Saturday, November 30, 2013
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Monday, November 18, 2013
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Monday, November 11, 2013
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
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
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.
Monday, November 4, 2013
Saturday, November 2, 2013
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.
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.
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.