Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The small number of importers informs the number of exporters somewhat. In the early 70s – equally small and quite constant number. Since South Americans were abandoned after 1966, it was largely European countries providing foreign players. The already mentioned Yugoslavia along Sweden and Denmark were long established, dependable, constant exporters. The Yugoslavian case was largely given a bit earlier, so only appropriate additional information will be given here – there is similarity between the three principal exporters: their players were cheap. And they were cheap because they were amateurs playing for amateur clubs. Hardly the case of Yugoslavia, but officially – amateurs. Because of that it was not possible for Yugoslavian clubs to put heavy price on their players. Exchange rates and living standards also helped to get Yugoslavs for very little – which made them preferable choice of the buyers. The whole of Scandinavia still maintained amateur football – a real one, and because of that similarities with Yugoslavia almost stop here. Unlike Yugoslavia and similarly to Switzerland, there were no big clubs in Scandinavia, hence, there was no concentration of top players – stars were scattered in many clubs, even Second Division clubs. Therefore, Scandinavian stars felt unfulfilled at home and since living in free countries, they did not have to ask and scheme to find a way to play professionally abroad. The whole of Scandinavia had mediocre (at best) domestic leagues, but Sweden had strong national team – not an unusual combination even today in the weird world of football. The other Northern countries, however, matched mediocre club football with mediocre national teams. Norway and Finland were among the lowest of the low in Europe – correspondingly, only a handful of Finns appeared in the professional leagues and almost no Norwegian players until the end of the 70s. Denmark, in contrast, provided steady stream of professional players since the end of the Second World War, some becoming huge stars in Italy or elsewhere, yet, locally and never becoming international big names. The reason was the policy of Danish Federation, insisting the national team to include only amateurs. Thus, Dane players had no international exposure and remained largely unknown outside the country they happened to play. Accordingly, the Danish national team had a bug turnover, constantly losing whatever talented player emerged, and never any good.
Ole Björnmose, freshly transferred from Werder (Bremen) to Hamburger SV in the summer of 1972. He represents the typical Danish import - unknown to Europe, but steady and reliable. As many Danes, he played successfully in the Bundesliga for years.

Monday, September 28, 2009

At the bottom of the importers were Austria and Switzerland – few players and hardly players with recognizable names went to the Alps. Seemingly, both countries preferred German players, but since the clubs were not rich, the market was sluggish. Holland and Belgium were much more dynamic, but one-sided – Belgian clubs bought almost exclusively Dutch players, and in turn Dutch clubs almost exclusively bought Scandinavians. Similar culture, similar language, similar working ethics seemingly informed such one-sided practices. Whatever foreign talent was bought by Law Lands club, it was always European players and nothing else. It seems that in 1968 a lot of Czechoslovakian refugees played in Dutch clubs – there were many names sounding Czechoslovak – but not a single recognizable name, so it is hard to say. As a whole, only Dutch players in Belgium meant anything to outside fans, and only Scandinavian players in Holland were of some renown. West Germany than. Sounds great and mighty… The Bundesliga was notoriously shrewd buyer: the total of foreigners in the Bundesliga for 1971-72 season is 15. Among them only 4 were imported in the summer of 1971. The names deserve to be listed here as an illustration: Nico Braun (Luxemburg), Ender Konca (Turkey), Zlatko Skoric (Yugoslavia), and Hans Ettmayer (Austria). Ever heard of them? German rules permitted two foreign players, but even big clubs did not bother to have that many – Bayern and Borussia (Moenchengladbach) were happy with one Dane in each club, both already established.

As late as 1970-71 season Bayern (Munich) were happy to field the Austrian Pumm, whoever he was, along with Beckenbauer and Muller. West German clubs did not spend big money on big foreign stars.

German clubs depended on sound financial policies and careful building of their teams. It was unsound to spend enormous money on some foreign star, who may fit, but may be not fit. It was better to see where is the weak spot in the team, to look around for a player who exactly fits the need, and if there is no available player in the Bundesliga, to look abroad in a country with dependable football tradition and cheap players. And there were such countries nearby – Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Yugoslavia. One doesn’t have to look very far. It was reasonable way of thinking, it was reasonable practice – keeping open doors, but not going crazy and bringing carloads of exotic players. The success of the German clubs was largely in their policy: they got only what they needed for a stronger team. Never for the flash, never just to have big name in the squad. No wonder German football dominated Europe for the most of the 1970s and early 1980s on club level and the world on the national team level. No wonder German teams are strong, wealthy, and winning today – they were built on very good foundation. Very careful foundation too – until 1975 there was no Second professional division in West Germany. And Third professional division was formed in… 2008.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The end of Italian and Spanish market produced two results: the first is more or less the end of big imports from South America. Between 1966 and 1972 very few South Americans came to play in Europe and certainly no major star among them. Thus, the World Cup 1970 was not the market as the World Cup finals in later years – there were lots of high class players in Mexico and not a single one went to Europe after the tournament.
The second result is the shrunk European market – practically, it consisted of France, West Germany, Belgium, Holland, Austria, and Switzerland. None a big buyer. France was the most diverse importer by far – some South Americans trickled to French clubs, although nobody of recognizable name. European players traditionally went to play in France – this continued. But French clubs looked also to Africa, where nobody else looked at the time. African players were nothing new in France, thanks to colonies and later – former colonies. It was not even clear who were foreign and who domestic players: dual citizenship, local law considering former colonial subjects French citizens complicate the issue. African football was still young and lowly, so many a player did not find any reason to travel for days to join some half-baked national team in some ill organized and not exciting African tournament. But some did play for national teams, only to complicate further evaluation of French football. As a rule, Africans had no chance to play for France yet, so their own choices were limited. But French rules permitted only two foreign players and when one sees three Africans plus one or two Yugoslavs in the lineup, certainly at least three players were considered proper French.The real trouble comes when one suddenly the Africans are discovered going to play for Morocco, Mali, or whatever country down there. Or were quoted in the press as refusing to join such and such national team. But no matter what, France was the most diverse and lively buyer of foreign players. The only problem was that French clubs were not very rich and rarely bought huge stars.
Salif Keita, one of the biggest stars in the French championship, arrived from Mali in 1967. Did he ever played for Mali is unclear – he was asked to take French citizenship, so to play for Frnace, which by time meant he never played for his homeland. African football player of the year in 1970. However, it is known that he was selected for the Mali national squad in 1963 – years before the French offered him to play for them.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Italy and Spain were the big buyers, snatching the best players in the world. But problems developed as well – two foreigners were allowed to play in a single match. The big clubs routinely had three foreigners in their squads, as precautions against injuries and bad form. But it was not enough… and ‘oriundi’ rule was increasingly employed to grant citizenship to foreign players. Sure, some were really of Italian or Spanish descent, but not everybody – certainly not Ladislao Kubala or Ferenc Puskas. And di Stefano sounds more Italian name, than Spanish – but Spanish he became. Frictions developed – both international and domestic. For political reasons Eastern European states protested the inclusion of the ‘traitor’ Puskas in the Spanish national team. It was seen as a deliberate ideologically motivated ‘provocation’. (The name of Puskas virtually disappeared in Eastern European press after 1956. When mentioning him was impossible to avoid, he was always the ‘traitor’ who went to the West for money and is constantly exploited by his capitalist employers. Which serves him right!) Brazil, although rich on talent, was not happy either when Brazilian stars suddenly donned the jersey of the Italian national team. It was seen as extremely unfair to develop players, who were going to play for somebody else and against you. In 1964 FIFA banned the inclusion of naturalized players who previously played for another national team. This cooled down the import of South Americans a bit, but not entirely. It was domestic outcry to really affect the import: officially, even today, the promoted version for the ban on foreign players in Spain (1964) and Italy (1966) is nationalistic concerns. Foreign stars, playing key positions in the clubs, stifled local talent, which, in turn, led to poor national teams. As a result, foreigners were increasingly included in the national squads, but it was not good at all, for foreigners lacked patriotism and never played strongly. To prevent that, the best was to ban foreign players and develop local talent. Hence, the prohibitions. The argument is valid, but it is not the whole truth. Unsaid remain the complicated club politics, which also played very big role – competition between the big clubs was increasingly below the belt: every big club schemed to get more stars, and get them citizenship, so to be able to use them constantly. But the same tricky club cried murder when the competition did the same, so everybody accused constantly everybody else in unfair practices. Who is proper ‘oriundi’ and who was false was constantly disputed to no agreement. Meantime smaller clubs, unable to compete with the rich, found themselves in increasing disadvantage: the handful of big clubs were permitted to do whatever they liked, getting stronger and stronger teams. For the small fry there was hardly any reason for playing – the results were predictably against them. It was no football anymore. At the end even the big clubs grudgingly agreed to the ban – it would be better if only the other clubs were affected, but since it was impossible to grant exceptions only for ‘us’ (always singular ‘us’ - say, Barcelona under ban, but not Real), better no foreigners at all. For who knows the bastards will naturalize tomorrow and we will eternally on second place. Deep down no big club ever gave up the desire to have foreign stars, but publicly they expressed agreement.

Jose Altafini, the typical oriundo. He was champion of the World in 1958, as Brazilian named Mazzola. His nickname comes from the great Italian striker Valentino Mazzola, the father of the 1960s megastar Sandro Mazzola. To be a Mazzola in Italy was a bit of a sacrilige, so Altafini reversed to his real name – and played for Italy in the 1962 World Cup. Players like him forced FIFA to ban players changing national teams and the Italian Federation to ban imported players.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Portugal was similar to England in a way – still possessing colonies by 1972, Portugal traditionally preferred to get players from them. The advantage of this practice was big: African players were extremely cheap, yet they were technically Portuguese citizens, so there were no complications with immigration and working permits. Eusebio, born in Angola, is the biggest example – world famous star, who also playes for the national team of Portugal. Immaculate combination, after which who needs real foreigners. By ‘oriundi’ law, Brazilians were also considered Portuguese nationals and not foreigners. Many went to play in Portugal, but as far as I know, not a single famous player. In any case Portuguese clubs were not rich enough to buy expensive foreigners, and those which were rich, like Benfica (Lisbon) had top squads during the 1960s without the need of foreign talent.
Mario Coluna, the Mozambique-born captain of the ‘Golden era’ Benfica (Lisbon). Who needs ‘real’ foreigners when dipping in the colonies gives the best all-time midfielder to Portugal? Eusebio was not a singular exception at all – and, speaking of class, ‘the Sacred Monster’ captained Eusebio.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

But let’s stay with the importers. The market shrunk after the Iron Curtain was erected, but not only because of that. By 1972 there were still strictly amateur countries in Europe – Scandinavians are the prime example. They did not import players at all. Various small countries also had no professional football and even if they had some rudimentary professionalism, importing players was not for their pockets. Other countries were eccentric: Greece officially did not allow foreign players, yet imported foreigners (the curious Greek case will be discussed a little later). Turkey officially permitted imports, but under conditions making importation impossible – a foreigner had to be active national player of world fame. The idea was to avoid buying useless nobodies by the kilo, but it backfired – Turkish clubs were not rich enough to afford world class stars on one hand, and the Turkish championship was mediocre (at best) to attract the likes of Cruiff and Beckenbauer even if there were tons of money. No foreigners played in Turkey until 1980. No foreigners played in England either until 1978,when Tottenham Hotspur bought the argentine World Champions Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa. Hence, it is still widely believed that England did not permit foreign players until 1978. Untrue. England never banned foreigners, but there were hardly any because of weird combination of British arrogance and immigration-labour laws. The British firmly believed that no ‘continental’ (itself arrogantly ignorant term, for it commonly refers to the rest of Europe, but includes South American players as well) player can adapt to the superior British football. British football was the best, hence British players were the best, hence no one can match a British player and to import would be simply waste of money. But getting a working permit for a foreigner was severely restrictive too – often a person was required to prove uninterrupted British residence for 5 years. Sporting careers are short – it is simply meaningless waste of time, if not complete ruination, for a player to idle 5 years in English just to try to fit into English team, an already doomed affair, considering the prejudice. Interestingly enough, there were various foreigners playing in England before the World War II, and some after the war ended – the most famous is the German goalkeeper of Manchester City form the 195s, Bert Trautmann. However, he arrived in England by ‘strange transfer’ – as a prisoner of war. Trautmann practically never played in Germany, having been called for military service, and built his successful career in England, starting with lowly amateur club and gradually impressing Manchester City, its fans, and eventually – the whole England. But after him almost no ‘continental’ arrived and certainly none made any impression. Foreign players in England were largely individuals from former colonies to whom labour law requirements did not apply – apart from UK’s Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, players from Eire (Republic of Ireland) went to English clubs, plus occasional players of distant states belonging to the Common Wealth – the odd Canadian, or Trinidad and Tobago player, some Africans. The numbers were small and practically no one established a name – the closest to stardom was briefly achieved by Clyde Best, playing for West Ham United with Bobby Moore. At the end, Scots and Irish supplied whatever ‘foreign’ blood English football needed.
Bert Trautmann (between teammates Paul and Revie) played 508 league matches for Manchester City from 1949 to 1964.
Clyde Best, born in Bermuda and national player of the same not so famous football nation, was one of the first black players to make impression in British football and one of the rare foreigners in England during 1960s and the early 1970s. He played 218 games, scoring 47 goals for West Ham United between 1968 and 1976. But, typically, he came from Common Wealth country and former British colony.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The rule was destined to fail from the very beginning: since every Yugoslav had the right to work abroad if so wished, to permit only former national players to go abroad appeared discriminatory exception. So, this was challenged successfully and lesser players also went abroad. But what players, who were not stars by Yugoslav standards, yet locally were considered stars – say, in Slovenia? Let them go. But what about those who were not even potential national players? What harm could be, if letting them work elsewhere? Since 25-years electrician could go to work in West Germany, why 25-years old insignificant player should stay home when he has an offer from Second- or Third- Division Western club? Tough… if permitting a young journeyman to go West when keeping a star at home, the nobody ends making more money than the star. So, this apparently was kept in the dark, probably discreetly and semi-legally dealt with by the clubs. After all, a 25-years can ‘quit’ football, pose as electrician, go to the West and hire himself as a football player. Probably the clubs themselves organized such schemes, yet, there was more: the children of Yugoslavians working in the West, often born in Yugoslavia, but growing up elsewhere. Usually they started playing football abroad and eventually joined professional teams without ever playing Yugoslav club football. By 1970 the first vintage of such players emerged – and there was nothing to make them following Yugoslavian rules. But they were Yugoslav citizens, and therefore, foreign players in West Germany or wherever they were.

The new breed: Slobodan Topalovic, born in Yugoslavia and Yugoslav citizen, debuted in West Germany, playing for FC Koln in 1974-75 season. He eventually played in Yugoslavia too – joining OFK Beograd (Belgrade) in 1979.

Monday, September 14, 2009

However, one Communist country officially exported players to the West – Yugoslavia. Yugoslavian players were well known quality for many years – ‘the European Brazilians’ played for Western professional clubs well before the Second World War and were highly respected. Reputation alone meant nothing in the Communist worldview – it was Josip Broz Tito’s independent policy which provided for continuous export: Tito permitted ordinary Yugoslavians to work abroad. The general permission automatically included footballers, but under special regulation: no longer needed for the national team stars minimum 29 years old. The rule is peculiar, combining ideology, plain economics, and sporting concerns. ‘Mature’ players were thought to be able to behave ‘appropriately’ abroad and not to be a disgrace for Communism. Keeping them at home when young serviced the needs for a strong national team - for many years it was wildly believed, and not only in Eastern Europe, that a footballer was not good after reaching the age of 30. Hence, 28-29 years old was reaching the point when he was not to be called anymore to the national team. Old horses, then, were allowed to go to the West – but old horses with big names established by playing for strong Yugoslavia. So the old horses brought some handsome cash to the Yugoslavian clubs, or the Federation. It was not excessive cash by Western standards, something well understood by the Yugoslavian officials, so at the end there was even a mercy element included in the practice: in gratitude for the long service to the nation by playing for the national team, old guys were allowed to try proffesional football – and good luck to them! If they managed to get good money – fine; if not – at least they had a chance, it was ultimately up to them to scrape something in the last years of their careers. Some players managed well, like Velibor Vasovic in Ajax, but others were kept at home so long, that when finally allowed to go West they were too old to find decent club. Dragan Djajic, one of the finest European players from late 1960s and the first half of the 70s, was perhaps the most unlucky.

‘Magic Dragan’ is regarded the all-time best Serbian player. Born in 1946, Djajic debuted for Crvena Zvezda (Belgrade) in 1961 and scored 287 in 590 matches for the club until 1975, when he was transferred to Bastia (France). He collected 85 caps and scored 23 goals for the Yugoslavian national team, and was one of the top European players in the late 60s and early 70s – which was his bad luck at the end, for he was kept at home for so long, no big European club was interested of having him in 1975.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Typical foreigner of the first half of 20th century – the Italian Amadeo Kleva settled in Bulgaria, played for Levski (Sofia) and was included in the Bulgarian national team by 1946, where he played along with his teammate Laskov.

Foreign-born players in national teams were (and are) traditionally suspect: however good, they were felt naturally lacking patriotism and were blamed for losses. There were always numerous and vocal voices insisting on only ethically pure players to be selected to represent the nation. Similar sentiments existed on club level as well, resulting in limitation of foreign players. The general rule was two foreigners allowed to play for a team in a single match – with few exceptions (Belgium, for instance) that was the dominant rule in Europe by and during the 1970s. But the market meantime shrunk: the Eastern European Iron Curtain blocked players from this region to join Western professional clubs. Eastern Europe itself, professing ‘amateur sports’, disallowed foreign players. There were exceptions, though: the already mentioned Laskov, already established Bulgarian player, went to study in Bratislava and played for the local Slovan. (He eventually married there and after finishing his sporting career moved permanently to Czechoslovakia, settling in Bratislava). In 1959 an Albanian player went to study in Bulgaria and played for the ‘students’ club Akademik (Sofia) in the Second Division. There were other similar cases, but they were hardly ever mentioned in the press and therefore are difficult to trace.
Loro Borici played for Akademik (Sofia) in 1959 Second Bulgarian Division.
Borici scores a penalty against Bulgaria in 1946. Albania won 3-1, but the striker ended in the Bulgarian Second Division…

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hitzfeld and Bukal, Switzerland and Yugoslavia – the two sides of the ‘foreign players’ issue. Export and import. Today every club in Europe is saturated with foreigners, a far cry from the situation in the 1970s. But in football foreign players are as old as the football itself – there were always foreign players: many clubs were founded by foreigners, mainly English, but not only English. In the first half of 20th century foreigners were common, yet, difficult to really trace – some were working or studying abroad, playing for the local clubs meantime. Others settled in foreign lands, became naturalized citizens, and even played for the national teams of their new homelands. A third part joined foreign professional clubs – Stefan Kovacs, the coach of Ajax, was one of those: before the Second World War he played professionally in Belgium. In amateur football nationality doesn’t really matter – as long as the player doesn’t receive payment from the club. Most leagues were amateur, but gradually professional football spread. However, even professional leagues were not always entirely professional – smaller countries maintained semi-professional leagues and was still possible, even in 1980, semi-professional or amateur clubs to play in otherwise professional leagues. With professional football came restrictions concerning foreign players: domestic leagues felt they have to limit the number of foreigners for two main reasons. The first one is preserving relative equality among clubs – it was clear that rich clubs will hire every possible star, becoming unbeatable. Such possibility was perceived as obviously harmful – a league dominated by one-two big clubs was not to be attractive and the gates would certainly suffer. The second reason was nationalistic concern: unlimited number of foreign players was seen as threatening local talent. This concern was aggravated by the emergence of the World Cup and other tournaments involving national teams – for the glory of the country, domestic players had to be good and plentiful. True, until 1964 there were restrictions about foreigners included in national teams – the great Alfredo di Stefano played for three different countries – Argentina, Colombia, and Spain. He was far from exception, not even new phenomenon, not even record holder – South American stars became champions of the world with Italy as early as 1934, the so-called ‘oriundi’, who were considered Italians by law for descending from ethnic Italian (or Spanish – the Iberians used the same term and concept) parents. As for records – Ladislao Kubala, playing for Barcelona at the same time di Stefano was playing for Real, played for total of four national teams – Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Slovakia (during the Second World War, when Nazi-sponsored ‘independent’ Slovakian state existed briefly), and Spain. It was this wide-spread jumping from one national team to another which led FIFA to forbid changing national teams in 1964. Italy and Spain were the biggest offenders, but hardly the only ones: even Communist Eastern Europe was not immune in the late 1940s- early 1950s – the Bulgarian striker Bozhin Laskov played for both Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia, for instance.

Bozhin Laskov scores with a header. He played from 1934 to 1960, collecting 2 Bulgarian titles with Levski (Sofia) – 1942 and 1946, and 3 Czechoslovakian – 1949, 1950, and 1951 – with Slovan (Bratislava). In 1949 France Football voted him the best European attacker of the year. He played 6 matches for Bulgaria and 3 for Czechoslovakia.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Switzerland. If Yugoslavia was at the top of the vast middle section of European football, the country in the Alps was pretty much at the end of the it – far from the flukes, but far from the top too. Swiss football is one of the oldest in Europe and very early organized in national league format. Yet, the country was never football power and with the switch from ‘mittel Europa’ to the South and West, the Swiss lost whatever authority their game had before the World War II. The sport itself was not especially popular – not too many chose football over alpine skiing, neither playing, nor watching. As a result, the country never produced a big club. Without big club, players never concentrated in one squad, preferring to stay at their local teams. Scattered talent, never in big supply anyway, led to unpredictable championships – nobody dominated the league and, thus, anybody could win. Swiss football was semi-professional, but seemingly the players were well off, for very rarely a Swiss player ventured to other European professional clubs. Abroad, the Swiss were often called ‘the wealthy part-timers’, not exactly a compliment. However, the Swiss imported foreign players – not many and not big names, but there was import further complicating evaluations: clearly, the Swiss system was purely amateur. It was not purely professional either – some players, even foreigners, maintained amateur status when playing for Swiss clubs. Others did not. A typical Swiss clubs at the time often had from one to three local stars, may be a foreigner or two, and the rest was filled with whatever was locally available. It was this structure which provided for relatively equal league, where any club could win, but also could be relegated. So far, the league was somewhat standard format – 14 teams, the bottom two relegated to the Second Division. FC Basel won the title in 1972.
The club was founded in 1893 and interestingly enough gave birth to the mighty FC Barcelona – one of the earliest captains of FC Basel, Joan Gamper, moved to Spain and was one of the founders of the Catalonian club. And not only that: according to one version, the famous blue and red kit of Barcelona copied Basel’s colours, thanks to Gamper. There are other stories for Barcelona’s kit, but whatever the real one is, Basel is some reason for the existence of Barcelona, yet, the ‘mother’ club never achieved the fame of the ‘child’. Basel won its first Swiss title in 1953 and until 1967 it was solitary title. The most successful years of the club started in 1966 and lasted until 1980 – in 1972 Basel added fifth title to the previous from 1953, 1967, 1969, and 1970.

The team was a typical Swiss squad, captained by the best Swiss player at the time Karl Odermatt. What different times! If it was now, the striker-midfielder would have been snatched by some of the big European clubs, but in 1972 there was no chance or even player’s desire to move abroad. Odermatt was probably underappreciated in Europe – he was good, but playing with insignificant teammates in insignificant league, he hardly impressed anybody but the Swiss. The other star player was the goalkeeper Marcel Kunz, also playing in the national team. Rene Hasler, Walter Balmer, and Walter Mundschin were more or less good players and that was that. But an interesting foreigner strengthened the squad: the West German Ottmar Hitzfeld. Yes, the famous contemporary coach! Not much of a player, though, which speaks for the level of Swiss football in the early 1970s. The biggest curiousity, however, is in something else: Hitzfeld wanted to play at the Olympic Games, and that was his reason for moving to the Swiss club. His scheme worked: he became Swiss champion; maintained his amateur status; and played for West Germany in the Summer Olympics 1972, ending with bronze medal. Which at the end only deepens the enigma of Swiss football – was it a professional one, since foreigners were able to stay amateur by Olympic requirements? How were the players, particularly foreign ones, paid, if they were officially amateurs? Switzerland is expensive country – how was Hitzfeld, for instance, paying his daily expenses if he was not professional player? Questions, or no questions, FC Basel were champions, finishing 4 points ahead of FC Zurich and losing only one match during the season. Hitzfeld had to wait many, many years until adding another title to his resume – as a coach.
Thanks to Igor Nedbaylo for the Stadion photos!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Yugoslavia was more fun. On one hand, the local rivalry was more complex – between Belgrade and Croat clubs, itself split into two more big rivalries – between Crvena zvezda and Partizan in Belgrade, and Dynamo (Zagreb) and Hajduk (Split) in Croatia. On the other hand, Yugoslav football was interesting to watch. It was fairly competitive championship full of technical players – the Yugoslavs boasted to be the ‘Brazilians of Europe’ for good reason.
Zeljeznicar (Sarajevo) were the surprise champions in 1972. Not a bad club, but they belonged to the ‘secondary’ clubs of the league. It was not clear why they won – Crvena zvezda had very, very good squad at that time. Hajduk too. The other two big clubs were in relative decline, yet judging by the players not exactly worse than the team from Bosna and Herzegovina. Zeljeznicar had only three noticeable players – Josip Bukal, Josip Katalinski, and Enver Hadziabdic. Bukal was getting old, and apparently no longer needed for national duty, he was allowed to join Standard (Liege) after winning the title. Katalinski was younger and just establishing his place in the national team competing with strong players from other clubs – not yet undisputed star. The rest of the team was quite unknown. At first glance, it looked like the Soviet case – smaller club, having decent squad, using rare lapse of the establishment. Unlike Zarya (Voroshilovgrad), Zeljeznicar won fairly – no bribes and wild schemes.
The captain Bukal lifts the cup of champions. I fell in love with Zeljeznicar’s kit – the unusual combination of blue and … blue. Alas, this was a beginning of dominance – it was the only title the club won in its Yugoslavian history.
The first team was: Janjuš, D. Kojović, Bećirspahić, Bratić, Katalinski, Hadžiabdić, Jelušić, Janković, Bukal, Sprečo, Deraković.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Deeper in the bowels of European football fun was dubious. Old rivalries commanded domestic scenes – usually two or three clubs well above the rest, but ever the same. Changes were slow, if any. Traditions informed outcomes, quite predictable. Thus, in Hungary the 1950s power Honved (Budapest) was no longer a factor - Ferencvaros and Ujpest Dozsa dominated Hungarian football, with Ujpest Dozsa eventually having the upper hand in the first half of the 1970s. Ferencvaros had aging squad, led by the great Florian Albert already near retirement. Their Budapest rivals had younger squad, led by the unfortunate Ferenc Bene. Also getting long in the tooth, Bene was caught between generations – when Albert was in his prime, Bene was in his shadow; when Bene became old – younger Fasekas and still younger than Fasekas Nyilasi were making the waves. Either too young or too old, Bene played in difficult years for Hungary – still expected to be ‘big’, but failing to reach such expectations, in its slow decline. Olympic champions in 1968, but not qualifying for World Cup 1970. Fourth at the European Championship 1972 – but failing to reach World Cup finals in 1974. Bene played in this national squad… his Ujpest Dozsa won the Hungarian title, but Albert’s Ferencvaros won the Cup in 1972. Yet, to my mind Ujpest Dozsa of that time were the last decent Hungarian club squad. By 1974 they played close approximation of total football and were fun to watch. Close… but not close enough: hardly impressed anyone on the international scene.

Under appreciated Ferenc Bene.

Bene lifts the cup… the Championship trophy or the Hungarian Cup? National success never transformed into international neither for him, nor for Ujpest Dozsa, nor for the national team of Hungary. Fading power.