Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Yugoslavia continued to maintain the strongest East European championship. Measures cannot be precise, yet, the Yugoslavian domestic football was at least a notch stronger than most countries on the continent. Partizan (Belgrade) won the title – another difficult to measure aspect. On one hand, Partizan is traditionally one of the strongest clubs in the country, the arch-rival of Crvena zvezda. On the other hand, the best years of the club were obviously in the distant past – Partizan won their last title in 1964. After 1970 even the rivalry kind of changed – the Belgrade axis was replaced by Serbia vs Croatia axis: Crvena zvezda vs Hajduk (Split). The reasons were unclear, but Partizan somewhat lost ground – they hardly had a squad as strong as those of Crvena zvezda and Hajduk for years and 1975-76 season was no exception. Hard to put a finger on anything, but it was obvious that Partizan was unable to recruit the best players. One reason was the feroucious rivalry with Crvena zvezda: to this very day the number of players who played for both clubs is tiny. But it was similar in Croatia as well – Hajduk players rarely moved to Dinamo (Zagreb) and viceversa. Strong hatred for the opposition cancels exchange. The result was a change of status quo – Partizan and Dynamo played second fiddle for years. To a point, the success of the ‘gravediggers’ (depending on sympathy or lack of it, the nickname of Partizan means adoration or contempt) was heroic and truly joyous for the long-suffering fanship. A title at last. It was not a confident win by any means – Partizan clinched first place one point better than second-placed Hajduk. May be outside factors made the victory possible – Hajduk and Crvena zvezda had too many players in the national team and preoccupation with the European Championship weakened them on the home front. Crvena zvezda was also going through change of generations – old players were steadily going abroad after 1974 and new team was not ready yet (they finished 4th). May be Partizan won by an accident, but the ‘gravediggers’ used the opportunity, fought for the title and grabbed it. Their 7th title – by numbers alone, the Army club was still the main rival of Crvena zvezda. Champions at last: standing from left: Kozic, Tomic, Arsenovic, Djordjevic, Djurovic, Ivancevic.
First row: Bjekovic, Zavisic, Todorovic, Vukotic, Kunovac.
Not a bad team, but mostly second-tier players. At the time, only Nenad Bjekovic was included in the national team and not as a regular starter – between 1968 and 1976 he played only 22 matches for Yugoslavia, scoring 6 goals. Bjekovic was mostly a domestic star and he was the top goalscorer of the season with 24 goals. His goals undoubtly helped Partizan – the champions ended with most wins and most goals scored – but still he was not considered good enough to play for Yugoslavia in the European campaign. Well, there was plenty of talent in Yugoslavia… which may be makes Partizan’s victory more important: they overcome strong opposition, somewhat against the odds. Even so, not a really great team… may be really helped by Crvena zvezda’s predicament.
As noted earlier, Crvena zvezda was going through generational change – from the great team of only two years back just a few remained: the Petrovic brothers, Krivokuca, and Acimovic. Bogicevic and former OFK Beograd defender Stepanovic were also around, but they, Acimovic, Krivokuca, and Ognjen Petrovic were due to move to foreign clubs. The replacement were talented, and unlike Partizan’s squad, were to become national team regulars, almost every one of them, but so far were too young and unsettled. Crvena zvezda was shaky and not a contender – they finished 4th, a place they rarely ended at, so it was a disaster year in a way. Top, from left: Ognjen Petrovic, Jelikic, Krivokuca, Keri, Muslin, Baralic.
Bottom: Vladimir Petrovic, Filipovic, Savic, Acimovic, Stamenkovic.
May be a disaster by the club’s standards, but unlike the champions two players were stars in the national team – Ognjen and Vladimir Petrovic. As for the rest – they were just in need of little time, for this is practically the team reaching the UEFA Cup final in 1979. Unlike Partizan, Crvena zvezda was able to recruit better talent. Ocasional slip, then… which is never an excuse for fanatical supporters.