Monday, December 23, 2013

Interesting season in France – her football on the rise, competitive and attractive game, interesting players. Not the strongest championship in Europe, but certainly better than most. Large second division, divided into two groups of 18 teams each. The groups were not exactly constant – division was more or less geographical, but almost every year some clubs were moved from one groups to the other. The number varied for no obvious reason, but this provided some suspense – the new clubs in every group were often much more than the usual promoted and relegated newcomers. Three clubs were relegated to third level. The champions were promoted and the second placed competed for the third promotional spot. With so many clubs in second division, the better known names had some advantage, but various smaller clubs existed more or less comfortably untroubled by neither ambition, nor fear of relegation. Dunkerque was one of those:

They finished 4th in Group B without aiming at promotion. Not challenging the more ambitious, just occupying the comfort zone.

Some league members were hardly known even at the time and disappeared from sight long ago. Big league was good for such tiny clubs – it was the highest achievement, possible only because of the structure. However, it was more than questionable how much the country's football benefits from large league full of small small clubs, often not able to sustain professional teams for long.

SR Saint Die was a typical example – they finished 11th in Group A. It was hard to pay attention to such clubs in real time, let alone remember and recall them after years. Two such clubs were relegated from Group A: SR Haguenau, 17th, and RC Fontainebleau, 18th. Both settled early on the bottom, far behind the 16th club – it happened to be Toulouse, which escaped relegation not because they had 9 points more than SR Haguenau, but because the second promotion to First Division was won by Group B. Toulouse ended 16th on goal-difference – 5 clubs finished with 30 points. Survival was on the mind of most clubs – three points divided the risky 16th place from the respectful 8th, taken by Avignon, recently playing in First Division.

Similar was the situation in Group B: AS Poissy (16th), US Noeux-les-Mines (17th), and Stade Malherbe Caen (18th) were relegated, but all of them gave up long ago. FC Limoges was securely sitting on 15th place with 5 points more than AS Poissy. Up to 6th place there was relative comfort without earning many points, yet, among the sedentary clubs was Stade Rennes, at 12th place, just relegated from First Division. Clubs like Rennes were perhaps more representative than the unknown little clubs: a rather large group of 'unsettled' clubs, moving up and down frequently. Unlike other countries, where the 'unsettled' are typically too strong for second division, but too weak for the first, the French clubs moved up and down differently: a club may finish high in the table one year, but suddenly perish the next. Then jump up again. Rennes played well only few years back, now it had difficulty competing with clubs like AS Poissy. At the same time recent members of second division were at the opposite end, deciding the French title. Yet, recently relegated clubs lived quite comfortably in second division – the competition was too weak to put them in real trouble. Dispersed in two groups, they had little competition and were inevitably bound to return to top flight. Thus, Group A gave the appearance of a race between three clubs, but SC Angers, just relegated, easily won.

Angers earned 49 points from 21 wins and 7 ties. They lost 6 games. Not exactly overwhelming winners, but it was enough – they finished 3 points ahead of the next pursuer.

Standingfrom left: Janin, Brulez, Heslot, Citron, Amersek.

Crouching : Brucato, Guillon, Felci, Augustin, Cassan, Gonfalone.

Angers slipped down, but were up again after a single season – they did not even change their squad, depending on two Yugoslavians – Vili Amersek, who came from Olimpija (Ljubljana) in 1976, and Miroslav Boskovic (not on the picture), who arrived from Partizan (belgrade) in 1975. Normally, Yugoslavian professionals were good and reliable, but those two were not exactly stars – yes, they helped Angers, but were getting old, and were not the kind of players able to elevate their club much higher. Angers was returning to top flight, but the possibility of coming back to second level was more than a possibility.

Second finished RCFC Besancon – three points behind Angers, but also three points ahead of 4th placed SC Toulon.

Now, for Besancon this was a success – unlike Angers, they were not regular first division club. Having a chance of going up was like a dream come true, but it was just a dream...

Standing from left: Bruder, Viscaino, Gazzola, Raymond, Bagnol, Traoré.

Crouching : Masson, Dralet, Sanchez, Bedouet, Martinez.

Anonimous, typically second-division squad, unable to really challenge Angers, let alone something stronger. At the end, Besancon did not get promotion, which was disappointing for their fans, but made FC Toulouse very happy: Besancon staying in the group meant only two clubs were relegated, not three. Besancon missed, Toulouse survived.

Group B was tougher: three clubs competed for promotion – Lille, relegated in 1976-77. and two Parisian clubs, eager to return to first division – Red Star and Paris FC. Four points divided success and failure at the end. Red Star failed – their relative weakness was largely in attack: they scored 58 goals during the season, but the competition scored over 70.

Lille Olympique triumphed at the end with 51 points. Best attack and second-best defense, 21 wins and only 4 losses. Going 'home' after one year in purgatory.

Unlike Angers, Lille tried to change their team – they recruited two new experienced foreigners: a curious player from Luxembourg, Gilbert Dussier, who was born in Zaire (Congo Kinshasa), and played already in West Germany and France. He came from Nancy and lasted only this year, moving to Belgium after the end of the season. Dussier hardly ever stayed longer then a season in the same club. The other one came from Antwerp (Belgium), but he was Yugoslavian – Zarko Olarevic. Unlike Dussier, the forward stayed, becoming a key player of Lille. Along with the re-enforcement some good players were at hand – Pleimelding, Simon, Dos Santos. Good enough professionals, a first division material. Lille looked stronger than Angers, perhaps the best of the promoted, but hardly capable of more than fighting for survival in the top league. Strong enough for winning second division.

Paris FC finished second, missing direct promotion, but still having a chance.

Paris FC was relegated from First Divison in 1973 and finally were strong enough to try a return. If 'return' is the right word... for the young club with strange history, leading to scandals and a split, giving birth of Paris Saint Germain, probably lost even hatred for Paris SG, taking 'their' place among the best French clubs by now. Paris FC only hoped to establish themselves at top level and may be then they would think of some real development. So far, they failed in their first attempt. It was their second chance, which they did not miss – at the expense of Besancon. Going up... the club was hoping, but in vein. Hope was strong at the end of 1977-78 season.

Hope is one thing, reality quite another. Paris FC already was financially limited. Back in the summer of 1977 they recruited only one player. True, they had few – may be not very ambitious, but good enough – players, like the goalkeeper Charrier, B. Lech, Lhoste, Bourgeois. Nothing exceptional, so some additions were badly needed. But there was only one – Nebojsa Zlataric (not on the photo), taken from Marseille. The Yugoslavian striker was supposed to bring some class... whether he did is debatable: he was out after the season's end. Paris FC clinched promotion, but it was clear that they needed better players. At the end, Lille and Paris FC provided more interesting data about Yugoslavian export rules than French football: by 1977 the old rules regulating Yugoslavian export eroded to almost absurdity. Still national team players, the best Yugoslavs, that is, had to wait until reaching 28-years of age and were required to serve in the Army before getting permission to play abroad. But.. not everybody was subjected to the rules and lesser known players may be not at all. Olarevic (Lille), good, but not star player, was 27 and already played in Belgium. Zlataric was 24 when arrived in Paris, but he already played 2 years for Marseille. In fact, he played more in France than he did in Yugoslavia. Back home, Zlataric appeared in a single season with the jersey of small, hardly heard of lower tier club – Macva (Budva). Olarevic at least played for Vojvodina (Novi Sad) before moving abroad. Strange anyway, for when top players often had to wait for years, losing chances to play for great clubs as a result, little known players were easily moving to the West. Zlataric very likely did not even ask for permission, judging by his age. And he benefited by the strong reputation of Yugoslavian football – he was recruited by Marseille. Alas, he failed – either not so talented, as hoped, or lazy, or who knew what. At 24, he was stepping down, to second division. And he never became a big name player. Did not last in Paris FC either.