Saturday, March 31, 2012

The top was slightly different this season. Bayern and Borussia (Moenchengladbach) naturally, but two other clubs joined the masters, fueling new hopes for a third grand German club: 1. FC Koln and Hamburger SV. Neither was a newcomer – in fact, both clubs traditionally dwelling in the upper part of Bundesliga, but without being real contenders. 1. FC Koln may be underperformed a bit in the last few seasons, considering the players in the squad. Or may be the team as slowly building momentum – it has been mostly Overath and Weber at the beginning of the 1970s, but by 1975 there were Flohe, Cullmann, already World champions, and young talent, like Dieter Muller and Schumacher. The rest was solid professionals, of course: Konopka, Glowacz, Welz. The builder of the great Bayern – Zlatko Cajkovski – was coaching them. Koln finished 4th , just a point behind Bayern, but with better defensive record than the European champions.
Ascending Koln, still a bit shaky, but just wait a bit!
Bayern finished 3rd, which by now was supposed to be disappointing weak year. A crisis may be? There was something unusual in the 1975 transfers – Bayern got big number young unknowns: only the left full back Horsmann was relatively familiar. On one hand, it looked like Bayern was going to play its usual team, making sure that the stars would have no competition. On the other hand, it looked like start of make-over: the stars were aging and may be new blood was to replace them. Unknown players? Well, back in 1965 Bayern was full of unknowns – some guys named Beckenbauer, Maier, Muller… so may be new team was coming? Well, the summer of 1975 provided for speculations. Then reality settled down… Dettmar Cramer used the same familiar squad. It was clear that the new boys were fluff… Marek, Mamajewski, Kaszor, Arbinger, Ober, Seneca, Agatha… they hardly ever played and were to disappear without a trace. Even Horsman, who lasted a few years, was unable to establish himself as a starter, let alone becoming a star. Bayern was experienced, but dangerously aging squad. It looked tired already. Expect Rummenigre, there was not a single youngster capable of relieving the stars. Hoeness was out of form and increasingly troubled by injuries – and he was more or less the future of Bayern, the player, around whom a new team was eventually to be formed. A bleak season and major troubles in near future…
Hamburger SV was just the opposite – after many weak years followed the retirement of Uwe Seeler, finally HSV was going up. They finished 2nd and it was not even the best moment of the year.
Kuno Klotzer built his team somewhat unusually – the best German clubs were built with bunch youngsters, gradually becoming superstars. New additions tended also to be young unknowns. Klotzer preffered different approach: he shrewdly endured the dark years after the retirement of Seeler, keeping skeleton of players who never became first-rate stars. By 1975 Nogly, Volkert, Zaczyk, Hidien, Reimann, Ripp were vastly experienced and no longer young, yet, they were not among the top West German players. Young talent was infused of course – Kargus and Kaltz most notably – but oldish well known names were more likely to be bought for reinforcement. Horst Blankenburg was bought from Ajax (Amsterdam) in 1975. May be because of his practice Klotzer did not become really famous coach like Weisweiller, Zebec, Cajkovski, Cramer, Latteck, but he managed to rebuild ailing HSV and to reverse the decline. Sceptics were slow to hail Hamburger SV yet, although the season was particularly strong: HSV reached the Cup final and confidently prevailed over 1. FC Kaiserslautern 2-0.
Fresh Cup winners, from left: Nogly, Kargus, Kaltz, Blankenburg, Reimann, Volkert, Memering, Bjornmose, Hidien, Zaczyk, Eigl.
It was the first trophy won by Hamburger SV since 1963. It was their first success during the existence of the Bundesliga. May be the injection of Ajax spirit was the real reason… Horst Blankenburg, just like the rest of his former teammates, was not done with winning just because he was no longer playing for Ajax. He came – and HSV had fantastic season. Was it Ajax spirit or not – who knows? HSV was to buy one more player from Ajax soon – and win again. Sky was the limit… the great years of Hamburger SV were just beginning with players who were not seen as the bright future of West German football, save for Kaltz and Kargus.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The bottom of the Bundesliga was occupied by the usual suspects: Bayer (Uerdingen) was last and no surprise, although they were the ‘better’ Aspirins at that time.
Kickers (Offenbach) ended 17th.
16th, by better goal difference, but still going down, were Hannover 96.
There was only one surprise, relatively speaking, among the relegated clubs: Kickers had strong 2 seasons just before this one. However, they were one of the ‘unsettled’ clubs, moving constantly up and down, just like Hannover 96. The promoted clubs did not look like major improvement of the Bundesliga, but none of the relegated was to be missed either…
In the safe area in mid-table were most clubs, of course – some in relative decline, like Werder (Bremen).
Werder had a rarity at that time - a black player – but were lucky to escape relegation, finishing 13th. Lesser clubs performed better – like Rot Weiss (Essen).
Solid 8th place, which was pretty much the best Rot Weiss could get, for normally they were releagtion candidates.
The middle zone was tough enough and similar – having an occasional big star, like Hottges (Werder), or second-string star, like Burgsmuller (Rot Weiss); a bulk of tough hard workers; and some bright youngsters – Dieter Burdenski (Werder) and Hrubesch (Rot Weiss). Horst Hrubesch was not exactly teenager at 24 and was still unknown to the world, but he scored 80 goals in 83 games for Rot Weiss. Such mixes were difficult and competitive opponents. It was clear by now, that neither Schalke 04, nor Eintracht (Frankfurt), were to be the third big German club – both were rather declining. Others were more of one-time wonders – 1. FC Kaiserslautern, Fortuna (Dusseldorf), MSV Duisburg. To a point, it was strange that West Berlin was not able to produce really strong club – Hertha rather joined the list of ‘one-timers’. Yet, Bundesliga was entertaining and competitive – names and fame meant nothing, nobody was safe, no victory garanteed. The mid-table clubs ensured high level of football – a solid base for producing greatness on the very top. Among them the best this season was Eintracht (Braunschweig), finishing 5th.
Branko Zebec was coaching a team, which only two years ago was playing in the regional leagues. Franke, Gersdorf, and the Yugoslavians Popivoda and Ristic were the big names. There was a young broom called Wolfgang Dremmler too… in 1981 he was playing for the West German national team.

Monday, March 26, 2012

With England limping, West Germany was undoubtedly the best championship in Europe. Well, in the world really. Sound financial and managerial policies, solid youth system, new stadiums, very little fan violence. Perhaps West Germany had more high caliber foreign players than Spain, for the Germans had cooler eyes: they did not go for the name alone, but for the usefulness of players. The Germans resisted expensive transfers, but on average they paid better than anybody else, and living in Germany was more comfortable than anywhere else: the press was not hysterical and the clubs hardly ever panicked over momentary bad form. Spain was having more famous players, but not coaches – the best coaching stuff, a mix of Germans and Yugoslavians, was working for the German clubs. Planning, hard work, and constant thinking of the future – the German way was maybe a bit cold and too much business, but everybody was accommodated well enough to think only of his job. It was well oiled machine, too close to factory structure, but so far the assembly line was too young to stifle the game with robotic players and look alike teams.
The Second Division produced its second crop: Tennis Borussia,1.FC Saarbrücken, and Borussia (Dortmund). It wasn’t much, but it was a league in infancy and, apart from the English leagues, no lower tier league is ever great anywhere. Tennis Borussia won the Northern Second Bundesliga – for the West Berlin’s club it was to be second effort to establish themselves among the top clubs of West Germany.
Top, from left: Eggert, Heun, Kraus, Zimmer, Sackewitz, Hoffmann, Stade, Hanisch, Subklewe, Gutendorf-coach.
Bottom: Schneider, Sprenger, Jakobs, Maras, Birkenmeier, Otte, Bittlmayer, Brockhoff.
TeBe did not look like survivor: the squad was unimpressive and in the long run only two names became known: Ditmar Jakobs, who climbed to the West German national team, but when playing for Hamburger SV, and… the coach. Rudi Gutendorf is, so far, the man who managed the most national teams – a total of 18. They were mostly exotic, Nepal and Fiji, for example, but a world record is a world record.
The Southern Second Bundesliga was won by 1. FC Saarbrucken.
Like TeBe, they were returning for a second try of the best league in the world. Like TeBe, they run into political troubles immediately after the World War II, but in a way were ‘reformed’ enough to be selected to join the inagural Bundesliga season. In 1963 their inclusion was controversial: since they were not the best team in their regional division, it was believed that the influential Hermann Neuberger ‘helped’. Justice was restored at the end of the first Bundesliga season – in the summer of 1964 Saarbrucken were dead last and relegated. Now, in 1976, they were returning to top flight fairly and hoping to establish themselves among the big boys.
The third promoted club was the winner of the play-off between the second-placed teams of the Southern and Northern groups: Borussia (Dortmund). Unlike TeBe and Saarbrucken, the Dormunders were considered one of the best German teams in the first half of the 1960s, unquestionable selection for the Bundesliga in 1963, and a big city club considered to be one of the leaders of German football. It was for awhile, but by the end of the 1960s Borussia was in in big decline. In 1972, the season of the infamous corruption scandal in the Bundesliga, Borussia was relegated. Now they were coming back, but without vengeance – unable even to win Second Division, Borussia was not expected to be a new revelation – the aims were modest: to survive in the Bundesliga. Yet, of the three newcomers, Borussia was the only club expected to become better one day.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

They were bested by Liverpool. Bob Paisley managed the Reds since Shankly stepped retired in 1974, and it was the first title for the former assistant of the great Scot. The pupil was to outshine his teacher, as it turned out, but nobody envisioned that yet. Liverpool won their 9th title, although the numbers were not great. QPR won more games than the champions. Four teams scored more goals then them. Actually, Liverpool was the lowest scoring champion since 1924! They shared the implausible fame with Leeds United – 66 goals in total, but Leeds was so low scoring champion twice: in 1969 and 1974. On the other hand Liverpool had wonderful squad and unusual for English club policy.
Crouching, from left: Case, Boersma, Callaghan, Smith, Hughes, Bob Paisley – manager, Hall, Cormack, Neal.
Standing: Lawler, Heighway, Keegan, Lindsay, Kennedy, Clemence, Thompson, Toshack, McDermott, Jones.
In fact, Chris Lawler does not belong here – he was transferred to Portsmouth in 1975 – but he exemplifies Liverpool’s approach: nobody was holly. The English clubs followed terrible pattern – once strong team was built, it stayed until dying from old age. Then frantic shopping spree took place – big names, one after another, all pretty much old and rather finished as players. Transitions were painful and convulsive, inevitably leading to sharp and sometimes long decline. Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea were the most recent example and now Leeds United was making first steps in the same direction. Liverpool acted differently: players were hardly kept until retirement, but constantly replaced with new ones. There was hardly a crisis and transitional period – instead, the team was constantly refined and young brooms made almost instantly big names redundant. There was hit and miss, of course, but Liverpool generally made fine transfers. Thus, smooth continuity was ensured, Liverpool stayed among the top 5 English clubs since the early 1960s, and won titles. There was no panic, just shrewd application of Shankly’s philosophy – and when he retired his little known, but long serving assistant, Paisley became manager. And jumping ahead, Paisley’s assistant, Joe Faggan, stepped in when Paisley retired. The policy remained unchanged and Liverpool – famous. And since the best years were yet to come, it is hard to consider the 1975-76 squad the ‘canonical’ one, although the key figures were already stars. But the policy: 14 players were internationals already. Including Lawler, our test specimen here. He was sold and there were more to go soon – Toshack, Lindsey, Cormack, Boersma. If Cormack and Boersma were pretty much reserves, Toshack and Lindsay were quite a names – but their days were numbered… Case and Neal were already firm starters, and there was more – McDermott and Ray Kennedy. The former was good example of Liverpool’s managerial eyes: Kennedy was bought from Arsenal, a respected player, but not exactly a star. He flourished in Liverpool. It was not the name Liverpool was looking for, but who was needed for particaular position in the team – the team came first. Kennedy was just the right man and so was McDermott, and many others. But if there was a way to make the team better, there was no hesitation to bench the star and introduce someone new and unknown. This year it was a guy not at the picture above.
Fairclough was just 18 years old and Liverpool had plenty of stiking power, but Paisley did not hesitate for a second. The yougster played mostly as a substitute, but he scored a lot, becoming something like regular 12th player of the team. Super-sub: coming in the second half and scoring. A new Keegan already? When the real Keegan was only 24 years old? Looked like it, for Liverpool sold Keegan to Hamburger SV soon enough, but Fairclough proved to be one of the ‘hit and miss’ cases. His fantastic beginning did not soar to greatness – Fairclough quickly faded away and his long career was rather insignificant. Liverpool eventually got rid of him, but no harm to the club – there were plenty of other players.
So, at the end, it was football as usual – some clubs declining, some ascending. Those, who were late to change aging stars suffered soon enough – they were already suffering in 1975-76: Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Everton, and Derby County, Manchester City, and Leeds United followed the path. Going up were the ‘unusual’ clubs: those, who were building their own squads from relatively unknown players – Ipswich Town, Queens Park Rangers, West Bromwich Albion, Manchester United, and especially Liverpool. Looks like 50-50: something bad, compensated by something good. But, Liverpool excepted, none of the ‘unusual’ clubs became real revelation – none was ‘ripe’ yet in 1976, but QPR faded away as quickly as the next season; Manchester United returned to traditional patterns and truly changed much, much later. Ipswich and West Brom reached their peak by the end the 1970s, yet, without becoming truly mighty. Only Liverpool… in a way, the great Reds amplified the decline of the English game: from 1976 the Red monopoly started and lasted until the end of the 1980s. Unchallenged… and, sadly, England became a country of one club. Fantastic club, but… only one.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The League Cup final was played in February – by May the dust settled: Manchester City was 8th in the League’s final table, Newcastle – 15th. Other clubs faired no better… Birmingham City, with Trevor Francis, barely escaped relegation and was 19th. London clubs were disaster… West Ham United, with Trevor Brooking and strong European season, finished just a place above Birmingham. Arsenal was 17th… Tottenham Hotspur was 9th. The three relegated clubs were Sheffild United, Burnley, and Woolverhamton Wanderes. Just three years ago the Wolves looked like conquerors in a year or two – instead, they were going down. Derby County and Leeds United, 4th and 5th at the end, maintained strong positions, but it was already inertia – both were visibly declining and their better places were, to a point, due to worse performance by others. Ipswich Town finished 6th, another solid year for them. Manchester United returned to 1st Division with vengeance – FA Cup final and 3rd place in the League, only 4 points less than the champions.
Strong season for ManUnited and looking for even better future – the new squad was promising, but yet unfinished and unpolished. The painful replacement of the great stars of the 1960s at least was completed – only Alex Stepney and Lou Macari remained. Now it was just a matter of fine tuning and neat adjustment – the new team was clearly organized around Sammy McIlroy and Steve Coppell.
The real bang came from unlikely side – the pariah of London, Queens Park Rangers. They lost the title by a point, finishing second.
This was the strongest season ever for QPR. Unlike the rest of London clubs, QPR was well balanced and relatively young. They were not looking for aging stars either. Even by appearance they signified a positive change: QPR was one of the first English clubs to use ‘continental’ fashion, playing with Adidas kit.
Sitting, from left: Gillard, Masson, Beck, Westwood, McLintock, Hollins, Rogers, Thomas, Clement.
Second row: Jones, Cunningam, Givens, Tagg, Busby, Parkes, Webb, Pritchett, Teale, Abott, Leach, Shanks, Bowles, Gerry Francis.
New powerhouse? With G. Francis, Bowles, Givens, Gillard there was no stopping QPR in the next years. Bright team equals bright future… by 2010 the bright future is still in the future. 1975-76 season is the best one in QPR history.

Monday, March 19, 2012

First for some, last for others… the League Cup opposed Manchester City to Newcastle United at the final. Both clubs were midtable this year, which was normal for Newcastle. Manchester City was supposed to be better, but the club, like many other English clubs, was late to start building a new squad. It depended on players who reached their best game quite a few years back and were only aging by now. Hence, Manchester City quietly slipped down a bit – from one of the best teams to rather middle of the road. The names of the players had significant clout, though, so it was more or less automatically assumed that City was still a dangerous club, possibly a title contender. Well, they were not that, but still had enough teeth for a cup tournament. Two goals by Barnes and Tueart were enough to secure the Cup.
Dennis Tueart scored attractive winning goal.
Newcastle managed only one, scored by Gowling. The final was tough, indeed, but when one looks at the players involved, Manchester City clearly had more famous names and they kind of tipped the scale. Newcastle really had only Malcolm Macdonald (Alan Kennedy earned fame a bit later and with another club, Liverpool) to oppose. Or so it appeared after the fact of winning.
Back row, from left: Joe Royle, Alan Oakes, Joe Corrigan, Colin Bell, Tommy Booth.
Centre row: Tony Book – manager, Roy Baley – physiotherapist, Willie Donachie, Kenny Clements, Paul Powel, Dave Watson, ? – physiotherapist.
Front: Ged Keegan, Asa Hartford, Mike Doyle, Dennis Tueart, Peter Barnes.
Tony Book was managing by 1975-76 and his squad was old news – mostly, his former teammates Bell, Booth, Corrigan, Donachie, Oakes, Doyle. Well known, highly respected, getting old. Even Colin Bell was not quite the star of few years back. The additions were of the same mold: Watson and Tueart from the 1973 Sunderland Cup winning squad; Joe Royle, who knew better days somewhere in the past; Asa Hartford. They fitted well, but hardly made a positive change – by 1976 only Dave Watson (England) and Asa Hartford (Scotland) were included in the national teams, yet, none became a really big star. The only promising youngster was Peter Barnes… and it was hard to imagine strong Manchester City in a few years time, when the team would be organized around Watson, Hartford, Tueart, and Barnes. But looking at the names it was weird to think of crisis and decline. It was a Cup-winning year! What could be wrong? Nobody new it or imagined it back then – it turned out, the 1976 League Cup was the last trophy won by Manchester City. Blame Tony Book… may be his lack of vision ensured the drought lasting, so far, to 2010. But who can blame winners? Tony Book became the first man to win the Football League Cup as both player and manager.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

If Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins were the unknown future, very young and years away from stardom and if the really known Second Division players were actually from the past of the game, like Bobby Moore and Johnny Giles, Southampton was oddity. They were relegated together with Manchester United in 1974. Manchester United recovered at once and spent only one season in Second Division, but Southampton really sunk. They were 13th in 1975 and improved to 6th place in 1976.
The Saints appeared settling in Second Division for good, yet, their squad was impressive. Yet, their manager was ambitious. Yet, they were not like Chelsea, unable to break the spell of mediocrity; not like WBA building a meaningful team and aiming at future success; not like Fulham, hoping a few big but over the hill names to be able to lift up the club. Southampton was something else and it was hard to put a finger on it… they were recruiting big names, not too old, but somewhat fading away. It was like new club would bring to new life tired legs and sheer accumulation of such players will make the Saints really strong at last. Running a bit ahead in time, it must be said that the policy somewhat worked: 1975-76 was the first year of a very good period for the club, perhaps one of the best periods in its history, if not the greatest. Strange as they were, unimpressive in the Second Division, they soared in the FA Cup, reaching the final. And on May 1, 1976 they met Manchester United at the final. It was David vs Goliath: both clubs were relegated together in 1974. By May 1976 Manchester United was back on top, a contender for the title, while the Saints indifferently kicked the ball in the Second Division. There was no difference at Wembley between the finalists… the Saints managed to score and the Red Devils did not: 1-0. The FA Cup went to 2nd Division club just like in 1973.

Happy Saints – it was their first Cup. More than that – it was their first ever trophy. And so far – the only one in the history of the club. And because of that, 1975-76 is the most successful season of Sothampton. Go figure…

Back Row: Jim Clunie (coach) Nick Holmes, Jim Steele, Ian Turner, Peter Osgood, Paul Gilchrist, Mel Blyth.
Front Row: Mick Channon, Jim McCalliog, Peter Rodrigues (capt), Lawrie McMenemy - manager, Pat Earles, Bobby Stokes, David Peach.
Lawrie McMenemy became the legendary manager for the Saints, although his good work truly revealed itself in the following seasons. The team looked more 1st Division squad nevertheless – Mick Channon was still playing for England. Peter Rodrigues – for Wales. Jim McCalliog was way bellow his prime at Woolverhampton, but classy enough. Peter Osgood was supposed to bring the attack – and himself – to a new level. He was fading in Chelsea during the last few years, but everybody hoped he will recover his old form. It was a bit baffling such a team was dwelling in the Second Division. Or may be they were not so good? May be the whole English football was a notch down from what it had been? Whatever it was, it was great for the Saints and Bobby Stokes will be remembered forever in Southampton: his singular goal won the first and only trophy. It was a boost in retrospect – very strong period started in 1976.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Second Division, tough as it was, provided some food for thought: Sunderland finished first. Sunderland was relegated from top flight in 1970 and so far was unable to return to 1st Division. Winning the FA Cup in 1973 suggested better days, which were slow to come. Confident winners Sunderland were not – they finished 3 points ahead of anybody else, but lost 10 championship games – ¼ of the total. Behind them on 2nd place finished Bristol City – ‘the Robins’ did not play 1st Division football so long, they probably had no living fans with memories of those days. Neither of the top two finishers looked like exciting addition to the finest league. The third one, edging Bolton Wanderers by a point, was West Bromwich Albion.
WBA came down from First in 1973 – and were returning after relatively short absence. What was a bit strange was their squad – it was far more interesting and promising than those of Sunderland and Bristil City.
Standing, from left: Wright (?) – physical condition trainer, Willie Johnston, Robert Edwards, Bryan Robson, Len Cantello, John Osborne, Gavin Ward, Tony Brown, Wilson, John Trewick, John Glover.
Sitting: Ally Robertson, Mick Martin, Dave Rushbury, John Wile, Johnny Giles – playing manager, Joe Mayo, Gordon Nisbet, Alistair Brown, Paddy Mulligan.
One interesting feature was the legendary Johhny Giles – playing managers were and are a rarity, and clubs usually avoid such risks. On this occasion the risk was justified: the Irishman delivered. Another Irish veteran, Paddy Mulligan, not so long ago a key Tottenham player, was helping along. Two more players were well known as well – Willie Johnston, Scottish international, and yet another Republic of Ireland international – Mick Martin. The rest of the squad was mostly local heroes – experienced and quite good to make a solid team. There was also one very young player named Bryan Robson, 19 years old, but already at his third season with the professionals. After a few years the world will know him well enough as captain of England and Manchester United. WBA was by far the most interesting side among the newly promoted clubs and, most importantly, it was a club building a momentum and eventually becoming better and better.
Yet, WBA is interesting in another aspect: it was usual practice of lower division clubs to use stars at the end of their careers – Giles and Mulligan were not exceptional at all – Bobby Moore, George Best, and Rodney Marsh played for Fulham this same season. Fulham finished 12th… old – or unruly – legs were hired to provide some class, stability, help the gates, but hardly anything more. Fulham was more or less the typical case: veterans were not enough for promotion. Giles and Mulligan, however, were… most likely because it was not only them, but rather a generally strong squad – the other teams looked like a few tired veterans and additional rag-tag bunch. Like Chelsea, who ended just a place above Fulham.
Back, from left: John Dempsey, Micky Droy, Derek Richsrdson,Steve Sherwood, Bill Garner, Ian Hutchinson.
Centre: Ron Harris, Martin Hinton, Garry Stanley, Ken Swain, Gary Locke, John Sparrow, Tommy Langley, Teddy Maybank.
Front: Ian Britton, Charlie Cooke, Graham Wilkins, Ray Wilkins, Steve Finnieston, Brian Bason, Steve Wicks.
True, Chelsea was plunging into finacial troubles and Second Division was shock to the system, for a club which not so long ago was beating Real Madrid, but it was tired squad too. The team depended on players who never really delivered – Hay, Hutchinson, Hollins, Garland, Houseman. Peter Bonetti was well beyond his prime and so was Ron Harris. Young talent seemed repeating the pattern of bright, promising beginning followed by years of disappointing mediocrity – Micky Droy and Ian Britton. By now, the front row, where traditionally apprentice players sat, was pretty much giving a list of the hopeless - players to avoid, if you are manager scouting talent. One Ray Wilkins sits there…

Monday, March 12, 2012

England by mid-70s was plunging into economic and social crisis. Football was not immunized, but it was hard to think of the most entertaining leagues in the world in terms of decline and trouble. On the surface, the aura remained intact – highly competitive, unpredictable, and entertaining tournaments. But the public was getting increasingly violent on and off the stadiums; the clubs were deeply in debt and the danger of bankruptcy was looming. The national team was struggling. Seemingly, the new young stars emerging were not as great as their predecessors, yet, they were getting more and more money and transfer fees were soaring. Looked like a feast during a plague. Perhaps the 1975-76 season, in retrospect, marked the moment of change in the English game – with national team players in the 2nd Division; with the decline of some not so long ago mighty clubs, particularly the London ones; and also small opening to the outside world. This year the first foreign kits appeared - fashionable Adidas was used by few clubs, triggering outlandish clash of styles in the next few years, when English makers decided to challenge foreign trends with their own versions and the notoriously ugly brown kit of Coventry City was born. It was also the beginning of long Liverpool monopoly – England never had one dominant ‘superclub’ before, but eventually became as almost every ‘Continental’ country. Hardly a positive change, but it also reflected the frontal clash of traditional English ways of running football and the current concepts: Liverpool improved their team constantly, buying useful players, and thus maintained strong squad until 1990 – others were either stubbornly traditional or incompetent… Of course, it was nice to see big stars playing for insignificant teams, but in the same time it was weird to see the better clubs uninterested in the brightest young star.
Trevor Francis is the best example – he debuted with a bang and was probably the most promising young English player. Everybody was raving about him, predicting huge stardom. Yet, almost to the end of the decade he played for lowly Birmingham City. If Liverpool and Leeds United did not need him, having their own stars, what about the rest? The likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspurs? Perhaps many of the young promising players of the early 1970s were stunted in their development because of playing for small or declining clubs. Some really were – Alan Hudson, for example – but even those who really became stars were somewhat limited and not as great as other players either from the Continent or from bygone years. English managers were somewhat slow to detect young talent, even slower to envision his role in their team, and perhaps slowest in implementing new tactics. The long term results were amply displayed in the 2010 World Cup…
But the aura remained, blinding everybody: English football was fun. Fast, attacking game. What other country would have 2nd Division clubs winning over 1st Division clubs? None! Was it so? Competitive – yes; but were ‘big’ clubs really big, if struggling against the small fry? Fearing a Cup match against 3rd Division nobodies? And more… English football was no longer high scoring game – the totals dwindled: there was team averaging 2 goals per game in 1975-76 season and it was not for the first time either. Numbers appeared high when compared to the rest of Europe, but it was only until one remembered that English clubs played 42-match season – much more than any other championship. Besides, the number of ties was constantly increasing as well. It was no longer high scoring ‘win or lose’ game… no matter how competitive. But it was all hidden behind the growing success of Liverpool – at the end of the day, it is never one-sided picture: Liverpool was becoming a giant; other clubs were having their best years as well… so what if some clubs were declining and no longer shined?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Spanish football remained the same so far… Real, Barcelona, and Atletico (Madrid). Atletico finished third, completing the familiar stability on the top. Unlike Real, Atletico had strong decade – the 1970s were one of the strongest, if not the best, period in the history of the club. Strong enough to stay the third big club in the country, however, with bite enough to win something or other. Atletico was not really a contender this year, rather fighting with Barcelona for the silver. This fight was lost, but Atletico won the Cup. It was significant success in retrospect: it was the last year when the Spanish Cup was officially called ‘Copa de S.E. El Generalísimo’. Franco died this year, the monarchy was restored, and the Cup got new name – ‘Copa de S.M. El Rey Don Juan Carlos I’ . The long dictatorship ended, and with that – the Falangistas. Once upon a time Atletico (Madrid) was The Falangista club… they started and, in a way, ended the period.
Political symbolism was hardly on the mind of fans and players – football was. Atletico met Real (Zaragoza) at the final. Zaragoza, at the time, was hardly a serious opponent, but finals have their own logic, and Atletico extracted difficult 1-0 win. Neither club shined, but who cares – Atletico got the Cup.
Top, from left: Luis Perreira, Ayala, Marcelino, Reina, Leal, Benegas.
Crouching: Marcos, Ruben Cano, Leivinha, Marcial, Capon.
This is not exactly the Cup winning squad, but Atletico was similar to Real and Barcelona – for years, they used pretty much the same squad, with hardly any new players introduced. Techically, the Brazilians Luis Perreira and Leivinha were the newest, but they stayed with team for a long time, just like the Argentine Ayala. Compared to the foreign stars of Real and Barcelona, those playing for Atletico tended to fade, at least internationally – Luis Perreira, Leivinha, and Ayala were no longer included in the national teams of Brazil and Argentina. None was considered huge star in Europe and their names were rarely mentioned. The same was the fate of Atletico as a whole… they remained truly the third club in Spain, not expected to become bigger or better… but they were not finished yet either. At least not in Spain. So, the status quo remained intact… sparkless.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

When the season started smiles and polite optimism were gone… Weissweiler and Cruyff clashed, indeed. The team backed up their captain and it was clear that Cruyff ruled the locker room. Weissweiler was resisted and disrespected. And came to impasse: Weissweiler insisted on unconditional following of his requirements. He wouldn’t imagine mear players arguing, refusing to follow orders, and questioning his authority and rightness. ‘I am the best coach in the world!’, he snapped. ‘And I am the best player in the world!’, Cruyff immediately responded. In a way, it was fantastic situation – Weissweiler had no problems with free-willing and opinionated Netzer; Cruyff had no problem with dictatorial Michels. What was different to each of them now? Nothing worked… the prophesy of the pre-season photo came true: Weissweiler needed Fogts, not Cruyff… and he was not getting any Fogts, for, as the season progressed, the result of the battle with Cruyff was also progressing to conclusion – the coach lost it. ‘Saint’ Cruyff was to stay, and Weissweiler was to look for employment. Barcelona finished second – in Catalunia, second place means unforgivable and miserable failure. The failure may had been orchestrated by Cruyff, but Weissweiler was to pay for it.
‘Disastrous’ Barcelona: practically, the very same team who won the 1974 championship. Built by Michels. Seemingly, there was no imput by Weissweiler… in fact, the only faint similarity with Borussia Moenchengladbach came in numbers – like Weissweiler’s Borussia, Barcelona scored the most goals in the Spanish league, but had exceptionally leaky defense. From what I saw of this vintage, Barca was uninspired team, sometime looking lost, desperately depending of toughness. Cruyff was pale shadow of himself and Neeskens – not even that. Weissweiler paid at the end and Cruyff fumed a little longer, just to have the final word… may be Weissweiler would have been better off in the ‘German’ Real Madrid… but they did not need a coach.
Real still had Milan Miljanic, perhaps more difficult person to deal with than Weissweiler, but the difficult egos of Netzer and Breitner somehow never clashed with Miljanic’s one. Real Madrid ended champions, just like in 1975. They finished 5 points ahead of Barcelona, but were by no means overwhelming victors: the attack was measly, for instance, scoring only 54 goals in 34 games. Less than 2 goals per match average… the defense was best in the league, though, giving the impression that Real played untypical for its tradition defensive football. But Miljanic was no fan of defensive tactics, so most likely it was not new tactics, but rather mediocre form, or something not quite working on the pitch. May be not the best bunch of players, who knows… those were not the greatest years of Real anyway. Business as usual for Real – another title! But it was the same squad of the last few years… unlike Barcelona’s, with more future, for it was younger. The club was not rattled by scandals, but nobody was really happy and satisfied either – Miljanic’s contract was not extended, although his record was perfect – two titles in two seasons. Netzer was to go… Breitner was to go… not right away, like Miljanic, but their days were numbered. And the days of Santiago Bernabeu were numbered… his age made his departure certain… any day, really. Barcelona and Real were like negatives of each other this year…suggesting fundamental problems of Spanish football, but at least Real ended champions. The ironic spell… a suspect winner in 1976 became the suspect coach of world champions 35 years later… Vicente Del Bosque.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Italy continued to struggle, but may be Spain was improving? It was supposed to be so since the lifting of embargo on foreign players. Well, the aura of Spansih rich sharks, swallowing international talent was present… not supported by results. Spanish clubs continued to fail in Europe. The national team was no better. Big money bring big players was mostly a myth, for contrary to popular opinion few top stars were brought to Spain – the myth was based largely on Crujff, Neeskens, Netzer, and Breitner. In reality, Spanish clubs shopped largely in South America and not necessarily the most famous. There were no English and Italian players in Spain, for instance. Very few Germans and Dutch stars. Even the usual European suppliers – Yugoslavia and Sweden – were barely represented. Spanish clubs showed lack of vision: younger talent was practically undetected – the prime example is Platini, who was already noted around Europe and should have been a focus of interest. Young and cheap (he still played for lowly Nancy – a bargain to buy), no Spanish club wanted him. The whole Spanish attitude seemed wrong: total football was not employed and there was no building for the future – Spanish football appeared stuck in the 1950s and early 1960s: a star player plus hard working rest of the team was considered enough. But even stars were trickling in numbers: the big 1975 transfers were only two. One was Johnny Rep, joining Valencia. Looked like ambitious attempt of the club to challenge Real and Barcelona… but if the length of hair was still an indication of greatness, the sight of short-cropped Rep was rather ominous. Valencia, with the biggest buy of 1975: no longer long haired Johhny Rep at the far left of first row. Salif Keita was still in the team – collecting grievances against the club and its supporters, and quite over the hill… The new Dutch superstar scored 14 goals in his first season, helping Valencia to… not the title, but 10th place!
The second big transfer was not a player at all, but a coach… Rinus Michels was sacked for failing to duplicate the title of 1974, and was replaced by Hennes Weissweiler. By now, the German was considered the leading coach in the world – he built the fantastic Borussia (Moenchengladbach) and its peculiar brand of of almost reckless attacking football. What the Barcelona brass was thinking? Michels failed to convert Barcelona into total football, actually conforming to the usual gritty Spanish style. How Weissweiler would be different? Observers were immediately critical: they pointed out that Weissweiler and Cruyff are ill-matched and clash of egos was imminent. They pointed out that the style favoured by Weissweiler was entirely alien the a team schooled by Michels and particularly to the Dutch stars of Barcelona. German coach and Dutch players seemed a combustive mix after the 1974 World Cup final.
The protagonist appeared quite benevolent and optimistic at first – at least in public.
It was somewhat cautionary and cool, but positive nevertheless: Weissweiler said he was not going to change the ‘Dutch’ style of Michels. Cruyff was a bit more obscure: ‘I think I am in my best form again.’ Both were confident that Barcelona will win the title. PR was fine… Perfect picture of friendship: Bertie Fogts visiting former fows Cruyff and Neeskens and former coach Weissweiler. All smiles, Fogts and Cruyff next to each other – perfect photo. Fogts praised the ‘new’ Barcelona: according to him, Barcelona was playing football previously undreamed of. Right…
Except, the picture brought vile thoughts as well: may be Barcelona was needing Bertie Fogts and not Dutch stars?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The sorry state of Italian football was further displayed at the Cup tournament. Unlikely clubs reached the final and although it is ever exciting to see unfamiliar faces and small boys challenging giants, the inability of the so-called giants to eliminate small fry is perhaps more informative: it was not heroic small clubs fighting their way, but rather weak and clueless ‘giants’, no longer distinct from anybody else. Napoli and Verona met at the final.
Back then, saying ‘Verona’ was clear enough – today clarification is needed: it was Hellas Verona, not Chievo Verona, currently playing Serie A. Hellas were known only as name, one of the ‘also run’ clubs in Italian premier football. It was ‘known’ as one of the least exciting Italian clubs, which speaks volumes for the class of the team, since there was no exciting football in Italy to begin with. No need to say Hellas Verona never won anything in their history – 1975-76 was their best season ever. True, they fought for survival in the league, as usual – finishing 11th, but only a point above relegated Ascoli (14th). They excelled in the Cup – eliminating Torino and Inter on the road to the final. Lowly Hellas eliminated the season’s champions! How heroic!
Heroic, indeed! This was not a squad of noticeable players. Reaching the final was fantastic, but… the lack of class showed exactly when mattered most: they lost 0-4.
Napoly triumphed with the Cup.
When it comes to Napoli, the shadow Maradona’s period casts practically obliterates everything else. True, until the arrival of Maradona Napoli hardly anything to boast about, but meager success is usually well remembered just because it is rare… until 1975-76 Napoli managed to win the Italian Cup once, in 1961-62, and that was the grand total of trophies collected. Normally, one of the middle of the road Italian clubs, on the modest side. But ambitions grew in the 1970s and eventually the club acquired some star players, topped by the sensational transfer of Beppe Savoldi, with the ambition to win something at last. Results improved, yet, hopes never really materialized… Napoli failed to become one of the ‘big boys’; came short of winning a championship; and appeared to be better situated then usual just because Italian football was in crisis. In the European club tournaments Napoli was especially unremarkable – even during the years of Italian mediocrity, Napoli managed to present itself more mediocre than other clubs. Anyway, those were relatively strong years for Napoli and their crown performance was the Cup final in 1976 – they comfortably won 4-0 and got their second Cup.
Cup at last! Standing, from left: Pogliana, Bruscolotti, Carmignani, Burgnich, La Palma, Orlandini
Front row: Braglia, Esposito, Savoldi, Juliano, Massa.
Hellas Verona may have been particularly weak opponet, but still this team deserves remembering! Savoldi, Juliano, and Burgnich. May be Beppe was not worth the money spent for him, but still he was one of the brightest Italian strikers in the 1970s. Juliano was may be unlucky – caught between two different generations and playing styles, he did not play a lot for the Italian national team, but was very well respected player nevertheless. As for Burgnich, he was a big star – constant part of the Italian national team of the 1960s, and iron defender. By mid-70s he was getting dangerously old, but still was reliable. A single Cup may be not much, but it was fine triumph for stars playing for relatively small club. Of course, this squad is no match for Maradona and company, but they were second – and last – to win anything for Napoli before Maradona arrived.
Anyhow, 1975-76 season was more or less beggars’ banquet. Which is fun, no matter how good or bad local football is.