Monday, December 9, 2013

First division, the real drama, the real excitement, the real winners, if only on Spanish scale. Same old, same old, in other words – Barcelona against Real Madrid. But it was never just that. Difficult league, where scoring was not high – only one club scored 2 goals per game average – but unlike Italy, there was worship of the single point in Spain, and everybody fought for a win, not for a tie. At the end, only three clubs finished with with 10 or more ties – Hercules (Alikante) with 10 and Las Palmas and Burgos, 11 ties each. There was no club with 50% or more of their games tied, like in Italy and USSR. Winning was everything, yet, it was largely winning home games. As for outsiders, there was one - the debutant Cadiz CF.

A rather typical story – a modest club, finally reaching top division, but not having enough resources to recruit strong players. Lasting a single year at the bottom of the table practically from the start of the championship and existing more or less as a point donor to the other clubs. Cadiz CF fought the best they could, but were clearly outclassed. They were the only club with less than 10 wins this season. Their strikers were second worst with 30 goals – only Racing Santander scored less goals. Their defense was also the worst – Cadiz received 69 goals. The finished last. May be the only thing needed to be said about them is a reminder of the fashion trends in the decade – the bell-bottoms of their coach above. Even then it was weird to see middle-aged men dressed in youth fashion, but the trend was already accepted by the mainstream culture. Even in conservative Spain. Yet, it looked and look weird. Such were the days, though. Fashion did not help Cadiz a bit.

Not did anybody else. Elche and Real Betis joined Cadiz.

Ten foreigners were unable to save Elche from relegation. They fought to the end, but lost the battle for survival – ended with 27 points, 5 more than Cadiz, but still three points behind the nearest escapee. For Elche a whole period ended this year – their perhaps most successful period, stretching from 1959 to 1978. Elche never won anything, but played constantly in the first division and back in the 1960s were among the strongest clubs, finishing among the best 8. But the club was gradually slipping down in the 1970s, reaching the sad and fearful stage of small clubs concerned only with escaping relegation. The inevitable happened this year.

Above them competition was vicious. All teams from the 10th placed down (if not even from the 5th placed down) spent the season running away from the spectre of Second Division. Six points divided Atletico Madrid at the 5th final place from the relegated 16th, but the bitter struggle was between the clubs spread from 10th to 16th place. Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad at the end finished 10th and 11th with 33 points each. Burgos and Racing Santader ended just bellow them with 31 points. Three clubs finished with 30 points each. Two survived – Espanol (Barcelona) and Hercules (Alikante). The third did not. What was the decisive factor? Hard to tell, for there was no particular consistency in the rules deciding the places of clubs with equal points: up the table, goal-difference was seemingly the factor. So it appears, looking at the goal-difference Valencia (4th) and Sporting Gijon (5th). But only between these two clubs appears so – all other clubs with equal points were seemingly positioned not by goal-difference, but on the accumulated results of their head to head matches. Real Betis had rather good goal-difference – certainly better one than not only Hercules' and Espanol's, but better than a total of 9 clubs: 51:52. Did not matter.

16th and relegated... Real Betis won the Spanish Cup in 1976-77 and were relegated the next season. Strange, yet not so strange – after all, Real Zaragoza were relegated not very long after winning the cup. Looked like a curse for smaller clubs – winning the cup exhausting them to death. Real Betis did not look all that on paper, but in reality Gerrie Muhren and Atilla Ladinsky were fading rapidly. Both were mostly reserves this season. The club hardly had strong core players and they went down. Sadly, with their relegation the number of local derbies in the league were reduced to two cities – Madrid and Barcelona. May be the fans of Sevilla FC were happy to see their neighbours down and out, but still it was sad to see a local derby gone to the dogs. Real Betis may have been unlucky, but such is football. Others were lucky:

Rayo Vallecano finished 19th, which may be considered a success for the modest club from Madrid. Playing in first division was a success, indeed – with neighbours like Real and Atletico, a chance of another club attracting fans and money was next to impossible. Once upon a time there were few clubs competing more or less on equal footing in Madrid, but by the 1970s the two giants dwarfed whatever other clubs existed. It is even questionable whether Real and Atletico considered the matches against Rayo Vallecano as a derby. Cleraly, the smaller club was unable to compete with the big clubs, but still it was great to have them in the league. Madrid was the only Spanish city with three first-division clubs, at least for the moment. Rayo Vallecano could not even dream of winning anything or even building relatively strong squad. Playing in Primera Division was their success.

Standing, from left: Alcazar, Anero, Uceda, Nieto, Tanco, Rial

First rwo: Francisco, Landaburu, Salazar, Fermin, Alvanito.

Not a single recognizable player here, if those are the right names. And if the names correspond to players' positions on the picture... but lovely kit. And something else about their kit – small Spanish clubs used the 'orthodox' production of Adidas and Puma. The big clubs – no. These were still early years for the new kits, advertizing more the maker than the club, in Spain. The change was coming with clubs like Rayo Vallecano, the small fry.