Monday, September 2, 2013

The championship was a race between two clubs – Palestino (Santiago) and Cobreloa (Calama). At the end Cobreloa was 4 points behind, but... it was fantastic achievement: it was the very first season of Cobreloa in first division and what a bang! Silver medals. Did not look like mere accident either – Cobreloa were ambitious and had money.

Only a year back Cobreloa looked largely lucky club: they finished 4th in the Second Division and reached promotion thanks to the relegation/promotion play offs. But even then the club looked more impressive than many first division teams. They had 2 Uruguayan national team players, plus one Chilean. Their 1978 roster was equally strong, if not better: Juaregui, the Uruguayan defender, was gone, but Luis Garisto remained.

Garisto was already 33-years old and a veteran of the club. He came in 1973, solidifying Cobreloa's defense. Five years later he was still essential player – and star. Perhaps not well known in the world, but impressive nevertheless: back in 1971 he was part of the excellent Independiente (Avallaneda) team starting its long South American dominance. He also played for Uruguay – including at the 1974 World Cup. Impressive that, for he was playing Second Division football in Chile. Yet, Garisto is best remembered for something else: he ended prematurely the career of the Australian player Ray Baartz with a blow to his throat. It happened during a friendly with Australia in the spring of 1974. Vicious player for some; merely tough guy for others. Instrumental player for Cobreloa.

Garisto was joined by really big star this year:

Ladislao Mazurkiewicz hardly needs introduction. The great Uruguayan goalkeeper was perhaps declining by now, but still a great addition to newly promoted team. Mazurkiewicz, 33-years old, came from Granada (Spain), where he spent the two previous seasons. Cobreloa got a superstar name and more: Mazurkiewicz, even if not at his best, was excellent goalkeeper.

There was one more foreign player, a curiousity in a sense: the 25-years old Argentine striker Jose Luis Ceballos. Did he played at all is hard to tell – his usual biography does not mention Cobreloa. But he was member of a team, at least for a while. He came from Atlanta (Argentina) and soon departed to join Cruz Azul in Mexico. Ceballos is not a recognizable name, yet, he had long and successful career in Mexico, South America, and Spain. But the irony of football...

Jose Luis Ceballos, Mario Kempes, and Osvaldo Ardiles together in 1974, after a match between Belgrano and Rosario Central. Posing together for they started together in Instituto (Cordoba). By 1974 the trio was already climbing up: Kempes moved to Rosario Central; the other two to Belgrano. From friends to rivals, still playing in Cordoba. Kempes was going to his first World Cup. By 1978 he was world famous star. In 1978 Ardiles became world famous star as well, and he and Kempes were winning the World title at the time Ceballos was meandering via Chile to Mexico. Different fates.

With or without Ceballos, Cobreloa had enough ambition, enough classy players, enough money – and they debuted more than successfully in the First Division. Did not look like freak accident at all – this was a club determined to play large role in Chilean football. 1978 was just a taste.

Cobreloa making their mark in 1978.

Which left the real glory for another club, having similar squad: Palestino.

Old, rich, but not really successful, the 'Arabes' had won 1 title and 1 Cup so far. Not much... but they invested in perhaps the greatest ever Chilean player, Elias Figueroa, in 1977, and instantly climbed to second place. 1978 was their great year, however.

Figueroa contributed greatly to both defense and attack, as this photo shows. No wonder Palestino ended with best defensive and scoring records in the league – 72-32. They won 23 out of 34 championship matches, losing only 4. Supreme in every sense. Of course, they sported the colours of Palestine as ever – today their colours mirror the national flag of Palestine, but back in 1978 the relation was not so obvious for there was no Palestinian state - but no Palestinian players in the squad. It was a squad only a team with money can have. Along with Figueroa there were a bunch of Chilean national team players from various times, complimented by some local big stars: Rodolfo Dubo, Sergio Messen, Eddie Campodonico, Mario Varas. They were not really players spending lots of years with one club, but moved frequently, apparently following better contracts. Which seemingly was the traditional strategy of Palestino: hire the best players for short term. Normally the strategy did not work, but this time it did – perhaps the presence of Figueroa motivated the bunch of talented, but not very inspired stars. Back in 1976 a good Argentine player came San Lorenzo (Buenos Aires) – Ricardo Lazbal. Another Argentine joined the club at the same time – Oscar Fabbiani.

Fabbiani made huge difference – he scored a lot. He played three years for Palestino and every season he finished as the top league scorer. In 1978 he set a Chilean record by scoring 35 goals. In total, he scored 92 goals for Palestino. With Figueroa in the back and him in front Palestino was deadly. Of course, the rest of the team was solid too – the 'Arabes' soared in 1978, leaving everybody else far behind. As for Fabbiani, he took Chilean citizenship and eventually played for the national team, but this was his last year in Santiago – after the end of season Fabbiani moved to Tampa Bay Rowdies (USA, NASL).

And winning the championship was not everything: Palestino also won the Cup. They eliminated Colo Colo at the ½ finals and then overcome Union Espanola 3-3 and 1-0 at the final. A double – what could be stronger than a double?

Winning everything! Standing from left: Manuel Araya, Rodolfo Dubo, Oscar Fabbiani, Elias Figueroa, Edgardo Fuentes, Eddie Campodonico.

Crouching: Ricardo Lazbal, Manuel Rojas, Mario Varas, Sergio Messen, Pedro Pinto.

Well rounded squad of seasoned warriors. Best ever year of the club, doubling its trophies in a single season. Arguably, the best squad Palestino ever had. Yet, it was hard to imagine a dynasty: the very tradition of the club places question mark. Buying and selling all the time... Fabbiani was not the only one leaving after the successful year. Running ahead... in 1978 Palestino won their last trophies to date.