Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Other losers now: European this time. Czechoslovakia so far is practically unmentioned, but it is timely now, for the country is to play stronger role soon. So far, the Czechoslovakians had been in something like a decline. They did not play strongly at the 1970 World Cup and after that – nothing. Missing 1974 World Cup as well. Yet, traditional European power… relegated to middle ranks by now. Or may be not – for if one looks carefully, the Czechoslovaks were always up and down, and now they were at their down. There was an interesting change in Czechoslovakian football, though – the failed ‘Prague Spring’, terribly suppressed in 1968, affected football too. During the liberalization the Communist-sponsored and not exactly liked by the Czechs Dukla (Prague) lost its dominance. This was mostly political – since the Communist Party lost its grip, their club lost its privileged position as well, but unlike the Party, the club did not recover quickly and benefited little from the Soviet-led invasion in 1968. Instead provincial clubs came to dominate Czechoslovakian football. And not only that – Slovak, not Czech, teams ruled the early 70s. By 1974 the Czechoslovakian First Division featured more Slovak than Czech teams (Slovan and Inter from Bratislava, ZVL Zilina, Spartak Trnava, VSS and Lokomotiva from Kosice, AC Nitra, and Tatran Presov. No Czech club won a title between 1967 and 1976. Correspondingly, more Slovaks than Czechs played for the national team, which was not big deal until 1976 – at that year finally became interesting to think about the Slovak revival. Why the Slovaks? Less oppressed? More indifferent? Less sophisticated than the Czechs, and therefore excelling in ‘profane’ activities? Or better coaches? Or better talent? Or refusing to play for Prague for both nationalistic and anti-communist reasons? Certainly there was a sign of resistance: Spartak (Trnava) bravely played in the European Champions Cup in 1969 as if in protest against the invasion. They played when the Eastern European invaders refused to participate in the club tournaments in ‘protest’ against the Western protest of the invasion. Strange days for football…Slovan won the title in 1974, ending the dominance of Spartak (Trnava) – champions in 1968, 69, 71, 72, and 73. Now, Slovan was traditional power in Czechoslovakian football and performed well during the above years, but managed only one title – in 1970 – which was a sign of the rise of provincial football, represented by the smaller town of Trnava. For the moment it looked like the centre was restoring its normal leading position. However, the notion was suspect – Bratislava was still provincial from Prague’s perspective and from the general Bohemian-Moravian point of view: the ‘peasant’ Slovaks were still winning. No matter – strong Slovakian years in football!

This is a classic champion squad: a mix of experienced veterans, national players in their prime, and talented new blood. It was finely tuned team, where replacement came at the right time, fitted well, and patched weaker positions. Point in case – the national team right full back Jan Pivarnik, who joined Slovan in the summer of 1973, after captaining VSS Kosice. Masny, Svehlik, Vencel, Gogh, Pivarnik, Hrivnak, Moder, Zlocha, Jokl, and the Capkovic brothers – former and current national players. Not all of them were well known outside Czechoslovakia, but half of them will be – in1976, when they were the core of the new European champions. The only unlucky man here is the goalkeeper and Slovan’s captain Alexander Vencel. The curse of coinciding… he was of the same age as the great Ivo Viktor, and because of that was permanent reserve in the national team. Eventually, younger players were preferred instead of him, just because they had many years to play ahead of them. The curse reached his son as well – the younger Vencel, also named Alexander, who played mostly in France suffered the same fate in the 1990s. Anyway, Slovan won its 6th title in 1974.