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.