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.