Monday, March 28, 2011

Bulgaria was one of the worst teams at the 1974 World Cup and it was not just a momentary flop, but a much deeper problem. The crisis was recognized only in part: Bulgarian football was falling behind the best in the world; it needed to adopt – and quickly – the new tendencies of playing and training. As a practical measure, the national coach was sacked and there was urgent call for replacement of old players with new ones. So, far nothing new – these are traditional football practices – and in the Bulgarian case, they were not radically done either for one simple reason: there was not much talent to choose from. In general, the 1970s were perhaps the most mediocre decade in Bulgarian football, and the post-World Cup season was particularly bleak. The general crisis was best represented by the top clubs – CSKA ‘Septemvriisko zname’ and Levski-Spartak. Both teams were obviously aging and over the hill – now, in football aging team does not automatically mean old players, but a team already playing together for 4-5 years, reaching the top of its performance and slumbering downhill with predictable, inefficient, and boring game. The aging of CSKA was already detected by 1973 and now Levski joined them – in fact, the ‘Blues’ played mediocre football from the beginning on 1974, when they won the title thanks to the beautiful half-season in the Autumn of 1973. It was dangerous indication that they clinched the title only 1 point ahead of the arch-enemy and with more losses than CSKA too (6 vs 5, all matches lost in the spring!) Both clubs took ‘urgent’ measures… which means both changed coaches, but in different times. CSKA sacked their coach for many years – and club legendary player from the 1950s – Manol Manolov by the end of 1973. The fans were not entirely convinced of his change, for it came soon after CSKA eliminated mighty Ajax from the European Champions Cup. He was replaced with his assistant – and former teammate – Nikola Kovachev, whose whole coaching experience was exactly as assistant coach of Manolov. Quite predicatably, Kovachev did not improve the team and after the end of the season he was sacked and replaced with… Manol Manolov. Levski kept Dimitar Doychinov longer, for he made them champions… but when Ujpesti Dosza literally destroyed Levski in the 1/16 finals of the 1974-75 European Champions Cup and the fall half of the new season showed increasing weaknesses and lack of form and inspiration, his days were numbered. New coaches appeared in the winter break – Ivan Vutzov and Dobromir Zhechev as assistant. It was more than surprise change – to the best of my knowledge, this was the first time ever one of the leading Bulgarian clubs hired young coaches with no experience whatsoever. Now, both graduated from the Highest Institute of Sport – which was equal to regular University – and at the time a degree from this educational institution made them certified coaches, so they were formally competent. But Vutzov so far was employed as administrator and never coached any team. Zhechev started the season still as a regular player. How good or bad Vutzov and Zhechev were is hard to tell: they lacked experience certainly, but the team was just too bad anyway. CSKA, on the other hand, returned conservatively to their old coach, which only shows the poverty of Bulgarian football at the time: neither club was able to find anybody better, thus it was either return to the already known, or jump into the entirely unknown. Coaches, however, were not the full solution anyway: summer transfers showed how impoverish Bulgarian football was. CSKA got three new players – Stefan Velichkov from Etar (Veliko Tirnovo), Nikola Hristov from Dunav (Rousse), and Kevork Tahmissian from Cherno more (Varna): a full back, centre-forward, and attacking midfielder. All were already well established players, not very young, and hardly improving their game anymore. Velichkov played at the World Cup; Hristov was occasionally included in the national team, but never really played, and Tahmissian was solid provincial player. Solid, but hardly better than the players CSKA already had. Solid, but not exciting and not at all capable of leadership. In short, not players for the future and not players to build a new team around them. In the past CSKA got young and promising players, who developed into stars and leaders in the club – now there was nobody promising, and new players were got not to build new team, but to patch an old one. Levski did even worse: Krassimir Borissov from Lokomotiv (Sofia), Emil Spassov from the junior team, and Ognyan Bochev from Botev (Ihtiman), a Second Division club. Attacking midfielder and two strikers. Borissov played at the World Cup less than a full match and generally was considered problematic player. Bochev scored a lot for his old club, but it was in the lower divisions – he was never seen as a potential starter anyway. Spassov was not taught a regular player at first either. Significantly, no new defender appeared in the summer, when it was obvious that at least two regulars were over the hill and near retirement. It will suffice to say that none of the new boys shined – Velichkov was more or less stable, but, at best, roughly equal to his competitors. Hristov was uneven, Tahmissian hardly played at all – Georgy Denev, still young, was much better even with his annoying tendency to play alone. Borissov had rough time adapting to his new club and in his first season he was generally considered a big mistake. Bochev predictably was on much lower level than his new teammates even when they were out of form. Spassov started brightly, then faded… At the end, from the whole bunch only Borissov managed to establish himself, however slowly, and was with Levski few years later (Spassov too, but after a spell with ZhSK Spartak (Varna), where he was send at one point as hopeless). Everybody else was dismissed, leaving no big memories. Clearly, the country produced nothing good enough for radical change and the big clubs were so desperate that during the winter break they acted in unison – usually, the enemies pillaged other clubs individually, but not this time: they sacked Minyor (Pernik) together. Levski grabbed the right winger Filip Slavchev; CSKA – the left winger Angel Slavov. Both clubs were clearly driven by desperation, for it was highly unusual transfers to be made in mid-season (in the 1970s, it was still unusual everywhere in Europe, except England). After destroying Minyor’s attacking line, the ‘grand’ clubs got some more talent – CSKA included Ivan Metodiev and Yordan Hristov; Levski – Georgy Ganev. Metodiev was from CSKA’s junior team – and the club hardly ever used own juniors. Hristov was an enigma – he practically appeared from nowhere. Ganev was former junior of Levski, who played for obscure Second Division club before the ‘Blues’ remembered his existence. Once again, nothing much happened in terms of improvement… but some old horses retired curiously during the season: Zhechev, Vassil Mitkov, and Tzvetan Vesselinov at mid-season and officially. The great goalscorer of CSKA Petar Zhekov not that much retired than expired – he injured himself at the start of the season (it was hilarious self-injury: Zhekov clumsily missed a ball, driving his foot into the ground, falling down in pain and practically never recovering from this. There was a defender nearby, who instead of starting laughing run to the referee arguing innocence – afraid, that he will be yellow-carded, although he was metres away from Zhekov when the fat old star kicked the grass instead of the ball.) Well, tough time and dark horizons – CSKA and Levski had nobody to steal from the whole country: if this was not a deep crisis, what is? CSKA won the title a point ahead of Levski, but scored fewer goals than ‘the Blues’ and received more goals than them too. Levski was not with best attack and defense, though: third placed Slavia scored most goals – 56, and 4th placed Dunav (Rousse) had the best defense, allowing only 28 goals. Numbers are often misleading in football: Dunav hardly had strong defense – it was rather a case of weak strikers in almost every other club. Down the scale went Lokomotiv (Plovdiv), which was constantly among the top three since 1969. Their city rivals, Trakia, were even lower. Lokomotiv (Sofia) settled in mid-table, and Etar (Veliko Tirnov), which was 4th the previous season and started this one with international games in the UEFA Cup ended relegated to the Second Division. Mediocrity ruled and there was no way out…

Champions by hook and by crook – CSKA ‘Septemvriisko zname’. Bottom, left to right: Stoyan Yordanov, Bozhil Kolev, Ivan Metodiev, Dimitar Penev - captain, Georgy Denev, Kiril Stankov, Yordan Filipov. Middle: Stefan Velichkov, Todor Simov, Stefan Mikhailov, Borislav Sredkov, Angel Slavov. Top: Yordan Hristov, Plamen Yankov, Ivan Zafirov, Tzonyo Vassilev, Dimitar Marashliev.

Second, not because they were that good, but because there was not any better club – Levski-Spartak. Top, left to right: Dobromir Zhechev – assistant coach, Stefan Aladzhov, Stefan Staykov, Kiril Ivkov – captain, Milko Gaydarsky, Tony Dzhefersky, Botyo Malinov, Nikolay Iliev, Georgy Todorov, Ivan Vutzov – coach. Bottom: Filip Slavchev, Pavel Panov, Georgy Tzvetkov, Stefan Pavlov, Ivan Stoyanov, Voin Voinov, Georgy Dobrev, Emil Spassov, Georgy Ganev.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Speaking of snowy lands… Sweden, like Switzerland, did not have strong clubs, but unlike the Swiss had strong national team. And unlike the Swiss, was still running amateur football. If Swiss players rarely went abroad, the Swedes did that constantly, which did not help the clubs – in Europe, Swedish clubs did not count as a force. But this was to change and the change was coming from one of the most constant clubs – Malmo FF. 1975 was good year for them: they won a double. It was 11th title and 9th cup, evenly spread through different decades. Success was not a news for the club even in the 70s – they won the title in 1974, and 1970, and 1971.
Top, left to right: Eric Persson – President of the club, Harry Jonnson, Staffan Tapper, Bo Larsson, Anders Ljungberg, Sten Stjernquist, Krister Jacobsson, Krister Kristensson, Robert Haughton – coach, Egon Jonsson - administrator.
First row: Thomas Sjoberg, Roland Andersson, Jan Moller, Roy Andersson, Tommy Andersson, Tore Cervin, Tommy Larsson.
What about this squad? Well if you look back to the champions of 1971 and 1972, a difference occurs: Atvidabergs FF came from nowhere; had few exciting young players; won two titles; the young stars went abroad; the club started to fade. But if you look at Malmo FF, it was more or less the same squad from the late 1960s, led by Bo Larsson and Staffan Tapper (the best known players outside Sweden). Handful of national players, who for some reason never went abroad – Moller, Roland Andersson, Roy Andersson. It was slowly simmering and ripening squad, coached by young Englishman – Haughton was barely 35 years old in 1975, but already had a few Swedish titles. Longivity was the secret, which is even strange, for as a rule, a successful squad has a life of about five years: the full stretch of Malmo was 10 (going a bit ahead here: it was pretty much the same team reaching the European Champions Cup in 1979. The boys, who won the Swedish championship in 1970.) Longivity… the captain Krister Kristensson played 626 games for the club. Bo Larsson scored 289 goals in 546 games for Malmo – and he managed to play 3 seasons in West Germany as well. And these two were far from exception – it was a squad playing together year after year, and somehow the older they were getting, the better they were playing – contrary to the usual scenario of the sport. Yet, 1975 was not their finest year internationally and nobody paid attention. Even in Sweden – some of the boys were to be included in the national team later (Moller and Ljungberg, for instance.) Local heroes… one thing Malmo FF failed to do: they aimed to beat IFK Gotteborg’s record of 48 matches without a loss – but managed only 36.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sometime in the midst of the 70s vast survey was conducted in Europe, looking for the most popular sport and the social position of the sportsman. Football was – predictably – number one, except for 4-5 countries, having a lot of snow. The only surprise was Republic of Ireland, but Switzerland, belonging to the snowy states, was not. As for social position, the football player did not count anywhere – people still preferred their children to become doctors, lawyers, and teachers. Footballers ranked very low, no matter how much money and fame the profession was bringing already. Solid, quiet, traditional useful professions were much more desirable and respectful. And which country would be more solid, quiet, and respectful than Switzerland where trains run on time, streets were clean, people serious, and business sound and fair. No wonder the clock is the ‘symbol’ of Switzerland… and football there – lowly, and – as respectful things go – boring. Flamboyant fun and unpredictable artistry belonged to the unruly South… and not surprisingly in football terms the Swiss – so far – were hardly famous: they organized and hosted the World Cup in 1954 and had Karl Rappan. Not much for otherwise long football history, since the game started earlier in Switzerland than most countries. Well… Rappan was Austrian, but never mind… Swiss football was solid and sound, topped by their tidy 14-team first division. Period. Period? Swiss football was as mysterious as the Greek one – the Greeks run officially ‘non-professional’ league in which professional clubs and players kicked the ball. They did not officially allow foreign players, yet imported since 1959. Their football was ridden with corruption and scandals. But what can you expect from the South? Sound and fair game belongs to the Swiss… usually the Swiss football was called ‘semi-professional’, notoriously unclear term. When Ferenc Puskas, Zoltan Czibor, and Sandor Kocsis defected from Communist Hungary in 1956, the Hungarian Federation complained and FIFA and UEFA banned the defectors from playing anywhere. Kocsis played for Young Fellows (Zurich) until the ban was lifted – in the 1957-58 season he scored 7 goals in 11 games for the Swiss club. So, the Swiss did not really follow ‘sound and fair’… but even more curious is the club enjoying the services of the great star: Young Fellows are obscurity today (actually, they don’t exist anymore – they merged with another club), and were pretty obscure back in the 1950s as well. Lowly, yet able to disregard FIFA and EUFA, and pay for a world class star. In 1972 Otmar Hitzfeld played for Basel specifically to be able to maintain amateur status and play at the Olympic games for West Germany. His Swiss teammates were not considered amateurs, though… at least not the national players. Let’s imagine that stateless Kocsis was living on donations for refugees; Hitzfeld – on German welfare cheques, or student grant, or was born rich; and the countless Yugoslavians were ordinary gastarbeiters, playing football after 8-hour shift in the clock factories… but imagination ends in 1973, when Teofilo Cubillas joined Basel. Can you imagine, that the best ever Peruvian player went to Switzerland just because liked the snow of the Alps better than the snow of the Andes? Cubillas was professional player and nothing else. The ‘semi-professional’ football was no longer mostly ‘amateur’, it seems… but was it elevated to fully professional? Looks similar to Greece… although football is structurally murky: except for North America, even today theoretically an amateur club can climb up to first division and win a title. Less theoretically, it is possible to win the national cup of any country. In reality – never happens, but it is not impossible by the rules. And may be because of that there was no need to announced fully professional football in Switzerland, but by 1975 there was no doubt that it was professional.
Basel, by then without Hitzfeld and Cubillas, were good enough to win the Cup.
No amateurs here… Basel still strong, but beginning to give way to others – Swiss football never had really dominant club. FC Zurich, traditionally strong and one of the ‘usual suspects’, won the championship. They did the same the previous year, so they were not just one-time wonder. However, in 1974 they finished 12 points ahead of the second placed Grasshoppers – in 1975 Zurich was only 6 points above Young Boys. They also lost more matches then 1973-74 – 6 in total, vs only one the previous year. Either Swiss football was becoming more competitive, or the champions weaker… but who would criticize winners?
Front, left to right: Rene Botteron, Daniel Jeandupeux, Max Heer, Karl Grob, Kobi Kuhn.
Back row: Ilija Katic, Pirmin Stierli, Renzo Bionda, Hilmar Zigerlig, Rosario Martinelli, Ernst Rutschmann.

As a whole, typical Swiss team… good, solid, sound… far from greatness. The West German coach Timo Konietzka was the mastermind, but he was, at best, solid professional. The team had one of the best Swiss players at the time – Kobi Kuhn. Had perhaps the second-best goalkeeper in the country. Had foreign attackers – the Yugoslav Ilija Katic and the Italian Rosario Martinelli – who were strong enough for Switzerland, but hardly real stars. But it also had two young players, who were considered the big hope of Swiss football: Botteron and Jeandupeux. With players like that it looks like the Swiss were destined for better days… since in the 70s long hairs indicated greatness, Botteron had hair so long, that there was no doubt he was to pull out the Swiss game from mediocrity. However… Jeandupeux moved to play in France and Botteron got a haircut… and the Swiss had to wait until the 1990s, when to be a football player was preferable than to be a schoolteacher.

Monday, March 21, 2011

With double-winning team, any other success could be only partial, but sometimes partial success is remembered. Sturm (Graz) reached the final for the Austrian Cup and lost it, but earned their first spot in the European Cup Winners Cup.
Sturm was founded in 1909 as working men club – in the usual opposition to the ‘bourgeois’ clubs, in this case to Grazer AK, founded in 1902 by university students. However, the club with militant name kept modest existence for many, many years, satisfied with local success in Styria (hard to believe, but tiny Austria is a federation of 9 autonomous states). On larger scale Sturm managed to win one amateur Austrian championship in the distant 1934 and absolutely nothing else. So, reaching the Cup final in 1975 was feeling good.
Top, left to right: Rumpf – assistant coach, Brandl – masseur, Rauscher (?), Gruber, Heinz Zamut, Taller (?), Heribert Weber, Trenk (?) – administrator, Manfred Ruth, Anton Pichler, Gernot Jurtin, Kurt Stendal, Dr. Hubert – team doctor, Karl Schlechta – coach.
Bottom: Manfred Wirth, Anton Ringert, Wilhelm Huberts, Walter Saria, Benkyo (?), Refic Muftic, Manfred Steiner, Heinz Russ, Hubert Kulmer.
Modest club with modest squad – a few players, like Anton Pichler, were included in the Austrian national team now and then, but without making waves. The foreigners were hardly known either – the Danish striker Kurt Stendal and the Yugoslav goalkeeper Refic Muftic. Contrary to their name, the Styrians were not to take neither Austria, not Europe by storm.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Austrian football, by mid-1970s, was hanging on old reputation, which was getting increasingly thin. It was reduced to pitiful advantage over Greek football and even this was mostly based on remains of memories. As a whole, the crisis was deep, eating the very core of football culture: low attendance, financial disasters, and shabby game. Reform was launched – reforms are always suspect in football: they look more desperate measures than improving, depending on one’s point of view. The Austrian one was supposed to be fundamental: to stabilize both financing and the quality of the game, the Austrian Bundesliga was drastically reduced from 17 to 10 clubs in 1974. The ‘best’ teams were to be ‘best’ in both accounting and playing, so requirements were first of all sound finance – no more clubs with heavy debts on the verge (more likely beyond) bankruptcy. Those clubs were to meet 4 times against each other during the season, thus providing better show and becoming more competitive simultaneously. Well, still runs 10-team Bundesliga today, but hardly a top European league, so one can question the success of the reform. Panacea it was not… financial troubles remained.
The new league produced old champion: Swarovski-Wacker from Innsbruck. The club won a double, winning the national titles 9 points (in the old system of 2 points for a win) ahead of VOEST (Linz), the champions of 1974.
Pretty kit… what else? The 1970s were the most successful years of the club, when they dominated (kind of) Austrian football, winning 5 titles. This was the third. Add the Austrian Cup to make it sweeter. The Yugoslav (Slovenian) Branko Elsner was building his coaching reputation, although he became better known later. The squad was very good by Austrian standards at the time, but nothing on international stage. It depended on core of players like Manfred Gombasch and Peter Koncilia, who were constant backbone during the winning years. The Dane Ove Flindt-Bjerg and the (West) German Hans Rebele were still here. One of the best goalkeepers of all-time Austrian football Friedl Koncilia was still here too, plus young talent – Kurt Welzl and Didi Constantini. Friedl Koncilia and Kurt Welzl eventually became European stars (and just as a link to Greek football – Welzl played for Olympiakos in 1984) and Constantini – well known and respected coach. But all of this was in the unknown future in 1975 – for the time been, Swarovski-Wacker were just strong in Austria and considering the name of the their sponsor, perhaps seen even as model of stability and ‘sound’ financing. Swarovski firm probably was not as pleased… for they dropped the club soon after, titles or no titles. By the way, there is different name on the shirts of the club – and one may wonder at the Austrian system or the fragility of it – Swarovski’s money seemingly were not enough and another sponsor was brought as well.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Greeks showed a bit of improvement – at least when comparing themselves to their hated neighbours, the Turks. It was in the results of the national team rather than the clubs, but the combination of money and foreign imports was seemingly bringing some results. Greek football remained an enigma: if one looks the statistics of Olympiakos in the Wikipedia, things do not match – it is said there that Greece run ‘Non-Professional League System’ until 1977. How was that possible with professional players, heavy transfer fees, and rapidly increasing number of foreigners, I leave to the Greeks to explain. Another aspect of Greek football is easier to explain: the grand plans of Panathinaikos, dreamed in 1971, did not materialized – by 1975 Olympiakos was the flagman of the Greek football. According to traditional and universal football myth, Olympiakos represents ‘the people’, ‘the province’, the working class’ opposed to ‘the rich’ and ‘the capital city’. Shabby working class Pireus vs elegant bourgeois Athens. Never mind that by 1975 the cities were already amalgamated and the clubs were owned by rich and political influential men. Considering, that by 1975 Socialists were governing, it was even more likely the ‘working class’ club to be allowed to scheme and Panathinaikos – somewhat restricted in the realm of dirty tricks. No matter how, Olympiakos were the better team – Nikos Goulandris was the club’s President from 1972 and he signed expensive talent – Giorgos Delikaris, the French Greek Yves Triantafilos, Dimitris Persidis, the Uruguayans Julio Losada and Milton Viera. The investment paid off, to the delight of the fans: Olympiakos got the upper hand in Greece, if not on international stage. In the 1974-75 season the ‘workers’ won a double – both championship and cup.
Front, left to right: Delikaris, Viera, Kritikopoulos, Aidiniou, Stavropoulos.
Back: Siokos, Kelessidis, Liolios, Angelis, Kyrastas, Gaitadzis.
Well, half of the squad here was playing for the national team, with Delikaris perhaps the biggest star, but more interesting is something else: Olympiakos was almost never coached by a Greek from the down of their history (the first foreigner came in 1927 – the Czech Jan Kopsiva), except for brief interim periods practically never longer than an year. However, Goulandris appointed local man – Potropoulos, who was briefly coaching the team in 1971. Potropoulos was practically the first Greek coach to be appointed a second time by the club and the first to be really successful. After winning the double, Potropoulos was handsomely rewarded by the grateful club: he was replaced with the English coach Vic Buckingham (Ajax, Barcelona, Sevilla; creditied with the discovery of Johan Crujff; and also involved with match fixing in the British betting scandal of 1964) in June 1975. Thanks for the trophies and get lost!
Unlike Potropoulos, players faired much better – foreign implants adjusted better in Olympiakos than Panathinaikos, and played more important roles as well. Julio Losada – or Losanta – won 5 titles and 3 cups during his long spell in the club – 1972-80. He also became a club legend. Milton Viera, acquired from Penarol (Montevideo) stayed shorter – 1972-77 – but was more influential player than Losada. He won three Greeks titles – 1973, 74, and 75 – and two cups – 1973 and 1975 – with Olympiakos before moving to Athens and AEK, where he added two more championships – 1978 and 1979.
Viera in the ‘holly’ red-white stripes. He is probably lesser deity for Olympiakos fans than Losada, because of his AEK spell, when he fathered a son and named the baby Lukas, after AEK President Loukas Bartos.
The foreigners in Olympiakos tended to be of smaller status than those hired by Panathinaikos in the first half of the 1970s, but their contribution to Greek football was much larger. Point in case: ‘The Witch’ Veron was international star when Panathinaikos got him, and he stayed two years with the club, without playing much and winning even less. Losada and Viera played little for Uruguay – Losada has only 2 caps – and although both were in World Cup squads – Losada in 1970 and Viera in 1966 – neither played a minute in the final tournaments. But they played a lot in Greece and won plenty. When the Turks depended solely on foreign coaches for developing their game, the Greeks depended on coaches and foreign players – it worked if not significantly better, then at least faster than the Turkish approach. Faster, yet not that fast… by 1975 Greek football was still lowly in Europe.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A step up – Turkey. By 1975, in the micro-pyramid of European football – the Balkan states – Turkey was above Albania and below everybody else. Larger picture shows the same… Turkey was not 100% outsider, just 95%. Not long ago the Turks were roughly equal to the Greeks, so it looked like slipping down than going up. Turks are passionate about football, but they are also very patient people – their big clubs were probably as rich as the Greek big clubs, but instead of importing foreign stars (or players perceived wrongly as stars) and coaches, the Turks imported only foreign coaches, betting on eventual development of local talent. So far – nothing really happened, except of tiny stir: along with the big three from Istanbul – Galatasaray, Fenerbahce, and Besiktas – a provincial club was rising its head – Trabzonspor. However, their time was coming, but not just yet. Fenerbahce won the championship, like the previous year.
The happy winners were: Adil Eriç, Yavuz Şimşek, Ilie Datcu, Yılmaz Şen, Niyazi Gülseven, Alpaslan Eratlı, Serkan Acar, Ersoy Sandalcı, Erdinç Sandalcı, Önder Mustafaoğlu, Zafer Atamer, Emin, Ziya Şengül, Selahattin Karasu, Ender Konca, Cemil Turan, Osman Arpacıoğlu, Mustafa Kaplakaslan, Aydın Çelik, Eyüp Odabaşı, Recep
Well… some Turkish national players, but hardly any internationally recognized name. They still featured the last player from the Romanian imports in the long gone 1960s – Ilie Datcu – but he hardly mattered even as an import: by now, he was a reserve nearing retirement and more importantly – he was going Turk. Soon he got Turkish citizenship and by the law of the country changed his name with Turkish one. Hard to count him as a foreign player anymore. The real foreigner – and the only really famous name in the team was Didi, their coach.
Didi in his playing days for Botafogo (Rio de Janeiro). Now, Didi is a legend: one of megastars in the 1950s; two times world champion with Brazil. Huge aura, therefore, but it was not only Didi-the player. Didi-the coach had also strong reputation: he led Peru at the 1970 World Cup. He coached River Plate (Buenos Aires) in 1971 and Fenerbahce employed him after the Argentine stint. With such reputation and biography, Didi was to inspire and vastly improve if not the whole Turkish football, then at least Fenerbahce. He stayed from 1972 until 1975 and delivered: in 1974 his team broke the three-years long yoke of British coached arch-enemy Galatasaray. And he established Fener’s yoke by repeating the success in the 1974-75 season. Happiness in the yellow-blue camp; tears elsewhere. Didi left after the second title, but the real point here is the Turkish approach: they tried to get coaches from the best schools of football – British, Brazilian, German – in order of developing their football. It was long, long process – the results came in the 1990s and later, but would you believe today that Turkish football used to be in the bottom ranks of European football for many decades?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Down, in the dungeons of football universe, it is hard to tell who is better and who – worse. Albania inhabited the same realm as Malta – and was perceived a better footballing lot. Yet, by the rules of the game, teams from the two countries practically never met in international competitions and therefore it was impossible to judge by head-to-head results. At home, however, the drama of winning and losing was as everywhere else. The 1974-75 championship was won by Dinamo (Tirana) – their 10th title.
Apart from the logo, clearly made after the Soviet ‘mother of them all’, but rather funny reminder of former friendship by 1975, Dinamo was hardly big news: they were one of the usual champions, round record or not.
The big news were the Cup winners: Labinoti (Elbasani).
The club was founded in 1923 and got through changes of names until the Communists christened it in their fashion. Until 1975 Labinoti won precisely nothing.
The squad is unknown to me, but even if it was, nobody would recognize a single name, so it doesn’t matter at the end. The fate of the lowly is to be unknown… but Labinoti made Albanian football history. Not only they won a trophy for the first time – they also were the first club not from the Tirana-Shkoder axis to win the Cup since… 1938! This was not something unimportant, since the Communists disliked small provincial clubs to be winners. Anyway, if somebody wants to learn more, one has to look for different name today:
After the fall of Communism the club was renamed into KS Elbasani. Wait a minute… the logo says KF Elbasani and features 1913, not 1923 as founding year! The year I cannot explain, but KF stand for ‘Klub Football’ and KS for ‘Klub Sportiv’ – apparently, the football team is a branch of all-sports club. And in statistics it is KS Elbasani, not KF Elbasani… oh, never mind. To fathom the ‘deep logic’ in football is mostly hopeless exercise.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ah, the magic and tricks of football… Norway was low on the game’s scale, but Malta was rock bottom. The ball was introduced early on the rocky island, more famous for been the nest of the Maltese Order for centuries. But the monks have nothing to do with football – as almost everywhere else, the British introduced the sport: Malta was their colony by the end of 19th century. Soldiers were stationed on the rocks, they kicked the ball, and everything started. But the Maltese proved stubborn lot… for all those years and despite close ties with England and Italy (their other major influence), local football remained constant – always weak. Even Stanley Matthews failed to improve it – he played his last season there in 1970, when he was playing coach of Hibernians. Big name surely, yet his participation speaks more of the state of the local football: the legend was 55 years old and did not play organized football since 1965. Fit for Malta. though. No matter how weak the game, the Maltese played it and run regular championship of ten teams since the beginning of 20th century. In 1975 Floriana FC proudly won their 22nd Maltese title.
Floriana is the oldest club in Malta, founded in 1894. They hail from the city with the same name near the state’s capital. Well, almost the same name – in Maltese, the city is Furjana, but the club preserves the British name. In 1905 they played against the Dublin Fusiliers regiment, stationed on the island at the time, and after the final whistle the soldiers expressed desire the club start using their colours. The club obliged and plays in green and white ever since, thus acquiring the nickname ‘Tal-Irish’. Floriana also published regularly a club magazine since 1949 – ‘Evergreen’. It was a bulletin really, but still the Maltese were years ahead of most clubs in the world. They collected titles too and as far as Maltese football goes, were major force. This was to change, but not yet. So far – champions.
The Cup went to Valletta FC. The club is younger by almost 20 years than Floriana, but they are the best known Maltese club in Europe – unlike fading Floriana, Valletta remained steadily on top and however shortly, they were constant participants in the European Cups. Hardly ever went beyond the first stage, but at least always around.
The picture is from the previous season, when Valletta won the championship, but the squad was pretty much the same in 1974-75, adding one more cup to their trophy room.
Apart from winners, what else can be said about Maltese football? Looks like the game was played mostly with the aim of building character. Strong character!
There was not a single stadium with grass well until the end of the 1970s and may be longer. Foreign visitors were irritated and worried, but the tricky advantage and strong character failed to help the natives: at the end, foreigners always won. Still do…

Monday, March 7, 2011

Up North tulips didn’t grow – in the snows of Norway football was established long, long ago. The whole of Scandinavia started playing the Brtitish game earlier than most of Europe, yet, with the exception of Sweden, no country became a force. Norway ranked at the bottom of European football, but it had her own heroes nevertheless. Viking (Stavanger) for instance.
The club was founded in 1899 and is not only old, but distinguished as well: since Norwegian league was established, Viking missed only 2 seasons – 1966-67 and 1987-88. Great consistency, but hardly anything else until 1970s – only one title. There was no much after the 70s ended, so this was the decade of burly Vikings – 5 titles altogether! Four of them in a row, starting in 1972. 1975 completed the dominance:
And burly they were, as becoming to their name: champions again, sitting, left to right: Erik Thorsen, Inge Valen, Gunnar Berland, Sigbjorn Slinning, Reidar Goa, Magnus Boe, Arvid Knutsen.
Standing: Anbjorn Ekeland, Svein Kvia, Torbjorn Svendsen, Reidar Instanes, Erik Johannessen, Otto Sundgot, Drivflaat, Trygve Johannessen, Harald Andersen
Raiding and pillaging Norway, bringing trophies home. Toothless abroad the Vikings were, as the whole Norwegian football back then, so nobody really knew them – but 4 years consequent champions deserves mentioning.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Speaking of great and lesser Danes: Koge BK won the Denmark’s championship.
True to tradition, champions varied in this country. For the champions themselves, it was their second title – and until now – last. Modest club, to say the least, but Koge BK held special distinction at home: when they won the championship in distant 1954, they became the first club outside Copenhagen to do so. Winning provincial clubs were no longer news in 1975, but Koge BK were hardly among the better Danish clubs, so it was a surprise to outsiders and happy occasion for the home boys.
Champions without a single known name among them – typically Danish, right? Wait! Not a single player of this squad is listed among the all-time greatest players of the club! Speaking of champions…
A more familiar club won the Cup – Vejle. They were at their first strong period, although never becoming truly dominant force and their ‘golden years’ were still in the unknown future. But that is Danish football – or was.
If Koge BK were anonymous, so were Vejle, according to their names. What is noticeable is shirt advertisement. Amateur football, but trying to get some cash from sponsorship. In Denmark it was hit and miss affair, occasionally quite lunatic. This year it was normal – apart from funny sounding name Vejle sported. Tulip? Never mind the flowers.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

When the Brazilian failures were packing to go home, a historic East European transfer took place – in the summer of 1975 Wlodzimierz Lubanski joined KSC Lokeren. Why ‘historic’, since East Europeans, and Poles in particular, were playing for foreign clubs for years? Because this transfer was no longer hush-hush affair, but officially announced in the Eastern European media. The reports were fantastic – I remember an article on the subject: Lubanski was allowed to play professional football in gratitude. Because of his long service to Polish football. But he was severely injured and missed the 1974 World Cup – he was not expected to recover fully and return to his previous form. Some gratitude… a player, who is considered no longer able to play, given to the Capitalist ‘wolves’. To the wolves, because the ideological point was not omitted at all – the Capitalists exploited players mercilessly and discarded them as soon as a player was no longer profitable. Which seemed to be the case of Lubanski… except he looked like no longer profitable to Communist Poland. There was also a little sneer at the buyers, which made the whole transfer looking like plain cheating – giving the West some second-hand goods. Ha-ha! The weirdness of the commentary led to strange conclusions: it was ‘fair’ Communism which discarded players mercilessly and the greedy cheaters were also Communists, not Capitalists. ‘Gratitude’ – did not look like it. As for business, it was more likely that player had no real value anymore, for he was sold to small Belgian club – whoever was willing to pay whatever hard currency, that is. Yet, on the other hand there was something else: the first ‘official’ transfers were like tasting ideological waters – it was carefully and fearfully done, always with some aging star sold to some obscure club. Too bad Lubanski was chosen for the experiment.
Lubanski with KSC Lokeren’s shirt and having the last laugh – he played 34 games (not missing one during the season!) and scored 17 goals in his first year in Belgium. He also stayed with Lokeren until 1982 and then moved to France, adding a couple more seasons and clubs. And he was to make history yet – Lubanski became the first officially professional and foreign based player included in the Communist Poland’s national team: in the 1978 World Cup. The guy who was not supposed to play high level football anymore…
After him Polish (and soon not only Polish) transfers were casually announced in the East European media – Robert Gadocha was the next and there was no fuss. He also got much better transfer, moving to Nantes (France) in the summer of 1975.
Robert Gadocha, first row, far right, posing with his new club Nantes. His transfer was announced casually in Eastern Europe – as if such transfers were the most normal thing in the world. Better club surely, but Gadocha never played for Poland again, unlike Lubanski.
Transfers are still one of the biggest thrills in football – the media, the fans, the clubs, everybody frets and hopes; enjoys and cries for players coming or going. But that is for summer (or was back in the 70s), when football is not played and hopes for the next season are forged. The real salt is the season itself, though, so enough with transfers and back to the game.
Only the season tells the worth of new players and who and how wise was in the sleepy summer – was it ambitious Nantes, acquiring one of the best players of the 1974 World Cup, Gadocha (left), or the modest Belgian outfit RWD Molenbeek, investing in anonymous Dane – Bjerre (right).