Monday, December 31, 2012

The shift of power was clearer in the European club tournaments. Nothing really drastic – same countries, but different clubs. As far as the tournaments go, there is something risky: winners of this domestic season qualify for next season in Europe. Few summer months rarely suffice for major ups or downs, yet, nothing guarantees that a great squad now will be in the same form after vacation and transfer period. As a rule of thumb nobody expects big names suddenly falling to pieces or a miniscule club having great team out of the blue: the usual favourites and outsiders remain, at least before the competitions begin. Actually, longer – as long as a 'favourite' goes ahead no matter how. The UEFA Cup was rather normal in the fall of 1976: favourites winning at the expense of real small fry. Unfortunately, the draw cannot be entirely beneficial for the biggies and some pairs opposed strong clubs – thus, Ujpesti Dosza, FC Porto, Ajax, and Manchester City , losing to (in the same order) Athletic Bilbao, Schalke 04, Manchester United, and Juventus. To me the hardest was Ajax – Manchester United – as a fan of both clubs, it was tough to chose. I was hoping for revival of both clubs, in a sense, it did not matter who went ahead; in the same time it was sad to see either club eliminated so early. Ajax was still shaky, so the better at the time rightfully qualified for the next round. In retrospect, the losers above 'deserved' elimination – one or another way, all of them were going downhill at the moment. The winners were going up to some degree, but it was a case of suprising results – just tough, fairly equal pairs, one had to be out. Real surprises were few: AEK (Athens) eliminated Dinamo (Moscow) in overtime (2-0 and 1-2), Celtic (Glasgow) lost to Wisla (Krakow) 2-2 and 0-2, and Inter (Milano) eliminated by Honved (Budapest) after 0-1 and 1-1. The Italians struggled, but even this was not exactly unexpected, considering the general decline of Italian football in the last 5-6 years: Inter was a surprising loser, but not Cesena, eliminated by 1.FC Magdebourg. Milan was perhaps most emblematic – they eliminated Dinamo (Bucharest), but with great difficulty: 0-0 and 2-1.

The 1/16 finals produced even fewer surprises: Milan confirmed its suspect form by struggling against Akademik (Sofia). The Bulgarians won the opening leg 4-3 and given the historic difference of class, the second leg in Milano was not a walkover – Milan won 2-0, but really! 5-4 against small Bulgarian club – something was very wrong with Milan. And so was with Barcelona – they barely survived the Belgian KSC Lokeren, thanks to away goal – 2-0 and 1-2. Juventus had tougher luck – once again going to Manchester, this time to face United. Just like Manchester City, Juve lost 0-1 away, but did a bit better at home, winning 3-0 – vs 2-0 against City. I am not sure was it some relief for the Citizens to see United beaten by more goals then City, but I was surely unhappy. Yet, it was still a matter of fairly equal draw, where the win would go either way. Some other confrontation were similar, although involving not so famous clubs, including the elimination of Wisla (Krakow) by RWD Molenbeek (Brussels). The only bomb was dropped by AEK – after eliminating Dinamo (Moscow), now they faced Derby County. There was no question who will continue... even after the first leg in Athens, where AEK won 2-0. Only three goals were needed to restore justice... yes, there were three goals scored, but in the Derby County's net. AEK won again – 3-2.

In the third round Barcelona was clearly the luckiest – they had an easiest draw and progressed confidently after two large wins against Osters IF (Sweden): 3-0 and 5-1. May be too confident wins... The rest of the pairs were more or less between equals, so nothing really out of normal – Milan's play with fire finally ended: Athletic thrashed them 4-1 in Bilbao and the heroics of Milan were not enough at the end. They were short of a goal, winning 3-1 in Milano, and Athletic went ahead. More dramatic was the battle between Queen's Park Rangers and 1. FC Koln. Both clubs strong and playing their best football, the challenge was exciting. QPR built solid 3-0 lead in London, but what could be enough against Germans? On home turf they scored 4, however QPR managed to give one back and qualified for the next round thanks to the away goal. 'Normal' results end here, though – two major upsets were delivered: RWD Molenbeek took the scalp of Schalke 04. Granted, Schalke were not exactly great at the time, but still favourites against lesser Belgian club. It was not a walkover, yet, Schalke was unable to win at all – RWD Molenbeek advanced after 1-0 at home and 1-1 in Gelsenkirchen. And finally – AEK dropped a third bomb. The victim this time was Crvena zvezda. AEK won 2-0 in Athens and survived the barrage in Belgrade. They lost, surely, but scored precious away goal – 1-3 – and thanks to it moved up to ¼ finals.

On the surface, the ¼ finals were not all that problematic – with a single exception, the Spanish derby between Athletic and Barcelona, the rest was seemingly easy draw for the favourites. And even the Spanish pair appeared predictable – Barcelona was the likely winner. But one has to remember that Spanish football traditionally is triangular – it is not only Barcelona vs Madrid, but Basques against Spanish and Catalonians as well. If anything, the Basques are fighters and they clinched the victory – 2-1 and 2-2. Tough in Spain, but easy in Italy – Juventus practically eliminated 1. FC Magdebourg in East Germany, winning the first leg 3-1. In Torino, there was time for economy – 1-0 was enough to keep the East Germans humble. The other two ¼ final pairs went wrong... Feyenoord was expected to win, but apparently RWD Molenbeek built confidence and ambitions by progressing that far, and they were hungrier – they kept Feyenoord at scoreless tie in Rotterdam and clinched 2-1 win in Brussels. One fairy tale continued, the other however was surely to end – AEK were simply lucky so far. True, they eliminated much stronger opponents, but that is precisely the pure luck. Underestimated so far, but no doubt QPR had learned the lesson. AEK became ambitious, yet, QRP, if playing seriously, would be too much for the Greeks. Most likely QPR learned no lesson – they won with confidence in London, 3-0. Then they had to realize that two legs mean two matches... AEK won 3-0 in Athens, and after fruitless overtime the winner was to be decided by penalty shoot-out. Penalties were not the forte of British teams – to their own peril, the Brits somewhat think even now that shoot-outs are not the right way to produce a winner. Hence, shoot-outs were British weakness – and AEK won dramatically 7-6. Second fairy tale continued, bigger than RWD Molenbeek's – so far, AEK eliminated Dinamo (Moscow), Derby County, Crvena zvezda, and Queen's Park Rangers. Coming close to the final.

Coming close, but no closer – AEK faced Juventus in the semi-final. The Italians knew how to learn lessons and underestimating was hardly in their character. They were too much for the Greeks – the fate was decided in Torino, where everything became painfully clear: 4-1 for Juventus. Try scoring 4 goals to Dino Zoff. Try coming near to Dino Zoff, actually. AEK did not come close even to a goal – Juventus won in Athens as well, 1-0. RWD Molenbeek fared better – Athletic was still considered not that great opponnent and Belgians ever play seriously, on top, if not above, their abilities. Neither club won a match, but the Basques managed to score away goal in Brussels. After 1-1 and 0-0, they went ahead. RWD Molenbeek at least exited unbitten and unhumiliated.

The end of a dream: captains Morini (Juventus) and Papaioannou (AEK) shaking hands before the match ending 4-1 Juventus.

Juventus vs Athletic. Two clubs with long history and big standings in their respective countries. Also two clubs so far never winning anything in Europe, unlike all of their great enemies. No wonder, both opponents were highly ambitious. Given the traditions, the history, the mentality in both countries, the final was not to be a pinnacle of exciting football, but rather heavy clash. And true to expectations, it was not memorable final. A careful affair, full of trickery, stifling and suffocating the game. Both teams were defensively-minded, did not shy away from time-wasting and simulations. There were plenty of killers in each team, and if the finals were not condemned as particularly vicious, the reason may be that both teams were the same, so there was no clear victim to be seen. Juventus looked mightier on paper, but the boys from Bilbao were especially tough bunch. They had stars as well – Iribar, Alexanko, Guoicoechea, Irureta, but it was the collective toughness to matter. As for Juventus – their line-up speaks for itself. In front of 75 000-strong crowd, Juventus clinched Italian-style victory at Stadio Comunale – 1-0. Tardelli scored in the 15th minute.

Final 1st Leg, Stadio Comunale, Turin, 4 May 1977, att 75000

Juventus (1) 1 Athletic Bilbao (0) 0

15' 1-0 J: Tardelli


Zoff; Cuccereddu, Gentile, Scirea, Morini; Tardelli, Furino,

Benetti; Causio, Boninsegna (Gori), Bettega

Athletic Bilbao

Iribar; Oñaederra, Escalza, Guoicoechea, Guisasola; Villa, Irureta,

José Angelo Rojo, Churruca; Dani, José Francisco Rojo

Bettega looking deadlier than he was in reality in the first final leg.

Tardelli gets the ball from Bilbao's net – he just scored.

The second leg at San Mames was attended by almost half of the Torino's audience, but it was Basque crowd. Juventus again scored early, steering the match in the traditional Italian pattern. The hosts were not some continental or British club, though. Tooth for tooth they fought and finally won 2-1.

Final 2nd Leg, San Mames Stadium, Bilbao, 18 May 1977, att 43000

Athletic Bilbao (1) 2 Juventus (1) 1

7' 0-1 J: Bettega

11' 1-1 AM: Churruca

78' 2-1 AM: Carlos

Athletic Bilbao

Iribar; Lasa (Carlos), Guisasola, Alesanco, Escalza; Villa,

Churruca, Irureta; Amarrortu, Dani, José Francisco Rojo


Zoff; Cuccureddu, Morini, Scirea, Gentile; Causio, Tardelli,

Furino, Benetti; Boninsegna (Spinosi), Bettega

Athletic in attack, Juventus in defense. Hopeless defense? Let's say the usual Italian defense.

Athletic won, but the EUFA Cup went to Torino... Bettega's away goal decided the outcome. The result is unusual, even unfair, but rules are rules. The point is, there was no clear winner – perhaps the most equal of finals. There is not convincing argument in favour of Juventus, yet, it was not unfair victory, like some of the finals of the 1970s, where sympathies were on the losing side. Here, either team would have been unconvincing winner. Both played similar tactics – 4-4-2; both were rough killers of football; both professed philosophy of winning only, football actually unimportant for the aim.

First ever European trophy for the Old Lady! At last! It was barely won, but won.

Athletic Bilbao – brave, if not great finalists. Very disappointed at the end. With time they found reason for some pride, calling themselves 'sub-champions'. Alas. second best is not trophy holder.
What a team!And what a successful year for Juventus! The spell was broken – Juve just started winning internationally. Shall I mention Trapattoni? He had to be mentioned in 1977, when he was not yet the world-famous coach – no need of mentioning today, thanks to the same 1977. Juventus played attacking football approximating total football – against weaker opponents. Against strong teams, it was old tried and proven catenaccio, slightly modified, but defense was coming first as ever. 4-4-2 formation, but let's not count those who were skilled in defending.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Malta at the very bottom – how true was that? Were they really weaker than, say, Iceland? Difficult to judge, for the dwarfs of football world hardly ever played competitive games against each other. The curious part is but one: most of the dwarfs had old clubs and old championships. The structure existed years before many other countries. At least on local level the history was rich and trophy rooms – crammed. Yet, domestic history had nothing to do with international success. Malta run the smallest league in Europe – along with Iceland, they had 10-team league. Smaller championship existed, but they were not official – San Marino, Andora, the Vatican, Northern Cyprus. Wales and Lichtenstein had no championships at all, their better clubs playing respectively in the English and the Switzerland's leagues. The smallest, but still a league – 2 relegated, Zebbuq Rangers, 9th, and Senglea Athletics, 10th. Both names meant little in Malta and absolutely nothing outside the island. Senglea did not win a single match, finishing with 3 points. Zebbuq Rangers had a chance to survive: they and Msida St. Joseph finished with 13 points each, and by rules goal-difference was not decisive factor. A play-off instead, which provided some drama – the match ended tied: 2-2 and went into penalty shoot-out. Msida clinched the victory 5-4 and survived, Zebbuq went down.

Generally speaking 5 clubs were traditionally stronger, but this is just an overview. Hamrun Spartans were 5th, yet closer to the relegation zone than to medals – they were 8 points behind the 4th. The next three clubs fought for 2nd and 3rd place – Hibernians missed the podium by 2 points and Valletta missed silver also by 2 points. Sliema Wanderers finished 2nd , losing only one match, but with 27 points they were far behind the champions. Floriana comfortably won the title with 33 points. They finished unbeaten and more – they won 15 out of total 18 championship games. Scored 53 goals, 10 more than the second best scorers, and allowed only 12 goals in their net. Truly supreme.
Panini gave different year for this squad – 1977-78, but who can really tell? Maltese teams and players are difficult to place in actual time, for they were of little interest to the world. At home, however, it was different – Floriana are one of the better Maltese clubs. They won their 24th title – very few clubs have so many even today in 21st century, when Valletta is considered the top club of Malta. Valletta were favorites back in the 1970s as well, but they had won only 9 championships by 1977. Floriana was way above everyone... fate is cruel, though - 25th title was surely coming. It did – in 1993. Floriana kind of faded after 1977.

The Cup final was an opportunity for a double – Floriana reached the final and given their excellent form in the championship, they were favorites. Valletta, having so-so season, was hoping at least to win something, but seemingly it should have been easy victory for Floriana. It was not – Valletta scored a goal and the champions did not.
Once again, the year of this photo may be wrong – the kit is the hint: Valletta played with fashionable Adidas in 1977-78, so may be this picture is from 1976-77. Valletta won the Cup for 4th time and from a time distance one thing can be detected: so far Valletta was not the dominant Maltese club, but among the better ones. But the club was on the rise. On the other hand, Floriana was going into decline. May be the Cup final of 1977 indicated the shift of power – easy to say now, but not back then.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Unlike Albania and Cyprus, Luxembourg did not dally with new formats or enlargement of the league. They kept conservative view and rightly so – with limited talent and resources, why changing anything? Normal season of the 12-team league. Red Black ( Pfaffenthal) and Aris (Bonnevoie) finished at the last two spots and were relegated. Up the table the more interesting was the very top - Red Boys (Differdange) secured 3rd place, but was no factor in the race for the title. Progres (Niedercorn) and Jeunesse (Esch/Alzette) were the contenders – Progres scored the most goals, but they ended 2 points short of title. Jeunesse, more or less the strongest club during the 1970s, clinched one more championship.

The Cup final opposed the second and the third finishers in the championship – to a point, the stronger clubs were consistent, allowing for no surprises. Red Boys and Progres.
Progres tried hard and the final was quite equal. Thrilling final: it ended 4-4. The replay featured half the goals of the first match and much more confident Progres. They won 3-1 and the Cup.

Red Boys were rightly disappointed: after all, they are the Cup specialists in Luxembourg, winning it more often than anybody else. But not this year.
Losing finalists. Red Boys maintained steady performance, but their best years were already in the deep past.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Cyprus, probably a tiny bit weaker than Albania. Also with new format for the season, but in their case it was enlargement. From the early 1970s the Cypriot league was gradually getting bigger – from 12 teams to 14, then 15 in 1975-76, and 16 for the 1976-77 season. Nothing wrong with that – 16 teams was and is the most popular league format, perhaps the best. The question, however, was about reason – weaker leagues should be smaller. On the other hand, a bigger league may help developing of competitive football. Just may be. Anyhow, the Cypriots went ahead with 16 teams, with only one team facing relegation. Up from Second Division was promoted APOP (Paphos), a truly unsettled club, constantly moves between 1st and 2nd divisions. Once again they were going up for 1977-78. The relegation spot in 1st went to ASIL (Lisi), insignificant club even by Cypriot measures. Just to play top flight was a gigantic success for ASIL; predictably, they did not last. They earned only 7 points from 30 championship games, winning a single match. There was practically no fear of relegation for anybody else – ASIL took firmly the last place. No fear of relegation, but hardly competitive battle for the title either: only two clubs fought, high above the rest – the difference between second and third place soared to 11 points by the end of the championship. Pezoporikos (Larnaca) finished comfortably third, 4 points ahead of Aris (Limassol). The real battle was quite old and political as well – between Omonia and APOEL, between the Left and the Right. APOEL lost by three points – Omonia, to he joy of her Leftist supporters won confidently. APOEL lost only a single match and received the least goals in the league, but it was no comfort.

Forth title in a row for Omonia and 7th altogether - they dominated Cypriot football, becoming the supreme club. By now the chants of other fans “apply to the Soviet Federation and go play there” were losing bite: Omonia was too strong and if there was any hope for some international success, it was in the feet of Omonia. They had the only relatively known Cyrpiot player – Sotiris Kaiafas, the goal-scoring machine. Naturally, Omonia scored the most goals during the season – 88, 11 more goals than APOEL, and Kaiafas was responsible for that. Then again... in a league so weak it was not all that difficult: APOEL's 77 goals were 24 more then the third highest scorers, Aris.

With two clubs obviously stronger than the rest the Cup final should have been one more contest between APOEL and Omonia – but it was not. Another club from Nicosia reached the final – Olympiakos. The other finalist was the lesser club of Larnaca – Alki.
Alki, depending on the year, was either the 2nd or 3rd club of Larnaca, normally Pezoporikos was the best, and sometime EPA – second. Alki played quite consistently in the First Division, but modestly. In 1976-77 they finished well – at 6th place, yet still behind both local rivals. The Cup they lusted after, hoping not only to come ahead of the rivals, but to beat the odds too – it was their 4th final and so far they lost three. May be the Cup will be theirs at last? Olympiakos was not without ambitions either – their best years were in the 1960s, when they won three championships, but by the mid-70s they sunk to the uncomfortable position of 3rd club in Nicosia. And there was no much hope to come above the local rivals APOEL and Omonia. The Cup Olympiakos so far never won. So it was a battle of 'third stringers', in which Olympiakos got the upper hand – they won the final 3-1.
Olympiakos has one of the strangest logos in the world: a tent. Originally, it was more than sports club – they had an orchestra, choir, and camping division. Social and cultural club more than purely sports club, but eventually only the tent in the logo remained from previous activities, particularly the camping division. Founded in 1931, Olympiakos is older than Omonia, but political affiliation made Omonia more popular and successful. But it did not matter in 1977 – the green and black clad boys triumphed with the Cup.

Lifting the Cypriot Cup for the first time. Little they knew... it was the last trophy Olympiakos won. Nothing else came into their hands up to 2010. May be in the future, who knows.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Head to head, Albania was probably stronger than Iceland on both club and national team levels, but these two never played against each other official matches: there was no way. The real strength of Albanian football is impossible to measure – as a peculiar, self-isolated Communist state, Albania was practically unknown. In football matters too, for the international matches were few – both Albanian clubs and national team were quickly eliminated and they did not travel much for friendlies. And Communist countries did not export players - if occasional Icelander was becoming known abroad, it was not so for Albanian players. Enveloped in anonymity, very little could be said about Albanian football – it had regular league championship and standard Cup tournament. The Army and the Police run their teams, which, following the traditions of Eastern Europe, were more or less the strongest clubs. The rest were attached to various industries and there was surely a club or two of old fame, now suppressed and oppressed, and developing the mythology of martyrdom. The world knew next to nothing about all that – there was no way to know even if the world cared to learn. As a result, it is very difficult to show a pictorial glimpse of Albanian football of those long gone years.

The championship was reformed into 2 phases – after standard 22 matches, the top 6 clubs played final 2-legged round robin tournament for the title, and the other 6 clubs – to determine survival and relegation. One team was relegated and the unlucky were KS Besa (Kavaje). The combined record of both parts of the championship left them with 26 points from 32 games, one point short of survival. They were replaced by the Second Division winners Tomori (Berat) for the next season.

In the upper part nothing unusual happened – Dinamo (Tirana) was first at the end of the first part, however, only by better goal-difference. The final round confirmed their leadership more convincingly: the total record from 32 matches left them 4 points above their consistent pursuer Skenderbeu (Korca). Scoring was not exactly the forte of Albanian football, yet, Dinamo left everybody else behind by far – they ended with 46 goals. The second best record was 33 goals.
Dinamo, belonging to the Internal Ministry, or simply the Police, collected one more title. Founded in 1947, they already won 11 titles. Now they had 12th. Strong in Albania, no doubt. Coached by Durim Shebu, the champions were: Jani Rama, Vasillaq Zeri, Ilir Pernaska, Shyqyri Ballgjini, Muhedin Targaj, Andrea Marko, Aleko Bregu, Xhorxhi Puka, Torez Ciraku, Iljaz Ceco, Haxhi Mergjyshi, Faruk Sejdini, Kujtim Cocoli, Rifat Ibershimi, Gani Xhafa, Gj. Gjini, Ibrahim Kodra, Riza Hicka, Shaban Zenuni, Ahmet Ahmedani, Luarasi.

Dinamo went for a double, meeting 17 Nentori (Tirana) at the Cup final. Hard to tell was this the derby of Tirana – depends on who sees whom as a 'real' rival – but the final was dramatic: 17 Nentori won 2-1 the first match and Dinamo won the second with exactly the same result. At the end, penalty shoot-out decided the winners and they were not Dinamo. 17 Nentory clinched victory 8-7.
Unlike Dinamo, 17 Nentory were quite old Albanian club, founded in 1920 under the name "Agimi Sports Association”. Eventually, the name was changed to SK Tirana (Sportklub Tirana) in 1927 and it was – and is to this very day – the only club to play all championship of First Division. However, they are also the 'sufferers' of Albanian football – when the Communists took power the club was renamed to 17 Nentori in 1947 and also diminished. With the forming of Dinamo and Partizani, the 'true' Communists clubs, 17 Nentori was immediately weakened – the new clubs took the better players. Yet, it seems 17 Nentory got its own powerful state sponsor, for after 1958 they were again among the best Albanian clubs. Winning trophies as well, especially in the 1970s. They were also champions of 1966-67 season, but were banned and the title given to Dinamo. More to add to the mythology of suffering. Anyway, they took their revenge – in a way – in 1977, winning their 4th Cup. The first was won in 1939. As for anything else about the Cup winners, there is only one small mystery about their log – may be it was the one above. May be it was this:
As for faces... one photo has to suffice. Partizani (Tirana), the Army club, and perhaps the most popular Albanian club, were not very strong at that time. The were trophyless since 1973. Measly 4th place this year, 4 points behind the bronze medalists Vllaznia (Shkoder). Empty hands do not suggest photography, so the club left one of uncertain time – it is a squad of '1975-78'. Was it from this very season I don't know, but at least is from the same time period. Winners left no photos anyway, so the losers would do.

Some national team players, names known only in Albania. Agim Murati was the top goal-scorer of 1976-77 – with 12 goals. By far, the biggest name here is the coach – the legendary striker and perhaps the best all-time Albanian player Loro Borici. Was he coaching Partizani in 1976-77​?

The championship 2-phased format lasted only this season – the league returned to the traditional format for 1977-78.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Nordic football stayed low and humble, and Iceland – on the very bottom of it. One more country with adds on the football shirts, small league of 10 clubs, spring-autumn season, making the best of the short summer, both clubs and national team – a punching bag for everybody else. But something was happening on the volcanic island: players making their way to the continent and joining professional clubs. Icelanders played abroad before, but now the numbers increased and more importantly – they were going to stronger clubs. Which means the Icelandic football was getting better, at least in producing players. Small change, hardly affecting the low standing of nation's game in Europe. Anyhow, regular season was competitive enough by local standards. The last two in the league were relegated of course after miserable year – just for the record, those were KR (Reykjavik) and Tor (Akureyri). Both clubs knew better days, but... small league, small clubs, frequent changes of fortune. It was their bad luck. On top things were brighter and somewhat familiar – Iceland did not have dominant 'big' clubs, yet, there were a few performing steadily and successfully through the years. One point divided 1st and 2nd placed, a competitive season without clear-cut favourite. Valur (Reykjiavik) scored the most goals, but they ended a point short of the title. That is, unable to keep the title for a consecutive second year. IA (Akranes) bested them.

A young club even by Icelandic measuring stick, Íþróttabandalag Akraness is founded in 1946. In mere 30 years of existence they elbowed their way on top nicely – in 1977 they won their 10th title! Few clubs in the world had so many titles back then and even fewer in so short time. Internationally, the club was not impressive at all, except for challenging non-Icelandic tongues. Mysterious second 's' exists in the name of the club, but not in the name of city – the problem of the name was solved by using just IA Akranes, or simply Akranes. Since the club never lasted more then 2 matches in the European tournaments, the difficult name was not really difficult.

Of course, the team had national team players, whose names meant nothing outside Iceland, but: before the season started Teitur Thordarson moved to Jonkoping (Sweden), and from there to other foreign clubs. Today his name is fairly well known – Thordarson became a good coach, most recently at the helm of Vancouver Whitecaps (Canada), 2008-2011. He was not part of the champion team, but his example was followed on significantly bigger scale – Petur Petursson joined Feyenoord (Rotterdam) in 1978. Icelandic players were getting noticed abroad.

The Cup final was Reykjavik derby, not so difficult to happen, since almost half the First Division consisted of clubs from the capital. Old enemies, so to say, met at the final – Fram and Valur. Fram was unable to remedy a sour season (they finished 8th in the league, escaping relegation) – Valur won 2-1.

One of the consistently strong Icelandic clubs, Valur were also among the most successful. Champions in 1876, second in 1977, and ending the year brightly by winning the Cup. Their forth so far, freshly added to 15 titles. Akranes was still biting the dust in terms of all-time records, but Valur was much older club too – they were founded in 1911, initially formed as part of the local YMCA. They are the most prolific Icelandic club not only in football, but in football alone – very successful.
Like IA Akranes, Valur's squad had national team regulars, entirely unimpressive to foreigners. However, individual players were becoming interesting to foreign clubs – Atli Edvaldsson, who scored one of the goals at the Cup final, was recruited by Borussia (Dortmund) in 1980.

The Icelandic football revolution had begun: it never produced strong clubs or national squad, or even big international stars – it made sturdy, reliable, competent players and during the 1980s European clubs imported plenty of Icelandic players.

Monday, December 17, 2012

There was nobody to make a difference in Finland, but never mind: the deep north had something interesting to pull out of the sleeve. Two separate Cup finals were played in 1977, most likely catching up for the missed Cup tournament in 1975. Straightening the record book, so to say. The first was played in April and Ilves (Tampere) lost it 0-2 to Reipas (Lahti).

For Reipas it was 5th Cup so far. Fifth consecutive Cup, must be said, which is astonishing consistency. Evidently, the Cup was permanently settled in Lahti. Well, no... Reipas did not reach the final in October, when SePS (Seinajoki), not even a first division club, met Haka (Valkeakoski). Brave SePS, but that was all – Haka won 3-1. Haka already had won 5 Cups, now made it 6. Then again Haka were and are one of the better clubs in Finland. May be because Valkeakoski is an industrial city and some money make its way to the clubs coffers.

The championship was not much, especially at the bottom of the league – MP Mikkeli and VPS Vaasa were hopelessly occupying the relegation spots. Their combined record amassed to 23 points, which would be good for 7th place. In 12-club league... you can figure out the state of the relegated. Up the table 5 points divided 2nd from 10th place, which means equal strength, but KuPs (Kuopio) finished 2nd with 26 points, running high thanks to experience, yet, never contesting the title this year.

Kuopion Palloseura belongs to the 8th most populated city in Finland, Kuopio, and is quite successful by Finnish standards - winning 5 titles and 1 Cup by 1977. They were champions in 1976, and experience still helped them to clinch silver medals, but really nothing more than that.

Haka were overwhelming champions, 7 points ahead of the next pursuer, and winning 15 out of total 22 matches.

True champions, mud and everything. Braving the elements and dominating as a result. A double! Haka already had 3 titles and 5 Cups won – now, adding more. As for anything else... only a Fin can tell, and may be Haka fan – better . Let's face it – Finland is weak country in terms of football. Advertisement arrived on shirts, obviously an effort to fix the financial situation of amateur clubs.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The next of the dwarfs – Norway. From international standpoint, nothing new, nothing memorable, nothing impressive. Different from home perspective, though. One thing was the decline of best Norwegian club of the first half of the 1970s: Viking (Stavanger).

Viking finished 5th with 23 points, which in the small 12-club league means mid-table, far from any pretensions for the title.

A place above, worth a spot in the EUFA Cup as well, ended IK Start (Kristiansand).

This was one of their better years, for in their already 72-years long history Start never won anything. With 25 points, they were 2 points ahead of Viking, but also 2 points short of medals. If I remember correctly, Amundsen was the national goalkeeper at the time.

Bronze went FK Molde, and up and down club, fairly unpredictable, although not unusual in Norway.

Not bad at all – securing participation, however brief, in the UEFA Cup.

Second finished FK Bodo/Glimt – one of their best seasons so far, for to this moment the club won only one Cup. Real contenders they were not, though – they lagged 8 points behind the champions.

Which were familiar by now, for they won the title in 1976 as well – Lillestrom SK. 'The Canaries' reigned supreme, confidently winning their 3rd title. They lost only 2 games and received 11 goals during the season. That is one goal every second match on average, quite a defense even for a weak league. And this was not all.

The top two clubs met at the Cup final. It was fine – the best clubs on top of everybody else. Both clubs were eager contenders, for their trophy shelves were quite empty – Lillestrom had 2 titles to their credit, Bodo/Glimt even less – only one Cup from 1975.

One trophy for 70 years is really nothing and Bodo/Glimt tried hard to add one more, but it was not to be – they lost the final 0-1. 'The Canaries' confirmed their supremacy.

What a season for Lillestrom – a double! Their third title, their first Cup, their first double. Twice champions in two years, and getting higher still by adding a Cup as well. The finest ever year for Lillestrom. Then again, who else would be winners? Lillestrom had the only Norwegian player recognized as a star of European caliber – Tom Lund. Perhaps that was the whole difference, lifting the Canaries head and shoulders above anybody else. May be one player really makes the big difference?