Saturday, November 30, 2013

The old guard saved face in the Cup tournament – Napoli perhaps outdid itself by reaching the final. Inter did better – they won it. It was not easy, but Inter prevailed at the final in Rome 2-1.

For Inter, it was great... kind of. Great, because they were starting to forget the taste of victory in the 1970s. On the other hand, to be constantly left behind and empty-handed was more than painful – winning the Cup was good, but not quite satisfying. As for why Inter was unfit for anything bigger and perhaps must have been incredibly happy with a trophy, any trophy, in their hands, the team pretty much says it all: it was incomparable to Juventus. Rather disjointed and hardly promising better future. Facchetti was at his last legs – may be one, two at best, seasons. Retirement was his future. Anastasi was also nearing the end... well, certainly past his peak. Bordon, Oriali, Altobelli were the players to shape the future, but they were not leaders yet and even did not look like possible superstar of the caliber of Facchetti and Anastasi. The rest... the rest looked like journeymen. Certainly not a team of mighty winners. Rather, a team on the brink of starting rebuilding – uncertain, making faulty choices, searching for talent. There was no skeleton of new successful team – sadly, it looked like the moment Facchetti retired Inter was going to collapse. At least they won the Cup – which may be was best for Facchetti: stepping out in style, as a winner.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

For the end of 1977-78 Italian season go to

Monday, November 25, 2013

Serie A was a copy of Serie B – one clear outsider and one outstanding leader. Was the Italian football improving or deepening its crisis was a question open for interpretations. It was still defensive football, scoring was low as ever. Not a single team came close to 2 goals per game average. Only sic clubs finished with 10 or more wins. One club ended with 50% wins and it is not difficult to guess where this club finished. Just two clubs had fewer than 10 ties and both were relegated. On the other hand the number of ties slightly diminished: only two clubs, Atalanta and Genoa, tied 50% of their total games. Positive changes were very few... Milan and Inter were clearly in crisis, yet finished high. Ten clubs were engaged in the bitter fight for survival, not concerned with medals at all – the difference between 6th and 15th placed was only 5 points. The signs of change came from the very top two clubs and the national team – not much, but somewhat more than the previous few years.

Pescara finished last – they were obviously below everybody else, finishing with 17 points, 8 less than the 15th placed.

Pescara was one of the lowly clubs, there was nothing surprising in their relegation. Hardly anything to say of them: lovely kit and exotic looking goalkeeper. Who was perhaps the best known player of the team and also sharp example of why Pescara was dead last: Massimo Piloni played 8 years for Juventus . If 'played' is the right word... Piloni amassed a total of 12 matches for Juve – for 8 seasons he wormed the bench. Yet, he was three times champion of Italy... just because he was a member of the team. His three years with Pescara were by far the best in his career – as far as actual playing was concerned. With relegation, his career plummeted further – he went to Rimini in the summer of 1978 and eventually finished his playing days with even smaller club in 1981. Since Piloni was the best known player of Pescara, is there any wondering why they finished last?

Above them were the bulk of 10 clubs trying nothing more but escaping relegation. Three clubs ended with 25 points and goal-difference decided their fate. Fiorentina was lucky – strange to see the club of already one of the best European midfielders – Giancarlo Antognoni – at 13th place and lucky to end there, but the squad was really nothing much.

Foggia had the worst goal-difference among those with 25 points and took the 15th place.

Contrary to their log, Foggia were no devils, but one of the usual candidates for bottom places. Nothing surprising about their relegation – they had no strong team. Franco Bergamaschi was perhaps the best known player in the squad, but he was getting old and declining already for years. The other recognizable name is familiar now, but not at all in the 1970s: Nevio Scala. If anything, one more example of the strange development in football – lousy players tend to become great coaches. Perhaps playing often in second division builds character and teaches how to make a team, but Scala, as a player, was not much of a help. Genoa's goal-difference was bad – 28:43 – so it was more than bad luck for them.

Bad luck was the fate of Genoa – they were just one goal short of survival. Fiorentina finished with -9; Genoa with -10. One goal difference between life and death... the lesson was to score more, really.

Once upon a time Genoa was strong, winning club. Once upon a time... so many years ago, that it was questionable there were still living witnesses of the glory years. In the 1970s Genoa were firmly... weak. Of course, nothing great about the team, but scoring was mentioned for a reason: Genoa scored a total of 23 goals this season – only two clubs scored less then them. Strange, for Genoa had Roberto Pruzzo and Giuseppe Damiani. True, they were the only noticeable players, but with them more goals should have been scored. Damiani was already declining – his best years were between 1972 and 1975, when Juventus noticed him, wanted him, and got him from Vicenza. Damiani played relatively well for Juventus, but not as great as hoped, and in 1976 he was sold to Genoa. He was 27-years old and perhaps able of more than he did, especially when having a bright, younger, and rapidly rising partner to play along with – Roberto Pruzzo. Only 22-years old and already captain of the team, Pruzzo was even considered for the national team, but evidently he was unable to save Genoa. And his big fame came later and with another club – Roma was quick to get him after the end of the disastrous year. Genoa was painfully close to safety – but went down. Yes, Pruzzo and Damiani did not score enough... but was it possible at all, since scoring depends on opportunities created by midfielders. There was no one to do that in Genoa and as a result the city was left without first division team for the next year – the local derby between Genoa and Sampdoria was to be played again, but in Serie B.

Genoa and Foggia joined Pescara, going down, and half of the league finally breathed easier. Among the bulk of threatened with relegation Napoli finished highest – at 6th place.

A prime example of the ills most Italian clubs were suffering – three aging stars, fading away – Juliano, Savoldi, and Chiarugi - supported by... nobody. It all depended on them and as far they managed relatively well, the club was able to edge the small fry. Napoli finished with almost perfect 50-50 reacord: 30 points, acquired from 8 wins, 14 ties, and 8 losses. 35:31 goal-difference. At home they won 5 matches, lost 3, and tied 7. Away they lost 5, won 3, and tied 7. Only Perugia, a place below them had 'better rounded' record: also 30 points, 10 wins, 10 ties, 10 losses, 36:35 goal-difference. At home – 8 wins, 5 ties, 2 losses; the reverse away – 2 wins, 5 ties, 8 losses. Napoli and Perugia were the triumph of the stingy, point-oriented, defensive, scheming Italian football. If everybody was able to achieve their dreams, all teams were to end with exactly the same records and no one would have been relegated. Of course, in a perfect Italian world, there was not be any champion either... In the imperfect world most of league fought for survival... Napoli and Perugia were 6 points behind Inter.

Inter finished 5th, a point below Milan. Both clubs suffered greatly – aging, late to start building new squads, perhaps not even knowing how to start. Facchetti and Rivera were the untouchable leaders, although it was clear for years that they were the past, not the future. Then again, how to replace gods? Fading gods, but gods.. the only way was to wait for their retirement... and no wonder neither Inter, nor Milan were much of a factor. Both clubs were followed a curve going steadily down – relatively strong at the beginning of the season, gradually dropping out of the race for the title and finishing relatively high only because of the good start. Milan led the league until the 13th round – after that it was over for them. Inter did not last even that long... yes, both teams were difficult to beat, but both were not really capable of winning. Defense was their strongest lines. Teeth they had only for the small clubs. And no wonder Torino edged them and finished with bronze medals.

Well balanced squad, full of players in their prime. Torino was in its best years still, perhaps the only thing lacking was really outstanding leader, a mega-star. Won the title few years back and continuing to be among the best. Alas, no more than competing for second place... once again, the defense got the upper hand and no wonder they lost even the second place. Bronze medals were not bad after all, but unfortunately Torino was not becoming really great team.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Third rank goes to Italy. Perhaps the Italian football was still not all that great – but Spanish was not either at the time. The strength of Italian football was really Juventus, the most interesting club in terms of adapting elements of total football, and the national team, which became one of the best surprises at the 1978 World Cup. Not much... the Italian clubs were still miserable in the European tournaments, Milan and Inter were clearly in decline, goal-scoring was minimal as ever. Nevertheless, there was a great surprise this season – which may be interpreted two ways: as a sign of the general decline of the big clubs, which suddenly made them equal to the small fry or as a sign of improvement, bringing more clubs to the fight on top, if they had young talent at hand. So it may had been at the time, but later it turned out to be just a momentary surprise and nothing more. Certainly not a big reshaping of the football map of the country. Which, from the outside, was one and the same – the First Division. Second level was known largely as a final table and what was beyond was foggy assumption that, of course, other leagues existed. How many and what for perhaps was never wondered about, but there were those playing somewhere in the fog. Clubs which used to be familiar names years ago and barely remembered by the late 1970s.

Triestina, for instance. Third division? Most likely. Never really great, they used to play First Division in earlier decades. There were even formerly old strong clubs like Pro Patria. There were also the entirely unknown, the bulk.

Parma – one of the 'bulk'. Everybody knows Parma today – thanks to their great exploits in the 1990s – but back in the 1970s it was unheard of club. First division was well beyond the scope of their dreams – the dream was Second Division and as almost all dreams it was just a dream... may be in some distant future... one day, if lucky... third level was the familiar surrounding. Nice kit, though. Otherwise, only a reminder that such club existed back then for those unable to find a trace of it. Admittedly, third division football is almost entirely different sport, but lower levels are the true backbone of the sport – down there new talent emerges and builds character. Could be said that the more clubs play in the lower divisions, the better is the football at the top – Italy had many leagues, going down to seventh level. Speaking of passion for the game. A little tribute to those countless clubs playing down is very much needed now and then.

Monday, November 18, 2013

For English FA Cup go to:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

And it was not all – before winning the title, Nottingham won another trophy. Now, this was really their first victory ever. Nottingham reached the final of the League Cup , where they faced Liverpool. Nottingham was quite confident in the ½ final, where they won both legs against Leeds United – 3-1 and 4-2. Liverpool had it tougher against Arsenal – 2-1 and 0-0. The final opposed the mavericks against the strongest team in Europe. Attacking vs defensive style. Stars vs wannabees and oldish second-raters. Paisley vs Clough. At Wembley, in front of 100 000 fans, nobody scored and after the overtime a replay was scheduled. Which produced nothing too... mean Foresters' defense killed Liverpool's efforts, but in the same time Nottingham was not able to penetrate the opposition. It was tactical game, perhaps not to the taste of almost 55 000-strong crowd at Old Trafford. The first half ended painfully familiar – 0-0. Then in the second half Phil Thompson committed professional foul (the term was already becoming familiar, although really menaced the 1980s) against John O'Hare. The referee's call was disputed immediately, debated for a long time, probably still is objected: it looked like the foul was outside the penalty area. Replays on TV were convincing... depending on what one wishes to be convinced of. Pat Partridge called a penalty. Suspect call, but in the same time it appeared to be the only way to break the tie. Nottingham's defensive style did not provide for many scoring opportunities for either side. John Robertson stepped in and scored.

Ray Clemence guessed where the ball will go, but was unable to reach it – Robertson (#11) scored. It was practically the end of the match... fair-unfair, the Italians won trophies for years that way and no matter what, victory is decided exactly by the difference between scoring and no scoring. Liverpool did not score and lost. Nottingham lifted a trophy for the first time in their history.

Game over and two heroes look more exhausted than happy – Brian Clough and John Robertson.

Things improved soon, at least for the players... Kenny Burns all smiles with the Cup. 'The uggliest player I ever signed', quipped Brian Clough, but footballers are not recruited for looks.

Cup winners – victory at last! In retrospect, Nottingham deserves more appreciation, despite their unattractive style: Liverpool was in full force, fielding all their stars. Not so the Foresters – their captain McGovern had to be substituted in the first match and did not appear at all in the replay. Gemmill did not play at all. And Shilton was absent too – Chris Woods, 18-years old and without a single championship match, played both final matches. Nottingham were underdogs, compared to Liverpool – but they won. The Scots in the team – Burns, O'Hare, and Robertson distinguished themselves. Too bad the other too missed the glorious moment – may be too bad for McGovern more than Gemmill, who at least had his greatest moment a few months later, when he scored his fantastic goal against Holland in the World Cup finals. Too bad for Shilton too, but great for Woods! When two months later Nottingham won the championship, their trophies not only became two, but became legendary – not many clubs won championships immediately after promotion anywhere in the world. Even fewer ended with a double. Fewer still won trophies for the first time in their history right after promotion. A double? Well, it was really a triple, for Nottingham won the FA Charity Shield as well. And since inevitably time passed, their success remains even more important now – so far, no other club did the same after 1978. Legendary stuff, only to become bigger soon.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013

The bulk of the league performed more or less as expected – traditional mid-table clubs like Middlesbrough, Birmingham City, Norwich City, Coventry City, mixed with teams at different stages of decline – Wolverhampton Wanderers, Chelsea, Derby County, Leeds United – occupied the vast space between 7th and 19th place. Grey area, difficult to judge, because seasonal performance is not a clear indication of long-term stability, improvement, or decline. Aston Villa was slowly rising, for instance, but still was at mid-table level. They finished 8th, and just behind them because of worse goal-difference was slowly sinking Leeds United, still having enough inertia from the good years to stay away from real trouble. Others underperformed a bit – more was expected from Manchester United, but they finished 10th. The most difficult team to judge was Ipswich Town – they had the best and worst in a single year. After years of climbing up and establishing themselves among the top clubs, they suddenly plummeted down. Since the team was pretty much the same as before and not old at all, it did not look right. Was it a case of a team reaching its limits and inevitably sinking? After all, Ipswich played well, but did not become a real title contender. Besides, they had terrible year in the league, but in the same time achieved their greater triumph this very same season too, winning the FA Cup. Tough case... Ipswich did not just drop a few places: they barely escaped relegation. They finished 18th , only 3 points away from relegation zone. Their attack was terrible – only 4 clubs ended scoring less goals than Ipswich. They lost even the battle for 17th place – lowly Bristol City edged them with better goal-difference.

Bristol City came to First Division in 1976 and finished 18th in their first season with 35 points. In 1977-78 they earned again 35 points and finished 17th. Clearly, the only concern of the modest club was hanging in the league, mere survival. It was equally clear they were not going to last for long. And now Ipswich Town was at that level, compared to Bristol? Finishing lower than Bristol...

Yet, Ipswich had much better squad - 18th place looked unreal. And it was – what Ipswich Town suffered was fairly common: a good team, still rising, but getting perhaps too experienced before time and temporarily slipping down. As a reminder, in a sense, that the job was not done yet, that greatness is still out of reach and work is needed. In real time – impossible to be sure of that: after all, Ipswich came dangerously close to relegation – but they recovered quickly. And the season was not lost after all , but what a rollercoaster.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The new post you can read at:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Blackpool, Mansfield Town, and Hull City lost their places in Second Division. Blackpool tried hard to escape relegation – 8 clubs finished with 38 points, Blackpool was unlucky with 37. If they got one more point, they would have been safe – especially with their amusing for relegated club goal-difference of -1 goal: 59-60. There was no club with 38 points with even close goal-difference. One point – the whole difference between life and death. Mansfield Town and Hull City had no bite and took 21st and 22nd places in the final table.

Dead last, Hull City distinguished themselves as the only second-division club finishing with less than 10 wins in the league – their measly 8 victories were precisely three times less than the wins of the league champion.

The season was harsh for almost every team in the league – 18 clubs were more concerned with survival than easy life. At the end 8 points divided Blackburn Rovers, 5th, and the relegated Blackpool, 20th. Blackburn ended with negative – and worse than Blackpool's – goal-difference. In fact, Blackpool had better goal-difference than 13 clubs, 11 of which were better placed at the end. Of the bulk, only three teams finished with positive goal-difference – Sunderland, 6th, Stoke City, 7th, and Crystal Palace, 9th. Fulham, 10th, finished with neutral record – 49-49. Adding the clubs at the very top, only 8 clubs – 1/3 of the total – finished the season on the positive side. With most of the league fighting for survival, only four clubs were concerned with promotion – they were high above the rest: their was 12-point chasm between 4th and 5th at the end. The battle for promotion was fierce – 2 points divided 1st from 4th, and goal-difference decided who was to go up and who was to stay for another year down. Brighton & Hove Albion were the losers, although they had the second-best defensive record in the league. Scoring was not their forte, however, and they finished 4th. Lucky were Tottenham Hotspur – relegated the previous year, the Londoners stayed only a single season in Second Division.

Tottenham obviously were determined to return to their usual place among the best, but it was not easy – to the last moment promotion was not secured. The team lost only 6 matches – the least in the league – and scored the most goals – 83 – but their defense was leaky. They allowed 49 goals in their net – 10 more than the rest of the top clubs and the only top-4 team receiving more than a goal per match on average. The photo is not really the squad of the year, although normally is given as '1977-78 picture' – here is Pat Jennings, who left after the disastrous 1976-77 season and joined Arsenal. Tottenham was one more victim of the eternal problem of replacing great, but inevitably aging team – the transition was not smooth and the club suffered. Three players of the great early-70s squad still remained – Terry Naylor, Steve Perryman, and Ralph Coates – but the manager Keith Burkinshaw was still trying and hardly had even a small group of new players with strong potential. More or less, he had only Glenn Hoddle – 20-years old and at his third season in professional football. No wonder Tottenham barely qualified for promotion, but still they did.

At second place finished Southampton – with a point more than the Spurs, but also a point less than the champions. Southampton was relegated in 1973-74 and so far was unable to reach promotional finish. It was strange, for unlike other relegated clubs Southampton did not lose its stars – Mike Channon in particular, who was essential national team player. Nor they had declining team like Chelsea or Tottenham. Yet, Southampton seemed settled in Second Division – but this year they finally were on the move up. Successfully too.

The winners of the championship were a surprise – Bolton Wanderers.

Bolton missed promotion by a hair in 1975-76 and 1976-77 – both seasons they finished 4th, one point short of the coveted third promotional place. Obviously performing well and getting ambitious – third time lucky – but really the club was climbing up since 1972-73, when they won the Third Division and moved to Second. As for top flight, the last time Bolton played in First Division was 1963-64, when they finished second to last and were relegated. By now they were more or less forgotten and it was even a bit strange they were to play with the best.

Although Bolton won most matches during the season – 24 – and had the best defensive record, allowing only 33 goals, they did not look like a team able of surviving in First Division. Three fading by now stars – Willie Morgan (formerly of Manchester United), Peter Thompson (formerly of Liverpool), and the 36-years old Irishman Tony Dunne, formerly of the great Manchester United squad of the 1960s – and hardly anything else. Thompson, 35-years old by now, actually retired after the end of the season. Dunne did not last either, except in ManUnited history, where he still is one of leading players with 414 matches for the team. Frank Worthington arrived from Leicester City and scored important goals, but... he was Worthington: women and booze were more important to him than football. Sam Allardyce perhaps rings some bells today, but that is the name of the coach, not of the player. Allardyce had no fame in his playing days. For the sake of diversity, it was great to see a modest club going up, but winning Second Division was clearly to be their major success – Bolton had no strength to survive in the First. Not for long anyway. But hope dies last, especially for devoted fans – it was great so far and may be better in the future.

Monday, November 4, 2013

I am moving to:

 See the new post about 1977-78 English 3rd Division there.
For some time both blogs will run together, but posts here will be less frequent.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

England – may be not the strongest league anymore, but still the most unpredictable. Still entertaining too. Something happened down at the very bottom of professional football, which was not noticed at first – after all, 4th division football is not trend-setting. Also, momentary success hardly tells anything about future developments. In retrospect, it was the beginning of meteoric rise of not one, but two clubs . Four teams were promoted to the Third Division, the honours contested by 8 clubs. None was impressive club – may be Barnsley was the only one of some sort of faded glory, but they finished 7th. The 4th, clinching the last promotional spot was Brentford.

Old boys, founded in 1889, and nothing more.

Second finished Southend United.

Cute logo, many swords, just like Brentford's, but no cutting edge really. The lobster is nice...

Third finished Swansea City, one of the few Welsh clubs in the English leagues. Which was good for novelty and amusement, for Welsh Cup winners played in the European Cup Winners Cup and thus were constant representatives of low divisions. Often lower than Second Division.

The Swans knew better days, but they were long gone. Climbing to Third Division was quite a success.

First finished Watford.

Another club which had nothing to brag about and may be happy to move a tiny bit up. As a London-based club, they had no chance of catching the eye, but they did in 1973 – Elton John, a life-long fan, became the President of the club. Thanks to his fame, the club was mentioned now and then – Elton John went not only to Watford's matches.

Two rock-stars crazy about football – Elton John and Rod Stewart training with Watford. Look in better shape then the players at the left... Such novelties were the biggest news about Watford for awhile. In 1876 Elton John became more ambitious and was elected Chairman of the club. Now with real power in his hands, he immediately made a big signing – not a famous and inevitably aging player, but a coach.

Graham Taylor and Elton John, all smiles and promising victory. Wise move – the new manager was good and quickly turned around the small club. It was hard to tell what the idea was at first: on one hand Elton John did not invest money in players – which probably angered some fans. A manager without a team did no mean much, may be just a cheap move for a year or two. On the other hand getting a good coach may bring some positive results in a long term. Which was Elton John's idea, it seems – Taylor changed the team immediately: Watford had strong season and finished first, 11 points ahead of Southend United. They lost only 5 matches – there was no other club in the 24-team division with less than 10 losses. Watford distinguished themselves in winning too – they won 30 out of their 46 championship games. Southend United trailed behind with 25 wins. Strong season by all means – and Watford was going to play 3rd Division football next year.

Nice – Elton John leading Watford to the pitch. Leading by example, so to say. Nice, but... take away the rockstar and there was nothing else. Or so it appeared back in 1977-78. It was different a few years after, when Watford was playing not only in the First Division, but in the European Cups too. They climbed up very quickly – but not as quickly as Swansea City did. Both clubs went together at first, but the meteoric rise of the Swans was faster. And all started in 1977-78, when both clubs won promotions. The beginning of fantastic climbs up, and up, and up. As for Elton John... usually running a football club is difficult job, causing the loss of hair. He went the other way – growing hair. Anyway, 4th division smiles so far.