Wednesday, November 28, 2012

As for the champions, they were real success story. First, the Cup final. Besiktas reached the final, hoping to win something this year and restore Istanbul's pride. Their opponents were the steadily performing Trabzonspor. The two final matches were tough – only one goal scored, but it was against Besiktas. 0-0 and 1-0 - Trabzonspor won the Cup. The championship was won more confidently, leaving the competition well behind.

First ever double for Trabzonspor! First ever double for provincial club! First ever two consecutive titles for club outside Istanbul. It was great! If anything, Trabzonspor proved they were no one-time wonder – they were here to stay. It was steady rising for a quite young club, founded in 1967, and by now they were feared and respected in Turkey, but it was perhaps this very season when Trabzonspor were finally accepted as really strong clubs, one to stay among the best. And from this year the big Turkish clubs were four – three from Istanbul and one from Trabzon.
Trabzonspor paid their dues, climbing up not from ashes, but from the mud. This is a nice photo from 1974-75 season – obviously, it did some good to the character of the team: that's how one learns to win. The future famous coach Gunes Senol was captaining the champions and kept the ball out of the net, there were few other Turkish stars of that time, well-rounded team, but the mastermind of it should be mentioned: the coach Ahmet Suat Özyazıcı. He made the team, he started winning with it, he won the amazing titles in 1976 and 1977. The mud may have been character-builder, but the coach should really take the credit. Little known outside Turkey, he still had some tricks in his sleeve – more trophies to win and to really establish Trabzonspor on the football map.
Ahmet Suat Özyazıcı – then and now. True legend.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Turkey did not have to worry about legal or illegal exodus of stars. Like Greece, football in Turkey was slowly rising, yet, far from making impression. No big imports among the players, but foreign coaches – yes. Malcolm Allison was still coaching Galatasaray. If names can win... Well, let's see. From Second division Ankaragucu and Diyarbekirspor earned promotion. Not exactly earth-shakers. On the bottom of First Division four clubs fought for survival, Giresunspor securing the last place early. Two clubs from Adana, Adanaspor and Demirspor, plus Zonguldakspor were lucky to survive. The unlucky one was old and respected club – Goztepe (Izmir). They were 15th not even by worse goal-difference – matching record in everything with Adanaspor left survival or doom to be decided by more goals scored – Adanaspor scored 30, Goztepe only 21. And doom it was for them, joining Giresunspor to the lower level. Up the table it was fairly equal battle as well – 5 points divided 11th and 4th place in the final table, but the competitive level was not so great. Scoring was low in the whole league, 10 out of 16 clubs greatly preferred ties to winning, finishing with 10 or more tied matches during the season. Fenerbahce hold the record, finishing half of their seasonal games tied – precisely 15 out of 30. The only change was visible at the very top – there were 4 clubs, now there were 5 contenders. To a point, two of the big clubs slipped down – Besiktas ended 4th, thanks to better goal-difference. Galatasaray finished unusually low – 5th, yet, with the same points as Besiktas. In fact, Basiktas clinched the upper spot by only one goal better than Galatasaray, but neither club played serious role this season.

With Malcolm Allison at the helm Galatasaray fell out of the championship race. Empty handed and therefore gloomy looking.

Altay (Izmir) finished at 3rd place – they never really competed for the title, but nevertheless had fine season. In fact, one of the finest in the whole history of the old club. Founded in 1914, they never won a title. To this very day, 1976-77 is one of their two best achievements in the Turkish league – bronze medals, won for a second and, so far, last time.

Fenerbahce, coached by Yugoslavian coach, Tomislav Kaleperovic, finished 2nd. They lost only three matches during the campaign, but their 15 ties denied them the title. Seemingly, defensive-minded team, playing safe. At the end, safety was not good enough, for they finished 4 points behind the champions.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Bottom is a relative term – 7 clubs, that is ½ of the Oberliga, finished pretty much with the same records, two points dividing 8th and 14th place. Goal-difference decided who was to be relegated and who was to stay. Yet, the parity is also relative, for the only real candidates for relegation were the 'unsettled' clubs. Five clubs normally occupied the mid-table, never going either up or down. Eternals. And above them were the real contenders, also the same season after season – Lokomotive (Leipzig), 5th, Carl Zeiss (Jena), 3rd, Magdeburg, 2nd, Dynamo (Dresden).

1.FC Magdeburg – continually strong in DDR and bronze medalists in 1976-77.

Lokomotive (Leipzig) generally 'muddied the water', never really able to win, but excelling in Cup tournaments. One newcomer joined the club: Dynamo (Berlin) was steadily rising and establishing themselves among the top, although so far they were not contenders. They finished 4th.
Dynamo (Berlin) – coming close, but not yet on top of everybody.
The battle between the usual three suspects ended without surprise: Dynamo (Dresden) added one more title to their collection. They scored a lot, but considering the weak league, it was not a news. Dynamo lost the battle for the best striker, though – Hans-Jurgen Kreische was the usual best goal-scorer in the recent years, but not this one. Joachim Streich, by now playing for 1. FC Magdeburg topped the list with 17 goals. No longer playing for a weak club, Streich flourished and there was more to come from him.

Dynamo (Dreseden) won the league confidently, 4 points ahead of 1.FC Magdeburg. But this was not all – they reached the Cup final as well. Their opponent was familiar: 1. FC Lokomotive (Leipzig). Lokomotive won the Cup in 1976 and were losing finalists in 1973. The Cup tournament was their pond.

1. FC Lokomotive (Leipzig), consistently strong East German team and cup specialists. May be one more trophy? It was practically the same squad who won the year before. In front of 50 000-strong crowd, the first half of the final ended 0-0. Then Sachse scored right after the second-half started, in 46th minute, giving Dynamo the lead. Lokomotive fought back and reversed the result by the 63rd minute – Lowe equalized in the 55th, and then Sekora scored one more. Five minutes before the final whistle it looked like the Cup was going to Leipzig again. But... Weber equalized in the 85th and two minutes later Sachse scored his second goal. 3-2 Dynamo. What a drama! Dynamo (Dresden) kept the result in the remaining three minutes and lifted the Cup for the first time since 1971. They lost three finals after 1971, but not this time.
A double for Dynamo (Dresden). Well deserved. Their biggest star – Kreische – missed the Cup final, but the team was deep enough and led by another East German star – Dorner – more than survived the assault of Lokomotive. Fifth title and third Cup, second double. Dynamo ruled the 1970s, more or less.

And a bit of bitter trivia – here are three unlucky, to say it mildly, players: Gerd Weber, Peter Kotte, and Mathias Muller. National team players all. Nothing bad in 1977, but in 1980 they had an offer from 1. FC Koln (West Germany) when playing in Holland against Twente. The car was waiting for them, to move them from East to West. The three players hesitated and wanted to think the offer over. Fat chance... they were arrested in January 1981. Weber was sentenced to jail, the other two were kicked out from Dynamo and suspended. Traitors, they were judged by East German authorities. Kotte later said that this was the biggest mistake in his life, that he did not accept Koln's offer and just run away with their car from Enschede, never coming back to DDR. For the mistake, he and his teammates paid dearly, but it was still sunny for them in 1977. Unless one sees irony in Dynamo's colours: gold and black.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A whole group like these above existed , normally surviving 1-2 seasons in top flight, then returning back to second division, replaced by similar clubs. This group generally took the bottom places in the Oberliga, making life safer for the rest of top clubs. The survivor this season was 1.FC Union (Berlin) – they finished 11th on better goal-difference.

First row, from left: Karsten Heine, Klaus-Dieter Helbig, Bernd Wargos, Wolfgang Matthies, Fritz Bohla, Henry Hausler.

Middle row: Ulrich Werder, Bernd Jessa, Rainer Rohde, Ulrich Netz, Rolf Weber, Joachim Sigusch.

Top row: Dieter Wunsch, Frank Neumann, Andreas Wegener, Lutz Mockel, Lutz, Hendel, Michael Paschek, Bernd Vogel.

No even remotely recognizable names here, so just to remain in first flight was good enough. Union was relegated in 1973 and in the next three years tried to return, reaching the final round-robin tournament of the second division winners, but succeeding to secure promotional spot only in 1976. Another club of the 'unsettled' kind, but with a twist: the fate of the club was sealed shortly after the end of the Second World War, when the whole team, led by the coaching stuff, defected to West Berlin and founded... Union (Berlin). The very name was tainted ever since and the Eastern club was looked at with suspicion. On top of it, Berliners preferred to support Union and not the purely Communist clubs – no matter what league Union was playing, it had numerous supporters on the stands and one more thing the powers to be knew well was that East Berliners, having no chance to go beyond the Wall and support the 'true Berliners' club, Hertha (West Berlin), supported Union instead in spite of the very powers building walls. As a retaliation, Union was kept small and poor, unable to really compete. Just playing first division was terrific success, alas, short-lasting... Union belonged to the 'unsettled' clubs, and one other club was rapidly joining the bunch: FC Vorwarts (Frankfurt/Oder). They finished 12th and also survived, but were the very opposite of the 'anti-Communist' Union - Vorwarts belonged to the Army and not so long ago was the leading East German club. Their last title was won in 1969, when they were still stationed in Berlin. For unclear, but surely politically motivated reasons, they moved to Frankfurt/Oder and lost supremacy. By 1977 they were hitting the bottom.

Monday, November 19, 2012

East Germany stayed where it always was – pretty low. The industrial and toxic names of the clubs suggested heavy machinery, continual work, sameness, and no fun. What was going on in the 'belly' of the country is pretty much unknown and uninteresting: as elsewhere in Communist Eastern Europe various 'workers' tournaments existed year after year, attracting nobody. For the sake of mere presence, here is an example of the lower depths: SSG Rotation (Dresden). Third level, at best.

Lowly they were, but DDR vice-champions of something or other. Not bad for the outfit.

Standing, from left: D.Mentzel, R.Petrick, W.Reimer, R.Franz, W.Renz, D.Kröl, J.Garte,
C.Hahn, B.Richter, A.Köhler, H.Zaffke, M.Krasel, U.Weinelt, A.Trexler, W.Eßrich
Goalkeeper in front: K.Stumpf.

Not so great as Rotation was Chemie (Premnitz):
They did not reach any final, but curiously had the exactly same kit as BSG Chemie (Bohlen).

Above the rabble was theoretically better crowd – the Second Division, divided in 5 leagues of 12 clubs, except Group D, which had only 11. The abundance of 'Motors' and 'Activists' eventually produced champions, which met at final round-robin tournament competing for 2 promotional spots. The strange name above was also represented in Second Division – there was BSG Rotation, this one from East Berlin, finishing 6th in Group B. Anyway, the more interesting clubs were those competing for promotion and this year Lady Luck smiled to:

BSG Chemie (Bohlen), winning the final tournament with 12 points, and

BSG Wismut (Gera), clinching second place, to the bitter disappointment of BSG Chemie (Leipzig), ASV Vorwarts (Stralsund), and BSG Stahl (Hennigsdorf). Winners going up to replace the losers of First Division, or Oberliga:
BSG Stahl (Riesa) finished 13th despite their name and scary metallic logo. From this particular Stahl relegation was expected, for they belonged to the group of 'neither here, nor there' clubs, constantly moving between first and second division.

One more of the same ilk took rock bottom place: FC Hansa (Rostock).

Standing, left to right: Helmut Hergesell – coach, Werner Drews – assistant coach, Olaf Spandolf, Peter Sykora, Jurgen Utess, Uwe Bloch, Jorg Seering, Gerhard Krentz, Gerd Kische – captain, Rainer Jarohs, Dr. Rainer Muller – doctor, Karl Poschel – assistant coach.

Kneeling: Eckardt Alms, Joachim Wandke, Dietmar Hanke, Eckhard Marzke, Dieter Schneider, Karl-Heinz Aul, Dietrich Kehl, Michael Mischinger, Jurgen Decker, Gunter Blum – masseur.

There was something fundamentally wrong with this club, for they had not so bad squad, including national team players, but spent the whole decade moving back and forth. Joachim Streich, the player with most appearances ever for the national team, seemingly got tired from playing second division football and moved to 1.FC Magdeburg in 1975, but Gerd Kische was more stubborn and ready to brave the second level football once again... Hansa was relegated in 1975, then returned immediately in 1976, only to go down again in 1977. And it was not the end of the rollercoster.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Greek football continued its slow ascent. 1976-77 was successful season – the national team put serious resistance in their World Cup qualifying group. AEK (Athens) reached the ½ finals of the UEFA Cup. Foreign imports continued to arrive, their quality increasing. Same with foreign coaches. The league was not strong, but at least there were 4 clubs minding business. Well, their names are familiar and pretty much – eternal. The big four pursued the title, leaving the rest of league 9 points behind. It was close race – the 4th finished only 3 points behind the champions; second and third place were determined on goal-difference. The top four were high scoring bunch – the champions ended with 70:20 record – although the league was weak, +50 is rarely achieved in any championship. The silver medalists matched the goals scored by the champions, and the 3rd and the 4th also scored equal numbers: 63. Down the table Atromitos (Athens) were hopelessly out of the race, finishing last with measly 14 points. Six clubs tried to escape relegation, two ending with 27 points, and four with 26. Panaitolikos dropped to the dreaded 17th place on goal-difference and were relegated. Up from Second Division came Aigileo (Athens), winners of the Northern Second Division, and the winners of the Southern – A.S. Veria. Not exactly big additions to top flight, promoted after a murky season: points were deducted from few clubs for infractions, one of them – Kozani – had 16 points deducted as a penalty. A.S. Veria ended with strange record – the points correspond to their wins and ties, but the table has a note that 'may be 3 points were deducted'. Were they penalized and for what – nobody tells. First division was not clean either – Atromotis ended with 3 points deducted. Looks like Greek football had massive 'dark side', but only small clubs were found guilty... typical not only for the Greeks.

Anyhow, things looked rosier at the top: PAOK was unable to repeat their success of 1975-76, but still played good and came close – they finished 3rd, losing second place on goal-difference, and lagging only 2 points the champions. They also played at the Cup final, losing it by a late 83rd minute goal 1-2. May be the fans were a bit disappointed, but not a bad season at all.

AEK (Athens) missed medals by a single point, finishing at 4th place. Strong season, topped by their excellent European performance. Perhaps the squad was a tiny bit weaker then the competitions, but it was not bad at all – few national team players: Christos Ardizoglou and Thomas Mavros, as well as one of the best Greek striker-midfielders at the time – Mimis Papaioannou.

The veteran captain of AEK Mimis Papaioannou played for the club since 1963.

Walter Wagner, solid professional, completed the attacking line of AEK. The (West) German striker arrived from Austria (Vienna) in 1974 and settled well. He scored 12 goals, bested only by Mavros in the club – he scored 18 goals, 4th in goal-scoring list of the season. Another veteran striker and former national team player, Giorgos (or Jiorgos) Dedes, played little this year – only five matches. He did not score at all, but he is well remembered as one of the best goal-scorers of Greece: he got Bronze Boot in 1971 for his 28 goals, and managed 15 in 1975-76, but the age was taking its tall.

Olympiakos (Piraeus) finished second, two points behind the champions. No title, no Cup... to their standards, a disappointing season, but otherwise – quite well done.

Jiorgos Delikaris led them from midfield, strong as ever. Kritikopoulos scored 15 goals. More national team players – Siokos, Kelesidis, Kyrastas, Synetopoulos – added their weight, as well as Juan Losada, the Uruguayan, firmly established in the team since 1974. Another player who came in 1974 provided German discipline and quality. He was not an import, though – Elias 'Maik' Galakos was born in Greece, in 1951, but he grew up in West Germany, where his parents emigrated. He played in the Bundesliga – for Fortuna (Dusseldorf) – before joining Olympiakos.

Maik Galakos true to red-white stripes, but the jersey he is wearing is not Olympiakos's – it is still the one of his former club Fortuna (Dusseldorf). However, Galakos really flourished in Greece, eventually becoming a national team player. In 1976-77 he was the best Olympiakos's scorer with 16 goals. Two curios things about Galakos: his bio tells he played for Olympiakos from 1974 to 1981. Yet, he is on the team photo of St. Pauli (Hambourg) for 1978-79 season. Strange, but not the strangest – in 1981 Galakos became a traitor. He committed 'the unthinkable' – moving from Olympiakos to the arch-enemy Panathinaikos. Hatred describes the whole relations between the greatest Greek clubs and few players ever moved from the one to the other. Stars practically never moved, for fans never forget and forgive.
Galakos, Delikaris, and Kyrastas posing with Panathinaikos uniforms. Not one, but three traitors... well, this is 1981. They were still heroes in 1976-77.

Yet, the real heroes were wearing green, not red-white stripes. Panathinaikos won a double. Champions and Cup winners, and neither trophy was easy taking. 2-1 win over PAOK clinched the Cup. Two points secured the championship. Winning was nothing new for Panathinaikos, but... were the pursuers really in great form? This particular Panathinaikos vintage left few traces in history. Few of the legendary players of the European Champions Cup final in 1971 remained, and those were nearing retirement. Mimis Domazos still commandeered the play from midfield. Anthimos Kapsis and Kostas Eleftherakis still aided him. Antonios Antoniadis still thrilled the fans with high jumps and deadly headers.

Antoniadis still scored lots of goals – 18 this season. But... time was taking its tall, the great striker played only 23 matches. The top scorer of Panathinaikos was another guy: little known Argentinian striker Oscar Alvarez was recruited from equally little known Greek club PAS Ioannina. He scored 19 goals. Yet, another striker bought from PAOK to increase the attacking force, Aslanidis, was more of a disappointment – he scored a single goal in 15 matches. Curiously, Panathinaikos did not go for big foreign names – the second foreigner in the team already played in the previous season: Borivoje Djordjevic, an Yugoslavian midfielder. Kind of economic squad, which scored a plenty, at least in Greece was difficult to beat, and was good enough to add fresh trophies to the club's collection. The biggest names this year were actually the coaches. Nothing new for the big Greek clubs to employ foreigners – Olympiakos was led by the British Les Shanon. Panathinaikos went for grander names, but... it did not work. The season started with Aymore Moreira at the helm.
Moreira hardly needs introduction – he made Brazil world champions in 1962. However, it was 1976 now and old magic did not work – the Brazilian lasted for 12 rounds, about 3 months. After him a provisional domestic duo of Antonis Mijiakis and Nikos Tzounakos led the team until new coach was imported. None other, but Kazimierz Gorski.

The Pole also needs no introduction – he made Poland Olympic champions in 1972 and finished them 3rd in the world in 1974. The masterbuilder of the sensational Poland of recent years. Much more up to date with the game than Moreira. Gorski delivered – a double, no less – with a squad not so great.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Cup final was also quite typical: none of the better known clubs reached the final. Zaglebie (Sosnowiec) and Polonia (Bytom) met at the final.

For Polonia, the season was certainly a great one – promotion to top flight, and a chance to win the Cup. They never won anything before, yet, they were second-division club... enthusiasm, ambition, were good so far and no further. They fought and lost minimally – 0-1. May be experience was just enough to clinch the Cup.

Zaglebie had good season by their standards, finishing 5th in the championship. Strong year, crowned by winning the Cup for third time. There isn't much to say about them – Cups they won now and then, but for the big title they were never good enough.

The title was won by Slask (Wroclaw). Slask were never champions before, in fact the only trophy they ever won was the Polish Cup in 1976. The squad was experienced, still the same, running high, those were the best years for the Army club, playing largely second-division football not all that long ago.

Champions at last! Champions indeed – they left Widzew 3 points behind. One confusing to foreigners element of the this team was the name 'Wladyslaw Zmuda': two men with this very name were part of the champion squad – the coach and the captain of the team. The coach was not only former Slask player, but quite young as well – many a foreigner confused him with the Polish national team central defender, known from the 1974 World Cup. Was the 23-years old star coaching as well as playing, or was the coach, 37 years old that year, still playing? In the club history the problem is solved traditionally – Zmuda I, meaning the older guy, and Zmuda II, who was to become yet one of the few footballers playing in 4 World Cup finals. Anyhow, Slask deserves one more look:

Crouching, from left: Janusz Sybis, Mieczyslaw Olesiak, Roman Faber, Tadeusz Pawlowski, Jan Erlich.

Standing: Henryk Kowalczyk, Jozef Kwiatkowski, Zygmunt Kalinowski, Zygmunt Garlowski, Mieczyslaw Kopycki, Wladislaw Zmuda.

Pretty much the same boys who won the Cup the previous year, now doing even better. Few occasional national team players, but the big name is only one: Wladyslaw Zmuda. Zmuda II. Well done by the club, excellent achievement, joy in Wroclaw, all that, but the team was not all that great by European standards.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Same old, same old... Poland. In Eastern Europe only they and Eastern Germany did not have powerful clubs in the capital. Warszawa was almost the only capital city in Europe with singular club in top flight – Legia. Two more – Gwardia and Ursus – made the numbers in second division, too weak even for that league. Uniquely, Poland had no big, monopolistic clubs, concentrating the talent of the country - instead, best players were dispersed in the whole league, few here, some there, one or two somewhere else. The teams were fairly even, no one was capable of staying on top for long, and the championship was quite unpredictable because of that. As a consequence, it was practically impossible to detect any major tendency in Polish football – was it improving, or declining, it was impossible to tell, since ups and downs were frequent and normal. Industrial cities apparently ruled and there were few clubs relatively consistent, like Ruch (Chorzow) and Wisla (Krakow), but even they were not permanent contenders. The only city with two clubs in first division was Lodz – LKS and Widzew – both having fine season by Polish standards, LKS finishing 7th and Widzew – second. Both fairly well represented 'the Polish case': LKS had one star, the world famous by now goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski, and Widzew depended on 20-years old talent – Zbigniew Boniek. He was not yet the world star 'Zibi', but just a debutant in the national team.

A typical Polish team – Odra (Opole): standing, from left: Andrzej Krupa, Zbigniew Gano, Wieslaw Korek, Bogdan Haranczyk, Henryk Krawczyk, Antoni Kot.

Bottom: Krystian Kozniewski, Zbigniew Kwasniewski, Wojciech Tyc, Bogdan Masztaler, Jozef Klose.

Masztaler played – on and off – in the national team, the rest are practically nobodies. Odra, never successful anyway, finished 12th. As a novelty note, one Jozef Klose is shown – the father of the 21st century German superstar Miroslaw Klose. The father was not even noticed back in the 1970s.

Ruch (Chorzow) plummeted down to 13th place, but was not really threatened with relegation.

Wisla (Krakow) – pictured above - also finished down the table – 10th, and Legia (Warszawa), led by the great Kazimierz Deyna, was good only for mid-table 8th place. To those remembering the deadly Polish strikers from 1974, the scoring sheet of the Polish league may have been surprising: few goals were actually scored in Poland. The champions had only 38 to their credit and the record belonged to Widzew – 46. Too low scoring for championship of 30 matches, but unlike Italy and USSR, the Poles played for wins, not ties.

The champions of 1975-76, Stal (Mielec), finished 4th, confirming the tradition – a club with strong years did not win regularly, just stayed among the top 6 for a few years. Missing not only gold, but silver and bronze as well.

Top row from left: Marian Kosiński, Wojciech Niemiec, Zygmunt Kukla, Edmund Zientara - coach, Henryk Jałocha, Edward Załężny, Krzysztof Rześny, Andrzej Szarmach.

Middle row: Alfred Gazda – assistant coach, Ryszard Sekulski, Andrzej Banasik, Włodzimierz Gąsior, Henryk Kasperczak, Witold Karaś, Jerzy Krawczyk, Mirosław Tryba, Edward Oratowski, Henryk Czylok – second coach.

Bottom: Marek Chamielec, Andrzej Padwiński, Ryszard Per, Grzegorz Lato, Edward  Bielewicz, Zbigniew Hnatio, Andrzej Demko, Stanisław Karaś.

Stal lost the battle for 3rd place to Gurnik (Zabrze), one of the traditionally stronger Polish clubs. Gurnik was not all that strong to challenge higher place – Widzew bested then by a point. For Widzew this year's silver was the best achievement in their history so far. At the end of the table finished clubs without any stars and relatively accidental members of top flight – GKS Tychy, 15th, and ROW Rybnik, 16h and dead last. Both relegate, they were to be replaced by the winners of the North and South Second Divisions for the next season. Zawisza (Bydgoszcz) won the Northern league thanks to better goal-difference, and Polonia (Bytom) won the Southern league leaving the next pursuer 4 points behind. Yet, Polonia won first place and promotion with 38 points from 30 matches. Goal-scoring was not the forte of second-division clubs either.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Inconsistent Slavia, shapeless CSKA, and provincial revelations, not quite strong for reaching the very top, like Marek, who else is left, but Levski-Spartak. The 'Blues' won the title and the Cup, a double, suggesting vast supremacy. The final table suggests so – 4 points ahead of second-placed rivals and 73 goals scored, 21 more than the second-best striking line, Slavia.

All trophies collected: sitting from left: I. Tishansky, St. Aladzhov,I. Stoyanov, T. Barzov, K. Ivkov, St. Pavlov.

Middle row: Al. Kostov – assistant coach, N. Grancharov., V. Voynov, V. Nikolchev, P. Panov, M. Gaydarsky, Zh. Filipov – team doctor.

Standing: St. Staykov, G. Tzvetkov, K. Milanov, V. Spassov – coach, Y. Yordanov, V. Chaushev, Bl. Krastanov, N. Iliev.

At a glance, formidable squad – experienced old hand at the helm – Vassil Spassov – and 15 former, current, and future national team players. Who would stop them? The results say clearly 'nobody', but it was not exactly overwhelmingly strong team in perfect form. True, Pavel Panov was at his finest, perhaps at his peak, and two newcomers, Nikolay Grancharov and Todor Barzov, not only settled nicely, but played very important role. Especially the diminutive midfielder Barzov – spirited dynamo, who played almost above his abilities. He was the playmaker of his former club, Spartak (Pleven), but Levski had so many midfielders, he was moved back as a defensive midfielder. The player not only did not complain, but played with gusto, managing to destroy opponent's attacks at their birth and yet to provide excellent passes and start dangerous attack for Levski. Soon he was the darling of the fans, and as a curious note, his also diminutive wife played the same way for the women basketball team of Levski-Spartak. Both became indispensable. Back to football, Levski had plenty of experience, but its real strength was the depth of the team – during the season, Levski never achieved stability of form, but was able quickly to replace underperformers with somebody else. Perhaps the derbies with arch-rival CSKA were the most important matches for winning the title: they came early in the season this year and were important for confidence – normally, there was no need to motivate players for the derby, but now there was additional value: Levski was able to run a few more games on the wave of enthusiasm, after beating CSKA. In June of 1976 Levski win the Cup in dramatic final with CSKA, in overtime. It was especially vicious confrontation, full of fights, and Levski prevailed. Then the enemies met in September in the first championship derby, memories of the Cup final still fresh. In the 50th minute CSKA scored a second goal, leading 2-0. Yordanov and Borissov were in bad shape and the match appeared lost... but the substitutions were timely and helpful, Levski started scoring in the remaining time and in the very last minute Voynov scored a winning third goal from a penalty. CSKA once again lost its nerve, played brutally, was yellow and red carted, and for the first time in the history of the derby a team managed to convert 0-2 loss into 3-2 victory. Levski's moral was boosted and CSKA was demoralized and further confused by its own whining against refereeing (the 'unfair' referee showed yellow card for rugby-type tackle; for physical attack of himself by CSKA player, and red cart – to a player kicking Milanov in the head, when the striker was down on the ground. Very 'prejudiced' referee indeed.) In the spring derby Levski simply destroyed CSKA 3-1, leading 3-0 in the 60th minute. Barzov excelled. On the wings of these two important victories Levski won a few more following matches, enthusiasm covering for shortcomings. And there were crucial problems... having too many midfielders inevitably reduced the attacking line, which in turn limited the use of Milanov – a classic English-type centreforward, he needed long high balls coming from the wings, and without wingers he was not efficient. But with high-scoring midfielders this was not fatal. The severe problems were in defense: Stefan Staykov between the posts reached the limit of his abilities and started showing more of his shortcomings: he was vulnerable to balls kicked from afar, often not reacting at all. It was a problem with his eyes and he was becoming a liability. The pair of central defenders – Ivkov and Tishansky – never really clicked. The trouble was peculiar: both were in great form individually, but were vulnerable as a pair. Yet, why replacing players in excellent form? Tishansky was valuable not just as a stopper: he participated dangerously in attacks, he scored, and was a free-kick master. One on one, Ivkov was unbeatable, his calmness was influencial, he was the team captain, a great reader of the game, and a player never falling out of form. There was a disciplinary problem as well – Grancharov, Tishansky, and Milanov were rough, often brutal tacklers, with fiery characters, easily inflamed and ready to fight. They missed many games because of suspensions. What really won the season for Levski was the long bench – there was always somebody ready to step in when somebody else was missing or underperforming. Yet, the problems were real, and seemingly the club was aware of them, for at the end the title was secured by a shameful act, affecting the Cup final as well: Levski arranged the championship match with Lokomotiv (Sofia). Lokomotiv was to play 'easy' in exchange for getting the Cup – both teams were to play at the final. Levski – champions; Lokomotiv – Cup winners – 'nice' verbal agreement, initiated by Levski's brass. Lokomotiv accepted and Levski secured the title. Then the Cup final came...
'Railroad workers', 1976-77 vintage: sitting from left: R. Manolov, G. Kraeshky, B. Velichkov, R. Goranov, L. Traykov, B. Manolkov, At. Mikhaylov, V. Arsov, G. Bonev.

Standing: A. Chachevsky – coach, R. Zdravkov, V. Nedelchev, B. Dimitrov, S. Kostov, Y. Stoykov, St. Milev, A. Kolev, D. Donkov – assistant coach.

In the Sofia's pecking order Lokomotiv ranked forth,which pretty much eliminated any chance for them having really strong team. They played pleasant to the eye football, largely depending on strong defense, counter-attacks, and the virtuosity of the great Atanas 'Nachko' Mikhaylov. Not a bad team, but somewhat limited by its own predicament of club dwarfed by powerful neighbours. Yet, they had arguably the best Bulgarian goalkeeper of the 1970s, Roumen Goranov; a bunch of national team players – Boko Dimitrov, Yordan Stoykov, Georgy Bonev; solid and reliable professionals, Ventzislav Arsov and Angel Kolev; and rapidly rising to stardom youngsters – Radoslav Zdravkov, Boycho Velichkov, and, at the time at least, Borislav Manolkov. As a whole, solid upper-half of the table team, where they were this year as well: 7th, with pretty much 'well rounded' record of 9 wins, 9 losses, 12 ties, and 42-40 goal difference. Having nothing to play for in the championship, Lokomotiv easily agreed to the deal proposed by Levski and lost their championship match without anybody even noticing something out of normal. Traditionally, Lokomotiv is difficult opponent for CSKA, but easy prey for Levski, no wonder the championship loss did not raise suspicions. But it also speaks of the insecurity of Levski this year – if they were really strong, why fixing the match with their easier opponent? Anyhow, Lokomotiv did not put much resistance for the deal was suitable to them: with great difficulty they won the Cup semi-final against lowly Dunav (Rousse) after penalty shoot-out. Now, out of the blue, they were to end the season with a trophy... Football is dirty practically everywhere in the world, so what happened hardly has specific Eastern European twist: Levski decided to go for the Cup, but the brass failed to inform Lokomotiv – the news was left to be delivered at the last second. In the tunnel, both teams going to the field to start the game, Kiril Ivkov, ashamed and apologizing, told Nachko Mikhaylov that Levski is ordered to play for real. The deal was off. Naturally, Lokomotiv players were infuriated. The final was rough, although not really vicious, and Levski clinched 2-1 victory. A double for them, but the loss rubbed more salt into the wound and Yordan 'Bumbo' Stoykov went into a fight with Kiril Milanov. It was not on the pitch and actually it was nothing compared to the open fights and general menace of the Cup final in 1976 between CSKA and Levski, but this another force decided to act. A political force – and this, not fixing and back room deals, is peculiar to Communist Eastern European states. Very high placed Communist official, having nothing to do with football, except been a fan of CSKA, stepped in, pulled weight, demanded the guilty parties to be punished for their 'unbecoming of socialist sportsmen behavior', and... Bumbo was kind of penalized, but Kiril Milanov was suspended for life. Mind, nobody was penalized the previous year, when there was much bigger reason for punishment. Also mind that in the second-half of the 1970s plenty of Bulgarian players were severely suspended for various crimes, mostly irregular moves to another clubs. Nobody ever served long suspension, especially those, who were 'suspended for life' – routinely, their penalties were lifted after awhile and they came to play again. Even more incredibly, those banned from playing in the domestic league, were free to play international matches, including for national team formations. Penalties were just a joke in the whole history of Bulgarian football – but not in the case of Milanov. His career ended for good, he is the only Bulgarian player of worth to actually serve a ban. It turned out, it was a personal vendetta – the big Commie functionary hated Milanov, seeing him as big danger to the well-being of his beloved CSKA and eliminated him forever. In an ironic twist, Milanov still had to play a little – he played in European Champions Cup in the fall of 1977. Effectively, his last game was on November 2, 1977, in Amsterdam, where Ajax eliminated Levski. Milanov scored his last goal in the 1-2 loss. Murky side of football... Lokomotiv remembers the lost final with bitterness, Levski remembers the ban of Milanov with bitterness, international games were used in part for influencing speedy ending of suspensions, match fixing never stops, but it is always almost impossible to find solid evidence, lack of sportsmanship may be or may be not punished, fans don't care how exactly their clubs win, as long as they win, the loser always cry about injustice, big clubs get what they want no matter how, and small clubs don't... Levski ended the season with a double.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Second-division football is not exciting even when having much stronger year – the real thing is always the top flight. But football as a whole can be sufficiently represented by a single league – if second division has a mediocre season, very likely first league as well. And the Bulgarian top flight was not in great shape: four clubs fought on top, leaving the rest twelve far behind. Tellingly, the 4th in the final table was 6 points ahead from the 5th. And even more tellingly the 5th and 6th in the table, Botev (Vratza) and Pirin (Blagoevgrad) finished with negative goal-difference. Only 6 clubs had positive goal-difference this year and only the champions managed to score more than 2 goals per game average. Otherwise, it was business as usual: most clubs stayed in mid-table as ever, the relegated were hardly surprising names, decline was detected in some clubs, and there was one surprise – big surprise surely, but a solitary one nevertheless. Dunav (Rousse) and Minyor (Pernik) finished at the end and were relegated. To a point, typical 'in between' clubs, constantly moving up and down, so nothing strange about their sorry state. Dunav gave up sometime in the spring and accepted their fate, but Minyor kind of tried to survive to the end. Both clubs payed quite well a few years back, but suffered from their predicament: small provincial clubs, they had no chance of building consistent team. Instead, they had a core of few very good players and frequently changing mediocrities for the rest of the team. Understandably, they went down, to the delight of other clubs of the same ilk – ZhSK Spartak (Varna) in particular, who finished at the safe 14th place.

Up the table Trakia (Plovdiv) hit rock bottom – their aging squad was declining for quite some time, and now the painful change of generations finally took full force. A whole bunch of juniors and handful of over-the-hill veterans were not the squad to make waves - 11th place was really low, but not surprising. Down went two other clubs, who were delightfully strong so far: Akademik (Sofia), 12th, and Lokomotiv (Plovdiv), 8th. Both were going downhill, having to build new squads, but the decline was more pronounced in Lokomotiv (Plovdiv), clearly aging, and already disjointed – half of the team was at retiring age, and the other half – almost teenagers. Akademik perhaps was able for something better, if not dividing its efforts between championship and the UEFA Cup, but the team's life span was at its end anyway: they had to rebuild. It was just the beginning of the real troubles for both Akademik and Lokomotiv. Apart from these three, the bulk of the league shuffled in more or less its usual way. General mediocrity elevated 4 clubs high above the rest – the struggle never ended between three clubs, giving the forth the opportunity of quietly building building advantage of 4 points by the end of the season. Three clubs were 'the usual suspects” - Levski-Spartak, CSKA, and Slavia. The fourth was unlikely, but very pleasant surprise. Slavia finished at 4th place.

Sitting, from left: Emil Mihaylov, Stoycho Berberov, Georgy Minchev, Vanyo Kostov, Chavdar Tzvetkov, Atanas Aleksandrov, Milcho Evtimov.

Middle row: Kiril Angelov – coach, Petar Miladinov, Georgy Dermendzhiev, Bozhidar Grigorov – playing assistant coach, Andrey Zhelyazkov, Ivan Iliev, Trendafil Terziisky – assistant coach.

Top row: Stoycho Stefanov, Ilyaz Aliev, Georgy Gugalov, Botyo Malinov, Valentin Modev, Ivan Chakarov, Georgy Tikhanov.

It is debatable were Slavia real contenders or not – on one hand, the team built few years back was coming to maturity. Seven national team regulars – the defenders Iliev and Evtimov, midfielders Kostov and Minchev, and the whole line of attack, Aleksandrov, Zhelyazkov, and Tzvetkov. The strikers were considered the deadliest in Bulgaria at the time. On the other hand, Slavia was – and is – notoriously erratic and moody team. Entirely unpredictable, and therefore losing many points. Inconsistency is the tradition of the club, and traditions are funny consistent force in football. The usual ups and downs of Slavia left them 4th at the end: they missed third place by a point and second – by two points. They had the second best attack in the league, but also the worst defensive record among the top four.

Second place went to CSKA. Now, for CSKA a season without a title is a disaster, but the fact is CSKA was struggling to rebuild and was unconvincing team since 1973.

Sitting, from left: Pritargov, Sredkov, Kolev, Mirchev, Dzhevizov, Goranov, Denev, Metodiev, Yonchev.

Standing: Kamarashev, Vassilev, Dimitrov, Rangelov, Markov, Lyubomirov, Zafirov, Stankov, Yordanov.

To say this squad was 'shaky' would be difficult, judging by the players – the only one who was not a national team player was the reserve keeper Kamarashev. National-team players, but from different times: some were no longer called for some years, others were not called yet. Still six players of the 'silver team' of CSKA remained, but 4 of them were clearly going downhill – Zafirov, Stankov, Denev, and Yordanov. Perhaps 'downhill' is not the right word, but all of them were not improving. They did not fit well with the younger teammates, sometimes they were even counter-productive, especially egoistic Denev. On the opposite side were Bozhil Kolev and Borislav Sredkov – Kolev was at his finest , and Sredkov transformed from 'eternal' reserve into national team regular. But...but... Kolev had to waste a lot of time correcting mistakes of others, therefore, playing more defensively in time when the team badly lacked strong playmaker, and Sredkov was constantly moved to cover different weak spots – he played everything on the right flank: full-back, defensive and attacking midfielder, right wing... what exactly was his real position was impossible to tell. There were clearly fading away players, such as Pritargov, the Bulgarian best goal-scorer just two years back and Dimitar Dimitrov, who was in the national team at the World Cup finals in 1974, but now was not sure regular, let alone leader of the team. And the rest were still too young, more promising than consistent – Dzhevizov, Yonchev, Markov, Rangelov still needed a year or two to really unfold their potential; Lyubomirov, Metodiev, Mirchev never became the stars they were expected to be, and Kamarashev left no trace, and soon sunk entirely into lower division football. At the end, the deadly defender Tzonyo Vassilev suffered the most: he was moved from left back to his original position as a sweeper, and again to the left flank, just to cover weak spots. Neither here, nor there, Vassilev appeared somewhat a misfit, and his tendency for rough and violent playing made his situation worse, for he was often suspended. The team needed to become well rounded, positions to be established and stabilized, so the best qualities of the players to come to fruition, but instead it was rather chaotic team, with constant changed in the line and duties. True, egocentric Denev was capable to beat a whole opposing team in a god day, but his style made the English-type centre-forward Dzhevizov practically useless and isolated, for he needed feeding balls, and those never came – the ball went to Denev and once in his feet, everybody had just to watch. CSKA was still in the fruitless time of trying and erring. Silver medals were disappointment, but on the other hand – this team was not made yet.

CSKA and Slavia were no revelation, but little Marek was. They finished surprising third, a place they had never reached before, but more importantly, they were a delight. As newcomers from second-division, no one expected Marek even to survive in the First Division. In the past they were known for playing mean, dirty football, aiming only at survival. When they were relegated, many were actually relieved. Marek stayed in the Second Division for years and its coming back thrilled no one at first: the villains were back. There was practically no recognizable name in the squad, except two survivors from the team once upon a time: the right winger Pargov and the right full-back Sevdin. Pargov was already 35 years old, little was expected from him – most likely, it was to be largely his benefit, retiring as a top flight player. Sevdin was so-so years back, so why expecting him to be better now? Third familiar player was of the same kind: the central defender Nikolay Krastev played few years back for Slavia, but he was an average player at best, and therefore nobody even noticed when Slavia dismissed him. He was over 30 as well. Marek appeared to be particularly anonymous even for a second-division squad, and to top its 'hopelessness', the club did not go into familiar shopping spree, gathering experienced rejects from around the league – in the summer of 1976, they got only two players from small second-division clubs: the twins Ivan and Ventzislav Petrov, a Levski (Sofia) juniors, who were not even considered for the first team, and the strikers went to small Torpedo (Karlovo), a club normally playing in Third Division, but recently in the Second. The Petrovs soon became well known in the lower division, but no first-division club expressed any interest in them, so it did not look like Marek was improving with them. Marek was expected to last only one season, kicking its opponents, but donating vital points to big and small. When the season started and Marek – winning match after match, it was viewed with skepticism for awhile: enthusiasm brings some surprise wins, but just you wait – the string of lost games is going to begin any minute now. It was mid-season before Marek were taken seriously – they played pleasant, creative and attacking game; they were well-rounded outfit, to which the Petrov twins fit with like hand and glove. The old so-so players suddenly were in excellent and impressive form, the local nobodies turned out to possess real talent, name after name was 'discovered', and, running a bit ahead, almost the whole vintage was invited to the national team. Contrary to expectation, Marek played clean football, not killing, but outplaying their opponents, and even something extraordinary happened – even great teams were rarely able to repair a starting eleven during going season, let alone small clubs with limited resources. Marek depended largely on their first eleven, and when Krastev was deliberately injured in the match against Sliven, it looked like the end of Marek: his leg was broken, he was out for the rest of the season, and as it turned out – he was out forever. There was nobody to replace the key defender... the coach 'improvised': he moved the left full-back Kolev to be a sweeper, and the left winger Karakolev was moved back to replace Kolev. The reserve Emil Kyuchukov took the left winger. The whole shuffle was universally seen as desperate and spelling disaster, but... everything worked out smoothly, Marek continued to play the same, if not better, as if nothing happened. Too bad Krastev missed the rest of the great season and had to retire in so miserable way, but on the other hand when Kolev and Karakolev were invited to the national team, it was in their 'improvised' positions. Credits were given to Marek's coach, Yanko Dinkov, who was also unknown up to this season. And not only credits: he was also to coach the national team soon. Bunch of provincial nobodies?

Sitting, from left: Sasho Pargov, Ivan Petrov, Nikolay Krastev, Ventzislav Petrov, Emil Kyuchukov.

Middle row: Yanko Dinkov – coach, Lyuben Sevdin, Ivan Palev, Stoyan Stoyanov, Lyuben Kolev, Roman Karakolev, Dimitar Kukov – assistant coach.

Third row: Aleksander Kyuchukov, Dimitar Dimitrov, Assen Tomov, Aleksander Raynov.

The revelation of the season and truly one of the best and optimistic happenings in Bulgarian football. A small and tied outfit – a small club hardly can afford anything else – so it is easy to point out the 'culprits': Stoyanov between the posts; Sevdin, Krastev (later in the season – Kolev), Palev, Kolev (Karakolev later) in defense; Raynov, Dimitrov, Ventzislav Petrov in midfield; Pargov – captain, Ivan Petrov, Karakolev (later – Emil Kyuchukov) in attack. Tomov was almost regular player as well – the midfielder appeared in almost every match either as a substitute or starter. 14 players in total. 11 of them became national team players, plus their coach. Not exactly one-time wonder either – Marek was still to have its best ever year. Coming with a bang and determined to stay.

Monday, November 5, 2012

When compared to the Northern league, the Southern appeared to be one-horse race: only Chernomoretz (Bourgas) was seen as a candidate for promotion. There was no relegated club from the South, and there was no relatively big club eager to go up. Chernomoretz are old club, but traditionally modest. 'Success' is not in their vocabulary – the best for them was to occupy some mid-table position in First Division. Relegation was constant headache, but their presence in Second Division was not because of relegation... After the end of 1972-73 season two clubs – Dunav (Rousse) and Chernomoretz (Bourgas) – were expelled from top flight for corruption. Chernomoretz were found guilty of similar 'irregularities' the previous season as well, but in 1971-72 they were penalized differently: 2 points were deducted from their totals, and they survived, unlike the other culprit, Chardafon-Orlovetz (Gabrovo), who was penalized with 6-point deduction and relegated as a result. As almost everywhere in he world, small fry was found guilty when corrupt practices were rampant. I am not to say Chernomoretz and the other clubs mentioned were innocent , but in the Communist world there were peculiar sides of corruption: one was paying players. Legally, they were amateurs – in reality: professionals. Clubs belonging to the Army and the Police had an easy way around – they made their players officers. On paper. And on paper everything was fine. Smaller clubs had to pay under the table and make fake accounts to excuse the spending – and this was a crime. Nobody was able to find evidence of match fixing between two Army or Police clubs – small fry had to pay bribes, not to issue orders over the phone – and that was a crime. Chernomoretz did what every clubs was doing, but they paid the prize... and First Division was a mirage for quite some time. They were considered favourites at the beginning of every season, but on the pitch they were not. May be one reason was financial: after they were caught red-handed , very likely they were careful and no 'imaginative' accounting was possible for awhile – which automatically reduced the players pay, and made them unmotivated. This is may be, unlike another problem, which was quite clear: Chernomoretz went through change of generations and rebuilding. It was slow and painful process and the club simply struggled, erred, and lacked competitive team. At first they committed the typical mistake of which Etar and Cherno more suffered: reserves replaced former starters and dubious 'stars' were brought from elsewhere. The results were no so great, to say the least. And before the start of 1976-77 season optimism was based mostly on the fact that there was no real competition in the Southern B Group. Chernomoretz were expected to win largely because of that...

Chernomoretz at the beginning of the season: crouching, from left: G. Ubinov, N. Ganev, Kr. Dimitrov, Tz. Mutafchiev, R. Gochev, M. Atanassov, Iv. Kotzev, P. Nikolov.

Standing: P. Kostov – assistant coach, Dr. Stoyanov, T. Dremsizov, D. Yanakiev, N. Madzharov, St. Stoyanov, G. Madzharov, V. Deliminkov, R. Christov, D. Papazov, V. Zhelev – coach.

A whole bunch of local youngsters, lacking experience and at best perspective, but generally unknown quality, plus the experienced, but hardly leaders Madzharov brothers, one player who evidently reached his maximum a few years back and no longer improved, for which he was freed from his former club Trakia (Plovdiv) – the striker Georgy Ubinov – and three veterans – Totko Dremsizov, Peyu Nikolov, and Drazho Stoyanov. Curiously, all three played for CSKA some years before, when they were considered very promising, but... Drazho Stoyanov hardly ever played for CSKA, a perpetual reserve. Nikolov played a bit, but did not establish himself and CSKA freed him quite quickly. Both were 'false promises' , unlikely to become any better by now. Totko Dremsizov was another story: a Levsky fan, he did not want to play for CSKA at all and did not try to shine when there. Practically, he wasted a season, but he was good centre-forward, although not exactly among the top three in the country. He was perhaps the biggest star of Chernomoretz ever and therefore unlucky to play for weak and troubled team – by 1976 he was coming dangerously close to retiring age. The team was not convincing – and the hope was based solely on the lack of competition. Which was quite true... the rest of the league was made from teams like Velbazhd (Kyustendil).

Velbazhd (Kyustendil), one of the better teams, which once upon a time played a season in top flight. It was in 1954... after that Velbazhd became one of the 'eternals', not looking for anything else and not troubling anyone. Mid-table spot was everything they wanted – and naturally they finished 3rd, a good 5 points behind the second placed. The rest of former First Division members were also of the 'eternal' ilk and finished down the scale, but out of trouble – Dimitrovgrad (Dimitrovgrad) – 12th, H. Laskov (Yambol) – 14th, and Maritza (Plovdiv) – 15th. The rest of the league were even smaller clubs, which even in a strong season were not really able to fight for promotion. And in this environment Chernomoretz clinched first place only with better goal-difference... and they were challenged by a team from nowhere: Rozova dolina (Kazanlak), a club more familiar with Thrid Division football.

Almost going to First Division nobodies: standing, from left: Spiro Debarsky – coach, Zlaty Nikolov, Petar Peshev, Totyo Totev, Valery Stankov, Toshko Atanassov, Christo Popov, Kircho Kiryakov, Kiril Sergeev – assistant coach.

Sitting: Yanaky Stanoev, Nikolay Dimitrov, Dimitar Nedev, Dinko Stoyanov, Nedelcho Radev, Kralyo Orozov, Georgy Georgiev, Smail Smailov, Mustafa Ahmedov.

The club hails from a region famous for production of rose oil – hence the name, which means 'Valley Of Roses'. Kazanlak is relatively small city, not capable of providing strong team, roses or no roses. Traditionally, Rozova dolina plays more often in Third Division then in the Second, so they were absolutely unexpected candidates for top spot. Their squad did not suggest high place either
: by far the most famous name was their coach – Spiro Debarsky was great star of Lokomotiv (sofia) and the Bulgarian national team in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The deadly striker did not transform into great coach, though... the very reason he was working in Kazanlak. Most of his squad did not mean much even in Second Division – mostly local boys, among whom the central defender Kralyo Orozov was the best and perhaps the all-time best player of the club. Recruits from other places were few: Dinko Stoyanov played for awhile for Broe (Stara Zagora), but he was generally a reserve. Valery Stankov was briefly included in the men's squad of Lokomotiv (Sofia), after showing some promise in the junior team. He was still very young, but most likely Debarsky included him in him in his team more out of desperation. Nedelcho Radev was the biggest name brought to Kazanlak – technical, but somewhat fragile centre-forward, he was playing in the good Akademik (Sofia) team. It may have been his fragility the reason Akademik decided to dismiss him, for he was playing quite well, and if not exactly shining, he was reliable player and scored enough goals. But Akademik reached European stage, got better striker, and it was clear that Radev was not going to develop further – and instead of playing in Europe, Radev found himself in the Second Division. As far as names go, Rozova dolina was very modest even for second-division club. They had one very talented youngster, though – Toshko Atanassov, an attacking midfielder, eventually interested CSKA. Atanassov was unable to satisfy his new club and moved to Cherno more (Varna), where he was a key player for years. But all that lays in the future – he impressed in 1976-77, but with or without him Rozova dolina was painfully short of talent. Short, but good enough for strong season in a weak league and at the end they ended with most wins – 22. They also amassed 50 points, which was the maximum Chernomoretz got. Just like in the Northern league , goal difference decided who was to win in the South – Chernomoretz had classier strikers, scoring 60 goals. They also had better defense , allowing 30 goals . Kralyo Orozov was not able to match that – Rozova dolina allowed 34 goals. Lone Nedelcho Radev was also not enough for plenty of goals – Rozova dolina ended with 51, 9 less then Chernomoretz's. By hook or crook Chernomoretz won the championship and was promoted to the top flight. The heroic 'Roses' (as Rozova dolina are nicknamed) missed the boat by a hair, having to console themselves with their best ever place. Well, they were yet to better this surprising achievement, but for now it was Chernomoretz's lucky hour.
Ending 5 years of exile: crouching, from left: Valery Ivanov, Ivan Ilchev, Tzvyatko Mutafchiev, Gospodin Pavlov, Konstantin Demirev, Ivan Yovchev.

Sitting: Doyno Yanakiev, Georgy Madzharov, Peyu Nikolov, Milcho Atanassov, Ivaylo Kotzev, Roussy Gochev, Nikolay Ganev.

Standing: Panayot Kostov – assistant coach, Drazho Stoyanov, Georgy Ubinov, Nikolay Madzharov, Roumen Christov, Valentin Deliminkov, Krassimir Dimitrov, Totko Dremsizov, Dimitar Papazov, Vassil Zhelev- coach.

Chernomoretz were so unconvincing, that people were quite certain they were going to be relegated right away. Cherno more appeared strong team when compared to the promoted from the South, but how wrong everybody was. In those years there were very little differences between a team at the start and he end of the season, but there was important one between the two pictures of Chernomoretz – Ivan Ilchev appeared at some later time, one more youngster. He did not make any decisive change by himself – he was part of fundamental change in the club, which became evident not in 1976-77, but in 1977-78. Vassil Zhelev, the coach, radically changed the usual concept of bettering unsuccessful squad – he introduced whole bunch of local youngsters from the junior team. They struggled at first, but with little more time and experience... which came in the fall of 1977, when the 'hopeless' Chernomoret was a big and pleasant surprise. Zhelev moved back Totko Dremsizov – it was and is unusual idea to make centre-forward a sweeper, but the veteran was great in his new place, bringing stability to the defensive line and confidence to his very young teammates Ivan Ilchev, right full-back, Valentin Deliminkov, stopper, and Ivan Yovchev, left full-back or defensive midfielder. Papazov, another youngster, also bloomed behind good defense, and entirely replaced Drazho Stoyanov between the goalposts. The move of Dremsizov opened space for Roussy Gochev, who immediately started scoring goal after goal. The core of the new Chernomoretz was already in place, just needed a little time to get confident and grow. And among those still unknown and 'unconvincing' winners of second-division was on of the best Bulgarian strikers of the 1980s: Roussy Gochev. Unknown second-division player he was in the spring of 1977 – and in the fall of the same year everything was different: he was to score goals for Levski (Sofia) and the national team. For many years.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

May be one day photos of the whole Bulgarian Second Division will be printed. So far, no luck. The only attempt of introducing Second Division teams to the whole country was done in 1976-77 – 6 teams appeared in the national weekly 'Start'. Not even a glimpse, for at that time 40 clubs played in the Second Division, or 'B Group', as it was named in Bulgaria. The division was divided in two leagues, Northern and Southern, at the beginning of the 1960s and remained so, although the number of the teams varied. Anyhow, leagues so big provided secure environment for many clubs, lacking big money, or ambition, or both. 'Eternal', so to say, members of the second level. Such clubs were the bulk, with few 'in between' clubs, too strong for B, but too weak for A level, frequently moving up and down, and the rest were clubs from small towns, just happy to be high in the football order, and most often concerned only with survival. The 1976-77 was typical, yet, with one peculiarity: the Northern B Group appeared stronger, largely because both relegated in 1976 from top flight happened to be from the North. The rest was historical 'argument': 9 clubs from the North used to play in First Division, but only 5 in the South. However, most of these clubs played briefly top level football, and very long ago – most of them settled among the 'eternal' B Group teams also long ago. Still, the North looked tougher – 4 clubs were expected to fight for the promotional spot compared to a single candidate in the South. Predictions are rarely fulfilled, or at least not fully: the season was bleak; expected clubs won, but not in the way it was predicted. In the both leagues two clubs went shoulder to shoulder from beginning to end, and the winners were decided only by goal difference. In both groups the top two clubs left the rest comfortably behind, but numbers are misleading: in fact, the winners struggled and were not convincing. It was just a battle between quite weak clubs and those having made fewer mistakes ended at the top.

Dobrudzha (Tolbuchin, today – Dobrich) finished 7th. Front row, from left: Pl. Ganev, Kirilov, Milchev, Kondov, Radev, Valev.

Middle: Sp. Kirov – coach, Manolov, P. Kirov, Spassov, Zhelev, Doychev, Bozhkov, G. Kostov – assistant coach.

Top: Petrov, Atanassov, Simeonov, Kolev, Paskalev, Haydarliev, Petkov, Penchev, B. Kostov.

A typical 'eternal' club. The best years of Dobrudzha were back in the 1960s, when they played a few years in First Division, but after that they were simply happy to stay in the middle of Second Division table. And their squad was fine example of the 'eternals': mainly experienced, inambitious second league regulars, aided by few first-division rejects (Milchev, Simeonov, Radev, Kondov), who bitterly disappointed their former clubs, but down in second-division provided sufficient class. The only name worth mentioning is Ivan Haydarliev, young and promising full-back, who was soon taken by Slavia (Sofia), became one of the best Bulgarian defenders of the 1980s, and even played for the national team. But 1976-77 was just the beginning of his career and his presence did not shake the sleepy comfort of Dobrudzha.

Another 'eternal' climbed quite high this season: Bdin (Vidin) finished third.

Standing, from left: Zdravko Dushanov – coach, Ivan Georgiev, Zhory Grigorov, Petar Topchev, Yordan Kirilov, Nikola Gromkov, Stoyan Stoyanov, Angel Yordanov, Ivan Tzvetkov – assistant coach.

Sitting: Borislav Nikolov, Dimitar Kukavanov, Dimitar Mumdzhiev, Plamen Slavchev, Venetzko Nikolov, Ognyan Marinov, Yordan Petkov, Assen Bratkov, Nikolay Kolev.

The club is named after the mideval Bdin city-fortress, which eventually became the city of Vidin in the North-West tip of Bulgaria. The last glory of the place came in , during the Serbo-Bulgarian war. The Bulgarian army stationed in the fortress, bravely defended itself from superior Serbian dispatch and charged into devastating counter-attack. It was like a football match: on the other shore of Danube river Romanians gathered to watch. They waved flags and cheered the Bulgarians. No wonder football is often compared to war, but the club took no inspiration from its own name. They played one season in the First Division, but it was in the distant 1948-49, and after finishing last settled in the more hospitable second level. As every other 'eternal', Bdin had experienced squad, but really no flame. Well respected coach was at the helm and two players 'with names' appeared – Topchev and Mumdzhiev. Quite enough for a solid presence in the league, but Bdin was not really a contender: they finished 4 points behind the top two. Typical, typical... coach Dushanov had his best years in the past; goalkeeper Topchev played for CSKA four or five years back, and Mumdzhiev was quite promising Lokomotiv (Sofia) midfielder, even was included few times in the national-team selections. But... none really established himself, quickly faded and aged as a 'unfulfilled promise'. By now it was helping second-division club with experience. One thing an 'eternal' club inevitably does is records – it is largely be default, for since the club plays 'forever' in the league, so are the better players of it. They collect numbers and eventually come to the top of all-time lists. The goalkeeper Nikola Gromkov for example – he was nearing the end his playing days, and was a reserve by now, thanks to the arrival of the 'star' Petar Topchev, but already he was in the top ten all-time list. And remained there: with 353 championship matches, Gromkov was 6th in all-time appearances in 1980. Two more Bdin players were in the top ten too, and Ognyan Marinov with 96 goals was 5th in the list of all-time scorers. And way ahead in the future was even better: in the 1989 all-time list, which no longer separated North and South, but it was combined, three of this Bdin squad were in the top ten: Yordan Kirilov - 5th with 468 appearances, Zhory Grigorov - 6th with 443, and Ivan Georgiev - 7th with 439.

Records for some, desire for bigger things for others. Etar (Veliko Tirnovo) finished 2nd and missed promotion only because of worse goal-difference. Etar not only knew better – they were quite well settled in First Division and even played in the UEFA Cup – but wanted to return where they 'belonged'. The trouble was rebuilding...

Sitting, from left: Petar Petrov, Petko Tzanev, Georgy Vassilev, Krassimir Traykov, Vladimir Daskalov, Stefan Stefanov, Ivan Panayotov.

Middle row: Sasho Aleksandrov, Miroslav Gospodinov, Krassimir Kalchev, Nikola Velkov, Georgy Iliev, Petar Stefanov, Kadir Belaliev, Iliya Tabakov.

Top: Petar Aleksiev – coach, Iliay Marinov, Tzanko Hutov, Krassimir Yakimov, Bisser Hazday, Boyko Dimitrov, Kiril Rabchev, Petar Haralampiev – assistant coach.

The team aged dangerously about 2-3 years back and most of the key players either retired, or moved to other clubs. The remaining were experienced, but so-so, players like the goalkeeper Petar Petrov. The newcomers were either second-stringers of other clubs, like Tabakov and Rabchev, or young players, for whom there was no place in big clubs, like Bisser Hazday, who came from Levski (Sofia). It was telling that the better known players of the squad failed to become starters in their former clubs. As a whole, the current squad was of lower quality then the one of few years back, but habbit took over, as often is the case... former reserves made starters, counting more on their experience than on their real ability. The coach was good, but hardly among the best coaches and his squad was similar. Even second division was tough for them and they failed to win promotion a second season in a row. Came close, but low scoring and leaky defense doomed them to 2nd place. Really, the club needed to get rid of most of the team and get entirely new squad, but they failed to do so not only this year, but in the next five. At least five... Anyhow, here is a player worth a note: Georgy Vassilev, 30 years-old veteran midfielder from the good old days, and fresh Magisterial graduate in History from Veliko Tirnovo University. He was included now and then in the national team not so long ago. At 30, he was not all that old, but he retired at the end of the season – end of story for the player. Not so for the coach – Georgy Vassilev became one of the best and most successful Bulgarian coaches. He still is, for he is still working. The player Vassilev ended on sour note, but the coach Vassilev made Etar champions. But that is in the distant future – in the spring of 1977 Etar had to stay in second-league.

Etar were unconvincing, but also unlucky. The lucky ones were Cherno more (Varna). Relegated in 1976, they managed to return to First Division after only one year stay in the lower echelon. They squirreled 52 points, the same as their rivals Etar. Both teams finished with exactly the same numbers: 21 wins, 10 ties, and 7 losses each. Cherno more got first place thanks to better goal-difference: 67:26 vs Etar's 63:34. Not overwhelming winners, but winners.

Back to top flight: bottom, from left: Dimitar Marashliev, Ivan Andreev, Todor Yordanov, Rafi Rafiev, Vasko Vladimirov, Ivan Stoyanov, Svetozar Svetozarov, Ivan Donchev, Damyan Georgiev.

Standing: Ivan Vassilev – coach, Georgy Zhekov, Todor Marev, Roman Kerekovsky, Yancho Bogomilov, Kolyo Dimov, Georgy Velinov, Ivan Ivanov, Dimo Denev, Krassimir Diamandiev, Abil Bilyalov – assistant coach.

Cherno more were slightly better version of Etar: same problems, same lack of solutions. Unlike Etar, the champions had glorious past: in the first half of 20th century Varna was leading Bulgarian football. Ticha, Vladislav, and Shipchenksi sokol won championships, had the best players. Then the Communsts took power and transformed everything. It is unclear exactly why, but most probably Ticha and Vladislav were amalgamated in 1945 into TP45. Few more name changes happened until the club was named Cherno more and remained so. It was also attached to the Navy, which made him the leading club in Varna, but this 'sponsorship' was also its perpetual misfortune: the Navy was still part of the whole military pyramid, governed by the Ministry of Defense, and since football mirrored the structures of the 'sponsors', Cherno more was subordinate to CSKA. They were able to snatch players from non-military clubs, but only players CSKA did not want. CSKA was taking whoever they wanted from Cherno more easily – after all, Cherno more were suppliers for 'big brother'. Suppliers of points too... the role of Cherno more was to help CSKA in any way – to make life miserable for the CSKA's competitors and put no resistance to CSKA. There was no way Cherno more to be a real factor in Bulgarian football, to build and preserve winning squad. What they became was something else: 'a staple'. Constant member of First Division, mid-table club, which managed to build relatively strong squad in the second half of the 1960s. It was unthinkable that Cherno more would be relegated, but eventually the old squad aged and players started to retire. The replacement was not of the same caliber , consisting mostly of 'empty promises', quickly fading away. The inevitable decline was invisible at first, for the new talent usually had one-two good seasons, thus, the team still had some bite – few remaining veterans plus few promising youngsters were capable to keep the club afloat, although it was clear it was disjointed team – some performed, others – didn't. And finally he unthinkable happened, for no apparent reason – the team seemed to be still 'promising', still 'potentially talented', but finished last in 1975-76. And because the squad was relatively young, no need of radical change was seen: the youngsters were still expected to bloom and reveal their real talent. By names, Cherno more looked more than solid: Todor Marev, a national team player, was already one of the best Bulgarian full-backs and was to remain so for many years to come. It was not in some distant past when Damyan Georgiev was considered potential national team player – the right-winger was 27 years-old by now, hardly a hopeless veteran, although... he was no longer improving, reaching deadly plateau. A whole bunch was quiet recently playing for various Bulgarian junior national teams. Others were about 25 years-old, but already vastly experienced, and considered solid and reliable. The problem was the fact of having so many former junior national team players, or coming close to the national team – Todor Atanassov, Rafiev, Donchev, Svetozarov, Diamandiev. Add Marev and Damyan Georgiev, who actually played for the A-national team. Marev was only 23 years old... add Yancho Bogomilov, who was barely over 20, but was pushing for regular spot since 1975. Relegation was seen as freakish misfortune, which would be quickly corrected – the youngsters will bloom in no time, any minute now, no worry. Little was changed in the squad, yet, the additions were very interesting: CSKA occasionally helped satellites by sending them players no longer needed or youngsters needing playing practice, but not fit yet for CSKA. It was very questionable 'help' – rejects hardly improve and when youngsters showed real improvement, CSKA immediately took them back. One cannot build solid long-lasting team with hand-outs. Cherno more got from CSKA Dimitar Marashliev, 30-years old former national team left-winger, in decline for the last 3 seasons. No longer needed in CSKA, he was sent to Varna to taste second-division. Must have been a bitter pill for one, who played at the 1970 World Cup finals to trot on hard pitches of towns difficult to find on the map. I am not certain what kind of help was Marashliev to Cherno more, for he retired from football immediately after the end of 1976-77 – quite early, so it may have been due to disappointment both for the club and for the player.

The other new recruit was entirely different story: Georgy Velinov was 19-years old, so he was due for military service and easily recruited by Cherno more. But he was already noticed as one the youngest players to debut in top Bulgarian football – he appeared in 5 matches in the 1974-75 season, playing for his native club Dunav (Rousse). So far, the goalkeeper was considered somewhat 'unproven' talent, and may be because of the ambivalent judgment Cherno more was able to take him: 'big brother' was not interested. And it was really difficult to evaluate Velinov at that time: Dunav (Rousse) was in sharp decline, in fact they were relegated in 1976-77, and his appearance between the goalposts was seen more as a desperate measure. The boy was impressive, but... only when compared to his pathetic teammates. So, was he really talented, or was he temporarily shining thanks to the excitement of been chosen to play for the first team? The competition apparently thought in those lines, and Cherno more was able to get Velinov without fuss. He immediately established himself in the team and by the end of the 1976-77 the revues were more than favourable. As a career choice, Velinov moved wisely – if he stayed with Dunav, very likely he would have been perished; with Cherno more he was going up. Eventually CSKA took a craving for him, grabbed him, and Velinov became one of the best all-time Bulgarian goalkeepers. Which did nothing good for Cherno more, except helping them to win promotion. Promotion by a split hair really... Cherno more never reached the strong position they had in the 1960s.