCA was not yet champion in the summer – Soviet championship run in one year, spring-fall calendar, ending by the end of the year) provided 4 players – three veterans (Afonin, Shesternyov, and Kaplichny) and the third goalie – one Shmutz, who did not play at all in Mexico and soon disappeared altogether from sight. CSCA (abbreviation of Central Sports Club of the Army – that is why I use CSCA, not the more familiar today CSKA) had two or three more worthy players (including better goalie than Shmutz), but they were not enough to sustain continuation of success when the veterans quit playing or moved to other clubs. Meantime the two Moscow powerhouses – Dinamo and Spartak – were declining and some of the southern national players were aging. To a large degree the Soviet national team was outdated in 1970 and at its last legs.

First row, left to right: Vladimir Fedotov, Vladimir Dudarenko, Yuri Istomin, Valentin Utkin, Nikolay Dolgov

Second row: Valentin Nikolayev – coach, Boris Kopeykin, Albert Shesternyov, Vladimir Polikarpov, Leonid Shmutz, Alexander Kuznetzov, Vladimir Kaplichny

CSCA – champions in 1970, but one time wonder. Moscow no longer ruled. Soon the Ukrainian invasion would even bribe its way to the title – Zarya (Lugansk) (see earlier posting) – and the Soviets were entering very bad decade.
(Note: I prefer this spelling of the club, as well as the Bulgarian club with same name - but will use the more familiar CSKA from now on. The accepted abbreviation is nonsensical - I have no idea how it was made from Central Sports Club of the Army, the full name - but is the more or less familiar transliteration in English.
And thanks to Igor Nedbaylo for the team photo!)

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.