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.