Monday, January 6, 2014

Second Division played standard champion – no innoventions and experiments here, which was odd, since the leagues above and below played under different rules. The championship brought little enthusiasm and lots of critical observations. It was the season when least away games were won in the history of the league: only 54. Ties were not predominant results, yet, attacking football was not the aim either – most teams depended on home victories, played carefully and without hazard. 'Fear of mistakes', was noticed – the players preferred quickly to pass the ball to somebody else, just to avoid risks. The games were dull, ambition was entirely lacking. Another historic 'first' happened – 11 points divided the 4th and 5th placed clubs at the end. So big divide was seen only as massive interest in safe, uneventful existence in second division. Most clubs were accused for a long time of that. Same with individual players – the number of noticeable ones was tiny. Most just kicked the ball around year after year. Zhalgiris (Kaunas) distinguished themselves with seasonal record of 19 ties – that is, exactly 50% of their total championship matches. This kind of football paid off... Zhalgiris finished 7th. Far away of relegation fears and in the upper half of the final table – good season! Most clubs were just like that: here is Kuban (Krasnodar), 6th in the final table – a place above Zhalgiris thanks to more wins, but behind Terek (Grozny) because Terek had better head-to-head record (the three clubs finished with 41 points each, 11 less than the 4th placed Karpaty).

Third row, from left: V. N. Sereda – team director, V. Vassiliev, A. Bagapov, V. Shitikov, A. Semenyukov, V. Zhivotikov, V. Lavolin, M. Mironov, A. Artemenko, V. A. Grokhovsky – coach.

Middle row: ?, K. Rzhepishevky, S. Andreychenko, V. G. Korolkov – head coach, V. Batarin, A. Chugunov, A. Rybak.

First row: V. Kazakov, A. Ploshnik, Yu. Chebotarev, V. Fursa, V. Koretzky, Yu. Ter-Oganessyantz, E. Polovinko, Yu. Semin, V. Korovkin.

Of course, not big names here, but few players used to play in top division. Chugunov, Rybak, and the future top Russian coach Yury Semin exemplified the typical case: good players, perhaps capable of much more than playing second tier football, but lacking any desire to do so. Quite satisfied to be big fish in a small pond and not to be troubled with anything else.

Down the table things only became more pathetic. Feeling safe, Kusbass practically lost interest and got 0 points in their last 6 championship games. They finished 16th, sharing points with Uralmash. Why bother, since nobody was to be relegated this year? The last three were known in advance – the suddenly plummeting Spartak (Ordzhonikidze – today Spartak Vladikavkaz) was 18th, Dinamo (Leningrad), once upon a time strong first division club, but already ailing for years, 19th, and the miserable Kolkhozchy (Ashkhabad) dead last. No surprise at all – Dinamo played with relegation for years, and finally doomsday arrived. Kolkhozchy meandered between second and third division constantly and when in second was practically subscribed for the last place. Now they were in heaven... last, but staying in the league. A luxury, serving no purpose at all.

At the end only four clubs were interested in something different than sedentary life, but even they were nothing special. Freshly relegated from first division Karpaty (Lvov) ended 4th. It was the only team introducing young talent – S. Yurchishin, A. Bal, G. Batich, and Ya. Dumansky, but it was not enough. Sergey Yurchishin was considered almost the most promising young player at the time, but instead he became one of the biggest failures of Soviet football. Andrey Bal went in the opposite direction, becoming one of the great players in the 1980's Dinamo Kiev and USSR. Presently, the quartet was too young, inconsistent, and inexperienced and Karpaty was unable to earn promotion. In fact, it was not the team as such, but just these four players impressing observers and they were only future promise.

Dinamo (Minsk) finished 3rd. Inconsistency plagued them – the team wasted too much time going up and down the league and when finally decided to attack the top, they just lucky there was no competition. Dinamo Minsk changed the coach and the climb was due to the new one - Eduard Malofeev, at the beginning of his career. Under him, Dinamo improved, but too late for anything better than third place. Going up only because the Federation decided on three promotions this year. Lucky Dinamo.

Second ended SKA Rostov, usually a top flight club. More or less, expected candidate for promotion. Not an interesting team – perhaps only more ambitious than the usual league members. If they had anything, this was young and exciting forward and prolific scorer – Sergey Andreev. He was just becoming known, but soon he was to play for the national team. As for this year, he was the top second division scorer with 20 goals.

SKA Rostov – happily returning to first division. Not very promising in 1978, but eventually they improved later.

Krylya Sovetov (Kyubishev) were the champions. Not overwhelming ones, finishing with 56 points. Two more than SKA, earned from 21 wins and 14 ties. As true champions, they did not lose many games – only 3. Perhaps defense was their strongest line. Like SKA Rostov, they failed to impress. Commentators were skeptical – both winners historically played badly the next year, Particularly Krylya Sovetov, which were typical 'unsettled' club – too strong for second level, too weak for top flight.

Proud champions! Sitting from left: Yu. Kutuzov – team doctor, V. Kirsh – coach, G. Fridlyand – team director, V. Solovyov – assistant coach, S. Yarkin – masseur.

Middle row: A. Rotenko, A. Blokhin, Yu. Pilipko, N. Shtukin, A. Bytkin, G. Lisenchuk, V. Mazalov, V. Abramov, V. Losev.

Third row: V. Panfilov, A. Kupriyanov, A. Arutyunyan, R. Sibgatullin, Yu. Elisseev, V. Kuznetzov, A. Fetissov, A. Galiulov.

Mostly fading players, who already failed to survive in First Division. Perhaps the top name was Yury Elisseev – in 1972 he won the Soviet title with Zarya (Voroshilovgrad) and was included in the national team for a short time. By now, getting old and not at all great... able to score goals in second division, but as far as first was considered... Krylya Sovetov actually appeared weaker then Dinamo and SKA Rostov. Winners of the league, promoted, but most likely only to come back after a year or two.

None of the promoted was seen as up and coming team. None was seen as any meaningful addition, improving the top league. All three were found short of talent. They were just slightly better and livelier than the bulk of dour and dull second league clubs.