Monday, September 24, 2012

At the end it comes to champions to somewhat emphasize the shift of power in Czechoslovakia. Dukla (Prague) had the honour.

The name is familiar, of course, and even more so in the 1970s when the memories of the 1960s were still quite intact. In the first half of the 1960s Dukla was famous. May be they were not particularly loved at home, but abroad Dukla exemplified Czechoslovakian football. Since they were Communist creation, as everywhere else in Eastern Europe the 'true proletarian' club belonged to the Army and their strength was largely due to the simple fact that the Army, even without further state favouritism, was able to take players at will from other clubs – simple call for army service did the trick. But by mid-1960s the so-called 'Czech Spring' started and Dukla lost its privileged position. It may have been not only politics the major factor of decline, yet Dukla was no longer the same as before and ten years of followed when Dukla was playing second fiddle at best. The last championship was won in 1966. By 1976 there was only one player in the team of the last champion squad – Ivo Viktor. His great teammate of those long gone days Jozef Masopust was coaching Zbrojovka (Brno) – still close to the Army, or at least to the military industry, one may argue, but nothing to do with the 'real thing', Dukla. Another familiar name was coaching Dukla – Jaroslav Vejvoda, who came back from Poland in 1975. Vejvoda, a well respected coach, is not very well known, largely because there were few others like Vaclav Jezek with greater weight outside Czechoslovakia, thanks to the European Cup in particular. As for Vejvoda, it was his third stint at the helm of Dukla after two stints with Legia (Warszawa). The novelty of it is that Vejvoda alternated military teams – Dukla at home and Legia in Poland. He was the coach of the great 1960s Dukla, winning 5 titles with them, but he was less successful with Legia. In Poland, he had tougher opposition – Gurnik (Zabrze), Stal (Mielec), and Ruch (Chrozow). Ruch was coached by Michal Vican, who also led Slovan (Bratslava) to their great victories – in a sense, Vican blocked Vejvoda both in Czechoslovakia and Poland. Anyhow, Vejvoda came back in 1975, replacing his former star Jozef Masopust and craving revenge. And revenge he got: Slovan in midtable; Dukla – champions. Good 4 points ahead of the smaller 'enemy' from Bratislava, Inter, and with the best record in the league in terms of wins (18), least lost matches (6), the most goals scored (61), and tied with Banik (Ostrava) defensively, both teams allowing the least goals in the championship, 33 each. Dukla not only won a title after 10 years of drought, but remained the most succeful Czechoslovak club – it was their 9th title. Slovan had only 7. Revenge indeed.

May be not to everybody's taste, but Dukla brought the championship title back to Prague for the first time since 1967. Dukla were strong indeed – two European champions, Nehoda and Viktor, eventually joined by a third straight from the Slovak cradle, Slovan – Jan Svehlik. Few others were also aften included in the national team – Dvorak, Samek, Gajdusek – and others were close to that as well – Bendl, Fiala, and Bilsky. But the best of all was the new generation, who was to carry the torch of Czechosloakian success in the next few years: Netolicka, Stambachr, and Vizek. Well-rounded squad, quite young, yet, blending experience and fresh talent. Hungry for success too and representing best the shift of power back to Prague: it was a bit different football than the familiar technical, mellow brand typical for the Czechoslovaks, by now exemplified largely by Slovan and Spartak (Trnava). The new crop of Dukla players were less skillful, played rather dull football, depending on physicality and collectivity. It was coming closer to total football in the West German variety: constant pressure everywhere on the pitch. Not a flamboyant team, but in excellent condition. Perhaps its 'dulness' was the shortcoming – Dukla did not look like a new great team exploding into long domination. None of the players became a really great star – Svehlik kind of faded away in Dukla, and Vizek never became as famous as Nehoda (although they played different position in attack, Vizek eventually became the 'big' Dukla player around 1980). Not having the making of 'dynastic' squad, Dukla nevertheless represented changes of way of playing, which worked. They had the new crop of players already, soon replacing the loveable European champions of 1976 in the key positions of the national team. Dukla was the future. No matter that, perhaps the happiest among the new champions represented the past – the great goalkeeper Ivo Viktor, the only one who remembered the 1960s, for he was with Dukla since 1963. This was his 4th title, sweetly coming right after he captained Czechoslovakia to winning the European Championship in 1976. However, it was more or less symbolic success for him – the 34-years old keeper did not play at all in his last season. He was part of the team, but if you look at Wikipedia, 1976 is given there for his last active year. Netolicka played between the posts in the 1976-77 and even was invited to the national team, but Viktor was not retired formally and as a member of the squad became champion in his last season as a player. Why he did not play is hard to say now – goalkeepers are not exactly old at 34. Viktor performed excellently at the European finals, so it hard to believe he suddenly lost form. Netolicka was good, no doubt, but hardly better (he never established himself in the national team, for instance). May be Viktor was injured. May be Vejvoda wanted younger keeper, more intact with the new style of the team. Whatever it was, Viktor finished his playing days true to his name – a victor. How many veterans end their careers as champions both at home and internationally? But in a sense, the retirement of Viktor clearly suggests the change of winds: new football was coming with new heroes. And new kits – Dukla abandoned their traditional reddish-brown shirts for entirely yellow uniform, with which they were to play practically ever since.