Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Yet, there was something optimistic in the gloom – so small, it was hardly visible, and because of that able to survive and eventually bring positive change: Juventus. Yes, it is a famous club, rich, and always a formidable force. Yet, it manged to stay under the radar somewhat, perhaps because Juve did not win anything in Europe so far. Quitely, the club launched successful transformation, not entirely finished by 1975. Juvenstus won the championship – hardly a surprise, and therefore, hardly heavily scrutinized. To say that Juventus abandoned catenaccio and played total football would be more than exaggeration, yet, they differed significantly from the other big Italian clubs in the manner of playing. It was still defense-oriented game, but with more robust and flexible midfielders and a bit more modern strikers than any other Italian club. Unlike Milan and Inter, Juventus was not stuck to legendary players. Nor it was a club investing in stars, whether players or coaches. It appeared that Juve deliberately kept ‘transitional’ profile – thus able to introduce generational change when avoiding the stigma of high expectation. It was effective policy so far – the ‘imperfect’ team was winning titles when Inter and Milan did not, and the ‘so-so’ stars were becoming quietly real stars.
By 1975, most of the players here were already more than well known – but with a few exceptions not really first class stars. It was still a team in a making, but what a difference! Milan and Inter struggled for years with their increasingly aging stars: habbit, fear, fans pressure, blind respect made them keep Mazzola, Rivera, Fascetti. In sharp contrast Juventus already replaced Salvadore and Haller without and Altafini was the next in line. It was gradual and careful replacement – Juve managed to keep strong squad with Zoff between the goalposts; Cuccureddu, Morini, Spinosi, Scirea in defense; Causio, Capello, Gentile, and Furino in midfield; and Anastasi, Bettega, Altafini and now Damiani in attack. Roles were changing almost unnoticed: just two years ago Cuccureddu, Scirea, Gentile were reserves of little import; Furino was realiable at best; and Bettega – a promising player. In 1975 Bettega was the leader of the attack; Cuccurredu was unquestionable starter; and Furino was the motor of the team – a tireless dynamo covering the whole field and conducting the game. Juventus played a bit more open game than any other Italian team, was much more mobile, preferring to stage battles in midfield rather than in their own half and as a result were more dangerous in attack. They were able to use different tactics two: 4-4-2, but also 4-3-3, which almost unique in Italy, where most clubs preferred to use one striker. And there was no one ‘holly’ leader on whose efforts the team rigidly depended as in every other Italian club: Juventus had more or less equal players, able to change roles – this was most visible in midfield, where practically everybody was nominally defensive midfielder, but able to act as conductor as well. It was the opposition in dark, not knowing who will be the Juve’s playmaker in a particular match. Surprise was the deadliest weapon. As for the coach – it was Carlo Parola. Once upon a time a prominent defender, who played most of his career in Juventus, and curiously finished it Argentina. Parola was famous for his bicycle kick and played for Italy as well. But hat was Parola-the player… Parola-the coach was hardly known: he coached Juventus in the 1961-62 season and after that sunk coaching Livorno and Novara until 1974, when Juventus hired him again. Since his predecessor was of the same mold, it looked like that Juventus deliberately avoided big names during the ‘building’ years – the great Juventus was already in place, judging by the names, yet Parola did not became famous and did not last titles or no titles. To my mind, it was a clever policy: big names were still slaves of the 1960s football and incapable to introduce radical changes, yet, their very names produced big expectations – Juventus avoided that kind of trouble and quietly built team playing modern football. They were almost ready to explode, but patience was the word: the team was still in building mode and it was another interesting aspect: what was started as quiet and careful change of generations gradually became the norm – Juventus did not stop replacing key players at all and thus managed to keep very strong team for years. Many years – until now.

Monday, June 27, 2011

If French football was showing some signs of improvement, the Italian hit rock bottom. It was a total crisis: from the national team to the lowest level of the game. It was a crisis of vision – the grip of catenaccio strangled the sport at last. Abroad, it was no longer effective – total football proved to be effective against stiff defence. At home, paranoia of losing killed creativity and excitement. Numbers speak best: in the 16-team First Division only 3 clubs finished the season with less than 10 ties – Juventus (7), Roma (9), and Lazio (9). At the other side was Sampdoria, ending with 16 ties in 30 championship games: more than 50%! And look at the away record of Napoli, who finished second: 1 win, 12 ties, and 2 losses. No wonder goals were scarce: not a single club ended with even 2 goals per game average! Napoli had the best attack – 50 goals, but Roma, the third team in the final table scored only 27 goals in 30 games. However, they allowed only 15 goals during the season. Clearly, scoring and winning was not priority… and Roma did not even have the best defense: Ascoli allowed only 14 goals in their net. In this environment ruled by defense only 6 strikers scored 10 or more goals – on the top ended Pulici (Torino) with 18 goals. Second was Beppe Savoldi (Bologna) with 15. And it was interesting to see to what such defensive mentality led: Savoldi was praised to the skies and became the most expensive transfer in Italian history – Napoli paid 2 Milliard Lire for him! For a player scoring a measly goal in every second match on average. 2 000 000 000 Lire does not look big sum today, but it was insane amount in the 1970s, even the notorious Italian inflation did not make it agreeable sum.
May be I am unfair to ‘Mr. 2 Milliard’? May be not… the most expensive Italian player played only 4 matches for the national team, scoring measly 1 goal. True, it was very difficult to penetrate the mighty defense of Ascoli, but why not scoring against foreign sissies?
Second Division was even more pathetic: out of 20 participants, only one ended the season with less than 10 ties – Spal with 9. Catanzaro distinguished themselves with solid record of 19 ties in 38 games. League goalscorer was Bonci with great 14 goals. He played for Parma,who finished last! What kind of attack had the winners then? L. R. Vicenza, Ternana, and Varese were relegated from the First Division, replaced by Perugia, Como, and Verona. The promoted clubs hardly inspired big hopes for change. It was clear that massive radical conceptual change was needed – Italian football fell victim of itself. There were already clear signs of impotence earlier: Lazio, the champions of 1974, were not seen as something fresh, but, at best, as some almost perverse distortion of modern football – in Italy, they were considered a variety of total football. The tugs finished 4th in 1975, yet, even this was kind of miracle – so divided and wild squad had not the making of a dynasty. In Europe, Lazio achieved plenty: three years ban from international competitions!
Chinaglia and Re Cecconi – ‘Fascists’ in embrace – or getting into a fight? Capable of both.
It was easy to blame Chinaglia for everything bad in Italian football, but when the vialin was fed up with acusations and moved to USA, Italian football remained the same… it was not him; it was fundamental crisis of defensive football: playing for a point was no longer successful approach. In the past, the ultra-defensive Italian football was excusable because it was winning; by 1975 it was just losing and ugly.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Leftovers for the rest… Lens reached the Cup final and thanks to the St. Etienne’s double, they got to play in the European Cup Winners Cup. As a losing finalist, outscored 0-2 at the final… hardly a surprise, considering the opposition.
Top, left to right: Notheuax, Grzegorczik, Leclerqc, Hopquin, Marie, Lenvoy.
Bottom: Faber, Bousdira, Zuraszek, Elie, Kaiser.
Well, hardly a squad to compete with the French national team dressed in green, yet an interesting team. In general, Lens – or Racing Club de Lens, as the ful name goes – were meandering between First and Second Division for the most of the 1970s (and later, one may add) and did not have even occasional strong year, keeping their lot near the bottom of First Division table. So, playing at the Cup final was big achievement. The rest is trivia… Lens is one of the traditionally Polish clubs in France: two real Poles – Grzegorczik and Faber and bunch of French with Polish roots – Zuraszek, Cieselski, Thomaziewski… add the coach – Sowinski. And another angle as well: Greek one. Arghirudis played for Lens – and St. Etienne had Yves Triantafilos in their squad. None played at the final, but Greeks – like the Poles - often make lists of Greek contribution to French football. If not by citizenship, then by ancestry.
Sounds like trivia, but is not – Angers, Rennes, and Red Star ended at the bottom of the table and were relegated to the Second Division. Typical clubs of the unsettled category too good for Second and too weak for the First… they constantly moved up and down, no big deal. Moving up were Avignon, Valenciennes, and Nancy. For the city which centuries ago was Papal residence, ascending to First Divison was a rare triumph (did not last, though). The other two newcomers were similar to the relegated – once again returning, only to face new relegation quickly. Yet, there was something very important in one of the promoted clubs: AS Nancy-Lorainne.
Top, left to right: Lopez, Bernhard, Curbelo, Donnat, Raczinski, Redin – coach.
Bottom: Jannaud, Platini, Martinez, Rico, Mesones, Di Caro.
Well, Second Division clubs hardly possess noticeable players and at first glance Nancy is not any different… except for one boy, who does not need introduction: Michel Platini. He was nobody yet, but he was to stay, and to excite fans around the world, and grace much bigger clubs with his fantastic and elegant game. Platini arrived!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

France was interesting this season, considering her peculiarities. Never big championship, yet, always respected one, and yet – not really respected. French football experienced similar difficulties like the game in Belgium and Austria – not tremendously popular and attended sport, leading to finacial troubles for the clubs, followed by mergers and bancrupcies. The French were never really crazy about football, which competed with Tour de France and rugby for audience and media attention. But there was also something else, hiding clubs’ crushes from outside view: contrary to many countries, clubs in France are better known by the city name than the actual name of the club: hardly ever someone associates Olympique with Marseille (or Lyon, or Avignon, or some other club with actually same name) – thus, mergers and subsequent changes of names usually escape notice, for the new club is still largely announced by the city name. And another difference: France does not have a ‘real derby’, something so big to capture both domestic and foreign public’s interest. Most cities have only one professional club, thus preventing development of hometown rivalries. Paris is unusual capital too – unlike other European capitals, Parisian football was shaky and quite lowly by mid-70s. Stade de France, once strong, concentrated on its rugby section and hardly had professional football team anymore. Racing was almost fantastic club – depending on sponsors, or the lack of them, the club followed weird amplitude – from very strong to entirely insignificant. The absence of stability affected its historic performance: even in a good year, it was hardly a chamionship contender. Red Star was already sinking in the twilight zone of clubs constantly moving up and down the First and Second Division. The weird birth of Paris Saint Germain and Paris FC of few years ago did not make them yet big clubs. In fact, the ‘good days’ of Paris FC, originally a half-brother of Paris SG, were already gone and the smaller club, abandoned from mighty financiers was steadily going down. As for Paris SG - typically, a club so young was hardly to be great yet: PSG had relatively good team, but was not yet a major force. No big Parisian rivalry emerged on one hand. On the other, the Parisian flux and relative weakness did not attract the wrath of the provincial clubs. The provincies themselves failed to produce derby as well – in part, because there was hardly any constantly strong club: the great days of Reims were over long ago. Many clubs were strangely unstable – a great season followed by dismal one and relegation was more the norm: clubs like Monaco were no strangers to Second Division, not to mention smaller fry like Rennes or Lens. Nice was keeping pace still, yet, obviously declining. Marseille was on a slippery slope too. Bordeaux was nowhere to be see, and Lyon… well, Lyon so far did not win a single title. Good, maintaining regular position among the top 5-6 in the league and nothing else. They were better in the Cup tournaments. The 1970s belonged to Saint Etienne and Nantes – not at all newcomers, previously strangers to success, but the revival and the ascent of French football in the 1980s can be easily attributed to these clubs and their steady dominance in the 1970s. They represented the new winds, especially Saint Etienne. ‘Les Verts’ were already on their second great winning period – they won four titles in succession between 1967 and 1970; their already 8th title followed the one they won the previous year. And just like in 1974, it was a double – the Cup was also theirs again.
The players were familiar by now: it was pretty much the same core or players year after year, with careful small adjustments for better. To my mind – for it is really difficult to pin point the best squad of constantly dominant and improving club – this was the bst vintage. Partly, because it was also the squad which impressed Europe by reaching the final of the European Champions Cup. Partly, because it was the most balanced squad St. Etienne had, including the reserve players. In the squad above everybody, except Curkovic, Dugalic, and Piazza, was a French national player. Add Robert Herbin as well…
The mastermind of great St. Etienne was former French national player, but this is not the reason. The reason is that he played during this season too: 36 years old, he came on the pitch against Troyes near the end of the championship. True, the title was already secured, but the coach not only played – he scored a goal from a penalty too. Not bad for a guy who deserves better place in football history than others. Alas, he remains somewhat underappreciated.
But it was his doing – introducing new way of playing, following the Total football model; introducing new players; bringing to new life older ones. Perhaps the best is to compare his St. Etienne to Marseille: at the beginning of the 70s Marseille was the likely candidate for establishing monopoly in France. The club spent money on talent, but it was already ‘sure’ talent: established stars, hardly young unfortunately. The pattern continued – and with this not only aging, but old approach to the game crippled Marseille. It was not a squad capable of adapting new ways and chronically close to retirement. The final blow was the Jairzinho – Paulo Cesar fiasco, who did not settled in the French league and were pale shadows of themselves. Back in the 60s St. Etienne was similar to Marseille – Herbin changed that: he preferred younger and not greatly known ones. He also preferred stability of the squad and did not make big transfers – he generally added one or two men from outside and the rest were club’s product. The aim was always at players fitting his tactical ideas and blending well with the rest of the squad. Herbin started coaching young – and was still young at 1975 – and was definitely closer to his players than other coaches – better relationship helped easier introduction of new tactics and methods. Relationships were important: Herbin played for St. Etienne and some of his players were former teammates. And he was still kicking the ball with the boys – not a ‘boss’ struggling with arthritis, but rather one of the guys, with his patent short. Under his guidance Lopez, Janvion, and the rest reached the national team. And it was under his guidance old player like Farison became a national player as well.
What is mildly curious is the neglect of the foreigners by their own countries: Curkovic and Piazza played mighty football year after year, yet… Curkovic was included in the Yugoslavian national time for the last time in 1970. He ended with measly 19 Yugoslavian caps. The reason was in part the old Yugoslavian policy not to include foreign based professionals in the national squad. But this changes pretty much in 1975… unfortunately for Ivan Curkovic, he had very strong competition – Enver Maric, Ognyan Petrovic, Petar Borota – and was never called. Oswaldo Piazza really made his name playing for St. Etienne and was occasionally invited to play for Argentina – a total of 15 matches between 1972 and 1977. Less than his fellow countryman based also in France – Hugo Bargas… in part, it was due to the opinion of the new coach of Argentina – Luis Cesar Menotti wanted Argentian-based squad and hardly ever called players working abroad.
No matter… St. Etienne was great team, going steadily ahead, firmly coached by Herbin. When Platini arrived a few years later it was hardly the same: the squad was not so finely balanced and never achieved the international success of 1975. The best year of Les Verts, and the exit of Bereta hardly mattered – Rocheteau was dancing his way to fame already. A team without a single weak spot.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Was Dutch football continuing to develop or was it declining already? Depends on the point of view: neither Ajax, nor Feyenoord won a trophy in 1975. Let’s say, the coming of age of PSV Eindhoven supports the ‘progressive’ view. The Cup was won by FC Den Haag, however. May be continuing of development? Another great team in the making? Or decline? Consider that none of the big three reached the final. Consider that Twente were the losing finalists. Twente was to be the ‘forth’ great Dutch team just a year ago… and they still looked quite impressive:
Here they are: van Jerssel, Pahlplatz, Thijssen (who will be major part of successful Ipswich Town a few years later), Drost, Achtenberg, Jeuring… all played for Holland. Rene Notten and Piet Schrijvers too, and also they were soon to be snatch by Ajax. Mighty squad when compared to the boys from the capital of Holland.
Top, left to right: Rinus Loof (ass.trainer), Rob Ouwehand, Simon van Vliet, Martin Jol, Woody Louwerens, Ton Thie, Joop Koorevaar, Aad Mansveld, Lex Schoenmaker, Clemens Schrover (fysiotherapeut) en Vujadin Boskov (trainer)
Bottom: Leo de Caluwé, Aad Kila, Henk van Leeuwen, Roger Albertsen, Leen Swanenburg, Hans Bres en Dojcin Perazic.
Well… hardly great. Aad Mansveld is the greatest club legend, but never really established himself as a big Dutch name. Ton Thie is known, but hardly a star. Martin Jol was a nobody – he got his reputation much later, when playing in England. Dojcin Perazic should be noticed just because he is a foreign import – Yugoslavian star he was not; reliable professional at best. By far the best FC Den Haag had was their coach – the Yugoslav Vujadin Boskov was already highly respected, although his massive fame came later too. So far – good enough coach to make his rather ordinary team win a cup. Good for them, but hardly an improvement of Dutch football. Especially when the club itself was changed – because of the usual finacial difficulties the original ADO merged with Holland Sport into FC Den Haag (later the merger was dissolved and today it is again ADO – an abbreviation of Alles Door Oefening, which means Everything Through Practice. Fitting name for this club… takes a lot of practice in suffering to support a team winning virtually nothing for the most of its history.)
But let’s not be so tough on the winners – it was rare and well deserved victory of a small club. Something to remember and cherish.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Outdated Scotland and progressive Holland? Holland is a special case: the talk of everybody and the shining example of vanguard football. Came from nowhere and was established force by 1975. Yet, it is a country similar to Scotland and Belgium – dominated by traditional big clubs and possessing small pool of talented players. Better performing on the international stage than at home. Declining attendances and financial trouble. Similar, but different too – the Dutch introduced professional football in mid-1950s and organized it uniquely – something in between traditional European structure and North American professional sport: less than 40 professional clubs organized in 2-tier closed league. Clubs are promoted and relegated, but only between First and Second Division. Amateur championships are staged in parallel and every professional club preserved rather strong amateur sides. Quire strong, in fact: when Volendam decided to use sponsor and advertise it on their shirts in 1973, the biggest resistance they faced was not from the Dutch Football Federation, but from their own powerful amateur wing (officially Holland allowed shirt adds in 1982). Professionalism was sustained with difficulties – there were never enough crowds to provide plenty of cash from the gates and with coming of television many people preferred to watch English football on the tube. Clubs struggled, some severely, and had to be merged or reorganized under different names, yet, it was nothing like the mess in Belgium or Austria: the professional leagues started with about 38 clubs – they are pretty much the same today. If anybody benefited from the professional system, it was PSV Eindhoven.
The full name is Phillips Sport Vereniging – Phillips Sport Union – and as the name suggest, it is a factory club, belonging to the giant Phillips Corporation. The club was founded in 1913 as a benefit to the workers of the firm, something not unusual at all – many clubs started exactly that way around the world. But a factory club usually runs into difficulties in amateur structure: the typical accusation is of hidden professionalism – players often are not just suspected of bogus employment in the factories, but really are bogus workers on fake payroll, when they are really paid for playing football. Full professional system ended pretences – now the club was able openly to hire whoever they wanted. Traditionally, PSV Eindhoven are among the three big clubs dominating the Dutch football – they continued to be, especially with strong financial backup, although Phillips never tried to make them superclub. There are reasons for keeping PSV well financed, but still on the modest scale: Eindhoven is a small city really and there was no point to build a giant club in a place unable to support it. Holland as a whole has no big cities and apart from Amsterdam and Rotterdam, there is no potential for big crowds attending stadiums. Also, the Dutch are conservative and shrewd in business: football clubs never return investments, they just drain whatever money come their way. For Phillips, selling electronics was the primary business, not kicking the ball. The club had the best flood lights in the world by mid-1970s, though. And as a factory club, it was direct advertisement of the firm in times when sponsors were not allowed to advertise – a good business advantage over any competition and no quarrels with the amateur section.
In this set up PSV Eindhoven fell behind Ajax and Feyenoord and was not direct part of the Dutch boom. Yet, they were constantly expected to bloom as well – it was taken for granted: Dutch football was world leader and any minute a third great club was to arrive on the scene. In fact, PSV was building momentum as well – the squad was well rounded and strong, including a big number of national players, and well represented in the 1974 Dutch World Cup squad. Alas, those were ‘second tier’ players in a way: generally, reserves.
At last the ‘bursting’ happened in the 1974-75 season, which looked exciting – PSV was riding on the great Dutch fame of previous years and World Cup success. There was another major point to their victory: it was Eindhoven’s first title since 1963! 10 years of draught… and finally! The next great Dutch team arrived – and was going to take Europe by storm, continuing Ditch hegemony? Looked like that… except for the fact that Ajax collapsed and Feyenoord was aging, so was it a great victory after all? PSV Eindhoven won by only 2 points difference from Feyenoord.
Strong squad, indeed: Kees Rijvers already had good reputation as a coach and also his boys. Van Kraay, Strijk, Lubse, van der Kuylen were often included in the national team. Jan van Beveren was the best goalkeeper in Holland – and if Crujff was less pigheaded, the national team would had benefited from having a decent keeper. The van der Kerkhof twins were establishing themselves as the leaders in the club, and pushed their way into the national team starters. Four foreigners completed the picture: the Dane Schmidt-Hansen and the Swede Dahlquist were mostly reserves, but the other two Swedes – Nordquist and Edstrom – were big names, especially the young exciting centreforward Edstrom. A team without weak line really, and dedicated to open, fast, attacking brand of football. Perhaps PSV Eindhoven was between the total football of Ajax and the more conservative and punctual Feyenoord – somewhat plainer and predictable attacking team. The reason was in midfield: Ajax in their best years depended on highly imaginative genius, Crujff; and Feyenoord – on the elegant and precise van Hanegem. Eindhoven had the van der Kerkhof brothers, who were more German kind of players – energetic, tireless, physical, dedicated, but lacking technical skills and vision. Rather straight-forward players, which became a liability and limitation: they were predictable and monotonous in their approach, affecting the whole team. If looking a few years ahead, when the brothers were the leaders of Holland – then, around 1980, the Dutch were struggling, declining, and losing after heavy, but unimpressive, battles German style. So, in a way, PSV Eindhoven consisted generally of ‘second tier’ players, unable of becoming really great and continuing the Dutch innovative total football. But in 1975 they were seen as the next great Dutch team – it was expected to win European cups. They did not… but nevertheless broke Ajax-Feyenoord dual monopoly at home and were the leading Dutch team for the rest of the 1970s. As for 1975 – it was a year of joy and hope. Think Ralf Edstrom.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

And perhaps there was not any comfort at all – 8 clubs departed top football, moved down to the new Division 1 (formerly, Second Division). Airdrieonians, Kilmarnock, Partick Thistle, Dumbarton, Dumferline Athletic, Clyde, Greenock Morton, Arbroath were gone and some of them were even to go deeper down soon. Money is the name… if you wonder about reasons. Celtic was hardly great either – they finished 3rd in the championship, 11 points behind Rangers, but probably more alarming was the difference with the 2nd placed team: Celtic were 4 points behind Hibernian (we are still in the years of classic 2 points for a win and 1 for a tie). At the end even Rangers had little to show for actual supremacy: they won only the title. Celtic won both Scottish Cups; Rangers did not succeed to reach even a final in either cup tournament.
Back Row, left to right: Pat McCluskey, Ronnie Glavin, Roddie MacDonald, Peter Latchfortd, Billy McNeill, Tom Callaghan, Andy Lynch.
First row: Jimmy Johnstone, Steve Murray, Danny McGrain, Paul Wilson, Harry Hood, Kenny Dalglish, Jim Brogan, Bobby Lennox.
Not a really great team… only 3 of the ‘Lisbon Lions’ remained – McNeill, Johnstone, and Lennox – to tell the story of winning the European Champions Cup. Among the rest Kenny Dalglish was by far the best player, although his big fame was still in the future and would be unrelated to Celtic anyway. So far, locally spectacular:
Dalglish scoring with a header. Looks like Glasgow Rangers is the opponent, but soon Kenny will not torment the old foe – and he will score for Liverpool.
However, there was something unique about Celtic in 1975: they were perhaps the last club in the world to play without numbers on their jerseys. The only numbers they had were on their shorts.
Victorious Cup winners in eternal green and white hoops and no numbers. Their victims – Airdrieonians – were peculiar as well: they used numbers, but so small and hidden between the sides of their traditional red V, almost invisible. Last days for such antics, though. Endearing outdated.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Scotland was quite similar to Belgium: big league, increasingly in trouble, and dominated by two giant clubs. Unlike the Belgians, the Scots were passionate about football, but with television and other reasons, the interest was no longer focused on most of the local clubs. There was nothing new in the migration of players to England, but now it looked like the fans were kind of migrating as well, preferring to watch English football in their cozy homes instead of suffering winds and chills at the stands. To a point, the bright Scottish national team of 1974 World Cup summarized the acute problem: there practically no Scottish-based players in it. Which clearly meant that Scottish clubs were no longer able to keep any talent at home – correspondingly, fans decreased having nothing good to watch. Reform was in the air: 1974-75 was the last ‘big league’ season – for the next the Premier League was drastically reduced from 18 to 10 teams. The last ‘big’ season produced a change in the shape of new champion: yet, unlike the rest of Europe, this was not a small, barely known club popping out, but an old horse. Very old one indeed – Glasgow Rangers. Which requires a few more words.
Scottish football was reduced to bare duel between Rangers and Celtic long time ago, yet this is to say practically nothing, except that the giant clubs contributed to the crisis of the other clubs by increasing their fans at the expense of others. The really important thing is that Rangers vs Celtic is the oldest derby in the world, the ‘mother of them all’. It is also unique: most ‘continental’ derbies are generally simple oppositions – rich vs poor; people vs government; the province vs the capital; the agricultural South vs industrial North. In Glasgow it is much more complex – all what the ‘continental’ (in British idiom, ‘continental’ is not just Europe, but the rest of the world outside British Isles) derbies represent plus additional hatreds. Geographically, the derby spreads an arm across the channel into Northern Ireland as well and to the point when is hard to tell where the derby is more dangerous – in Glasgow or in Belfast. In general, Celtic are Irish and Catholic, therefore, ‘foreign’, and Rangers are Protestant and Scottish, therefore ‘natives’. Along these demarcation lines everything else piles up – economy, politics, racism, you name it. The divide represents vast and old problems and means a lot in real life. At derby day it is a war – Catholic (Celtic) and Protestant (Rangers) fans from Northern Ireland travel by separate ferries, for if put together they will fight to death and sunk the boat as well. Once surviving the trials at sea, the Irish battalions join their respected land armies and now they can fight at earnest. And fighting is not reserved for the fans only – players fight on the pitch. In fact, Celtic and Rangers go berserk when playing against each other. ‘Continental’ derbies are fierce, but really a sissy game by Glaswegian standards: players mostly simulate, spit and swear at each other, complain to the referee. In Glasgow it is real battle, where everybody kicks the opposition with no regard for own damages. There are no stretchers rushing to the pitch to help suddenly dead player – stretchers come only in case someone is in a coma, preferably a coma he never comes back from. Now, that is a true hero! The derby is not football at all – by the admissions of former players from both clubs, playing football never crossed anybody’s mind. Now, ‘continental’ derbies are generally fighting too, but occasionally produce great football as well – the Old Firm is especially ugly in contrast, and is practically never interesting to watch as a game. What the derby reminds mostly of is the medieval village ‘football’ – where the peasants kicked a giant ball for a quite practical purpose: temporary settlement of disputed land. After the wounded are bandaged and the dead – buried, the ‘winners’ keep possession of the field for a year, when everything is ‘played’ again.
Rangers had a great reason for joy in 1975 – they became champions!
Beating Celtic is always cherished, yet, 1975 was special: Rangers were champions for the first time since 1964! Ten years of suffering and what a suffering – Celtic won 9 titles in succession! Celtic won the European Champions Cup. Now, Rangers won the Cup Winners Cup in 1972 , but it was sill a humiliation – winning only the second best European tournament and 5 years after Celtic’s triumph. On top of it, Celtic were still champions when Rangers celebrated their 100 years in the game in 1973. But what a rich revenge: in 1975 Rangers not only broke the bed spell, but prevented Celtic from winning 10 titles in a row. And Ibrox was still a stadium for over 100 000 fans! Bleachers, naturally, are the best place for fighting and celebrating.
As for the team, it was great only in Scottish eyes. Yes, there were Jardine, Johnstone, Forsyth, McCloy, Conn… none of them really was a huge star by international standards and with few exceptions, the boys went to English clubs. Small comfort that Celtic were no better in 1975 – Scottish football was drained from talent.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

RWD Molenbeek were champions, 9 points ahead of the 2nd placed Antwerpen. The historian’s nightmare was triumphal in 1975.
Nighmare? Looks innocently happy celebration: the boys make their victory run; the crowds cheer. The crowds?
Complicated logo, isn’t it? That is why the question who were the crowds of fans is valid. Technically, RWD Molenbeek was the second –hence, smaller – club of Brussels. It was also new – 1973 is given as its birtdate, which begs the question how come they were in the First Division already. There is an answer, but after a minute: first things first. Did they represent Brussels? Yes and no – they belonged to the suburb Molenbeek, hence, a city club and not a city club. Fans were coming from the area – a rivalry with ‘central’ club is always attractive to the ‘periphery’. Well, why not simply FC Molenbeek then? And now to the nightmare: RWD Molenbeek was result of merger on top of merger. At the dawn of 20th century there were Racing, White Star, and Daring in Brussels. One good day Racing and White Star merged into RW Molenbeek. Meantime Daring was winning titles. By 1973 titles were ancient memories for Daring as probably money too. New merger occurred and RWD Molenbeek appeared on the scene, with birthdate 1973. The birth was difficult one… Belgian rules may not very clear, but are thoroughly practiced: the ‘matriculation’ (that’s the Belgian term) allowed the new club to stay in First Division, because RW Molenbeek was already there. It also allowed the new club to keep the historic record of… unclear! Something like a combination of the early records of Racing and White Star, reasoned by the number of original registration of White Star, which is 47. The new club was not allowed to keep the record of Daring, although Daring had number 2 (that is, the second club registered in the whole history of Belgian football! Those guys were old…) – if there is any helpful fact, it may be preservation of place in First Division – looks like taking the record of Daring was to drop them down to Second Division, where Daring was playing before the merger. Confusing? Right! It will be more confusing in the future, for RWD Molenbeek, on verge of bankruptcy in 21st century became FC Brussels. Unhappy fans decided to restore the ‘original’ club – and they did, although because of bankruptcy and rules of ‘matriculation’, the restored club has to use slightly different name for few years and, as a new club (by registration number), had to start from the lowest possible level – 8th Division. There they are today, enjoying massive crowds of 20 people… perhaps exactly those, who personally restored the club. Who takes what part of history and records of the old clubs I don’t know and don’t even dare to try learning.
And here they are – champions after 2 years of existence! Or more years of existence, or who knows… for it is officially the first (and last) title of RWD Molenbeek.
Standing, left to right: Francois Cuypers, Kresten Bjerre, Benny Nielsen, Gerard Desanghere, Maurice Martens, Odillon Pollenius, Wietse Veenstra, Pol Schouppe, Nico de Bree, Felix Week – coach.
Sitting: Eric Dumon, Eddy Koens, Chris Stroybant, Willy Wellens, Jozef Desmedt, Jan Boskamp, Jacques Teugels.
On the surface, it was refreshing change of guard: brand new champions are always exciting news – status quo is boring. They looked good on record too – obviously, attacking team, which never fails to endear fans: 25 wins, 11 losses, and only 2 ties. It was ‘all of nothing’, based on scoring plenty – 92 goals in total. Defense was less efficient, allowing 1 goal per match on average (39 goals in total), but the attacking approach paid off well enough. It was even strange, given the anonymity of the squad, but it could have been the first blow of winds of change… Week was unknown coach and he had similarly unknown squad – Maurice Martens played about 10 years for the national team and Willy Wellens eventually was called for national duty, but in later years. By far, the best known player was defender Odillon Pollenius, who remembered sunny days from 1970 World Cup and not so rainy ones from 1972 European Championship. ‘Remember’ is the word really, for Pollenius was entering the age of quitting the game. The foreign stable included two Danes – Kresten Bjerre and Benny Nielsen; and 4 Dutch – Nico de Bree, Wietse Veenstra, Eddy Koens, and Jan Boskamp. Boskamp (there is some mystery about his name too – usually ‘Jan’ is given, but the official FC Brussels site stubbornly calls him ‘Johan’) was voted Belgian Player of the Year and may be considered the star player of the team. Later he was included in Holland’s squad for the 1978 World Cup. So far, so good… and getting better, for Paul van Himst joined the club for the next season, arriving from across town and Anderlecht. Alas, RWD Molenbeek happened to be one time wonder… and after awhile Nielsen and de Bree moved to Anderlecht. The winds of change came from the big boys, not from the suburbs. No matter. Personally, I was happy to see new champions in 1975; as for lasting memories… FC Brussels fans and those odd 40, who resurrected the strange club, have to sort them out between themselves. After all, if the titles of Racing (6) and Daring (5) are counted, it would be 12th title in 1975, not the first and only.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Depeneding on the point of view, 1974-75 was good year for Antwerpen, or not so good – 2nd in the championship and Cup finalists. Or may be only 2nd and only finalists? The club is the oldest Belgian club – founded in 1880 and the first one to officially register. Registration happened later, but holding number 1 is holding number 1: ‘member since …’ It is on their logo:
Or may be it is not:
The name is also ‘may be’: the club is named after the city, and the city is… Antwerp in Flemish; Antwerpen in Dutch; and Anvers in French. Pick any: Royal An… FC. By habit, I stick to the Dutch form. Ancient they were, but hardly successful – they won 4 titles and 1 Cup so far, but long go – the last trophy was won in 1957, a championship title. After that – nothing. Therefore, 1975 looked like almost getting something.
The team was not much to brag about: the former Belgian national goalkeeper Jean-Marie Trappeniers was perhaps the best known name. May be Jos Heyligen… he was included in the national team from 1972 to 1980, but played rarely. The plethora of foreigners was also unknown: Louis Pilot (Luxembourg), Ove Eklund (Sweden), Karl Kodat (Austria), Flemming Lund (Denmark). Two names are very well known today, but not in 1975 – Antwerpen was coached by Guy Thys, later coaching the impressive Belgian national team of the early 1980s. And since no Belgian team seemed completed without a Dutch at that time, there was a Dutch midfielder – someone called Louis van Gaal. Bayern fans may be happy to know about his playing career.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Belgium appeared similar to Portugal – experiencing decline and crisis. It was more complex story, though, and because of that – a bit misleading. Like Portugal, Belgium was well regarded in the football world. Like Portugal is was a country with two dominant clubs. Unlike Portugal the Belgian top clubs were not international winners and the most of the respect came out of strong performances of the national team – in Portugal, the success of great Benfica of early 1960s elevated the national team. And yet like in Portugal, the old status quo is falling apart, but in Belgium it started earlier than in Portugal, which was more or less seen as a general decline and tough transitional period, most likely leading to permanent sinking. So far, Belgium was going down… good performance at the 1970 World Cup; still strong, but lower than 1970, in 1972, when the ‘Red Devils’ finished 4th at the European Championship. Then – missing the 1974 World Cup. Steady downhill… after all, Belgium is a small country and there never was big pool of players. About 20 – 25, the most, enough for a national team, which always performed well because of great spirit, rather than supreme skills. By 1975 the generation from the 1960s was retiring or coming close to retirement, and the new crop was not looking very promising. After all, Paul van Himst was one of the biggest stars in Europe during the 60s – in the first half of the 70s the only new player to become internationally famous was Rob Rensenbrink in 1974. A Dutch, not Belgian!
Of course, national team depends on club football and here was even more detectable decline: Belgian football was essentially Anderlecht (Brussels) and Standard (Liege) – the big rivals and domestic winners. Although threatened by inevitable retirement of van Himst, Anderlecht managed to maintain more or less good level, but Standard was in bad position. The squad was aging on wider scale than Anderlecht – Belgian football traditionally depended on imported players and Standard’s were from the same generation of their domestic stars. The rivals from Brussels replaced their foreigners with younger ones earlier (Rensenbrink was one of the newcomers). By 1975 Standard were no longer strong and in the same time the new challenger – FC Brugge – was not ripe enough (their title of 1973 was viewed as novelty so far – result of some lapse of Anderlecht, rather than coming of new great force.) At the end, by 1975, Belgian football reluctantly depended on old players, well behind their prime, yet, still better than the youngsters.
Familiar picture: van Himst lifts the Belgian Cup. Anderlecht won the final against Antwerpen 1-0. One more cup for Anderlecht, but the last one for van Himst.
The troubles of Belgian football were much deeper than simple change of generations – the population was not exactly crazy about football, and most clubs suffered financially for many years. In times when gate receipts were the primary source of income, empty stands meant folding. Shirt advertisement was allowed as a remedy (it was smaller countries with financially struggling football the first to use adds – Austria, France, Belgium. Among the big football country only the practical West Germans adopted the practice in the early 70s). The remedy did not save the clubs and Belgian football, already a historian’s nightmare because of endless and complicated mergers, now added bankruptcies and folding of clubs. At least, the practice was thorough, no corruption here. Corruption is elastic term – it runs from backroom deals, various political influences and schemes, appeals for ‘cultural importance’, and many other shady things right to direct bribing of officials and fixing of results. In Southern Europe bankruptcies are avoided to this very day by corrupt practices, but the Belgians are not Southerners and their football is governed by the business law of the country. Hence, whoever is greatly in debt has to declare bankruptcy and fold shop. Mergers aimed at preventing that, alas, temporary. Belgium was not the only European country facing such troubles and elsewhere reforms were attempted – apart from tightening of financial rules, it was drastically reducing of the first league (Austria, Scotland, Switzerland). The Belgian curiously went the opposite direction: they increased the First Division from 16 teams in 1973-74 to 20 for 1974-75 season. As if purposely to confuse further football historians… In real time, the increase did not improve anything, except showing better the crisis of Belgian football to outsiders: Standard finished 6th; Anderlecht – 3rd, behind Antwerpen on worse goal difference. Winning the cup was very small revenge for Anderlecht, I suspect.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Cup exemplified the shift of power: Benfica was meeting Boavista at the final, a no brainer… until the match was played and Benfica lost 1-2.
Boavista was old, modest club: founded in 1903, for a long time they the 5th (!) ‘greatest club’ in Porto. To say ‘greatest’ is boasting really, but still – ranking, even very local one, is ranking. ‘As Panteras’ (the Panthers) were lowly cats for long, long time, but quietly started getting better in the 1970s, along with the general improvement of Porto’s football. And this year they won their very first trophy! Beating Benfica on top of everything.
The squad itself hardly had big names and was not internationally successful, but they acquired a familiarity, if not fame, because of their unusual checkered kit. And chechered it is… if you closer, you will discover that half of the team uses one design, and the other half – different. To complete the eccentricity, Boavista had a real star as well:
Joao Alves was one of the best Portuguese midfielders in the 1970s. He played regularly for the national team, and true to the spirit of the decade, grew wild hair and beard. A star, no doubt, yet, going a step further than the other stars: he always played with black gloves. Apparently, his father, also a football player once upon a time, played with gloves and Alves honoured the family trait. Apart from that, he was elegant player, but unfortunately of lesser caliber than the 1960s vintage (as everybody else in the 70s), illustrating the general decline of Portuguese football: he moved to Spain, where the best played, but was good enough only for lowly Salamanca.
Colourful team, if nothing else, but they won deservingly and were to play strong at home for quite some time. Well, for a long time actually, so 1975 was just their arrival on central stage. I personally have a soft spot for the Panthers… must be kit, gloves, beards and hairs. One thing was certain, though: Boavista were no longer the 5th club of Porto. And with their help, Lisbon was no longer undisputed ruler of Portuguese football.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Of course, the champions need no introduction: 21st title for Benfica. ‘The Eagles’ seemingly continued to fly high, having the best stars of the country in their squad. Humberto, Nene, Jordao…
Who would dare say that future is dark, when Diamantino (on the right) attacks?
But the diamond was only promising to shine… it was illustrious squad, yet, nothing like the great Eagles of the 1960s. By now Eusebio and Simoes were getting rich in North American NASL and the their former teammates failed to become as great as the old horses. Good enough for the league, though.
Familiar names disguised with new looks… if looks were making players better, these bunch should have been fantastic. The Yugoslav Milorad ‘Michel’ Pavic coached them – highly respected name at the time, who led Athletic (Bilbao) to winning the Spanish Cup two years earlier. Well, champions again.