Wednesday, March 10, 2010

After the disgrace to the glory. After all, 1973 is the year corresponding to the great Ajax remembered fondly ever since. The mythical Ajax. If this line is followed, 1973 was the finest year of the Dutch… but myths are built on slightly different basis: along with previous successes there was something still in the future: 1974 World Cup. When Dutch players excited world-wide audience and retrospectively amplified the squad of 1973: Johnny Repp is remembered; Vasovic and Swart are not… That’s myth, but what about truth?
Ajax started the campaign in the 1/8 finals, where they were paired with CSKA ‘Septemvriisko zname’ (Sofia). Forget Ajax for awhile: the Bulgarian champions were involved in a weird scandal worth mentioning. Back in the fall of 1972 CSKA played 1/16 finals with Panathinaikos (Athens). The Greeks already had their fresh South American imports (see earlier posting on foreign players) Veron, Demelo, Irala, and Gramajo. They also were still coached by Ferenc Puskas. They also made known their ambition to be among the strongest clubs in Europe. All of that triggered intriguing Bulgarian response – the Communist press expressed strangely mixed view. Normally, a Greek club should not have been a problem for a Bulgarian team, but this one reached European final in 1971, was reinforced by South Americans, and was coached by a ‘traitor’. There was contempt and ridicule for the ‘mercenaries’ and the ‘unfair’ machinations of ‘capitalists and imperialists’ (meaning, hiring expensive foreign stars – fun in itself, for the Bulgarian journalists had no idea who were Demelo, Irala, and Gramajo, and automatically assumed they were some mighty players). In the same breath there was some ‘indignation’ because capitalists and imperialists naturally exploit workers – football players in this case, duped by the mirage of money and becoming mere pawns for the wrong side in the mighty world-wide class struggle. Pawns are not really to pitied, therefore, more ridicule was order – what possibly pampered clowns can do to clean and dedicated Communist football players? Jokers, led by a turncoat… Puskas was rarely mentioned by name. But the vitriol was done with caution: it was emphasized that the Greeks are rich club and will everything possible to win. CSKA was to be well prepared and really fight to win.
In reality, both teams were rather middle of the road and whatever football they were capable to play was immediately killed by the high pitch of ambitions, cautions, and ideological fever. The first match in Sofia was careful and dull. CSKA won 2-1, but there was still enough optimism left. And also fear and suspicion – the Bulgarians are instructed to eat only in the Bulgarian embassy when in Athens. The capitalists will poison them… which was not below the Greeks: just a year before they won very suspiciously the ½ finals with Crvena Zvezda (Belgrade). The second leg was dirty affair – the Greeks played brutally, it was not really football, and clinched a 2-1 victory. So far, their Latin stars appeared worthy… they scored all PAO’s goals: Veron in Sofia and again the first goal in Athens. Demelo scored the second. But a tie… and with no goals in extra time – penalty shoot-out. In their natural modesty, the Bulgarian journalists forgot to mention that the referee in Athens was Soviet one… dirty capitalist tricks, but may be ‘we’ can get some help from Big Brother? From aside, such suspicion seems justified, but never mind. The Soviet referee failed the Little Brothers… one Lipatov. He miscalculated the penalties already shot and at 3-2 for CSKA stopped the Bulgarian midfielder Stoil Trankov and declared the match over. So far, Panathinaikos kicked 4 penaties and CSKA – three. Nothing was over yet, but Lipatov’s math was weak… Now, normally a referee’s mistake, blatant or not, triggers a circus of protests, pushing and shoving, dramatic gesticulation, and words unsuitable for young audience… but Puskas was an old fox: as soon as Lipatov blew his whistle, the ‘traitor’ urged his players to leave in a hurry. Which they did – even to the surprise of the Bulgarians. But the surprise was too much – Lipatov was informed by one of his sideliners about the mistake. It was too late to reverse the decision, especially with no Panathinaikos’ representative on the pitch. The Bulgarians were baffled… what were they to do now? Because of Lipatov’s mistake, they were winners… Puskas was not baffled at all – Panathinaikos already filled a formal complaint to UEFA. The match was annulled and had to be replayed.

Valentin Lipatov helping the injured Spartak (Moscow) defenceman Evgeny Lovchev in the Soviet League. He often criticized his fellow Soviet referees for lack of knowledge and unprofessionalism. He is still a big shot in Russian refereeing. The Bulgarian press cried murder: the vile capitalists did it again! Manipulation! Shame! The traitor serves his masters well! And UEFA naturally in cahoots with the imperialists! Lipatov was not mentioned at all – it was a capitalist plot. The referee run out of luck, though: on his way to Moscow he had to change plains in Sofia, where he was immediately arrested and delivered to… CSKA’s stadium, where his mistake was replayed in slow motion on video. This operation was funnier than anything else: since CSKA was the club of the Army, it was the Bulgarian Minister of Defense Dobry Dzhurov behind the whole thing: he obtained permission from the Soviets to detain Lipatov. But for what? The referee was no longer able to change anything. Besides, he was kept captive in CSKA’s stadium – technically, ‘arrested’ and ‘influenced’ by the club… UEFA certainly had to say something interesting, if it got the news, but it did not get it. Lipatov was freed, and punished by both UEFA and the Soviet Federation. Weird stuff… the rumor has it that Lipatov was bribed by Panathinaikos, but this is a rumor slowly shaped years after the ill-fated match. Besides, there is an addition to same rumor: that Lipatov was drunk – rather laughable bribe, not to mention that after 120 minutes of running one usually sobers up.

‘The Dog’ Denev (right) attacks Panathinaikos.
CSKA won the third match 2-0 to the delight of the ideological journalists and went ahead. In 1973 it was ‘capitalist conspiracy’ unmasked and justice restored. Today it is Greco-Soviet conspiracy, plotted against valorous Bulgarian players. The reality is one of most blatant refereeing mistakes, evoking the suspect passivity of the Soviet linesman in 1966 World Cup final. Bribes and political scheming have their place, but competence cannot be avoided because of rumors: during the years, the Soviet referees were involved in steady line of questionable decisions. They were simply not competent enough and tarnished the sport. As for CSKA and Communist ideology… their next opponent was Ajax and ‘class struggle’ went to the drains.