Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The city of Linz ended just behind the big three – LASK was forth and VOEST fifth. Not bad, but... 10 points divided 3rd and 4th placed clubs. Austria obviously was incapable of producing enough palyers for really competitive league. The talent concentrated in the three top clubs and very little was left for the rest. Yet, there were some good players in Linz: Helmut Koglberger, Klaus Lindenberger, Geza Gallos, Walter Gebhardt (LASK), Ortner, Hagmayr, Hintermaier (VOEST). Like most Austrian clubs, Linz depended on solid if not famous imports: the West Germans Heinz Libuda (VOEST) and Wolfgang Gayer (LASK).

LASK topped the local rivals by a point, but it was not bad – Linz was the third city of Austrian football this season, hoping for better days ahead. Which was not the case of Graz – her clubs ended at the bottom: Grazer AK was 8th and Sturm 9th. More than disappointment, for Graz normally was second or third football city of the country. Either Graz was falling or the Austrian football as a whole was improving and becoming fiercely competitive. No matter what, Graz was not in danger of losing a club – Sturm finished good 5 points ahead of the last placed team. Which was unlikely one: Austria (Salzburg)

Salzburg is better known for classical music than football, but dead last? Normally, Salzburg were in the upper half of the table. Normally, they were well respected club, if not outright favourites. But such is football... in 1975-76 Austria finished 4th, earning a spot in the UEFA Cup tournament. A year later – relegation. Mozart probably wouldn't care... well, these boys surely were not Mozarts.

The Second Division was won by Wiener Sportclub (Vienna), who returned to top flight, replacing Austria (Salzburg).

They fought bitterly for the coveted promotional spot with Donawitzer SV Alpine and won by a point. Strong season for the oldest club – they reached the Cup final as well. How good they really were was to be seen in the next year, but if anything they increased the number of clubs from the Austrian capital to exactly half the league.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Austria was enjoining a revival. Perhaps the reform introduced 2 years ago worked – the small 10-club league was seemingly more competitive and quality of the game was rising, thanks to the fact that now the best players met 4 times against each other during the season. Another and more important reason was the new talented generation – a whole bunch of young players, the best among them Herbert Prohaska (21 years old, Austria Vienna), Hans Krankl (23, Rapid Vienna), and Bruno Pezzey (21, Swarovski Wacker Innsbuck). The top players pretty much illustrated the revival: they were, correspondingly, central defender, midfield playmaker, and lethal central forward. They played for the top three clubs of the country and already had a few seasons behind them – if anything, the best three tell that improvement was everywhere: in every club and every position. And future was quite bright, for the new talent were youngsters with many years ahead of each of them. Great generation.

The championship was more or less familiar story – Swarovski Wacker, Austria and Rapid, the usual suspects competed for the title. Swarovski Wacker won confidently 6 points ahead of the rivals. The champions had tied defense, allowing only 22 goals in the 36 championship games. Their attack was not so great – 51 goals – but they won the most matches, 21, losing only 4. It was the most experienced squad in the league, so the title was well deserved, alas, there was something else, far from comforting: the Tiroleans were the leaders of Austrian football since 1970, yet, their domestic success did not transform into good performance in Europe. The team somehow was good only at home, and by 1976-77 it looked like they already reached their peak and were not going to improve, but rather to go downhill. Which happened soon enough. Suffice to say, that this title was the last for Swarovski Wacker until 1989.

Winning with confidence and, therefore, misleading everybody: SSW Innsbruck was going down right after this season.

Rapid (Vienna) finished second, playing high-scoring football. Hans Krankl was rapidly becoming a superstar and his goals were vital. He was already head and shoulders above all other strikers in Austria – top scorer of the season with 32 goals in 36 matches. The next best score was 17 goals – Koglberger (LASK) and Welzl (Swarovski Wacker) shared the second place, but really... they together scored as many as Krankl.
Improving Rapid, but it was a team with lesser talent than their city rivals, Austria. Feurer, Persidis, Walzer, Kienast were good additions to Krankl, yet, not in the same league. The veteran August Starek was at the end of his playing days and no longer a starter. The West German import Emil Krause, although stable and experienced, was middle of the road player at best. Perhaps the real reason for the strong season was the coach – Antoni Brzezanczyk was voted Austrian coach of the year, a recognition of his good work. The Polish coach was hardly famous, but he arrived after a spell with Feyenoord (Rotherdam), an indication of quality. Yet, a good coach and a bright star were hardly enough for real success: Rapid was still in building phase, not quite ripe, not quite ready. Still young, a team for the future.

Which was the case of Austria (Vienna) as well. They were not able to defend their title of 1976, slipping to third place. Like Rapid, they were young squad, perhaps even younger than the rivals, but more talented. It was carefully assembled team in the last few years, so young as they were, they already had experience. The team was not yet matured, but was getting better and better. Third place in the championship was perhaps a disappointment, but the youngsters compensated by winning the Austrian Cup. They met the oldest Austrian club at the final: Wiener Sportclub (Vienna), which was playing in the Second Division. Austria won both legs of the final – 1-0 and 3-0. Talking about confidence.

Good work of coaches Karl Stotz and Karl Giesser, but they had great material to work with. Young and bright team – even the veterans were all that old: Robert Sara (often written Sara I) and Julio Cesar Morales were 31 years old. R. Sara was playing for Austria since 1964. The two foreigners, the Uruguayans J. C. Morales and Alberto Martinez, were already at their 5th season with the team. Note that Martinez, one of the veterans in the team, was only 26 years old! Solid backbone – R. Sara in defense; Martinez in midfiled; and Morales in attack – inspiring youngsters like Herbert Prohaska. Prohaska was already rising into a superstar, but there were others too – Josef Sara (Sara II), Felix Gasselich, Hans Pirkner, Erich Obermayer, Hubert Baumgartner. Better talent than Rapid's, consolidated by the veterans, and a team ready to burst big. Which it did.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The relegation tournament was quite meaningless, but it was very different at the top group. Grasshoppers played surprisingly strong football and ended with most points in the group (equal with Basel). Yet, their weak first phase prevented them from championship contenders and they finished at 4th place. However, they made the whole battle more exciting, for they nibbled points from the real contenders. FC Zurich paid the price for finishing third at first – tiny difference of carried-on points left them third. Their only consolation was in scoring: they scored not only the most goals in the second phase, but far better than anybody else – 24 goals in 10 matches. No other club reached even 20.

Semi-finalists in the 1975-76 European Champions Cup, continuing to play well, but only for bronze medal.

Servette slipped a tiny bit – they finished 4th in the second phase. They were just a point less than their real rivals, Basel, but it was enough of a difference – halving points from the first round reduced their original advantage from 2 to 1 point. Another lost in the second phase and they ended with the same points Basel finished with. But worse goal difference. Luckily, it did not counted and Servette had to play championship play-off. Tiny difference again... Servette scored one goal, but Basel scored twice, leaving the boys from Geneva once again with silver.

Stability meant winning at the end – FC Basel was second in the first phase and second (on worse goal difference) in the final phase, but their combined record moved them to first place in the 'final' table. Scoring one goal more than Servette at the play-off made them champions. Clinched victory, but victory!

9th title for FC Basel. The 1970s were strong years for them and decline was not to start yet. Basel shroudly maintained competitive squad, built around few star players, gradually replacing them without losing the edge. Odermatt was gone by now, but the squad was solid if not exceptional. Eigil Nielsen the Danish import, seemingly helped Basel to remain on top. It was rather funny, for Nielsen came from Winterthur. One Dane a champion; another plummeting to second division football – unlucky Thygesen played for Winterthur.

The Cup brought some success to Zurich, but it was not the 'big' FC Zurich winning it. It was Young Boys. Their season was not all that great, but they managed to end up in the top final group of the. championship. Apparently, they knew they were at par with the 'big' clubs and more or less flunked the final phase, finishing last at the end. With nothing to win or lose in the championship, they seemingly concentrated on the Cup tournament, reaching the final. Their opponents were another club with nothing really to play for in the championship – Sankt Gallen ended just above relegation zone, but they had comfortable lead – 8 points they were ahead of Winterthur in the first phase, and even after halving the original points, they were outside danger. They played leisurely in the final phase, just getting enough points to keep above water, but the Cup was another matter. Yet, their team was not good enough – they did not lose by much, but lose they did... 0-1. Young Boys triumphed with the Cup.
Young Boys even now passes for historically successful Swiss club, but the emphasis is on 'historic'. It was their 5th Cup, but first trophy since 1960. Perhaps even to their long-suffering fans was clear that their victory was accidental, rather than a beginning of strong era. It was nice to see smaller club win nevertheless.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The real fun was in the premier league – the bottom was hopeless, but three clubs were pretty much equal at the top. The first phase ended with AC Bellinzona and FC Winterthur dead last, their combined points less than what 10th placed FC Sankt Gallen had. Grasshoppers finished at 6th place, just on better goal difference.

Worried looking Netzer – or may be plain tired. He did not make any difference – Grasshoppers struggled to stay above relegation tournament.

Servette, Basel, and FC Zurich finished at the top three places, 4 points separating 1st and 3rd.

Servette lost only 1 match in the first phase of 22 rounds; scored impressive 68 goals, and were leading by two points.

Going for the title: Third row, from left: assistant coach Monnier, Andrey, Schnyder, President Cohannier, Barberis, Thouvenel, Coach Pazmandy.

Middle row: masseur Locca, Brignolo, Marchi, Martin, Barriquand, Bizzini, Chivers, Engel, assistant coach Ammon.

Sitting: Pfister, Zapico, Müller, Valentini, Guyot.

Unlike Netzer, Chivers was actually benefiting his new club, but Servette had strong for Switzerland team, enjoying good spell. They lost the title by a point the previous season and were determined to get it this one. The first phase was theirs, 2 points ahead of Basel, which seemed OK, considering their form so far.

Second phase reduced whatever advantage Servette had – starting with half of the points earned so far made an equal new race. With 10 games to be played, even Grasshoppers, the 6h team in the first phase had a chance. It was not so in the relegation group: the outsiders were so far behind everybody else, that even if they made heroics and win all their games most likely would had ended in Second Division. FC Winterthur actually did play heroically, adding 9 points to their measly 4 from the first phase, but... finished 5th and relegated.

Trying to escape too late: sitting from left: Munch (?), Werli (?), Bolman (?), Kung, P. Maier (?), Waner (?), Schwaizer (?), Grzon (?)

Middle row: Kozmel (?) - coach, R. Maier (?), A. Maier (?), Fer (?), Heni (?), Graff (?), Ackeret (?), Rief (?) - masseur.

Top: Thygesen (Denmark), Chicha (?), Weber (?), Zindelar (?).

Along with Bellinzona, as expected. Bellinzona obviously through the towel – they managed to tie 2 matches, losing the rest. 2 points plus ½ points from the first phase totaled 6 – they got 7 in the first phase, you be the judge. At the top of relegation group finished the 7th and 8th from the first phase: Lausanne-Sports and CS Chenois. Actually, every club ended at the exact place they had in the first phase – the tournament proved rather pointless in this respect, for nothing changed. The only interesting thing about the relegation tournament is statistical: FC Sion were tie-masters in the first phase, ending with league record 10 draws in 22 games. In the second phase they never tied a match – 5 wins and 5 losses.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Just like Austria and Scotland, Switzerland decided to reduce its top league and introduce new formula , hoping to elevate the quality, competitiveness, and financial stability of its football. Only the first division was changed: it was reduced from 14 to 12 participants, which were to play 2-phased championship. Standard 2-legged first phase and after that the league was split in two final groups – the top 6 playing for the title, and the rest – playing for relegation. Rather, to avoid relegation. Every club carried ½ of the points they finished the first phase with. The final mini-leagues were to play again standard 2-legged championship. Thus, some teams were to play four matches against each other during the season, which was to benefit the gates of the best clubs, competing for top spots or traditional derbies. Jumping ahead, the reform was far from final – the Swiss league was to be further transformed into other formats. Overall benefits of experimenting are doubtful, but at least the novelty worked the first season. The contest was closely fought, if numbers tell us anything.

Additionally, Servette and Grasshoppers made big transfers. For various reasons, Switzerland was not a country attracting star players from abroad. Swiss clubs did not look for expensive foreigners either – Teofilo Cubillas was more or less the only high-profile player since the brief appearance of Sandor Kocsis in the second half of the 1950s. And he moved to Portugal after a year. Normally, the best Swiss went abroad, not the other way around. So, it was a bit of surprise: Servette getting the English star striker Martin Chivers from Tottenham Hotspur and Grasshoppers going even higher: the recruited Gunter Netzer, formerly of Real Madrid.

Grassohoppers' new blood for the incoming season – Netzer at the far right.

Sounds like great, serious, expensive attempt to bring really high quality to Swiss football. It was not precisely so – Chivers was 31 and Netzer 32 years old, the best years of both players already behind them. Netzer was quite blunt about playing near-retirement football in relaxing and stress-free atmosphere; Chivers did not say anything, but his idea of going to Switzerland hardly differed from Netzer's. These were not actual stars at the peak of their form, but nevertheless were helpful to the whole of Swiss football – it was exciting to see them live; they still capable of bringing class to their teams; they were positive influence on youngsters. In short, the idea was not some Swiss club suddenly to become European powerhouse, but to make the domestic game classier. Kind of worked... at least for Servette it did.

Below First league everything was same as ever: the normal 16-team Second Division played normal championship, which was 3-club contest.
FC Nordstern (Basel) lost the battle by a point, settling for third place.

Young Fellows (Zurich), the club once upon a time Kocsis played for, captured promotion – they finished second.

Etoile Carouge were first and, naturally, promoted.

None of the promoted looked like able to change the status quo – small clubs were the top three, promoted or not. Not really adding a true derby to the top league – Young Fellows were to be the third club from Zurich playing in First Division, but nothing more. Actually, such clubs were at the bottom of the worries, leading to reform: they were not bettering the top league. They were way weaker than the 5-6 decent clubs.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Cup tournament was lost to both Benfica and Sporting, but FC Porto made it to the final. And so did Sporting (Braga).

A typical midtable club. The Arcebispos (the Archbishops) never made waves, usually far away from either top spots or relegation zone. Since their foundation in 1915, their only success was winning the Cup in 1966. Ten years later they had a chance to win a second trophy. Otherwise, they finished at 8th place, their normal position. Archbishops should do better than that, may be.

As far as midtable teams go, Braga's squad was nothing to brag about, except for their kit, fashioned after Arsenal (London). Colours were changed in 1947, and with the new kit they won their first promotion to First Division. As for why they mimicked Arsenal, legends differ: one version says that their Prsident José Antunes Guimarães, having business connections in London, became Arsenal fan and wanted his own club to be like it. Another version says that Josef Szabo, a Hungarian coach who loved Arsenal's playing style asked the president to change the green and white uniform of Braga. So much for colours, but probably the kit was the best feature of the club by 1977. They lost the final 0-1 and FC Porto got the Cup. For the Archbishops it was one of the highlights in their history nevertheless.
Fernando Gomes scores the winning goal.

Antonio Oliveira, the captain of FC Porto, lifts the trophy. Oliveira managed to play for all three leading Portuguese clubs during his career.

Today one may shrug: what's new? Porto with a trophy? But it was different back then: for the Dragons, it was their 4th Cup and first since 1968. The club was not yet the big club we know today – it was just getting really competitive, ascending, but not dominant. The big days of FC Porto were still in the unknown future, so winning the Cup was actual achievement, not merely saving grace.

The Cup winning squad.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Familiar top, but what about the bottom? Who cares about the bottom? Dead last were Atletico Clube do Portugal, hailing from Alcantara, Lisbon.

The name is practically unknown today, and it was no different in the 1970s either – the club played once bigger role in Portugal, but it was so long ago, probably even the club's fans were not able to recall it. Atletico were relegated, going to complete anonymity. With total of 15 points, they were 8 points behind the 15th placed club.

Hardly a derby, hardly a competitive match... Atletico desperately defending themselves against Benfica. That was their fate the whole season and they went down.

Unlike Atletico, other weak clubs at least fought for survival. Leixoes lost the struggle, ending with equal points with two other teams, but having the worst goal difference.

Leixoes Sport Club is quite old, founded in 1907, but from a small town, Matosinhos, and therefore unlikely candidate for greatness. May be their nickname – Os Bebes (The Babies) – really sums up their fate: 70 years old babies by 1977... as their crest suggests, it is a multisport club, and their football department was not exactly strong. Leixoes played and plays nore often in Second Division than in First, so their relegation was rather normal. If there was something to remember about them this season, it was their curious record: they tied half of matches – 15 ties out of total 30 games. Their attack was the worst in the league – Leixoes scored only 15 goals, ½ goal average per match. Apparently, they attempted to survive by playing cattenaccio, for their defense was not bad at all, allowing 31 goals in the season. Only the top three clubs had better defensive record, but... playing for the point and scoring ½ less when allowing a whole goal spelled disaster.

Babies going down. Again.

Down, to more familiar opponents inhabiting Second Division, like Barreirense.

Well, even grass did not like to grow in Second Division, but Leixoes was joining the bunch of modest clubs like this one. First division was not even a dream for the likes of Barreirense – but their kit is pretty.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Unlike Yugoslavia, Portugal promised no great future. By that time, the great years of Portuguese football were only distant memory and the country seemingly settled among the middle of the road nations in Europe. Even Benfica was no longer considered really dangerous opponent internationally. Back in the summer of 1976 there was little excitement: the Peruvian star Teofilo Cubillas left FC Porto and went home, joining Alianza (Lima). He was replaced by relatively unknown Brazilian – Duda. Thus, FC Porto depended on two Bazilian imports, the midfielder Ademir and Duda in attack. But the club recruited new coach – Pedroto, who led Boavista to two Cup victories the previous two years. Another big transfer was made by Sporting (Lisbon) – they got Salif Keita from Valencia (Spain). The star from Mali was already 30 years old and considerably in decline. His spell with Valencia was not a happy one, and probably Keita was hoping to come back in Portugal, but it was doubtful whether he would be able to make Sporting stronger team. More or less, the real strength of Sporting was their coach – Jimmy Hagan, the Englishman, who coached Benfica few years back. Benfica was also coached by British, continuing its own tradition, John Mortimore, so at least the Lisbon derby seemed to be a British battle of coaches. Unlike her rivals, Benfica depended on Portuguese squad. The Eagles had the odd African-born player, but their force was Portuguese stars. By names, Benfica had the best team, well balanced, competitive, and deeper than any other club. Which made the whole difference: Benfica confidently led through the championship, building bigger and bigger gap between themselves and the opposition. At the end, it was same old, same old... Benfica lost only 2 matches, winning 23. They had iron defense, letting only 24 balls in the net. Benfica finished 9 points ahead of the second placed club, collecting one more title.

So familiar... who else, but Benfica. Quite a bearded squad too, not to mention mustaches. Top row, from left: Diamantino,José António,Alberto,Eurico,Alhinho,Messias,José Domingos,José Luis,Bastos Lopes.

Middle row: Palhinhas(massag.)Romeu,Álvaro,Pietra,Bento,Artur,José Henrique,Barros,Ramos(massag.).

Sitting: Nélinho,Shéu,Toni,Nené,Vitor Martins,Moinhos,Chalana,Cavungi

Familiar names, combining experienced veterans, current stars, and bright new talent. Well, the club was the richest in Portugal, and had no problem collecting the top players. Bento and Henrique competed for the spot between the goalposts for both Benfica and Portugal. The rest were national players, but somewhat unlucky to play at that particular time: were they born a bit later, Diamantino and Sheu may had been bigger stars. Possibly Eurico too. But Toni and Nene perhaps would have been better off if born earlier... Good squad, but not really great one . However, there was a player for better future: Chalana. 18-years old, already on his third season with the first team, and getting really influential. His portrait here is strange – he does not look young at all. Certainly not under 20. Outside Portugal nobody heard of him yet, but there was plenty of time ahead of him.

Sporting finished second, so everything appeared normal and painfully familiar... but it was not. Sporting did not really challenged Benfica, but rather fought with FC Porto for the second spot. They won by a point, but it was not squad capable of more – Keita was practically the only recognizable star.

At least, there is some novelty in the photo above: the first sitting from left player has his socks covering his knees – a standard today, but highly exotic in the 1970s. Keita's rolled down socks were fashionable back then.

As for FC Porto, they ended with bronze medals. May be not bad at all for them at the time, but if anything they showed the vast division in Portuguese football: the 4th placed club ended 7 points behind the third and good 17 points less than the champions. Boavista was 4th, and considering that those were strong years for the club... it was obvious that as a whole Portuguese football was far from great. Porto was still building team and confidence – they were a bit green yet, but improving. If there was really a revelation this season, it came from Porto: Fernando Gomes was the topscorer of the league with 26 goals. He was to score a lot more yet, for he was just 20-years old.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Young teams rarely have the strength to win everything. Crvena zvezda, confident in the champioship, did not make it to the Cup final. Partizan and Dinamo failed as well, but Hajduk (Split) did make it. The other finalist fitted the year of surprises and small clubs doing well at the expense of the big ones. Buducnost (Titograd) was the other finalist.

Buducnost means 'Future', an optimistic name given the history of the small club from the capital of Montenegro. The city was named after Josip Broz Tito back then, today is Podgorica. The club did not live to neither its name, nor the city name, both suggesting something mighty, if names could win trophies. In reality Buducnost had difficulties just to stay in first division. Often they played in second. Winning was not their forte – so far, Buducnost played once the Cup final, which they lost. This was their best achievement. In 1975-76 they won promotion and returned to first division. Enthusiasm carried on and they had good season, finishing right in the middle of the table – 9th, right behind Hajduk – with symetrical record: 11 wins, 11 ties, and 12 losses. They scored 44 goals, receiving 47. For them, rather strong season, but they did outdid themselves in the Cup tournament. The squad was modest, nobody worth mentioning, but if playing final, why not try winning it as well? Buducnost put a fight: regular time ended 0-0. The Cup was near... but class is class, and in the overtime Hajduk scored 2 goals. Buducnost – zero.

Brave finalists, who a year ago played second division football. They lost, but nevertheless it was the best achievement in the history of the club. For anything better, Buducnost had to wait Montenegro to become independent state.

Hajduk (Split) made up for the mediocre season by winning the Cup for the 6th time. Too bad for Buducnost, but Hajduk had their pride at stake and were determined to win and save the year. It was still great squad: Buljan, Surjak, Muzinic, Jerkovic, Peruzovic, Dzoni were still here. Boljat, Katalinic, and especially Zungul firmly established themselves. So many national team players and young as well – at 27, Ivan Buljan was the oldest in the team. And it was not all: Zoran and Zlatko Vujovic were already in the squad, clearly suggesting that Hajduk was going to stay at the top of Yugoslavian football. It was just one bad year, but they were too classy to end it emptyhanded. Lost the title, won the Cup. New talent coming in, watch out.

1976-77 may have been transitional year, but there was a lot of young talent in Yugoslavia – the well was seemingly bottomless: ate least four clubs promised excitement in the coming seasons.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bad, bad, bad... anything good for a change? There was of course, but the season was strange, transitory may be. Looked like a whole generation of great players went abroad, aged, and no longer benefiting the local game. The next generation was not strong enough to play first fiddle and clubs with relatively settled squads took advantage. Prime example: Partizan (Belgrade). The first half of the 1970s were dark years for the 'gravediggers', but they never fell down – they stayed among the best 5-6 teams in the league. Finally they won the 1975-76 championship. Then their star player Nenad Bjekovic went to play for OGC Nice (France) and Partizan did not have the stamina to compete for the title. They finished at 4th place, but their current squad was very young. It was talented bunch – Golac, Zavisic, Hatunic, Trifunovic, Jesic, Stojkovic, all of them 25 or younger. They got one of the best keepers at the time from OFK Beograd – the 23-years old Petar Borota. Radomir Antic was the oldest player at 28. A squad in the making, not polished yet, still rough and inexperienced to sustain whole championship – Partizan led for awhile in the fall of 1976, then faded.

Dinamo (Zagreb) were similar. They improved in the recent years and once again joined the best clubs, finishing 3rd in 1976. This season they moved a place up, enjoying silver medals,but not really challenging the champions: Dinamo finished with 9 points less, not a contender really. Improving, but like Partizan, not ready yet for something big. Dragutin Vabec was the star of the team, 26 years old. But there were two very young boys who were to play major role soon: Zlatko Kranjcar and Velimir Zajec. They were already starters. Dinamo was restoring its place among the leading clubs, but so far unripe.

Unmade teams made room for unlikely challengers: NK Rijeka finished 5th, not bad at all for the modest club, which two years ago returned from second division exile. The Croats differed from Partizan and Dinamo: not that young, but experienced and settled. They had a veteran star, who most likely revitalized them – the great goal scorer Josip Skoblar came back from France in 1974 and joined small Rijeka. With him, the team climbed up and up. For Skoblar 1976-77 was the last playing season and he retired in style at 36, but the momentum was not lost after he call it a day.

Modest boys among the best: standing from left: Stefanovic, Kociancic, Makin, Avramovic, Filipovic, Devcic.

Crouching: Mohorovic, Juricic, Skoblar, Cukrov, Vujkovic.

Sometimes one player is quite enough for inspiration and improvement; sometimes collective is all that counts. Sloboda (Tuzla) enjoyed bronze medals.

Old, but small club, even more modest than Rijeka. Since their birth in 1919, Sloboda (the name means 'Freedom') never won anything. Their best performance to date was in 1971, when they lost the Yugoslavian Cup final. Forget about the whole Yugoslavia – in their native Bosnia and Herzegovina Sloboda ranked 5th at best. Playing in the first division was enough success for them, just keeping above relegation zone. And suddenly – third!

May be the best ever team of Sloboda? May be not, for I am not certain this is a picture from 1976-77. Standing from left: Gabrijel Pendic, Fahrudin Avdicevic, Kasim Alibegovic, Elref Mujezinovic, Mirolem Fazlic, Radomir Jovicic.

Bottom: Mesud Nalic, Caslav Jevremovic, Fuad Mulahassanovic, Petar Slavkic, Mustafa Hukic.

Not a single known name, let alone famous. Not even their coach, Dorde Gerum. Sloboda were usually suppliers of talent to other clubs – Jusuf Hatunic (Partizan) was one of the most recent examples showing promise in Tuzla, but becoming star elsewhere. It was the collective really bringing them that high and their strong season led to brief inclusion of Hukic in the Yugoslavian national team: he played 5 matches in 1977 and was not called again. May be taking advantage from the shaky state of usual favourites, but it was great for the small club and its fans.

Yet, the competition, big or small, was not really competition this season: Crvena zvezda won its 12th title after three bleak years. Bleak for their fans, that is, for they used to winning and only trophies counted. Crvena zvezda had great squad back in 1973, but it was getting a bit old. Practically the whole team was sold abroad, something Crvena zvezda was not afraid to do, for they had the means for getting whoever they fancied from the rest Yugoslavia (except the arch-rival Partizan), plus a great youth system of their own. But building a new team from scratch is devilish business even for the most resourceful clubs and three rocky years were needed until new victory. So, finally...

Back to normal – champions again! Standing from left: B. Kajganic, D. Savic, D. Lukic, Z. Jelikic, S. Muslin, Z. Filipovic, N. Jokanovic, V. Bogicevic, A. Stojanovic.

Sitting: B. Radovic, P. Baralic, M. Sestic, S. Stamenkovic, M. Novkovic, D. Nikolic, M. Babic.

Only two players from the last victorious squad remained – Vladislav Bogicevic and Vladimir Petrovic. Veterans... Bogicevic, 27 years old, was the oldest player in the squad. Vladimir Petrovic was 22! The 'new boys' were 22 or younger. Nikolic was already hailed as the next great Yugoslavian player, but he never lived up to expectations. The rest were just players for the future, but they won with great confidence – 9 points ahead of the second placed Dinamo (Zagreb), winning 20 matches, losing only 4, scoring the most goals in the league – 67. And Zoran Filipovic was the top scorer of the season with 21 goals. So, Crvena zvezda was akin to Parizan and Dinamo, going for young talent. And winning. May be winning because they started building new team a bit earlier than the rest and therefore had more experienced team, when the rivals still had inexperienced boys. May be winning because Hajduk underperformed. It was confident victory, but the team was not at it finest yet, they were still green, still learning – Filipovic, Savic, Sestic, Jovanovic, Muslin, Stojanovic, Lukic, they all became national team players and quite famous, but there not so yet in 1976-77. It was their first serious claim for fame – real one came few years later. Young team, full of talent, Crvena zvezda were starting new strong period. Presently, it was conquering only Yugoslavia, but just wait a year or two.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Pessimism piled up by the obvious decline of the usual 'second stringers': Olimpija (Ljubljana) finished 12th. OFK Beograd, so bright three years ago, barely escaped relegation, finishing 15th. The leading clubs of Bosnia and Herzegovina sharply declined: Velez (Mostar), aiming at the very top an year back, slipped to 11th place. FK Sarajevo ended just a spot above relegation, 16h. No such luck for the 1972 champions Zeljeznicar (Sarajevo) – they were last, going down to second division with the 17th placed Napredak (Krusevac). Near the bottom, 14th just because of better goal difference, finished the 'Old Dame': Vojvodina (Novi Sad).

This is a squad from 1975-76, perhaps illustrating the difficulty of evaluating Yugoslavian football: Standing, from left: Novoselac, Svilar, Rutonski, Mokus, Vujkov, Trifunovic.

Crouching: Lerinc, Ivezic, Vucekovic, Pavkovic, Licinar.

Ivezic, their best player, moved to Sochaux (France) in the summer of 1976 and immediately the club slumped to the bottom of the league. Yet, it had good enough players around – Lerinc, Vujkov, Novoselac, and particularly Svilar. Ratko Svilar was already 26 years old and one of the best goalkeepers in Yugoslavia. He debuted for the national team in 1976. But the competition was stiff – and remained so: Svilar palyed measly 9 matches for Yugoslavia between 1976 and 1983. The rest is amusing novelty: Svilar played a bit in USA, on loan in 1978, and in 1980 he went abroad permanently , joining Royal Antwerp (Belgium). There he played 16 years, finally quitting in 1996. Amazingly long career – very few players were active at 46 years of age. But in 1976-77, at his prime, he was down the line for the national team and did not prevent Vojvodina from slipping down the table.

And speaking of slipping down: Hajduk (Split) ended in midtable, at 8th place. Crisis? Crvena zvezda went selling its team entirely after 1973 and lost three championships in a row – may be the Croatians were going this way? But they were different, modeled after Ajax, rather than Crvena zvezda. Hajduk did not have might and clout to recruit players from around the whole country like the Belgrade heavyweights. They depended on their own youth system and careful sales of stars when talented replacement was at hand. Nothing bad happened to them so far and at the beginning of the season they were still bursting with talent and obvious contenders for the title. Looks like trouble came because of the new coach: Tomislav Ivic went to Ajax and Josip Duvancic, unknown name, took the reigns. He was not the man for the job – the club underperformed and after the end of the season Duvancic was sacked. It happened to be just a single bad year, not a settling crisis.