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.