Monday, May 30, 2011

Portugal had difficult decade and in the middle of it football was at its shakiest. Since long hairs were almost sure sign of greatness during the 1970s, Portuguese had to be the greatest of all, for they sported the wildest hairs in Europe. Alas, it not so and the look was more related to the ‘Carnation Revolution’, which ended the enormously long dictatorial rule of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar and his successor (1932-1974), than to purely football matters. As a whole, Portuguese football was rapidly declining in the early 70s, but also there was a shift of power. The shift was not yet significant enough, but it was detectable already: it was the end of Lisbon’s dominance and reshaping of rivalries. Traditionally, national football was dictated by ‘the Big Three’ – by 1975 it was no longer clear which the 3th club was: Benfica and Sporting surely, but FC Porto or Os Belenenses? Belenenses, the third ranking club of Lisbon, was surely declining – they were the most successful club once upon a time, but it was already ancient story, which ended in 1933. Their last title was in 1946, but they were still maintaining relatively strong position, finishing 6th in 1974-75. As for Sporting, they remained technically the number 2 club in terms of success, still managed to win titles, and finished 3rd this year. Benfica won the championship – who else? – so it looked like the status quo remained. But two clubs from Porto were edging Lisbon: Boavista finished 4th and FC Porto – 2nd. This city’s football was on the rise, changing the picture: traditionally the big derby was ‘the people’ – Sporting – against ‘the government and the rich’ – Benfica. A Lisbon derby. By 1975 it was more like ‘the industrious province, which makes money, only to be robbed from the fruits of hard labour by the snobbish bureaucrats in the capital’ – FC Porto – against these very loots – Benfica. Sporting fans may disagree, but at least for Benfica ‘the Dragons’, as FC Porto are nicknamed, were already bigger challenge and bigger trouble. FC Porto was not strong enough yet – they won their last title (which equaled them with Os Belenenses) in the distant 1959 – but were moving consistently up.
Benfica – FC Porto: Benfica’s libero Humberto tries to score between desperate looking Dragons Tibi and Marco Durelio. By names, Benfica still had advantage.
Or did it have advantage? FC Porto had the great Peruvian Teofilo Cubillas (far right) in his squad, freshly acquired from Switzerland. Well… still Benfica rules, for Cubillas is defending.
But even this derby was mostly for local consumption – may be great, but unimpressive by European standards… no Portuguese team, club or national formation – was noticeable outside the state’s borders. If the clubs on top of the table were familiar, it was more to say about the general weakness of Portuguese football at the time: declining giants, but the rest of the league was even weaker, so the giants continued to stay on top. So far.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Traditionally, Yugoslavia was regarded for playing the best domestic football in Eastern Europe, but 1974-75 was hardly great. The hangover after the good performance at the 1974 World Cup took its tall. Just a year ago the image of Yugoslavian football was thrilling dribbling like:
Danilo Popivoda (middle, with the green shirt of Olimpija Ljubljana), or exciting moments from new derbies, like Hajduk (Split) – Velez (Mostar):
Halilhodzic (red shirt, Velez) scores in the net of Meskovic of Hajduk.
A great duel in front of Velez’s net: Branko Oblak (Hajduk) kicks spectacularly, but is denied by Velez goalie and captain Enver Maric. In the next moment this was repeated. Thrill was the word in 1973-74.
1974-75 was perhaps best illustrated by this moment from the big derby Crvena zvezda – Partizan:
Now, classic derbies were more often war than football, but in the new season it was a parody: complaints and simulations. Players spent long time pretending to be dead. Was football dead? Or was it asleep?
There were some good reason for the decline: Partizan was still rebuilding and played small role in the first half of the 1970s. After the World Cup large number of strong players were permitted to play professionally abroad – Crvena zvezda suffered most from the exodus and needed time to build new team. Others either suffered from exodus of stars or felt victims of the rebuilding of the ‘grand’ clubs, losing promising players to them. Velez (Mostar0 was raising, it is true, but they never had the means for recruiting stars and depended on their own production. It was good at the moment, but still limited in numbers, so the club was hardly championship contender. There was one more reason - organizational. There was no cup tournament in 1975. Two years back Yugoslavia organized a single year cup tournament and now was going back to the usual fall-spring structure. The transition was difficult: there was no time to stage 1975 cup competition – the spring was too short, and in the fall the 1975-76 tournament was beginning. One tournament less further diminished excitement. At the end, it was weak year… low scoring – the best average was 1.82 goals per match, achieved by Velez (Mostar). Ties dominated the championship – only three, out of 18 participants, ended with less than 10 ties. The only really attack-oriented club was Hajduk (Split) – they finished with 20 wins. The next best was 16 wins in 34 games – hardly great: it is less than 50%!
Hajduk were champions and the only brightness this year. They require a more detailed story.
By itself, the victory of Hajduk was nothing unusual – its already 8th title for the clun, which is traditionally strong – they had been good in the first half of the century and continued to be strong in Communist Yugoslavia. Why? May be because they were from small provincial town – unlike the old clubs of Zagreb, they were not destroyed by the Communists. May be taught unimportant. The other reason was that Yugoslav football was not as carnivorous as in the ‘proper’ East Europe – Crvena zvezda and Partizan took a lot of provincial players, yet, never to the extend done elsewhere, where two or three central clubs dominated the whole country. Of course, Yugoslavia was blessed with plenty of good footballers and the Belgrade clubs had more than enough homegrown talent as well, so there was no great need to pillage everybody else all the time. Dynamo (Zagreb) did not pillage Hajduk either – may be they not even permitted to use the rest of Croatia as ‘farm clubs’ for fear of nationalism: Tito’s Yugoslavia severely suppressed local nationalism. In such environment Hajduk remained strong and the 1970s were their best decade. By then it was not only the luck of having talented players, but a system was developed, permitting the club to profit and to remain strong at the same time: its youth system was great, the aim was to produce and sell abroad great players, to invest the money in better facilities and again in the youth system, and the produce more young players of high caliber. The club carefully controlled the sales, so to maintain constantly strong squad – in fact, only one player left without club’s permission during the 1970s: Slavisa Zungul, who went to USA and played largely indoor football (Zungul became indoor soccer legend, nicknamed ‘Lord of All Indoors’, but was largely lost to the ‘big’ football after he went to USA in 1977. He ended with only 14 games for Yugoslavia and is hardly remembered in Europe today. Actually, he was banned by FIFA after Yugoslavian complaint, and would not play outdoor football in legitimate league. As for his talent, consider this: he left Hajduk at 23 years of age – and he scored 176 goals for his former club by that time! In about 5 seasons. But enough of him.)
Hajduk followed a concept similar to the practice of Ajax (Amsterdam): producing great players; selling them; investing the money into the youth system; developing new crop. It worked! The club was both winning and profiting – and 1975 brought one more title.
Tomislav Ivic was still coaching them and what a squad he had! 10 national players, quite young all of them. Branko Oblak was already sold to Schalke-04 and making strong impression in the Bundesliga, but Hajduk was not negatively affected by his departure: the club had great and competitive ‘long’ squad. Rizah Meskovic and Ivan Buljan were the next in line for playing abroad, and already they had ‘reserves’ like Katalinic (already a starter between the goalposts) and Dzoni (already with few games for the national team of Yugoslavia). Most of the players were homegrown – the club rarely took players from outside its own system, but whoever they took, they really flourished in Hajduk: Oblak, a Slovenian, and Meskovic, a Bosnian, were point in case. And the biggest thing about Hajduk was that they were fun to watch, playing open, fast, attacking football. Trully amazing club.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Krylya Sovetov were dwarfs when compared even to the likes of Dynamo (Minsk).
The ‘Soviet Wings’ from Kyubyshev (which is now restored to its original name – Samara) were relatively young club – founded in 1942. In the midst of Second World War, that is - which explains why their first official match happened in 1944. After the end of the war they played regularly in the First Division, but without any success – their highest achievement was in 1951, when they finished 4th. Most of the time they played hide and seek with relegation, eventually losing the game, but in 1969 they lost in a significant way – if before ‘the Rats’ were able to return quickly, this time they remained in the Second Division for 6 years. Hardly a surprise: during their whole history the club was small and with downward destiny because of that. Their return to First Division was viewed skeptically.
The Rats in 1975: first row, left to right: B. Starukhin, V. Shelenkov, V. Panfilov, V. Dzyuba, S. Kraev, V. Alekasanov, A. Blokhin, V. Filippov.
Middle: I. Gorshkov – assistant coach, R. Aryapov – captain, G. Fridlyand – team’s boss.
Third row: V. Solovyev – assistant coach, S. Yarkin – masseur, V. Zhupikov, G. Platonov, A. Fetissov, V. Kopaev, Yu. Devkalionov – administrator, A. Zabiyako, A. Kupriyanov, A. Chudinov, E. Nazarov, V. Taran, Yu. Kutuzov – team’s doctor, V. Kirsh – coach.
Well, compared to this squad, Dynamo (Minsk) was full of stars, for these guys are really anonymous. ‘Survival’ is only aim coming to mind, yet, survival was to be a miracle. Actually, promotion to First Division was a miracle with team like this one… perhaps even their fans did not see them playing in the First Division longer than a season.

Monday, May 23, 2011

If Lokomotiv shined at the beginning of the year, the happy names at the end were different: Dynamo (Minsk) and Krylya Sovetov (Kuybyshev) finished first and second in the Second Division and moved up to the First. Good for them, yet, little to brag about.
Neither club was a fresh name – both were rather returnees from ‘exile’.
The Belarussian club was old by Soviet standards - founded in 1927 – and normally played premier league football. The best way to describe it is ‘modest’ – their highest achievements were finishing at 3rd place twice, in 1954 and 1963, and reaching the Cup final once, in 1965. Winning was not their forte and eventually Dynamo entered the slippery slopes at the bottom of the league, sometimes surviving, sometimes not and going down to the Second Division. Now they were returning after one year spell in the lower regions, but did not look candidates for greatness at all.
First row, left to right: S. Korbut, V. Kurnev, G. Voronin, A. Baydachny, I. Grigoriev, B. Belous, A. Grebnev, S. Borovsky.
Second row: L. Adamov – assistant coach, A. Gorbylev – chief of the team, E. Goryansky – coach, M. Vergeenko, V. Girko, I. Timofeev, A. Prokopenko, A. Bogovik – captain, V. Shvetzov, V. Slovak, A. Mosin, G. Bortkevich – team’s doctor.
Second division clubs hardly possess famous players and this squad is no exemption. Their coach Evgeny Goryansky is perhaps the biggest name here, but Anatoly Baydachny must be mentioned as well – not long ago he was playing for Dynamo (Moscow) and the national team. However, it is not his own plummeting interesting here, but the fate of clubs like his current one. As all clubs named ‘Dynamo’, the Minsk version was part of the large pyramid ‘Dynamo Sports Society’, belonging to the Ministry of the Interior (KGB and the regular Police). Dynamo (Moscow) was the very top of it, but down the ranks was no so simple: normally, the top was able to get whatever they wanted, the rest of the pyramid existing largely as a supplier. But USSR was a federal state and some clubs – Dynamo (Kiev) as a prime example – were increasingly seen as a representatives of their republics, with heavy support and scheming coming from local Party quarters. Thus, Kiev was not simply Dynamo (Moscow) helper. To a point, Dynamo (Minsk) was not either, but only to a point, for it was commandeered by Belarussian boss of Police, and not by the Communist Party boss, and remained closer to the bosom of the ‘mother club’. Closeness is both a blessing and a curse: Minsk was calling up for help and receiving some – players, no longer needed in Moscow. Baydachny arrived this way and he was soon followed by others. But it was not one-way road - if Dynamo (Moscow) needed some player from Minsk, they just got it. There was nothing to negotiate – it was simply generals ordering colonels, a routine procedure not open for discussion. To evaluate the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ about clubs like Dynamo (Minsk) is almost impossible: there are players, who are not good enough for big clubs, but become key figures in smaller ones. Some players dispatched from Moscow were of this kind and Minsk benefited from them. But, in general, a big club ‘helps’ a smaller one only with unneeded players, meaning they are not really good anyway for one or another reason (permanently injured, out of form, aging, undisciplined, lazy, etc.) A lot of ‘dead meet’ arrived to Minsk as well. But pyramid structures are dangerous by definition: it is something like a system of farm-clubs in North American sports. Whoever the ‘real’ club needs immediately moves to the ‘centre’ – which permanently prevents smaller clubs from building strong teams and performing with consistency. At the end, such clubs even stop developing homegrown talent, for there is no point – the top will get it immediately. It is true that Belarus did not breed a lot of talented players, and it is true that Minsk mostly benefited from players sent from Moscow, but it seems also true that the club had meager existence because of its structural subordination. Up they went in 1975… kind of.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

In the beginning of 1975 the first – I think it was the first – indoor football tournament in USSR was organized by the weekly newspaper ‘Nedelya’. It was not futsal, for there was no futsal yet as such, but close to ice-hockey in terms of rules and staging of pitch. Moscow clubs participated and the winner was surprising: Lokomotiv. The smallest Moscow club at the time and also the weakest, meandearing between First and Second Division of late. It was novelty tournament and that is the very reason for mentioning it here. Besides, it was the only tournament Lokomotiv won for many, many years… actually, until the 1990s.
Here are the happy winners.
And another photo of them, this time with names: Front, left to right: Vladimir Peregontzev, Nikolay Maslov, Zoltan Miles - captain, Anatoly Piskunov, Yury Spiridonov, Boris Kogut
Back: Vladimir Malinin, Nikolay Kalaychev, Genady Hizun, Nikolay Zudin, Anatoly Novikov, David Pais, Sergey Ryumin, Yury Ryzhov, Aleksander Trusov.
Nobody famous in the squad – Lokomotiv depended on leftovers from the big clubs – but one player should be mentioned: David Pais. As the name suggests, he was Spanish. What, Spaniards in Soviet clubs? Yes, there were, although most of them, like Pais, were born in USSR – children of Spanish Communists, who took refuge in USSR at the end of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Pais was not the only Iberian playing Soviet football, but the ‘cradle’ of Spaniards was not Lokomotiv – it was Torpedo (Moscow).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Moscow was out of the Cup, where two recent champions competed: Zarya (Voroshilovgrad) and Ararat (Erevan), correspondingly USSR champions of 1972 and 1973. Zarya is a difficult club to evaluate: on one hand is their tainted reputation – it is widely accepted now that they bribed their way to the title in 1972. ‘Bribed’ is perhaps incorrect word: the club itself was at least partially a pawn. The key figure was the Communist Party boss of Voroshilovgrad, who was ambitious and influential. He had championship ambition and pull his weight via Party channels to achieve it. Naturally, the club was not just an innocent victim. But who is reliable source? There was no investigation, the title is recognized to this very day, Zarya’s coach German Zonin still insists that his team won fairly, and there is a choir of former sportsmen singing praise to the ancient Party Secretary ‘who really cared for sports’. Yet, Zonin departed rather quickly after winning the title – rumor says because he wanted ‘to stay away from devil’s temptation’. The squad itself wasn’t much and after the best players were moved to mightier clubs, it was getting increasingly weaker and dropping down and close to relegation zone. But cup tournament have their own logic and it is not unusual smaller and weaker clubs to perform well: Zarya reached – and lost – the final in 1974 and went all the way to the final in 1975. May be they were not that bad? May be they were really a cup club? Or may be it was easier to bribe in the Cup tournaments? Whatever it was, Zarya lost the final 1-2.
Ararat were the happy winners and their story is different – nobody ever accused them of corruption when winning their single title. Ararat was looked with caution because of nationalism – the whole Republic of Armenia celebrated the title as nationalist victory, people shouted ‘Armenia’, not ‘Ararat’. Politically suspect… but it was not politics to end Ararat. It was the very state of football: Armenian football was not great before and was not great after the short period from 1970-76. The winning squad was practically a single lucky fenomenon of about 20 good players of the same age. They raised out of nowhere, won, remained stable as long as they played, and after them – back to lowly existence. And these players were only relatively good, for nobody except the elegant midfielder Andreasyan established himself in the national team. Bigger clubs can replace aging players with new talent, but Ararat were ‘republican’ club; the republic was small and short of talent, yet, it was almost impossible to get players from elsewhere – Ararat remained practically an ethnic club, which effectively ended their short great period – there were no more talented Armenians. But 1975 was still a good year – winning their second Cup!
First row, left to right: Bagdasaryan, A. Minasyan (18), N. Petrosyan (16), S. Petrosyan (19), E. Markarov (9), S. Martirosyan (12), H. Ovanesyan (17), S. Gevorkyan (2).
Middle: A. Abramyan – assistant coach, Victor Maslov – coach, N. Mesropyan (5), N. Kazaryan (11), S. Bondarenko (7), O. Zanazanyan (10), S. Pogosyan (13), L. Ishtoyan (8), S. Israelyan – administrator, L. Melikyan – masseur.
Third row: V. Ordyan – team doctor, A. Mirzoyan (4), G. Ovanesyan, A. Abramyan (1), N. Demirchyan (20), A. Arutyunyan (14), A. Kovalenko (15), A. Andreasyan (6), A. Sarkisyan (3).
If there was anything new when compared to the champion squad of two years ago, it is only the coach – Nikita Simonyan made them champions and cup winners in 1973; now it was Victor Maslov. One big name replaced with another, and so far – so good. Alas, it will be so far and no farther.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Dynamo (Moscow) finished third, but it was hardly a success – rather, the opposite: an example of the increasing weakness of Moscow clubs.
Second row, left to right: A. Sevidov – coach, Yu. Gavrilov (17), A. Petrushin (4), A. Bubnov (15), A. Novikov (25), N. Gontar (21), V. Pilguy (1), V. Zenkov, A. Yakubik (18), O. Dolmatov (8), I. Mozer – assistant coach.
First row: A. Makhovikov (10), G. Evryuzhikhin (11), A. Shepel (28), V. Pavlenko (9), M. Gershkovich (7), V. Kozlov (19), S. Nikulin (3).
Now, the names are impressive: Sevidov had enourmous reputation as a coach and at least 12 players played for the national team (in different years): Gavrilov, Bubnov, Novikov, Gontar, Pilguy, Dolmatov, Evryuzhikhin, Shepel, Gershkovich, Nikulin, Kozinkevich (not on the picture), may be even others as well. But… nobody really established himself as a national player and none became a big star. Perhaps the most famous became Gavrilov and Bubnov, but both played for the national team many years later and in the case of Gavrilov, not as Dynamo’s player, but Spartak’s. Some ominous pattern already occurred: very promising players, hailed as ‘the next big thing’, routinely faded quickly, their development stopped well before reaching expected levels. A team better shining as names, not on the pitch. And this was true already for revered Sevidov, so it was hard to believe that he would make great team – he was already belonging to the past. By 1975 some ‘big promises’ were already down and out – Baydachny, for instance, was playing for Dynamo (Minsk) in the Second Division. The best example of the current squad were Shepel and Pavlenko – Anatoly Shepel was big hit in 1972, when he scored fantastic number of goals in the Second Division and helped Chernomoretz (Odessa) to winning a promotion. Dynamo (Kiev) snatched him and he was included in the national team. Great future was forecasted… Shepel was quickly benched in Kiev and with tainted reputation went to Dynamo (Moscow). Where impressed nobody and did not last long. Vadim Pavlenko, only 19 years old, burst in 1974, earning starting place in Dynamo and finishing among the top goalscorers of the season. No doubt, he was destined for stardom… but in 1975 he was mediocrity and worse in the following seasons. Whether homegrown, or recruited from elsewhere, Dynamo players were the same: a few promising seasons and then instead of becoming stars, they were going rapidly downhill. And it was not only Dynamo, but all Moscow clubs, which in turn made them unattractive for ambitious players, and increasingly Moscow clubs were seen as something like cash-cow for aging and over-the-hill players. By 1975 the glory years of Moscow football appeared finished and gone.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Shakhter (Donetzk) finished with silver medals. To a point, it was perfect structural example – Ukraine comfirming her dominance; the ‘first’ Ukrainian club finishing first, and the ‘second’ – second. In the same time it was also surprising, for in pyramid structures governed by one political party there is little left for the ‘provinces’, whose role is to support the centre. Provincial Shakhter were, but not without clout – Dynamo was free to snatch whoever they wished from anybody, including Donetzk, in Ukraine, but Shakhter was free to snatch whoever they wanted after Kiev was satisfied. Thus, they had good team, which after returning to First Division was playing increasingly well. Apart from having clout, Donetzk was paying well – rumors of ‘5000 rubles a month’ salaries circulated , fantastic money at the time. Good money made the club attractive for players and they stayed – there was something good about been ‘second best’: as long as recruiting good players, but not so good to be taken by the big shark, a city can keep a strong squad for years. Which was Shakhter’s case so far – the core of the team was still the same group of players, which won promotion to First Division in 1972. Oleg Bazilevich was coaching them back in 1972, now he was in Dynamo (Kiev), but his former pupils stayed in Donetzk – it was perhaps their specific qualities, which made them unattractive to Kiev. Shakhter played different, more traditional football than Dynamo, making the players unsuitable for experiments. By 1975 there was new coach – well respected one, Salkov.
Silver medallists: Top, left to right: V. Shevlyuk, V. Chanov, V. Safonov, V. Salkov – coach, V. Zvyagintzev, V. Onisko – assistant coach, Yu. Degtyarev, Yu. Dudinsky, V. Starukhin, V. Gorbunov.
Bottom: Yu. Vankevich, V. Kondratov, M. Sokolovsky, V. Yaremchenko, V. Pyanykh, V. Rogovsky, Yu. Reznik, A. Vassin.
Zvyagintzev was one of the best central defensemen in 1975 and already playing for the national team, but both goalkeepers reached the national team as well. The rest were mostly well reputed players – Dudinsky, Sokolovsky, Starukhin – and younger talent like Reznik and Pyanykh. None was really a great star to attract big predators, or luckily for Shakther, played position where the big clubs had strong enough players – the case of both goalkeepers and Zvyagintzev (although Chanov and Zvyagintzev eventually moved to other clubs). To my mind, the most important player was Vitaly Starukhin – high scoring classic centre-forward. He had no chance of playing for the national team – before 1975 there was stronger competition for the post; after that – Lobanovsky didn’t care for classic strikers and preferred Dynamo Kiev players anyway; even later – Starukhin was already too old. But young or old, he kept on scoring goals and to a point shaped Shakhter’s brand of football – it was organized around him. Along with him, the rest of the core players were also blessed with longevity – Degtyarev and Sokolovsky, for instance. Based on them, the club managed not only to preserve competitive team, but to better it in the following years. A double blessing: since Shakhter played football based on the veterans with others to support them, no other club became viciously interested and Shakhter was left to develop in peace. Apparently, nobody needed ‘support players’.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Soviet Union experienced a season of great amplitudes, from high to low. On one hand, it was a season of great international success – Dynamo (Kiev) won the Cup Winners Cup. On the other hand, there was humiliation of the national team, losing to Turkey 0-1, and it was Soviet defenseman the goalscorer – in his own net. Now, club football is one thing and national team another, but… the Soviets introduced new concept this year and Dynamo Kiev and national team were exactly one and the same. New concepts – or reforms – were constant features of Soviet football: something introduced, aiming improvement, then abandoned – there was no end, and 1975 was no exception. All teams were to list players with constant numbers this season. The purpose of this novelty was unclear – it had nothing to do with improving the game. At the time, it was rare and unusual practice – apart from the World Cup, only USA used individual constant numbers. Ajax abandoned the practice already. Anyway, it was the new Soviet rule and because of that I’ll put the seasonal number of every player when showing the squads bellow.
The other news was about the national teams: for the first time A-national team and the Olympic team were clearly separated. This had little, if anything, to do with old grumbling from the West about Eastern European countries pretending that their football was amateur and fielding the same squads for every international occasion. The real purpose was ‘scientific’ notions of improving the Soviet game, particularly Lobanovsky’s views, for he was appointed national team coach as well as coaching Dynamo (Kiev). In a nut shell, national teams had to be organized like clubs: same players to be involved. Kiev became the core of the A team and Spartak (Moscow) – the core of the Olympic team. Thus, Lobanovsky used even Kiev’s reserves in the national team, with very few additional players from other clubs (who rarely played). The Olympic team used bigger variety, but still the ‘skeleton’ was based on Spartak. Results were mixed bag, but certainly not a great improvement, which brings back the club football and prevailing attitudes.
Since players’ numbers hardly do anything to better performance, the season was painfully similar to the previous seasons: low scoring, no risks, and stubborn preference for ties. 6 out of 16 teams scored less than a goal per match. None achieved 2 goals on average – the champions were the highest scoring team with 53 goals in 30 games. True, it was more then the previous year, but not by far – the ‘improvement’ was 4 more goals. As for ending in a draw… 9 clubs ended 1/3 or more of their matches in a tie. The champions ended with 9 ties. Actually, only one club preferred winning than secure point from a tie: Ararat (Erevan) finished with only 4 ties. The bottom of the league was also familiar story: the same clubs moved up and down year after year: SKA (Rostov on Don) returned to First Division in 1974 only to finish dead last and to be relegated back to Second Division in 1975. They were joined by Pakhtakor (Tashkent) (which provided players for the Olympic team!), who returned to First Division in 1973. Dynamo (Minsk), relegated in 1973, won promotion after winning the Second Division, joined by Krylya Sovetov (Kuybishev, today – Samara), who were relegated in 1969. The ‘newcomers’ were soon to go down once again, replaced by other clubs of the same ilk – too strong for Second Division, yet, too weak for the First. The decline of Moscow football continued (Spartak ended 10th and CSKA – 13th!) and the shift to the South, particularly Ukraine, was firmly established with 6 in First Division and Ukrainian clubs finishing 1st and 2nd.
And one of the Cup finalists was from Ukraine as well. Since goalscoring was not the forte of Soviet football, Oleg Blokhin was the best again with 18 goals (2 less than he scored in 1974), but the distance between him and the next scorer increased – Boris Kopeykin (CSKA) scored only 13 goals. In fact, only Blokhin was consistent – this was his 4th consecutive year as best goalscorer of the country. Behind him were different players every year, though.
By now, the champions were very, very familiar: Dynamo (Kiev). Their 7th title.
Top, left to right: V. Lobanovsky – coach, V. Veremeev (10), A. Konkov (2), S. Reshko (5), V. Zuev (15), O. Blokhin (11), L. Buryak (12), E. Rudakov (1), O. Bazilevich – coach.
Middle: G. Spektor – administrator, A. Puzach – assistant coach, A. Petrashevsky – assistant coach, M. Fomenko (4), V. Kolotov (9), V. Onishtchenko (8), I. Malyuta – team doctor, V. Berkovsky – administrator.
Bottom: P. Slobodyan (24), S. Kuznetzov (13), V. Muntyan (7), V. Troshkin (6), V. Matvienko (3), I. Zhutnik – masseur.
The squad was completed by goalkeepers V. Samokhin (17) and M. Moskalenko (18); defensemen A. Damin (16), V. Kochubinsky (21), S. Katalimov (19), and A. Boyko (20); midfielders O. Serebryansky (24), V. Sinelnik (16); and strikers V. Shevchenko (14), N. Pinchuk (27), A. Marchenko (23), and V. Lozinsky (22).
Dynamo deserves a few words, for it was internationally successful and Lobanovsky became a legendary coach with controversial methods. First of all, Dynamo had the power – political back up largely – to take whatever Ukrainian players they wanted. Konkov and Sergey Kuznetzov were recruited from Shakhter (Donetzk) and Zarya (Voroshilovgrad), both national team players. Secondly, Lobanovsky was not yet the sole ruler of the team – curiously, Dynamo had two coaches in 1975: Lobanovsky and Bazilevich coached in tandem. Both shared ‘scientific’ views of football. The famous laboratory was introduced and results from tests and modeling there shaped the game of Dynamo. And, at least partly because of that, Dynamo used a core of players constantly – 12 regulars plus three or four ‘regular’ reserves. The rest of the squad hardly ever played, but the ‘core’ was moved in bulk to the national team as well. It was rather strange team schematically: Rudakov between the goalposts; Matvienko left full-back, and the duo of Fomenko – Reshko in the centre of defense. The right full-back was ‘fluid’ – the defensive midfileder Troshkin played most often, providing vigor on the right flank, but also he was too good to be left on the bench and this was the only available position. However, when real defense was needed Damin or Zuev (less often) were fielded. The midfield was large – Konkov – Muntyan - Kolotov – Buryak – Veremeev. It was the arrival of Konkov which made difficulty for Troshkin – Konkov played strongly and his position was defensive midfielder, with broader operational range than Troshkin, who preferred the right side of the pitch. The other four were attacking midfielders with constructive abilities. Buryak was really the revelation and his great form probably shaped the line – he was too good to be a reserve, yet, he was an extra. The 12th player. Only two men in attack – Onishtchenko as right winger and Blokhin on the left wing. Onishtchenko was more versatile and moved in the centre and to the left wing, but Blokhin was less capable of changing position. The aim was to create situations for Blokhin to score, which worked, but it was risky nevertheless, for in the absence of centreforward, dependence on left winger was limited and predictable. The remedy was found mostly in the greater operational field of fiery Onishtchenko and the usage of tireless Troshkin as a false right winger. Shevchenko and Slobodyan were occasionally used as classic centre forwards and Sergey Kuzhetzov – as a reliable substitute in defense. More or less, the team played 4-4-2, which looked like 3-5-2 against weaker opponents, when Troshkin operated ahead. Perhaps the real problem was having too many midfielders and the coaches find solution in dictatorial rule – players had to do exactly what the coaches said. Buryak on the bench; Troshkin – a nominal right full-back; and Blokhin asked to change positions in order of preventing crowding on the left wing. Authomatism was required, not free creativity and improvisations. The concept was fragile, for it was unbalanced, but generally it was compensated by speed, precise execution, and at least at the home league – by the superiority of Kiev’s players over any other team. Lobanovsky – Bazilevich duo were no fools, though: whenever they sensed tougher opponents, they did not hesitate to field more orthodox players (meaning Buryak firmly on the bench, and may be Troshkin). Nevertheless, it was 12 players team – very unusual not only in 1975.

Monday, May 9, 2011

In Hungary the monopoly of Ujpesti Dozsa continued – 7th title in a row since 1969. Add the Hungarian Cup for a double this year. And not so bad performances in the European Champions Cup. Ujpesti Dozsa was mighty and unstoppable.
1st row, left to right: Kellner, Harsanyi, Horvath, Juhasz.
2nd row: Kolar, Toth, Dunai III, Nagy.
3rd row: Rothermel, Fazekas, Dunai II, Szigethi.
4th row: Fekete, Bene, Zambo.
Well, Ujpesti Dozsa followed the path of every big club – almost everybody in the squad played for the Hungarian national team at one time or another. The reserves were strong. Good players from other teams were brought when needed – for instance, when their old goalkeeper Szentmihalyi, a veteran national team player, was retiring, Rothermel, also playing for the national team, was recruited from a small club. No sweat. Good youngsters were available too to replace old horses smoothly. So it seemed… effortless transitions, keeping the team always on top. But… if one looks at the squad 6-7 years ago, something not so optimistic was detectable: it was essentially the same squad in 1970 and in 1975. Bene, Zambo, Fazekas, Nagy, Juhasz, Dunai II and Dunai III… Getting older. Yes, some other players – like Szentmihalyi – retired and were replaced by young players, who were in the team for few years already – therefore, no longer very young. Promising at first, winning with the club and included in the national team and destined for a great future, the former youngsters somehow reached their limits and those limits were unfortunately lower than the qualities of the players they originally replaced: Kellner, Harsanyi, Kolar, Szigethi were only good, not great. Perhaps the best example was Fekete, seen as replacement of Bene at first. Great future was predicted for him – by 1975 it was clear that he was not to be ‘the next great Hungarian player’. Better than Bene? No… Ujpesti Dozsa were coming to the end of their great spell – the team was no longer developing. It was experienced, settled, strong – but increasingly predictable and same. I saw them in the fall of 1974 and they played very open and energetic approximation of total football; they were fun to watch; yet, it was quite clear that they were not capable of more. Shining in Hungary, shining against East European clubs, good against West Europeans… but not good enough to win international tournament. At the end, Fazekas was the greatest player of this squad – but this was visible much later, in retrospect. However, in 1975 it was not obvious at all that this team was not going to continue winning.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Czechoslovakian football will be in the centre of the football universe quite soon, so ‘as a preparation’, one more glimpse at it now. The suffering of Prague… Slavia claims victimhood and martyrdom during the Communist rule, but perhaps another club had suffered more. In 1975 Victoria Zizkov celebrated 70 years of existence.
The old Viktoria hails from Prague’s suburb – Zizkov – and is always written ‘Viktoria Zizkov’, although it is just one of the Prague’s clubs. But ‘just’ is not really the word: Viktoria were strong once upon a time; they are ‘classic’ club, at par with Slavia, Sparta, and Bohemians. But… they really fell down when Communism gripped Czechoslovakia. Were they persecuted is hard to tell, but certainly they were almost forgotten. They celebrated their 70th year since foundation in… 3rd Division.
Down and out… and without any hope for glory. Nothing represented better the fall of Prague’s football than the fate of Viktoria: great past and meager presence.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Greatness abandoned Prague long time ago… the best team during 1974-75 was small Bohemians, ending third behind both Bratislava clubs – Slovan and Inter. Once upon a time mighty Dukla was 9th in the final table; the ‘eternal sufferers’ Slavia – 6th; and the shame of all shame – the old venerated Sparta finished next to last and was relegated to the Second Division. Sparta won the Czech Cup (Czechoslovakia, a federal state, run two separate cup competitions – Czech and Slovak. The winners competed for the Czechoslovakian Cup), but lost both legs of the big final against Spartak (Trnava). In the championship they finished with the same points with lowly TZ Trinec, but having worse goal difference, they went down and Trinec survived. Dark days for the popular club, yet even this was not the end of Czech humiliation: the top Second Division clubs, promoted for the next season were both Slovak: Lokomotiva (Kosice) and Jednota (Trencin).
Returning to First Division and hoping to stay: Second row, left to right: Jan Tvaroska, Ivan Stano, Miroslav Catar, Lubomir Anina, Emil Jankech, Jozef Holly, Jan Babuliak, Viktor Stefanech, Milos Lintner, Vincent Nemcek – captain, Rudolf Holcinger, Jozef Cechvala, Jaroslav Elsik.
Sitting: Jaroslav Machac, Vladimir Mojzis, Richard Minarech, Miroslav Brezovsky, Stefan Hojsik – assistant coach, Stefan Cambal – coach, Pavol Demitra, Vojtech Masny, Emanual Mihalek, Michal Biro.
Sitting, left to right: Zitnar, Kohoutek, Kolenic, Seman, Gaspar, Flesar, Jozsa, Cernicky, Sefcik.
Second row: Mantic, Repcak, Boros, Kozak, Urban, Farkas, Suchanek, Pencak, Jacko, Moder.
Both clubs had checkered history, with some occasional strong years, but most often going up and down between First and Second Division. This year was just another return to top league football and, as usually Second Division clubs go, Jednota had no players to boast about. Lokomotiva was another story: Jozef Moder played for the national team and was to become European Champion in 1976. Jan Kozak was also to be included in the national team soon – he earned his first cap in 1976. And goalkeeper Stanislav Seman was glory bound – he became Olympic champion in 1980. The ‘railways workers’ club had something else as well – one of the most modern stadiums in Czechoslovakia by 1975. Now, that was - and is - something extremely unusual for Second Division club of any country.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Spartak (Trnava) won the Cup.

They were still competitive, but they were not Slovan… Unfortunately, Spartak suffered the provincial predicament: having a strong team, it was almost impossible to preserve it with strong additions. By 1975 it was becoming very clear that the ‘White Angels’ (a rather curious nickname, for they normally play in red and black) depended on one strong generation of players, which was getting old. Whoever retired was replaced with ordinary boys. Unlike Slovan, Spartak had not enough clout to get new strong players from other clubs. Provincial city is not attractive in terms of comforts, night life, and prestige either… money are less… they simply cannot compete with the likes of Slovan: point in case – Slovan had no difficulty recruiting the captain of the national team Jan Pivarnik from VSS Kosice. Spartak was unable to attract any big name at the same time. And it turned out 1975 was the last good year – Trnava had to wait 10 years until new trophy came to town. Didn’t look this way in 1975, but it happened to be the end of greatness.