Saturday, January 9, 2010

Eastern Europe has to be ended with the ‘mother’ of them all – USSR. A new champion and not only that – Ararat (Erevan) made a double, winning both championship and cup. Unlike Zarya the year before, the Armenians were considered fair winners. No rumors of bribes and manipulations. Clearly, Soviet football was moving South and expanding, but in the same time it was a time of crisis – big clubs not winning may be fun, yet, when the small fry did provide players for the national team, it was more a case of weak Moscow and Kiev rather than sudden great talent bursting in remote republics and provinces. Total football was discussed constantly, but apparently was not played at all. Instead, Soviet football made Italy look like furiously attacking and scoring – in the USSR everybody played ‘safe’ football and most matches ended in 0-0 ties. The plague of getting sure point and to hell with winning, for winning meant attacking, exposed defense and… possible loss because of that, troubled the Federation and reform of some kind was introduced this season: no more draws. Every match ending in a draw should be decided by penalty kicks. The winner with penalties gets one point; the loser – zero. The clubs were not impressed – Kairat (Alma Ata) won 10 games by penalties and lost 1, which translates into 11 – out of total 30 – draws in regular time. They were not even the team with most ties: Zenit (Leningrad) managed 12 of which lost 9 shoot-outs. Even the champions had 7 ties , losing 4 shoot-outs. Yet, it was nothing compared to previous seasons: in 1972 same Kairat finished with 14 draws and in 1971 Torpedo (Moscow) ended 20 out of 30 matches in a tie. No wonder scoring was low: Torpedo scored only 27 goals in 30 championship games in 1971, receiving also 27 goals. Meantime, Dynamo (Kiev), the 1971 champions scored most of all – 41 goals – 1.37 goals on average. Only three clubs finished with less than 10 ties in 1971, which improved in 1972 – 6 clubs finished with less than 10 ties and goals ‘soared’ – Zarya and Dynamo (Kiev) topped all with 52 goals each – impressive average of 1.73 goals per game. Ararat matched exactly this number in 1973 – the champions were record goalscorers too… some achievment. The Federation was not happy and dropped the new rule for the next season, so everybody comfortably collected draws in 1974 – only three clubs finished with less than 10, but the lowest mark was 7 ties during the season. No wonder new rules were soon to be introduced – the Federation tried for years to change stagnated Soviet football. That is why new and changing champions were generally a concern rather than joy in USSR.
But champions are champions:
A double winners:
Top, left to right: R. Tzaginyan – team’s director, N. Simonyan-coach, L. Ishtoyan, A. Sarkisyan, A. Arutyunyan, A. Abramyan, N. Mesropyan, S. Bondarenko, A. Andriasyan, A. Kovalenko, O. Abramyan – assistant coach, A. Kegeyan – assistant coach.
Bottom: E. Markarov, S. Pogosov, O. Zanazanyan, S. Martirosyan, N. Petrosyan, N. Kazaryan, S. Gevorkyan.
Left to right: Markarov, Kazaryan, Andreasyan, Martirosyan, Ishtoyan, Gevorkyan, Bondarenko, Sarkisyan, Pogosyan, Abramyan, Zanazanyan – captain.
Relatively solid provincial squad, which contrary to Soviet practices was not much involved with the national team – itself a hint that the Soviets did not consider this team very good. Yet, it had Markarov, solid goal scoring veteran striker; reliable keeper – Abramyan; dangerous right winger – Ishtoyan; and too classy midfielders – Zanazanyan and Andreasyan. Andreasyan was the only Ararat player to last in the national team and to be considered a Soviet star. Good or bad, they beat Dynamo (Kiev) both in the championship and in the Cup final and are Armenian legends ever since. However, their biggest star was the coach – Nikita Simonyan, one of the all-time great Soviet players, played for Spartak (Moscow), so regardless ethnicity, he was not exactly Armenian star, until convinced to coach Ararat. As a coach, he never equaled the authority he had as a player, but was a good coach nevertheless and Ararat improved rapidly under his guidance. Good enough for a singular Soviet title. The Cup they managed to win one more time.