Monday, January 30, 2012

A little tour of the domestic league of 1976 European Champions. Banik (Ostrava) – Dukla (Prague). Nehoda (Dukla) scores in the net of Michalik (Banik). At the end of the season Michalik was champion of CSSR, but Nehoda champion of Europe. They were to play side by side for the national team soon.

The Bratislava derby Slovan – Inter. Hardly friends… although Jurkemik (left, Inter) and Masny (Slovan) were together in the national team and lifted the European Cup.
Oil and arms go together… well, not always. Inter (in stripes) had no respect for the rifle-makers - Zbrojovka. The unfortunate goalkeeper Hron can only watch Pospisil (#10) scoring and the match ended at that – 1-0 for Inter (Bratislava). And the match no gun ever win… against the referee. Sarganek dismises Zbrojovka (Brno) players Kroupa nd Vaclavicek. Kind of bored, isn’t he? More riflemen, this time in attack: Zbrojovka (dark shirts) vs SKLO Union (Teplice). Tough life for a goalkeeper… but who is attacking and who is defending? Well, Dukla (Prague) tries to score in the net of Inter (Bratislava). Slovaks were increasingly under Czech siege this season.
It was not an easy victory of the Czechs at all – Slovaks still had enough teeth left. Dusan Kabat (Spartak Trnava) makes a full of Dukla (Prague) defender. Alas, the great team of Trnava was already declining.
Not much love between Czechs either: Barat (Bohemians Prague, in stripes) strikes a bit before Huml (Banik Ostrava) tackled him. Bohemians were playing better and better, but it was the year of Ostrava, so it was Huml victorious at the end of season. More of the Czech – Slovak battles? Slavia (Prague) had a strong season and here their stopper Frydrich almost scores in the net of Inter (Bratislava, in stripes).

Czech year at last! Segmuller (Slavia Prague) went together with the ball in the net of Slovakian VSS Kosice. Football as bliss.

Football as misery… unfortunately, once again it was Slovak misery… Dukla just scored against Jednota (Trencin). Poor goalie Machac behind the post and the stopper Mojzis are devastated so much, there is no need to show their faces.
Completely Czech year at every level, and the future was seemingly Czech too… Seventeen years old Josef Jurkanin already in attack for Sparta (Prague). Winning the Second Division and adding the Czechoslovakian Cup for a good measure.
Arguably, 1976 was the best Czechoslovakian year ever.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

If anything, Inter (Bratislava) provides some useful information about the organization of Czechoslovak football: it was a factory club and there were many more like Inter. Clear distinction between factory and ordinary clubs is probably impossible – industry was ‘sponsoring’ many, many clubs in the Eastern Europe. Yet, there were clubs entirely belonging to industrial enterprises – thus, Inter Slovnaft was the official name when Slovan was not clearly belonging to particular industry. Other clubs did not have any other name but the one of their ‘owners’ – Skoda (Plzen), LIAZ (Jablonec) – both belonging to automotive industry; Zbrojovka (Brno) – military industry. Specific plants, not general industry or ministry, so once again it is tough to judge: the names may have been disguised advertisement in times when direct advertisement was prohibited (rather, unthinkable) in the Communist world. Well, there was no problem to put ‘Skoda’ on the shirts of team called Skoda… the logo is the same as on the cars manufactured by Skoda, but so what? Same factory, same club, same names, same logos… you see the club and you are reminded of the cars. Very usefull, especially when playing abroad. Do you need Zbrojovka rifle?
On the surfice, it looked logical giant factories to be able to provide enough money for strong football teams, but it was – strangely – rarely the case. Factory clubs were not playing first fiddle in Czechoslovakian football and often were quite miserable. The bottom of the 1975-76 table was occupied by two of those.
LIAZ (Jablonec) finished 15th.
A prime example of advertisement which is not advertisement: LIAZ on the shirts. The name of the club, though… Unlike the heavy trucks made in Jablonec, the team was weak. Rudolf Svoboda was the only player of some fame – he played a few matches for the national team, which is interesting trivia – Svoboda was allowed to play unshaved for Czechoslovakia in times when beards were not tolerated even in ‘liberal’ Communist countries.
TZ Trinec finished 16th and last, 4 points behind LIAZ. TZ stands for ‘Trineckych Zelezaren’ – a metallurgy firm, producing steel, and still exicting today. Main sponsors of the football club, yet, not so directly as LIAZ in Jablonec. Like LIAZ, there was one good player in the squad – Miroslav Paurik, who played now and then for the national team. Like LIAZ, TZ Trinec bounced between First and Second Division, somewhat more at home with the lower tier, where they were going once again.
LIAZ and TZ Trinec were relagetad and replaced by unusual pair: Sparta (Prague) was returning to First Division after a brief exile (until 1975 Sparta was the only Czechoslovakian club never tasting the grounds of Second Division). The other club was complete newcomer: VP Frydek-Mistek won promotion for very first time in their history.

There isn’t anything worthy about the squad, but these guys were yet another factory club – VP is the abbreviation of ‘Valcovny Plechu’, a mill, which also exists today, however, in dire finacial straights. Back in 1976, it was shiny picture indeed – going up, up, up… to the envy of the other club from Frydek-Mistek – Slezan – which was miserable in Third Division.
The newly promoted clubs completed the braking of Slovakian yoke – both were Czech clubs. Championship, Cup, Second Division winners – all Czech this year. The tide was turning. As for VP Frydek-Mistek, the future was not to be particularly bright – they were relegated the next season, never to return to First Czechoslovakian Division again. So, 1975-76 season was their best year ever.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Slovan (Bratislava) ended second in both championship and Cup, which can be seen as disappointing season for the club providing half the national team of the European champions. May be tired? May be approaching crisis? Slovan was not finished yet, but failed to win a trophy this season. Third finished long-suffering Slavia (Prague) – one of their best seasons in the 1970s, but oppressed or not, Slavia was notoriously unpredictable – a strong season was followed by near collapse; then up again, and so on.
A point behind Slavia finished once upon a time mighty Dukla (Prague) – 4th place was not bad by now and looked like the Army club was gaining strength again. As a whole, it was Czech season signaling the end of Slovak dominance. But it was not the end of Slovaks yet – they were still strong and here is one of their lesser known, but particularly strong clubs of the 1970s: Inter (Bratislava). They finished 6th, six points bellow the champions – not bad at all, for they were quite close and competitive. Inter were pretty much among top 5-6 clubs during the decade, although never strong enough to win a title.
And who were they anyway?

The club was founded in 1940 as SK Apollo by the Apollo refinery. A factory club, but formed during ‘peculiar time’, which made it ripe for annihilation once the Communists took over. The club survived, however, and the same refinery – renamed into Slovnaft – continued to finance the club. The club went through various names – TKNB, Sokol, Cervena Hviezda – until it was merged with Iskra in 1965 and became Inter. The full name is Internacional, most often with attached Slovnaft to it, as well as in their logo, but is commonly known as Inter. Why Inter? History is silent about that, but I suspect a little game: the name came in 1965, when the first winds of the ‘Prague Spring’ were starting blowing. The name is a wink somewhat: it refers immediately to two quite different things – the mighty Internacional (Milan) and the Communist Internacional. It is suspect name, for it suggests ‘Western influence’, but also is not a name to be dismissed easily, for it would be an attack on huge Communist symbol. And the name remained. However, Inter remained the smaller club of Bratislava too – well behind Slovan in popularity, influence, and money. Inter won the Czechoslovakian championship in 1959 – their only title ever – but were constant and quite strong members of the First Division.
Sixth in 1975-76 season, their usual upper-mid-table position. The squad? Typical for a club in the shadows cast by mighty neighbours: players no longer needed by Slovan, or not fitting into Slovan’s designs. Well known veterans like Zlocha. Young guns like Mraz, Barmos (who became a solid national team player), Sajanek. The key players were Ladislav Petras and Ladislav Jurkemik, both national players for years and part of the squad winning the European Championship. Jurkemik, 22 years old by now, was yet to play and play for Czechoslovakia, but Petras was old hand – he played at the 1970 World Cup and scored the Czechoslovakian goal against Brazil. After scoring Petras run widely across the pitch, making the sign of the cross – unusual gesture in 1970, and even more unusual for a player from a Communist state. I wonder what the ‘officials’ told him after the match… must have been some outrage, for he disappeared from the national team for awhile. But it was time for changing generations anyway, so it is hard to tell was he punished or not. He played strong football, though, and was invited again.
Anyway, Inter contributed to the Slovak dominance of the early 1970s and were not a bad team at all. But… they were doomed by their predicament: Slovan was the local giant.

Monday, January 23, 2012

To place Czechoslovakian club football is a risky affair: it was not the most exciting championship in Europe. But CSSR became European champion in 1976 with guts and class. Was it better domestic championship than the Yugoslavian one? At par with, say, Portugal, France, Holland, Belgium? May be yes, may be no… To my mind, the Czechoslovaks played pleasant, mellow, and pretty much fair domestic championships in the 1970s. With good players spread throughout the league, the championships were intriguing. There were not – or not any more – state-supported ‘giants’. Or, at least there were no obvious giants dominating year after year. However, Slovak teams ruled. The strong performance of the national team was an international surprise, but there was a surprise at home as well: Banik (Ostrava) won the 1975-76 championship.
It was the first Czech club to win the title since 1967! Czechs won, but still not a club from the capital Prague… so far, Bratislava had the edge – Slovan finished second and Slavia (Prague), the best placed club from Prague – third. So the Czech title was more or less only a half-revenge, braking the Slovak ‘yoke’, but still Prague was left empty-handed.
As for the new champions, they were really new… the club from the Sileasian city of Ostrava was not new, of course: it was founded in 1922. In general, they performed well and constantly among the better Czechoslovakian clubs. They considered Sparta (Prague) their arch-rivals, something probably lost in Prague, where internal derbies like Slavia – Sparta, or either club vs Dukla,carried real weight, along with inter-city rivalry with Bratislava and particularly with Slovan. Anyhow, Banik were increasingly getting stronger in the 1970s and after winning the Cup in 1973, they added new triumph in 1976 – their very frist title!
The squad was solid and typical for the 1970s: a few stars, often included in the national team: Lubomir Knapp, Rostislav Vojacek, Libor Radimec, Pavel Michalik. A bunch of well respected league players – Micka, Huml, Klement, Albrecht. Well balanced, experienced team, a contender, but hardly a squad capable of monopolizing the championship. Banik clinched the title without dominating: 6 other teams scored more goals than the champions; one club had better defence than theirs; three clubs finished with more wins, but Banik ended with least losses – one point above second-placed Slovan and 2 points better than the next two teams. May be they were more lucky than strong, but let’s not spoil the party. Most importatntly, Banik were not one-time wonder – they played strongly for a few years now, and were to stay among the top Czechoslovakian clubs.
The season had more bitter gifts in store for the Slovak clubs: the Cup went to the Czechs as well, and in interesting fashion too – Sparta (Prague), hailing from the Second Division, won both legs of the final – 3-2 and 1-0. Slovan (Bratislava) ended second in both championship and Cup – signifying change of guard: Czech football was in strong recovery. For suffering Sparta, humiliated by relegation the year before, winning the Cup was precious – the old ‘grand’ club was rapidly coming back (they also won the Second Division and returned to top flight.)
Sitting, from left: Ondracek (?) – chief of team, Bohumil Vesely, Stratil, Nevrly (?), Smistik (?), Melichar, Caudr (?), Palka (?), Uhrin – coach.
Middle row: Houdek (?), Stransky, Kotec, Kislinger, Postulka (?), Urban, Kotal (?), Rosicky.
Top row: Busek (?), Sandor (?), Vlcek (?), Chovanec, Klement, Cermak, Maier (?), Vdovjak (?).
Well, Sparta collected her 7th Cup coming out from Second Division, but the squad above is actually the one for 1976-77 season. To a point, it shows what was wrong with Sparta – painful change of generations. The great team of the 1960s was either changed late or insufficiently. Bohumil Vesely still remained from the golden years, but meantime players like Kislinger, Stransky, Melichar, Urban were the main bulk. Players, who were far from great, yet good enough to be trusted… they were no winners and the team stuck. Stratil, Chovanec, Cermak were promising better future, but the team was still unfinished, still in transition, and still dominated by middle of the road players – Jiri Klement arrived from Banik (Ostrava), for instance. Fresh from the champion squad, but hardly a star player. Coaching was unsettled question too – little known people coached Sparta in the Second Division, but young Dusan Uhrin was hired for 1976-77 – he was still years away from fame, and judging by his experience with Sparta, hardly a great coach, for he was sacked in mid-season. Sparta was still shaky… but don’t blame Uhrin for that: this is the first team he coached, he was just starting his career, and it is easy to be impatient and heavy-handed with beginners. Not made yet, but on the road to recovery, Sparta.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Rangers won both cups for a treble this year, a significant achievement, unless one looks at the attendance… Cup finals are usually well attended in Scotland and the numbers taken just by themselves are impressive: 58, 806 fans saw the League Cup final between Rangers and Celtic. The Scottish Cup final – Rangers vs Heart of Midlothian – draw 85, 250 fans! Well, consider this – by 1976 around Europe attendance was becoming large concern – it was rapidly decreasing. Scottish numbers were very high… and very low, when compared to attendance just three years ago, when over 122,000 people went to see the Scottish Cup final. In 1969 the number was over 132, 000! But never mind – Rangers grabbed both cups and Protestants were in the erthy paradise.
The Catholics were in misery… hopefully purgatory, and not hell… Celtic was good enough only for League Cup final, lost 0-1. No comfort… and emptyhanded. A lost final is practically nothing at all for a club like Celtic and its fans.

The stars of the great Celtic of the 60s retired, age is age… and transition was so far painful. May be it was their haircuts… remember that the longer the hair, the better the player during the 1970s? Well, not enough long hairs here, so may be next year.
Of course ‘next year’ was the consolation of the other losing finalist, but they were not Celtic. For Heart of Midlothian reaching the Scottish Cup final was quite good: the Hearts were desperate for something like success – they lifted a trophy for the last time in 1963, when they won the League Cup. Since then – absolutely nothing, not even among the top three in the championship after 1964. So, this was their best season since 1963, although they lost the final 1-3.

Sitting, from left: Gibson, Aird, Shaw, John Haggart – manager, Busby, Park, Prentice.
Second row: Gallacher, Brown, Callachan, Hay (?), Burrell, Cruickshank, Murray, Jefferies, Clunie, Kay, Fraser.
They may call themselves ‘The heart and soul of Edinburgh’, but… were on slippery slope already and the occasional leap to a cup final was not going to help. The squad featured some legends… club legends, that is, for when it came to the national team, Hearts players were hardly given a though. But Jim Cruickshank, Donald Ford, Drew Busby were the stars of the club… Cruickshank managed 6 caps; Ford played a total of three matches for Scotland, and Busby – none! Nice team, but if one thinks kit… otherwise a lost cup final was the most to brag about.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

If the Swiss were going to reform their league football for the 1976-77 season, the Scots went into reorganizing in the summer of 1975 and the first results were present by the summer of 1976. No more two divisions, but three, although the number of the professional clubs remained the same – 38. No more classic First Division either – now the top flight was called ‘Scottish Premier Division’, as if the name change would elevate the quality… 10-club league, every team playing 4 times against any other opponent. Thus, there were more league games – 36 instead of the old 34. The new scheme aimed to remedy chronic ills: small gates, low quality of most games, financial troubles, aging stadiums, and inequality – in performance terms – between the best two and most of the rest. Form today’s standpoint, the reform was hardly a success… it is still duopoly, Celtic and Rangers. It is still quite boring championship. It is still financially unstable league. One thing the Scots had no way to change: their players generally moved to English clubs as soon as they could. The grand exodus of talent practically precluded any attempts to reform domestic football – and the reform could be seen more as an attempt to merely preserve the sport, to find a way to survive, not to really improve. And the first season of the new Premier Division hardly brought anything optimistic… the difference between the first and the last teams was 43 points! And those were still the years when a win gave 2 points, not three. Very likely this was the biggest gap between first and last finishers in Europe – so much for increasing quality and competitiveness. The usual suspects were still at the top – Celtic, who finished second, were good 5 points ahead of the third placed Hibernian. But that was just about everything Celtic managed to achieve, for their archrivals Glasgow Rangers won all trophies – championship and both cups. Hardly a surprise, since Rangers had the best squad by far – and pretty much the same as the year before. Their championship campaign was more than confident: they left Celtic 6 points behind.
By Scottish standards, impressive team, with Parlane, McCloy, Forsyth, Jardine, Greig… to name a few. However, the same guys from 1974-75 – and perhaps those, who English clubs were not very keen of… hardly a compliment.
The dubious ‘honor’ of finishing last in the first season of the Premier Division went to St. Johnstone, a miserable team, collecting only 11 points and truly hopeless, for the next lowest record was 32 points. St. Johnstone were relegated – an unfortunate occasion, for they had nice kit.
The first champions of the new First Division (the Second Scottish Division really) were Partick Thistle. The promotion actually returned them to top flight, where they have been administratively expulsed from the year before – because of the reduction of the new top league. Their names are hard to read… but let say that nothing is missed because of anonymity… except for Alan Hansen, but this would be the story of Liverpool, not Partick Thistle.
This would be just about everything for the Scots in 1976 – except one thing: with the exception of Ayr United, all of the ‘original’ clubs is still in the Premier Division today. There have been ups and down, but in general everybody still plays there: Motherwell, Heart of Midlothian, Aberdeen, Dundee United, Dundee… obviously the better layer of suffering Scottish football.

Monday, January 16, 2012

May be the Swiss were thinking of crisis as well, for they were bound to reform their football. !975-76 season was the last with traditional league – it was to be decreased from 14 to 12 teams for the next year and the whole format was to be changed, but details will be given later. For the moment – the last three clubs were relegated and only the winner of the Second Division promoted. At the top everything was familiar – FC Zurich was once again confident champion, 5 points ahead of the nearest rival Servette (Geneva). Once again FC Zurich finished with only one loss - 19 wins and 6 ties proved how supreme they were, just like in 1974 and 1975. They also scored a lot – 69 goals, allowing only 26 in their own net. To top it all, they win the Cup as well – a double, unlike the two earlier seasons. Confidence and mature superiority – the squad was practically the same as the two previous seasons, perhaps reaching its peak in 1975-76. By now they were playing quite well in Europe as well – not exactly making waves, but they were pleasant to watch, elegant and efficient, and not easy to beat. FC Zurich line-up before winning the Swiss Cup: from left: Kuhn, Grob, Rutschmann, Martinelli, Scheiwiler, Fischbach, Heer, Katic, Zigerlig, Risi, Botteron
To a point, FC Zurich examplified Swiss football: modest, unassuming, not abrasive at all, not crazy either – few local stars, completed with lesser local players and inexpensive mid-range foreigners. The Swiss were careful with imports: Ilija Katic was the typical case – he was not a star Yugoslav player, but reliable one, who fit perfectly to the Swiss way and became constant top goalscorer. True, Swiss clubs were importing more foreigners by 1976, and gradually bigger names, but still carefully – Slobodan Santrac was an example of new trend: Grasshoppers (yes, it was still Grasshoppers in mid-70s) bought the former Yugoslav national player, but the striker was aging and not very expensive because of that. Good to score a plenty and provide class in Switzerland, although beyond his prime. ‘Crisis’ was hardly the world describing Swiss football – rather, it was not improving, remaining the same, and thus stifling the possible progress of talented teams like FC Zurich. The reduced league aimed at establishing both financial stability and competitive championship – about 6-7 clubs were relatively good in terms of players and were to benefit from the new championship formula: after the first half, the league was to be split on two tournaments: the top 6 playing among themselves for the title and the bottom half – to decide the relegated two. 1975-76 ended with complete triumph of FC Zurich, but really… playing with the outsiders was not helping as much as playing against Servette (Geneva).
Which finished second in both championship and Cup. Servette reached the final and lost it 0-1. Katic scored the winning goal for FC Zurich in the 9th minute.
Double second… top, from left: M. Locca (Coach), Alain Canizares, Claude Andrey, Jürgen Sundermann (Trainer), Marc Schnyder, Valer Nemeth (Trainer)
Middle row: Gilbert Guyot, Jean-Luc Martin, Ueli Wegmann, M. Cohannier (President), Rolf Riner, Lucio Bizzini, Alfred Hussner.
Sitting:Denis De Blaireville, José Zapico, Kurt Müller, Hans-Jörg Pfister, Franco Marchi, Karl Engel.
Not bad at all, by Swiss standards: a few national players and the rest solid, if not stellar. And like FC Zurich, playing together for a number of years already. Were they to be satisfied with ‘second best’? Unlikely, and the new formula of the championship was designed to help precisely clubs like Servette in a more competitive environment. Anyway, it was FC Zurich so far and let them be happy in 1976.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Consistency is good… sometimes. For there is another kind of consistency as well: at the bottom. Dinamo (Minsk) ended last in the fall and was relegated – Minsk were one of the traditional candidates for relegation, so nothing strange they went down. Even if the two seasons were combined, they were going down… along with miserable Zarya (Voroshilovgrad), which, however, escaped relegation with some effort in the fall season. Spartak (Moscow) was also consistent in 1976: finishing 14th in the spring and 15th in the fall. And down they sunk to Second Division. Which was more than surprise – it was an earthquake! One of the original great clubs; one of the Moscow strongholds; one of the ‘untouchable’ in a sense – it was unthinkable Spartak going down! True, the club was on downhill for some time, and in 1976 there were some great problems on both administrative level and selection, but a relegation? Many – myself included – thought Spartak will be ‘saved’ by the Federation. Likely last minute ‘enlargement’ of the First Division, with nobody relegated this year. And there were quite open calls for just that, but at the end it did not happened, in part, because of the noble performance by Spartak’s mover and shaker Nikolay Starostin: he said that relegation is fair and Spartak has to face the music and start rebuilding. Which in a way started with his own return to the club, for he was ‘retired’ at the end of 1975. Greeting their fans after victory? Rather saying ‘good-by’ to First Division football for the first time in their history. From left: Yu. Pilipko, V. Papaev, V. Gladilin, M. Bulgakov, Vl. Bukievsky, A. Smirnov, Vik. Bukievsky, V. Samokhin, A. Kokorev, V. Vladyushtenkov, E. Lovchev.
By 1976 Spartak was sheer mediocrity, on a slippery slope since the beginning of the 70s, largely due to wrong selection and retirements. The only high-class player left was their captain Evgeny Lovchev, still the best left full back in the country, but also often playing in midfield as well. Lovchev was so disappointed, he decided to leave the club, however, not immediately after the grand failure. Yet, the strangest thing was not Spartak’s mediocrity, but the acceptance of it by the Federation – it was almost a miracle, that the Soviets allowed one of their legendary clubs to go down. But they did – a fair decision in unfair country.
From the Second Division climbed up familiar names… consistent as well, in their unsettled tradition of constantly moving up and down.
Kairat (Alma-Ata) clinched first place in the Second Division and returned to top level football after one year absence. Second placed Neftchi (Baku) dwelled longer in the lower level – since 1972. Given their shaky history, neither club was seen as possible improvement of top Soviet football, but… they won promotions, so better celebrate.
Kairat (Alma-Ata), champions of Second Division: bottom row, from left: B. Evdokimov, S. Abenov, F. Hisamutdinov, V. Podvesko, K. Ordabaev, A. Mironenko, V. Astrakhankin, M. Gurman, V. Likhosherstnykh.
Second row: S. F. Kaminsky – coach, K. Issabaev – masseur, A. Ubykin, V. Chebotarev, S. Bayshakov, V. Talgaev, V. Shevchuk, A. Yonkin, V. Kislyakov, S. Rozhkov, V. Kruglykhin, V. A. Skulkin – assistant coach, I. Kuchin – team’s doctor, T. S. Segizbaev – coach.
The squad was nothing much – some aging second-string players from bigger clubs (Rozhkov); some reliable Second League players (Ubykin); the rest – unknown. Perhaps their regular goalkeeper Ordabaev summarize the whole club: he was always one of the best in Second Division and always unnoticeable in First Division. Even the only solid player of the club – the striker A. Yonkin, who was second best goalscorer of USSR in 1974 – was a liability: he was moody and inconsistent. As a compensation, the club had two head coaches – Kaminsky and Segizbaev, ruling jointly the team, a novelty not only in 1976.
Neftchi (Baku) finished 2nd in Second Division and was happy to return finally to First Division. Sitting, left to right: Z. Gadzharly – masseur, A. Aliev, R. Kuliev, R. Uzbekov, E. Abbassov, A. Orudzhev, T. Abbassov, F. Dzhavadov, S. Kurbanov, A. Mamedov, V. Ogerchuk.
Second row: A. A. Gryazev – assistant coach, A. Miroshnikov, A. Rakhmanov, A. Namazov, G. A. Allahverdiev – team’s boss, Yu. Romensky, G. B. Bondarenko – coach, I. Smolnikov, R. Ali-Zadeh, B. Kulamov, A. Nurmamedov, A. Banishevsky, B. Hetagurov – team’s doctor, N. Kretingen – administrator.
A better squad than Kairat’s really – some of these players establsiehd good reputations in Soviet football, if not becoming firstrank stars: Aliev, both Abbassovs, Kurbanov, Ali-Zadeh, etc. One was to have even brighter future – the goalkeeper Yury Romensky eventually went to Dinamo (Kiev) and for awhile was their first keeper. But promotion was the sweetest for Anatoly Banishevsky. One of the greatest stars of Soviet football in the second half of the 1960s, regular national team player for years, and arguably the best ever Azerbaidzani footballer. Also a keen photographer. Aging by now, Banishevsky was no longer the terrific striker and goalscorer – and rarely mentioned by the ever greatful Soviet press – but he was still helping his beloved club and if nothing else, it was great that the legendary player would be able to finish his career in First, and not Second, Division.
Weird 1976 season in USSR… without real change or improvement. Rather, Soviet football was getting worse – the relegation of mighty Spartak (Moscow) signified the sense of deep crisis.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The second 1976 championship was no fun either. The spring champions were… ‘also runs’ in the fall, finishing 6th. Once again, their attack was a disaster, scoring only 15 goals. Once again, the defense fared better, allowing only 13 goals. Once again hald the league scored same or more goals than Dinamo (Moscow). They were out of the championship race, not a contender. Ararat (Erevan), 2nd in the spring, outdid the champions, though: they finished 14th, escaping relegation with a victory in the last match of the season! Clearly, Markarov’s ‘revolution’ (defensive football) was bringing fruits… only one team received more goals than Ararat. The strong performance in the spring was an illusion – the Armenians were going into change of generations, the old mighty squad was retiring and there was not enough young talent to replace them. Plummeting into mediocrity was beginning… Shakhter (donetzk) also went down in the fall, but other clubs climbed high. In fact, only two clubs remained stable – Dinamo (Tbillisi) and Karpaty (Lvov), who ended at the same places as in the spring – 3rd and 4th, with Karpaty once again the best scoring team in the league. The fall champions were more than surprise: they came from nowhere – Torpedo (Moscow) finished 12th in the spring, with negative goal difference and appearing to be in trouble with their leaky defense and poor attack. If anything, their defense improved in the fall and Torpeado somewhat mirrored the Dinamo (Moscow) spring success – they clinched minimal wins, keeping their sheet clean (only 9 goals received – Dinamo allowed 8 in the spring) and scoring sparsely. And just like Dinamo (Moscow), 1976 was to be the last ‘great’ year for Torpedo – it was their 3rd and last title, the second won in distant 1965. Top, left to right: V. Shustikov – assistant coach, Yu. Zolotov – ‘disciplinary head coach’, G. Kamensky – administrator, Yu. Mironov, A. Zarapin, A. Degtyarev, V. Belousov, S. Prigoda, A. Elizarov, N. Khudiev, V. Buturlakin, V. Ivanov – head coach, A. Proyaev – team’s doctor, B. Alexandrov – physical coach, V. Petrov – masseur.
Bottom row: S. Grishin, V. suchilin, V. Yurin, V. Filatov, V. Sakharov, V. Kruglov, A. Belenkov, E. Hrabrostin, S. Petrenko.
The squad was less famous than Dinamo (Moscow) – just a few occasionally were invited to the national team, and as whole, were ‘second class’ players, so to say. Nothing surprising in that, for traditionally small Torpedo had no chance to recruit big names, but because of that they were traditionally tied and dependable squad. Their victory was much sweeter than the one of Dinamo – at least for me, for I like the underdog – but what if it was a normal season? Well, if spring and fall are combined (artificial combination, for the aims at the spring had nothing to do with those in the fall for many a club), strangely the only consistent clubs were to finish… 2nd and 3rd with 35 points each. Torpedo was to end 4th. Champions were to be Dinamo (Moscow) with 38 points. Such combination is telling only one thing: 1976 was very, very mediocre year for Soviet football – champions with barely 63% points out of the possible maximum! And Dinamo (Kiev) outside the top four places.
Consistency paid back in the Cup tournament: Ararat (Erevan), still riding their spring good form, reached the final, where they were meet Dinamo (Tbillisi). Since the spring was gone by the time the final was played, it became one-team show… the Georgians confidently destroyed their Armenian neighbours 3-0.
Ararat’s goalkeeper saved this ball, but he was unable to stop endless Georgian attacks.
It was triumph of attacking football and perhaps the only bright moment in 1976. Dinamo (Tbillisi) were fun. Creative, technical, entertaining, and scoring. No ‘but’ about them. First row, left to right: V. Koridze, A. Mudzhiri, V. Gutzaev, V. Kopaleyshvili, R. Chelebadze, Z. Tzereteli, D. Gogia, G. Machaidze.
Second row: N. Akhalkatzi – coach, N. Dzyapshipa – club’s chief, Sh. Hinchagashvili, D. Kipiani, N. Hizanishvili, M. Machaidze, P. Kanteladze, A. Chivadze, E. Ebralidze, M. Gogoshidze, S. Metreveli – assistant coach, E. Telia – team’s doctor, V. Chelidze.
This was the first, yet unfinished, great team built by Nodar Akhalkatzi: well known names, getting long in the tooth, along with bright youngsters. Skill was never a problem in Georgia; the problem was moodiness. The former was mainly the reason national team coaches turning their backs to Tbillisi – the fantastic winger (when mood striked him right) Gutzaev is perhaps the best example. But there was a new vintage which was to made lasting impression in USSR and Europe: Hinchagashvili, Manuchar Machaidze, Chivadze, and Kipiani. Especially David Kipiani! What a great player he was becoming. If there was hope for Soviet football, it was in the legs of the Georgians and their consistency in 1976 was a big promise for the future.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Changes in Hungary, but when it came to changes USSR had no equal: every season introduced new reform, only to be changed next year. 1976 was to have not one championship, but two separate ones – spring and fall ones, each with its own national champion. It was wild scheme, tailored to suit the national team. The national team? Well, Dynamo (Kiev) was made the ‘base’ of the national team officially, so in a way team USSR was to compete in the domestic league – a curious notion, bringing weird questions: if Kiev loses, is it a lousy national team? Or is it simply a case of unimportant ‘training’ of the national squad – but then what about Kiev fans? Are they to accept that their club is to play second fiddle by order? The roots of the experiment were international football – sheer climatic reasons dictate domestic season: spring-fall instead of European fall-spring. Thus, Soviet specialists grumbled for years that their players are in good form at the wrong time and therefore unable to achieve anything internationally. The 1976 was tailored to the needs of international games, both of the national team (which had to play ¼ finals – and hopefully more – for the European Championship and at the Olympic Games in the summer), Dinamo Kiev (participating in the European Champions Cup), and eventually other clubs. The last part an attempt to go in step with the rest of Europe – so far Soviet clubs of the year before qualified for European tournaments, according to the final table in late November. There was no telling in what shape such teams would be next year in September, when they were to launch their European campaign. So the spring champion of 1976 was to play in the UEFA Cup the same year and the fall champion was to be the Soviet participant in the next year Champions Cup – an experiment, which, if successful, may lead to some new general scheme, however difficult, for full restructuring of Soviet season was impossible. There was no way to move only First Division to fall-spring season – unless make it exclusive closed league: the general problem was relegations and promotions. And for 1976 nobody was to be relegated at the end of the spring season (when the Second Division was just in mid-season), but clubs were to go up and down at the end of the fall season (when Second Division was also finishing). The whole scheme seemed disjointed at best and with no apparent benefits. At the end of the year it was clear that there were no benefits whatsoever and the experiment was abandoned as every other from the last few years.
As a general observation, 1976 was a disappointment: the national team (Dinamo Kiev) underperformed, mildly said, at both European Championship and the Olympics. In the European Chmapions Cup same Dinamo Kiev was good only to reach ¼ finals and did not play at all – instead of the bright attacking football, capturing attention in 1975, the team of Lobanovsky returned to the old defensive Soviet style, with solitary striker – Blokhin. Domestically, Dinamo was even worse. At home, the massive failure was attributed to too many games and tournaments – hardly a plausible excuse, for Soviet players were still playing less matches than the leading West European players. Abroad, the bleak performance fueled new speculations of doping in 1975, for Dinamo players were more than a shadow of themselves, close to their usual performance before 1975. Whatever the reason was, Dinamo failed in 1976 on every level.
Particularly telling was their record in the spring championship: 5 wins, 5 ties, 5 losses, 14 – 12 goal difference, 15 points and mid-table 8th place. Note that Dinamo (Minsk), one of the finally relegated teams, was 9th in the spring just because of worse goal difference than Kiev. But they scored more goals than mighty Cup Winners Cup winners and practically the national team of USSR! In the fall, without international duties, Kiev played a bit better and finished 2nd with 18 points (6-6-3; 22-16). Not a great record either.
As a whole, the season was weird - the spring championship was hardly important for most of smaller clubs, for there was no fear of relegation. Zarya (Voroshilovgrad) was obviously in huge decline by now and finished last. Spartak (Moscow) was in trouble too – finishing 14th with meager record of 10 points. Torpedo (Moscow) was hardly better, ending 12th, however, with only a point less than Dinamo (Kiev). On top the picture was a bit more optimistic: Shakhter (Donetzk) was 5th, but with negative goal difference! Karpaty (Lvov) was 4th and Dinamo (Tbillisi) 3rd – goal difference decided who was to be 3rd and who – 5th. Ararat (Erevan) finished 2nd, a point above Dinamo (Tbillisi), and Dinamo (Moscow) was first – a surprise champion. Observers were lukewarm: it was noted that young coaches were pushing ahead – Akhalkatzi (Dinamo Tbillisi) and Markarov (Ararat), but some old hands were not to be dismissed – the return of Yust in Karpaty (Lvov) instantly improved the team. There was hardly some kind of new trend: Akhalkatzi essentially invigorated the traditional technical attacking brand of Georgian football. Eduard Markarov, a prolific striker and goal scorer just a year or two ago, now introduced… defense. His version of modern football was based on 5 defensemen, three central full-backs, which really a news in Erevan, formerly playing attacking game. As for Dinamo (Moscow)… lucky may be. The taste of victory was forgotten already – Dinamo hasn’t been champions since 1963! A revival? No… the ersatz 1976 spring title is – so far – the last for Dinamo.

Bottom, from left: G. Evryuzhikhin, A. Petrushin, O. Kramarenko, A. Shepel, A. Parov, A. Makhovikov, S. Nikulin, M. Gershkovich.
Top: I. I. Mozer – assistant coach, A. Bubnov, V. Pavlenko, V. Zenkov, A. Novikov, A. Yakubik, I. Gontar, O. Dolmatov, V. Losev, A. Kosmynin – team’s doctor, A. Maksimenkov, A. A. Sevidov – coach.
An old, experienced and revered coach and a squad, which can be best described as transitional – a few veterans, soon be out (Evryuzhikhin, Gershkovich, Yukubik) and a lot of promising, but inexperienced yet youngsters (Bubnov, Pavlenko, Losev, Nikulin, Parov). In 1976 Vadim Pavlenko was seen as the brightest hope – he soon faded, but others became stars, particularly Bubnov. From a distance, the squad is impressive – a good 11 players played for USSR at one or another time, but… no one became really great. Dolmatov and Maksimenkov already reached their limits and perhaps were the best description of the whole team: good, but not great and not able to improve. Strikers were already a problem: Shepel was brought exactly to improve the attack, but he failed just like he failed in Dinamo (Kiev). The champions ended with 17-8 goal difference. Strong defense, surely, but 17 goals scored in 15 matches tells that attack was not the forte of the team – 8 other teams scored the same or more goals, half the league!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Football is never certain when observed – new champions are what? A momentary miracle, or change of guard with long-lasting consequences? One does not even to be confused by opposing camps – one’s mind is uncertain all by itself… just a year ago Ferencvaros looked hopeless and Ujpesti Dosza almost great. Not so in the summer of 1976… for Ferencvaros won a double! Both the Hungarian championship and the Cup. Ujpesti Dosza slipped to 3rd place in the final table and Fradi fans were more than happy: the violet yoke ended and how! Ferencvaros won its first title since 1968, a long years of waiting and suffering the monopoly of Ujpesti Dosza. Great for the fans, but was it a beginning of new era? Hard to tell – Ferencvaros surely suffered a long and painful decline, largely due to change of generations. The young squad reaching – and pathetically losing – the Cup Winners Cup final in 1975 was clearly inexperienced. Meantime it was obvious that the days of Ujpesti Dosza have to end soon – 7 titles in a row, yet, won by one and the same squad, which was getting older with every next year.
The inevitable seemingly happened: the Fradi gained experience, matured in a way, when the Lilak were nearing retirement… and Ferencvaros came back with a vengeance and looked like they were going to dominate Hungarian football for some time.

The team certainly looked solid, with room for improvement – veterans like Geczi, Juhasz, Muha, and Branikovics were to step down soon, but it was no longer a matter of generational change, but only of fine tuning: the skeleton of solid champions was already in place – Magyar, Pusztai, Martos, Rab, Megyesi… and most importantly the brilliant Laszlo Balint, in his prime, and the young bright midfielder Tibor Nyilasi, arguably, the last truly great Hungarian player. With them Ferencvaros had the edge for the years to come – Ujpesti Dosza had to enter transitional period and to suffer some decline. Predictions… tainted by doubts as well, for it looked like Hungary settled into duopoly and generally insignificant pool of talent. Any other hopeful signs? May be MTK (Budapest). Great past, but MTK lost its importance quite long time ago – like Ferencvaros, the old ‘Jewish club’ won its last trophy in 1968 – the Hungarian Cup. Unlike Ferencvaros, MTK won nothing in 1976 – they managed only to reach the Cup final , which they lost 0-1. But it looked like improvement – they finished 6th in the championship and added cup final as well. Were they to restore some of their old glory? Were they to become a challenger and not merely terciary Budapestian club, struggling for forth place in the city’s ranking with another faded oldtimers – Vasas (by mid-70s the giant of the 1950s – Honved – more or less occupied third position, with Czepel sinking to the bottom of the pool of ‘big’ Budapest clubs)?
MTK looked good somehow – with players getting ‘second wind’, yet, better then what the club had a few years earlier. May be, may be…

Top, from left: Szigeti, Palicsko, Csetenyi, Nyiro, Burg, Gaspar.
Bottom: Takacs, Kovacs, Koritar, Kiss, Kunszt.
Revival for MTK? Well, it was not ‘pure’ MTK anymore, but a merger – in 1975 MTK fused with VM into MTK-VM. It lasted for a while.
Along with the old boys, another, younger, club showed claws: Videoton (Szekesfehervar). The provincial boys had different names in their earlier years, but since 1968 they were renamed after their sponsor – electrical goods manufacturer. Thoroughly industrial by name, and with solid financing, they were to become strong team in the 1980s – 1976 was just a first spark of life, not even taken seriously, for provincial clubs were one-time wonders in Budapest-dominated Hungary.

Runners-up in 1976 and with even better things to come, but – so far – this is the best domestic achievement of Videoton.
At the bottom of the league there was joy: the Hungarian Federation decided to extend the League to 18 teams for the next season and there were no relegations in 1976. Lucky outsiders.