Monday, October 29, 2012

Swedish football was unique: it was at best semi-professional, so no club had big money and good players had no reason to move to better paying club. If they did, it was in entirely different direction – to foreign lands. In the same time living standard was high in the country, and a player did not see a reason to move out from his original club. Thus, clubs remained relatively equal, there was no dominant two-three clubs, collecting the best talent of the country and staying head and shoulders above the rest. Fair game, without permanent favourites – one year some clubs were up, down in the next, champions were hard to predict, let alone to expect same clubs staying constantly on top. And 1977 was no different – the better known clubs spread through the league, some near relegation zone, like AIK and Orebro SK, others at more comfortable positions. IFK Norrkoping ended 4th, the best among the usual bunch.

May be a bit disappointing for their fans, but otherwise typical season: among fairly equal clubs, Norrkoping managed to climb near the top, yet not at the very top. A typical squad too – to outsiders, largely unknown players. May two or three classier, may be some good enough to play somewhere in Europe, but no actual or potential great stars.

And because all clubs were like that, lesser known clubs had strong season this year:
IF Elfsborg finished second, a big success for them, for normally they were not even in First Division.

Just bellow them another relative 'unknown' enjoyed bronze medals: Kalmar FF.

Going to play in the UEFA Cup was high point for both Kalmar FF and IF Elfsborg, but it was clear that neither club was to last for long in the harsh European environment. And both clubs had to just cherish the moment, for who knows what may happen the next year? Relegation was quiet possible; staying on top – unlikely. The fate of small clubs, even in relatively equal league, is well known: they do not build dynasties... their best years are short-lasting, ephemeral.

Which leaves us to the champions, who were neither ephemeral, nor short-lasting: Malmo FF. Ah, expected... may be. Because of the Swedish conditions, I am reluctant to call Malmo FF 'dominant', although they were by far the best Swedish club in the 1970s. Practically since the beginning of the decade they maintained the same squad and the same coach. Very experienced by now, they were able to stay among the top 3-4 clubs every year, but this to a point was due to the general unpredictability of the other clubs. The club management was no doubt wise and perhaps money were better than elsewhere, for the players stayed loyally, yet, Malmo FF was a bit peculiar, for practically no players of this squad went abroad. Stability is good , but … if this was the best club, with obviously the best players, how come nobody wanted them for love or money? Most likely the secret was the collective strength of the team, not the particular abilities of individual players – after all, their English coach Houghton built a team true to his vision: both coach and players remained in seemingly relaxed atmosphere. Stability and experience permitted Malmo FF to stay on top and often to win titles. Because of that they got another advantage: regular participation in the European club tournaments, adding further experience and confidence. In Sweden Malmo FF were difficult to beat, their experience was enough to keep them among top 3-4 clubs in a weaker season.

But there was more: in most countries a team like Malmo's would be in obvious decline and in need of radical major rebuilding. A life-span of great squad is about 5 years, decay apparent in the 4th. Malmo FF differed – it was running strong already about 8 or nine years with the same team. Yes, players left for one or another reason; new ones came, but it was gradual change, nothing drastic. No stars were recruited either – it was a squad of , so to say, local boys, staying together for very long time. May be the lack of constantly strong rivals helped, may be the ups and downs of the rest of the league benefited Malmo, may be the atmosphere in the club built relaxed confidence, but the life-span of the squad was unusual. When the opposition had general weak season, Malmo FF won easily: in 1977 they finished with most wins, least losses, best scores, best defensive record, and devastating 8 points lead. Overwhelming champions – a team tired and depending only on experience is not capable of such winning even in a weak league.
Standing, from left: Bob Houghton (coach), Bo Larsson, Krister Kristensson, Jan Möller, Anders Ljungberg, Tommy Hansson,

Tommy Larsson, Egon Jönsson (manager).

Sitting: Roland Andersson, Magnus Andersson, Tommy Andersson, Claes Malmberg, Ingemar Erlandsson, Thomas Sjöberg,

Roy Andersson

Not tired yet from winning or business as usual? One more title for this squad. And they were not done yet – in fact, their finest season was still in the future.