Saturday, April 30, 2011

A bit to the East of DDR, Slovakian football continued its monopoly: Slovan (Bratislava) won their 7th Czechoslovakian title. In a way, it was normal – Slovan were traditionally strong, popular, and well funded. They were also the only Czechoslovakian club with international success, winning the Cup Winners Cup in 1969 – to the envy of Dukla (Prague), the ‘export’ team. By 1975 it was fellow Slovaks from Spartak (Trnava), not Czech Dukla, to reckon with – 7 titles restored the leading position of Slovan, since just in 1973 provincial Trnava equaled Slovan’s domestic honours.

Top, left to right: Bohumil Bizon, Marian Masny, Jan Capkovic, Marian Elefant, Anton Ondrus, Jozef Capkovic, Ivan Pekarik, Jan Haraslin, Koloman Gogh, Karol Jokl.

Sitting: Tibor Matula, Jan Svehlik, Juraj Novotni, Alexander Vencel, Jan Pivarnik, Peter Mutkovic, Marian Sedilek.

Interesting fauna, with Bizon (bison) and Elefant (well, elephant), but the strength of Slovan was not animalistic. Jozef Venglos was coaching them, building bigger and stronger reputation as a coach. His squad was practically the skeleton of the national team. Hardly surprising: Slovan had strong backing as a capital city club, both political and financial. Unlike Trnava, Slovan had no problem recruiting talented players when in need, which helped them to replace smoothly aging players with new stars. So far, transition was easy and by 1975 it had may be more former and current national players than the team from the 1960s: Masny, the Capkovic brothers, Ondrus, Gogh, Svehlik, Vencel, Pivarnik and potential candidates Novotni, Jokl, Elefant, Bizon, Pekarik. The sun was always shining in Bratislava – so far.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

At he bottom of the season’s table ended Hansa (Rostock) and Vorwarts (Stralsund).

Next to last and relegated: Top row, left to right: Jurgen Heinsch – assistant coach, Eckhardt Marzke, Hans-Joachim Streich, Helmut Schuhler, Gerhard Krentz, Wolfgang Rahn, Dieter Lenz, Jorg Seering.

Middle: Hartmut Kruger, Hans-Joachim Wandke, Dieter Schneider, Peter Sykora, Gerd Kische, Bernd Jakubowski.

Bottom: Heinz Werner – coach, Michael Brusehaber, Hans Albrecht, Lothar Hahn, Jurgen Decker, Dietrich Kehl, Michael Mischinger, Rainer Kaube.

Hansa are the most successful East German team after the unification of Germany, but in the old days were lowly club, often relegated. However, their 1974-75 failure was somewhat strange: this squad had 10 players included in Junior and other national teams of DDR. Three more were A-national team players – Schneider played rarely, but Kische and especially Streich were regulars. Hans-Joachim Streich was one of the brightest stars of East Germany at the time And all this talent plummeted to Second Division…

Which was normal for Forwarts (Stralsund).

The club belonging to the army normally played in the Second Division. They won a rare promotion in 1974 and after finishing last in the 1974-75 season moved back to their familiar realm.

Top, left to right: Klaus Marowski, Wolfgang Bruhs, Dieter Schoning, Joachim Metelmann, Jurgen Siermann.

Middle: Gunter Seidler, Dietmar Schulze, Gunter Baltrusch, Eberhard Kogler, Harald Biehl, Manfred Finger.

First row: Klaus Wulst, Detlef Wiezorrek, Gerold Manschus, Jorg-Michael Schmidt, Bernhard Schaupke, Jurgen Renn.

Unlike Hansa, not a single player worth inclusion in any national team formation. In general, Vorwarts belonged exactly to the last place and were the typical story – as a rule, promoted to the First Division clubs sunk back to the Second the next year, which probably was the reason for small league – East Germany run 14-team First Division until the Fall of the Wall. Just as a novelty: Chemie (Leipzig) and Energie (Cottbus) earned promotion in 1975, to replace Hansa and Vorwarts. Both were relegated in 1976, but curiously enough lowly and unstable Hansa and Energie adapted better than any other East German club to the reality of unified Germany and Bundesliga football. Unimaginable in 1975.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Cup was won by BSG Sachsenring (Zwickau).
Sachsenring were not a strong club – rather mid-table one, good enough to stay in First Division year after year. So far, they had been champions once – in the distant 1950 – and won the Cup twice – in 1963 and 1967. One more Cup looked like improvement after a long dry spell – but it turned out to be the last trophy the club won.
Here they are, the Cup winners. If there is anything at all to say about this team, it is their goalkeeper:
Jurgen Croy (right) waiving to the West German enemies at the 1974 World Cup.
Croy was – and is - arguably the best all-time East German goalkeeper. He played 86 matches for the national team and was voted three times East German player of the Year (1972, 1976, and 1978). A player of such caliber normally goes to better clubs, but Croy remained loyal to lowly Sachsenring, where he spent his 17-years long career. Loyalty paid off with 2 cups and nothing else.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

No going West for the East Germans, who failed to capitalize on their peak in 1974. Immediately after the World Cup East German football returned to its usual position in Europe: physically tough teams, but nothing much really. Magdeburg won again the championship, which was kind of expected after their European success the previous season.

It was the same squad as before, led by the hero of the World Cup match against West Germany – Jurgen Sparwasser. Hoffmann, Tyll, Pommerenke, Zapf, Seguin… strong enough in East Germany, but hardly improving as players. Magdeburg lost only 2 matches during the season, but were not overwhelming winners – they ended only 3 points ahead of the pursuers. Scored most goals, but their defense was not very strong, allowing 28 goals in 24 championship games.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Unlike the Cup winners, the Polish champions were familiar – Ruch (Chorzow) were champions in 1974 and now in 1975 as well. Their 12 title so far, more or less evenly spread success through the decades. A solid, stable club, Ruch was never domineering, yet, never outside the top five in the league. It was still the same squad as the year before, coached by the enemy of Coca-Cola drinks Michal Vican.
Top, left to right: Maszczyk, Bajger, Kopicera, Marx, Kurowski, Vican – coach, Czaja, Ostafinski, Faber, Bon, Helebrandt (?).
Bottom: Wyrobek, Wira, Chojnacki, Bula, Benigier, Drzewiecki, Malcher.
By now, Maszczyk was better known abroad, thanks to participation in the World Cup, but it should be noted that the champions of 1974 and 1975 provided only this player to the squad ending third in the world. On the other hand the boys were good for export – soon Marx and Faber went to France.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Poland produced bigger surprise than Romania: if Rapid (Bucharest) were well known club, neither of the finalists for the Polish Cup were. Curiously, the finalists came from cities famous for their motorcycle speedway clubs and races, but not for their football.
Stal (Rzeszow) won their first – and so far last – trophy. They were lowly club, rarely playing in First Division, with no famous players. Rather, with no players to speak of – a typical small and modest club. If Stal occasionally reached First Division, their opponents would not even dream of playing in the Second, for they were not a ‘normal’ club.
ROW II (Rybnik) – they are always written like that, for they were… the second team of ROW (Rybnik). The reserves even did not play at the home town of the mother club – they were officially listed as team from Chwalowice. Well, normally listed there, but since they reached the final, they had to follow the location of the real club. So – Rybnik… even less known than Rzeszow.
The final was scoreless and decided by penalty shoot-out – 3-2 for the ‘big boys’.
Of course, it is admirable when small clubs heroically disturb the status quo, but this final is more irritating than anything: did Rybnik played with their reserve team, or did they used their first? I have no idea, but it is reasonable question: after all, it is one and the same club, permitted to move players at will between its ‘first’ and ‘second’ formation. And not only that: the finalists earned the right to play in the old summer Intertotto tournament – there they were no longer ROW II, but just ROW Rybnik, meaning the ‘mother’ club participated, not the second squad. Meaning, the ‘mother’ club absorbed the success of the ‘reserve’ team – which is normal… Apart from that, the final was strange in another aspect: Poland just finished third in the whole world. Yet, the country football seemed to be in some hangover in 1975, instead of building on the big achievement. True, Polish football was never dominated by two or three ‘big’ clubs and was more democratic than most countries, but was it really an expression of general improvement or of a decline? Well, no need to be extra harsh on the small clubs: for both finalists 1975 is the best year they ever had!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rapid (Bucharest) won the Cup and, depending on point of view, this victory could be seen as a sign of improvement, or as a sign of decay.

Rapid, founded in 1923, ranked – roughly speaking - third in Bucharest. It was workers club – as many clubs, not only in Eastern Europe, railroad workers organized it and the ties remained. The ‘working class’ roots preserved the club from destruction when the Communists took power, but not as a leading club. It was the typical story: popular clubs , with strong workers support, were not favoured by and even were suspect to the new rulers, who quickly created their own ‘real working class clubs’ – Steaua (representing the army) and Dynamo (representing the Police) both appeared in 1947. Among the two the real football strength laid, and Rapid was dwarfed. As a result, Rapid fans cultivated the myth of persecution from – and opposition to – the state. And, like everywhere in East Europe, it was difficult to untangle real suppression from imagined one – surely Rapid were not favoured and their record during the whole Communist period is akin to the records of Slavia (Prague) and Slavia (Sofia): they were Romanian champions only once (in 1967), won the Cup in 1972, and now in 1975, but it was the last trophy until the fall of Communism. Although the fans saw Steaua and Dynamo as the arch-enemies, the club was really on the second-tier level with Sportul Studencesc and Progresul – and Progresul was even more successful than Rapid. But that is in terms of football in Bucharest – on national scale Rapid was not exactly seen as a victim, for they had enough clout to loot provincial players if Steaua and Dynamo were not interested in such players, of course. Rapid also provided quite regularly good players for the national team, but after the end of the 1960s – not so often. The Cup winning squad still had good old horses, like Alexandru Neagu and promising youngsters, like Nicolae Manea, but… the club was already on slippery slope: the old players were retiring and the youngsters were not on the same level. 1975 was followed by steady decline and eventual relegation.

Were the Romanians better? Not really – the 1970s were not their years either, but 1975 to a point was a year of change from decline to beginning of improvement. It was hardly detectable at the time, only tiny signs were noticeable, nothing convincing yet. If the decline could be marked by the slump of Steaua (Bucharest), the recovery may be seen in shift to Dinamo (Bucharest). At the down of the decade Steaua looked very promising, yet never achieved anything internationally and after the departure of their coach Stefan Kovacz to Ajax (Amsterdam) the team gradually faded away. A whole generation of fairly known players aged and Romania was unable to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. At that time it was a land of practically unknown clubs and players, so it was not surprising that the first signs of ‘life’ were missed. Besides, Dinamo (Bucharest) were hardly newcomer, but one of the usual contenders for Romanian titles. Now, with bland national team and decaying Steaua, how good the Police team could be? The truth is, transitional teams are never really good and most often are not even detected. Dinamo won already two championships in the 70s – 1970-71 and 1972-73. Apart from their fans, they impressed nobody and thus it was assumed that their 8th title in 1974-75 was just another run of the mill performance. And the assumption was largely justified by Dinamo’s record: they won the championship, but 10 out of 34 matches! Hardly convincing… But their fabulous striker Dudu Georgescu won the Golden Shoe, scoring the most goals in Europe – 33 (He was to better this number soon by scoring 47 goals in a single season, but this is another story related to Romanian corruption, eventually leading to the end of this award in 1991.)

The old club’s logo, when Dinamo was not yet nicknamed ‘Red Dogs’ – or if they were, the nickname was hardly a compliment for a club belonging to Securitate – the Romanian Secret Political Police.

Good, bad, cops or not, winners are winners… Dinamo was coached by former well known player from the 1960s – Ion Nunweiller (actually, assistant coach), one of the great Nunweiller dynasty – the third of 7 brothers, all remarkable players. Radu Nunweiller (often listed in the old fashion way as Nunweiller VI) was still playing. The future great, in terms of international success, coach – Mircea Lucescu – was part of this team and still a member of the Romanian national team. Also Cornel Dinu and Alexandru Satmareanu (or Satmareanu II), who was of the ‘next’ generation of exported Romanian players (joined VfB Stuttgart in 1980 and Fort Lauderdale Strikers in 1982) – an ethic Hungarian, he is sometimes listed under his original name nowadays: Alexander Szatmari. More or less, those were players established in the 1960s, but the wind of change came from the young Dudu Georgescu, scoring goals in stupefying numbers. As often is the case, ‘winds of change’ are just ‘winds’… Georgescu somehow never reached the fame and the recognition of the Romanian players of the 1980s and 1990s – he was pretty much lone bird, playing in transitional decade. Since Ronmanian national team was not very strong yet, Georgescu was not much noticed abroad. He wasn’t scoring that much for Romania either, which eventually tainted his goalscoring reputation – were his goals for Dinamo fairly scored or were they ‘doctored’? Later Romanian goalscorers were proved ‘helped’, to say the least, in order of winning the Golden Shoe, so why not Georgescu’s too? But suspicion was casted years later – in 1975 he was just a faint sign of better days coming. Still ‘may be’ coming… and big ‘may be’ it was.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Yet, pessimism dominated the picture – the winners of the two Second Divisions only confirmed the crisis: ZhSK Spartak (Varna) won the Northern, and Beroe (Stara Zagora) - the Southern Second Division. It was quick return to top flight for both clubs – they were relegated together in 1973-74, and obviously were too strong for the lower level. Which meant football down there was getting poorer if anything… Yet, if one looks at the promoted teams, there was nothing to be optimistic about.

ZhSk Spartak back to First Division: Standing, left to right: Nedev, Iliev, Enchev, Zafirov, Popov, Fazhev. Crouching: Radev, Iv. Petrov, Kiryakov, Zahariev, Andonov.

Beroe, best in the South. First row, left to right: B. Kirov, Zh. Zhelev, P. Petkov, D. Dimitrov, M. Katzarov, N. Ivanov.

Middle: Chr. Panchev – assistant coach, P. Olimpiev, K. Kasherov, G. Vassilev, K. Kostov, Chr. Todorov, T. Minchev, B. Tanev, Chr. Mladenov – coach.

Third row: G. Georgiev, St. Ivanov, Chr. Belchev, R. Boyadzhiev, Chr. Antonov, D. Stoyanov.

It was mind-boggling why ZhSK Spartak spent the decade between First and Second Division, but Beroe was even more weird – the club from Varna usually stayed at the bottom of First Division, when playing there at all, which was not the case of Beroe – their amplitude was greater: a year at the top, ending third and reaching Cup final, and playing in the European cups, was followed by relegation. Which was followed by another strong season, then – another downslide. If the squads were made of average players, such fluctuations were understandable, but it was not the case: ZhSK Spartak had Krassimir Zafirov, one of the constantly best goalkeepers in the country in the 1970s and 1980s. Beroe had Petko Petkov – the best Bulgarian goalscorer of the 1970s. Unlike most provincial teams, both clubs had large number of players included in the national team at one or another time: Zafirov, Ivan Petrov, Enchev from ZhSK Spartak; Petkov, Dimitar Dimitrov, Kirov, Zhelev, Tenyo Minchev, Kasherov from Beroe. And such players were unable to keep their clubs in the First Division… may be they were not that good? And if so, Bulgarian football was lacking talent in general. Fair conclusion – the 1970s were lackluster years. Unremarkable at best; very weak at worst.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Slavia (Sofia) finished third in the championship and won the Cup, but the fans of the club felt they were robbed from a title. They bitterly joked that the club is not permitted a championship because such thing would mean death. Serious death.

Slavia was considered the oldest existing Bulgarian club (today this is revised and disputed), and were very successful until 1944, when the Communists took over the state. From those long gone days their rivalry with Levski was established as the oldest derby in the country. The club was found on the model of Slavia (Prague), originally representing Pan-Slavic ideas, which in more mundane football terms were hopes that the revered club from Prague may help their ‘brothers’. However, hopes and reality proved different: relations between the two namesakes were cordial but distant at best, non-existing at the worst. Yet, both teams shared the same fate during Communism: they never won national championship (and both added titles after the fall of Communism) – which fueled fans’ lore of persecution and victimization. To a point, it was true: the mergers of early 1969 quite clearly aimed at destruction of old and popular clubs. Slavia, by then reduced to the third club of Sofia, and to the ‘smaller derby’ with the 4th club Lokomotiv, was merged exactly with the railways club. Fans of both clubs were alienated; players and club officials hated each other, depending on ‘origins’, it was cat and dogs in one bag, and soon the new amalgamation was dissolved (destruction worked well, though: many old fans never returned). And there was more: structurally, Slavia belonged to the Army – to a branch of it, peculiar to Bulgaria – the ‘working corps’. Massive number of soldiers served in this branch, created after the First World War and preserved by the Communists as well – they were to work on various public projects, road construction for instance, but by 1975 the scale was larger: soldiers worked in many big industries; in the building trade; the railroads; etc. It was cheap labour for the state, more akin to slavery than anything else, but still it was branch of the regular army – in case of war, the ‘workers’ were to be infantry (considering their utter lack of military training, one can easily guess the fate of such infantry during a war). A branch of the army, but relatively independent and, unfortunately, disliked by regular officers… the ‘workers’ had their generals and every other rank, but they were not considered equal to ‘real’ officers. Tangential relations existed with the ‘real’ army, but subordination remained and since CSKA was on top of the army’s sports pyramid, Slavia was to be bossed around when needed. This handicap was combined with others: by becoming the third club in Sofia, Slavia had difficulties with recruiting players – they were able to get leftovers after CSKA and Levski hunted down the best talent. And finally, Slavia preserved old habits… for them, the ‘real’ derby was with Levski, as it was many years ago. And because of that they played strongly against ‘the Blues’, but rarely cared much for opposing CSKA. Because of that it became largely immaterial whether CSKA ordered them to lose against the Army club and win over Levski – ‘the Whites’ had strong motivation to do exactly that anyway. The combination of relations, influence, pride, restricted abilities, etc., resulted in generally ineffective performance and weaker squads, building specific tradition: Slavia were notoriously unpredictable and uneven. They were capable of great performance in match, followed by dreadful loss from the worst team in the next. And this tradition was perhaps more important than real or imagined conspiracies against them: Slavia was losing too many points because of their inconsistency. To this very day they play exactly in accord with their tradition – and 1974-75 differed not from it. But they had young and very promising squad at the time, which played perhaps the best football in Bulgaria at the time, sharply contrasting to the general decline. Slavia came close to winning the title – they ended only 3 points behind the champions, and won the Cup. May be they were robbed from some points by orders from ‘above’, but they also failed to perform strongly in some matches, so I am inclined to blame their traditional inconsistency more than the scheming of CSKA and Levski. As for the lore… Slavia won their last title in 1943, when Bulgarian King Boris died under unclear and suspect circumstances (strong suspicion, alas, never proven, that he was poisoned by the German Nazis.) – thus, the joke was that if they win the title, Todor Zhivkov (or whoever Communist running the country) will die, and to prevent that Slavia was to never be a champion. Preserving Communism depended on keeping Slavia away from trophies, if you will.

Front row, left to right: Andonov, Yonov, Kolev, Aleksandrov, Kostov, Tzvetkov, Bonchev, Simeonov.

Middle: Parzhelov – coach, Velichkov, Issakidis, Zhelyazkov, Topuzov, Evtimov, Minchev, Kotzev, Pashoolov- assistant coach, Terziisky – assistant coach.

Top: Tzolov, Tassev, Milcho Evtimov, Georgiev, Grigorov, Iliev, Gugalov.

A very interesting squad it was: old stars were still around – Simeonov, Grigorov, Tassev, Kotzev, Yonov, but the emphasis was already on the young talent, like the central defenseman Ivan Iliev. Yet, the most promising were the midfield and the attack: the middle line Vanyo Kostov – Kostas Issakidis – Georgy Minchev, and the lethal attack Atanas Aleksandrov – Andrey Zhelyazkov – Tchavdar Tzvetkov. It was well balance squad, internally competitive, and somewhat free of poisonous rivalry (normally, old stars, having a lot of clout, playing instead of young and better players – somehow, this was not the case in Slavia at that time, thus benefiting the club with good, experienced reserves, ready to help when a youngster underperformed.) With so much old and new talent there were some difficulties too – one was not solved: with four strong goalkeepers, two hardly ever were listed even as substitutes – and they were the legendary Simeon Simeonov, who was in the 1974 World Cup squad, but did not play for Slavia practically since 1970, and Andonov, who was in the successful Under-21 Bulgarian national team, but… hardly ever played ‘adult’ football. The experienced Tzolov was usually listed as a substitute, therefore, playing very little and becoming grumpy as well. Another difficulty was successfully solved – Bozhidar Grigorov, central-forward and fans’ darling, was edged by young Zhelyazkov, and to field him as a striker became impossible – but he was moved in defense, which proved brilliant change – ‘Bobby Grig’ ended as Player of the Year! But it was midfield and attack lines considered most exciting and the future of Bulgarian football – they were still very young, and not ‘ripe’ enough yet, but in few years time… all of them were already included in the national team, but were not firm starters: they were still relatively inconsistent and moody (as a whole, 11 players of this squad played for the national team in different years, plus some more included in other national formations – Junior National team; Under-21; the Olympic team; the B National team.) The most promising of them all was Kostas Issakidis – very creative playmaker, possessing wonderful technical skills. Unfortunately, it was never fulfilled promise – moody and inconsistent they remained and Issakidis was lost… an Ethnic Greek, he was allowed to emigrate to Greece and play professionally there after 1975. Unfortunately, he already had a few matches for the Bulgarian national team and therefore would not play for Greece – as a result, he became unknown to the world, playing for smaller Greek clubs. Arrested development… without him, Slavia somehow was never the same: one player in great form, another out of form – that was the case in the following years, but, curiously enough, these guys eventually played abroad and quite well: Vanyo Kostov in Portugal; Tchavdar Tzvetkov in Austria; and Andrey Zhelyazkov, who was the most successful foreign based Bulgarian player before Christo Stoichkov. However, all of this was in the distant future – nobody even dreamed it in 1975, when the white boys were seen as the bright future of Bulgarian football.

Friday, April 1, 2011

If there was some light in the darkness, it came from too clubs – Akademik and Slavia, both from Sofia. Akademik finished 5th and their best performance was still to come, but it was a steady climb year after year, playing technical and pleasant to watch football. This club deserves a few words, because of its strangeness.

Found in 1947, Akademik was one of Communist concoctions, envisioned to represent the ‘new world’. Whatever the grand Communist vision was, it had a major defect: roughly, it was based on the concept of ‘people’s representation and participation’ and it was to be ‘amateur’. Clubs were attached – and theoretically represented – various industries and social groups. On one hand, it was financing of the clubs and on the other – the pretence that ‘real’ workers were playing the game, not professionals. After the Soviet model, the most powerful clubs were those belonging to the Army and the Police – CSKA and Spartak (Sofia), the latter until fused with Levski in the winter break of 1968-69 season. Those clubs were really pyramids – central club and various lower members in provincial towns. How fair would be a championship, where a whole lot of satellites play was question never raised, but it was clear enough: when CSKA was to play against, say, Sliven, the result was known in advance… after all, colonels are subordinate to generals. Not everything was that ‘subordinated’, though – the clubs belonging to the Ministry of Transportation – to the railways branch, in reality – meaning all clubs named ‘Lokomotiv’ – were independent from each other. The whole system was quite foggy – most provincial clubs belonged – or were financed at least – by various local factories and businesses. Thus, Minyor (Pernik) belonged to the Pernik’s coal mines, and the other club of the city – Metallurg – belonged to giant metallurgical plant. Yet, in some cities the local Communist Party rulers kept a club afloat (normally, by forcing local industries to finance it, but not governing it.) This concept worked better in smaller provincial towns, where there was only one club and fans rallied to support it. In big cities it was not so and the problem was embedded in the original ‘branch’ concept – somehow, the original idea was loyalty to the club representing ‘you’. A miner was envisioned supporting the club of his mine. Which means that: if the said miner changes profession and becomes metallurgical worker, he was to change his support accordingly. But fans do not change their clubs… and as a result Spartak (Sofia) never had any fans: Sofianites either were fans of pre-Communist clubs (Levski, Slavia, Lokomotiv), or became supporters of the heavily promoted as the ‘true club of the people’ CSKA. Akademik was in even worse way, for it was to represent the ‘students’ and, more specifically, the university students. A temporary social group by definition: one is a student for about 4 years and after that is something else, according to his newly acquired profession. The first result was that Akademik never had fans – and still does not. The second result was power: it was poor and not influential club, in fact in the ranking of Sofia’s clubs it came 5th. Money the club had not – it offered education (easy education, normally in the Highest Institute of Sport. Players were to have easy student life and degree for their services on the pitch. All ‘student’ clubs in Bulgaria offered the same.) But Akademik were not the sole holders of academic degrees: more powerful clubs were able to arrange higher education for willing players as well, with additional much better pay. What remained for Akademik was that it was perhaps the only club close to the original Communist vision of sports: by structural definition, it was impossible for the club to have other players than students. Which meant that immediately after graduation a player would no longer play for the club – the Army, the Police, the mines, and the metallurgical plants can ‘employ’ people indefinitely, but ‘university student’ is short and fixed occupation. In the whole history of Akademik there were only handful of players who stayed longer than 4 years and it is not their names interesting, but how such thing was arranged at all. Normally, Akademik was a constant flux and attracted lesser players: those, who really wanted to get degree; some, who preferred to move to the capital of the country, or Sofianites wanting to stay in the capital instead of going to play for a provincial club. During the Communist years, Akademik never had a single player coming from its own youth system (by regulations, every club had to have children and youth teams – Akademik’s was a dead end: after finishing high school a kid had to apply for university and become a student, if getting high marks at the entry exams. But he was not to begin studying even if accepted, for he was to serve two years in the army first. Because of that it was meaningless for Akademik to look at its own youth system: football players are rarely good students on one hand, and even if there was somebody, the army was surely taking him away.) Although Akademik played First Division in the 1950s , and even finished 3rd once, the foundational handicaps took hold and in the 1960s the club had more or less sedated life in the Second Division. The forced mergers in the beginning of 1969 changed the picture: four First Division clubs ‘amalgamated’ in mid-season left the league short of teams, but there were ‘homeless’ extra players.

Akademik was administratively moved to First Division, taking the record of one of the perished clubs. The superfluous players from the destroyed clubs were given to Akademik as well. It was all crazy, but boosted the declining club. At the beginning of the 1970s Akademik got a good coach – Danko Roev – and under his guidance the team improved both selection and performance. Big stars did not come, but a string of reliable players arrived – some youth CSKA preferred to discard; some provincial players with good reputation, willing to get a coaching degree. The team improved and was able to replace outgoing players with sufficient talent. It was still second-rated talent, players the big clubs overlooked or were not interested in at all, but it was good for the small Akademik – except for one thing: they were easy prey for the mighty. If there was really remarkable player, CSKA or Levski swallowed him, student or not. Because of that Akademik was not to become a candidate for championship title, but third placed club at the most. Natural high turn-over of players was embedded handicap even without big sharks lurking near. In the summer of the 1975 they finished 5th.

Akademik missed the spot allowing competing in the UEFA Cup just on goal difference, but they won the Balkans Club Cup in 1974, the reason they wear medals. Bottom, left to right: Tishansky, Angelov, Zhelyazkov, Lozanov, Vassilev, Milen Goranov, Simov, Parvanov.

Middle row: Danko Roev – coach, Nedelchev, Chalev, Nikolov, Paunov, Krassimir Goranov, Yankov, P. Petkov – assistant coach.

Third row: Roev, Radev, Gologanov, Tikhanov, Ivanov, Stankov, Gyorev, Lyudmil Goranov.

None was a product of Akademik – all players came from other clubs. Some were juniors of CSKA (Tishansky, Chalev) and some products of Levski’s youth system (Nedelcho Radev), discarded by their clubs. Some were established players before joining Akademik – Todor Paunov, for instance, in Lokomotiv (Plovdiv). Some were promising youngsters from provincial clubs – Bogomil Simov (Minyor). Some were unknowns who really developed when playing for Akademik, like Mladen Vassilev and Angelov. And soon enough most either retired or went to play elsewhere (Milen Goranov and Krassimir Goranov for CSKA; Ivan Tishansky and Angel Stankov for Levski). By the end of the 1970s only the ‘deep’ reserves of this squad were still donning sky-blue jerseys: Parvanov, Gologanov, and Gyorev. Many played for the national team as well (although not at the same time and not always during their days with Akademik) – Mladen Vassilev, Milen Goranov, Simov, Tishansky, Angelov. Good team, fun to watch, but structurally doomed never to be a champion…