Saturday, September 14, 2013

When speaking of divisions, promotions, relegation, it means the Metropolitano Championship – one of the two Argentine championships. Traditionally structured and played, it is not really a Buenos Aires championship. True, most clubs are located in the great city, but there are from other places as well. Yet, it was not a championship of the whole country... it is even hard to decide the importance of the championship: bigger than the Nacional? Smaller? Equal? How was it seen by the clubs, especially the big ones? Looking at sober statistics, both championship seem equal and separate. Hard to tell... easier, when the bottom is concerned: the Metropolitano league structure made survival very important. The First Division was to be reduced from 21 to 20 clubs in the next season, so 2 clubs were to be relegated in 1978. There was no obvious outsider – five clubs frantically tried to survive: 2 points divided the 17th and the 21st team at the end. Banfield finished 20th, thanks to better goal-difference, but down they went... Platense had a point more. Last were Estudiantes (Buenos Aires), like Banfield, finishing with 29 points after 40 grueling matches. Estudiantes deserves a word, for they are curiously related to... the champions. Related by history.

Estudiantes are old, very old really, and once upon a time – strong. Few even remembered those years in 1978 – the end of Estudiantes came also long time ago: during the time when professional football was introduced, splitting the clubs in two camps with separate federations and championships. Estudiantes, like many other ancient clubs wanted to stay amateur – and in the long run, this decision was the end of them. From mighty club, they became insignificant small club. 1977 was their greatest season since the 1920s – they won the Second Division. In 1978 they played for the very first time top level football since the introduction of professionalism. Thus, 1978 became their even greater year, historically speaking: they debuted in First Division... finished last and went back to Second. So far, 1978 is the only year Estudiantes played the top division. The old decision to stay amateur sealed their fate: the club was reduced to minor role, entirely insignificant.

Down went Banfield and Estudiantes... others were quite down too: Velez Sarsfield finished 16th; Huracan, champions not long ago, were 15th, Estudiantes (La Plata), one of the best known clubs outside Argentina, thanks to their strong and mean team of the late 1960s, were now 14th. Near the top of the table were familiar names: Independiente (8th), Newell's Old Boys (7th), River Plate (6th), but none was really a contender. Perhaps the preparation of the national team affected the performance of those clubs having players used by Menotti, but the plane fact is only three clubs fought for the title. Among those left far behind San Lorenzo was most interesting – not because of their performance (they finished 4th, five points behind the third finisher), but because of the remains of old, old days of the game.

San Lorenzo did not use jerseys, but shirts – with buttons from top to bottom. At least in English, 'shirts' is still the concurrent word for football uniforms. Once upon a time clubs commonly used shirts. Shirts were still fairly often used in the 1960s, although the usage was rapidly diminishing since the 1940s and it was clear there was no going back. Perhaps San Lorenzo was the last club in the world playing with shirts as late as 1978. It was not their only uniform, but it is charming and strange anachronism. Amusing and endearing. Worth noting as well.

The battle for the title went between three clubs, a fierce pursuit to the end. Colon (Santa Fe) finished third, five points ahead of San Lorenzo, and a point behind Boca Juniors. For the club of Santa Fe it was great year – they rarely finish that high, let alone competing for the title. Boca Juniors ended second, losing the race also by a point. Boca finished with least losses in the league – seven – but this was not comfort for a club which recognizes only titles. They lost... and they lost dramatically to unusual foe: Quilmes. The unlikely winners clinched the title in the very last round, when they won away match on the inhospitable stadium of Rosario Central and preserved their tiny lead. 3-2 was the great result, two goals scored from penalty kicks.

Naturally, the photos show largely the desperation of Rosario Central – which automatically means that Quilmes were great. They were – first title ever! Drama to the end, which is good for fans even when football is not all that great. For Quilmes's fans it was the best time ever.

Like Estudinates (Buenos Aires), Quilmes are very old – founded in 1887! Like Estudiantes they were strong in the first decades of 20th century and fell victims of professionalization – they also chose to stay amateur at first, and immediately sunk... in Avellaneda they came to be third club, way bellow Independiente and Racing. Since Avellaneda is attached to Buenos Aires and somewhat thought as part of the Greater Buenos Aires, Quilmes ranked much, much lower. They had loyal fans, of course, but... the club played largely second division football. Like many Argentine clubs, Quilmes was founded by Brittish immigrants, originally as Quilmes Rovers Club. In 1900 the name was changed to Quilmes Athletic Club. One more name change occurred in 1950, when Peron ruled Argentina and wanted every club to sound properly Spanish – it was tiny change: Quilmes Atletico Clib. No more changes of the name, but the club is known for something else as well: the biggest Argentine brewery is named Quilmes (actually, Cerveza Quilmes is the company name) and located nearby. Neighbours, sharing a name, brewery and club are closely connected for many years – the beer makers are main sponsors of the club. Hence, the nickname – 'El Servecero' , 'the Brewers'. Alas, little brewing on the football field... Quilmes won the Argentine title in 1912, in the 'good old days' of classic amateur football. After that – a long, painful, dry spell. Lower leagues... winning Second Division twice, but rather accidentally – in 1949 and 1961. A third promotion was won in 1975, when they won the Second Division again... not much to brag about. The neighbours – Racing and Estudiantes – conquerred the world, when Quilmes was happy to win second division. Perhaps even their fans did not believe the club will survive for long among the top clubs... in 1977 they finished 18th. It was giant leap ahead in 1978, a big surprise for friend and foe.

Surprise champions: standing from left:Tocalli, Recavarren, Fanesi, Palacios, Milozzi, Gáspari, Zárate, Bourgeois, Gaño.

Crouching: Merlo, Filardo, Bianchini, Andreuchi, Salinas, Milano, Gómez.

Since triumphal occasions in Quilmes's history are scarce, one more photo of the winners;

The regular team, dressed in the away kit: standing from left: Fanesi, Palacios, Milozzi, Gáspari, Zárate, Medina.

Crouching: Milano, Bianchini, Andreuchi, Gómez, Salinas.

Did they used shirts, like San Lorenzo? Hard to tell... may be, but the kit is unimportant.

The squad is plain – no great stars there, no national team players – former, current, even future ones. Hardly recognizbale names, local heroes... the best perhaps were

Horacio Milozzi, a goal-scoring defender, and the striker

Luis Andreuchi – also spelled as Andreucci – who ended as the championship top scorer with 21 goals. He shared the honour with the very young

Diego Maradona, also with 21 goals. It is good piece of novelty: the young genius, already the most talked of Argentine player, already a star, and the unknown modest striker, together. Neither played at the World Cup finals, neither played for famous club – Quilmes meant nothing abroad, Argentinos Juniors also meant nothing – even journalists confused the name of the club with the Argentine Juniors national team, thinking that Maradona perhaps played only for such national selection, may be not having a proper club yet. Thanks to his talent and goals, Argentinos Juniors finished 5th, beginning their steady climb to the top of Argentine football. Anyway, considering that Argentina won the world title, the list of top scorers is 'strange':

Only Norberto Alonso from the stars – and he was arguably the best Argentine player at that time. Roque Avallay played for the national team, but was not a member of the world champion squad. The rest are unknown names... topped by typical 'also run' player and still only promissing talented teenager.

Back to Quilmes, it consisted of lesser players – potential Maradonas are clearly absent. Good run, ambition, rising appetite – yes. But perhaps the key figure was the coach:

Jose Yudica – a relatively small-famed player, he retired quite young and turned to coaching. 32-years old in 1978, he already had spells with two clubs before taking Quilmes in 1977 and saving the struggling club from relegation. Then he made them champions the next year, a great turn around. For Yudica, it was just the beginning of very successful career. For Quilmes – it was their second title after 66 dry years and their very first on professional level. And their last success...

The title was mostly important for the club and the fans. Little was made of it on bigger scale – the World Cup captivated all domestic and international interest. Quilmes had no chance of competing with the success of the national team. Very likely they were just lucky to win somewhat weak league, with opponents without their national team players and not really interested. Certainly Quilmes had no team able to stay on top, but at least their coach deserves notice: he was one of the young coaches emerging in Argentina and changing her football, led by the example of Cesar Menotti. Fresh blood, new ideas. Argentina conquered the world with unlikely players led by revolutionary coach – Yudica did the same with Quilmes the same year. His team was particularly strong at home games, but was good enough to clinch the title away, in Rosario. The team delivered when really mattered – they won the last 4 crucial matches.

The title may have been a lucky one, but not for the fans and the club. This was their greatest year. Champions!

Historic victory indeed! With a little more to it: as champions of Metropolitano, Quilmes were to play in the Copa Libertadores.