Monday, March 31, 2014

Greece- slowly rising, very slowly and not all that smoothly. Most of the league was not strong, scandals were frequent, but improvement was noticeable. It was still the time of heroes – long lasting veterans, who more or less elevated Greek football. They were around since the early 1960s and made astonishing records: 4 players had over 400 league appearances after this season. Mimis Domazos was with 490 and Mimis Papaioannou – 458. Neither was quitting yet. The bright side had its counterpart as well – there was mid-season players strike. The clubs fielded their foreigners – for some reason excluded from the strike of the Greek players – and 'amateurs'. The definition is foggy – Greek football became officially professional in 1978-79, if some sources are to be trusted. But players were paid for long time already and the strike was never called anything but strike of professional player. The clubs fielded largely junior team players, luckily for only one championship round. Records of the season specifically separate the group of 'amateurs' used by the clubs and let leave it at that. Corruption was also present – Veria was caught trying to fix matches and 10 points were deducted from their record as a punishment. One may wonder what would have happened if one of the big clubs was found guilty... may be an meaningless question. Apart from that, there were some good news too – the Yugoslavian striker Dusan Bajevic joined AEK (Athens). 
Bajevic, 28-years old, was one of the best Yugoslavian centre-forwards of the 1970s. National team regular for years, the star of the very strong Velez (Mostar), prolific scorer, and part of the good Yugoslavian team at the 1974 World Cup finals. The second real star after the Argentinian 'La Bruja' Veron to come play in Greece. It was even a bit strange – a player of his caliber was expected to join stronger West European league, but a shift was slowly happening – the Greek clubs started buying more Europeans than anonymous South Americans: Yugoslavians, Danes, the odd West German. Foreign coaches were continuously hired too. The top clubs at least were getting stronger.
The positive changes did not yet spread to lower echelons of Greek football.
AS Rodos won the Southern Second Division, and
AE Larisa won the Northern Second Division. Happy to be promoted, but neither club was strong addition to First league.
The newcomers were replacing the unlucky outsiders of First Division:
Veria was last with 18 points – their efforts of fixing matches were transparent enough: to escape relegation. But even if 10 points were not deducted from their record, Veria was still to be relegated.
AO Pierikos (Katerini) finished 17th with 26 points. A little unlucky, for there was large group of clubs concerned only with survival – up to the 9th placed. The luckiest ended with 30 points. However, the relegated were not to be missed.
Only one club of the bulk was obviously improving: OFI Crete.
Only two years earlier the islanders were playing in second division. Historically, OFI were nobodies – they had short first division spell in the 1960s and that was all. Now they had ambition, perhaps money, and may be good organization. Fans turning historians boast that OFI was the club to be... young players from all Greece were eager to join the club. Fancy imagination – no future stars of Greek football are founded in their 1977-78 roster. Even their two Yugoslavians are anonymous – Voukman and Ivanta (the name is clearly changed, may be to make it easier for Greek pronouncing). The only relatively known name is Kostas Liolios, acquired from Olympiakos for this season. But the team was going up – they finished 8th, becoming one of the stable clubs.
The bulk of the league was topped by PAS Giannina at 5th place.
They were running strong thanks to their large group of South Americans and the great mystery around them: players with frequently changing names, one year with their original ones, the next with Greek names, called in the same time 'Argentine-Italians', something not giving them even Greek roots, but never mind. They were for his club and even more. Good, but not good enough to challenge the big clubs.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014

DDR II Division and the lower part of I Division:

Saturday, March 22, 2014

If the championship was surprizing, the Cup tournament was sensational. In the ¼ finals lowly second division club, Chepinetz (Velingrad) faced Levski-Spartak. Nobody even cared for this fixture – at their worst, Levski were to win easily. Chepinetz were just nobodies... they were simply lucky to play against Levski and photograph themselves with the stars for posterity. The match ended in 1-1 tie and went into penalty shoot-out. Which Chepinetz won 4:2. It was unbelievable, but true. Then the draw for the semi-finals: Chepinetz vs CSKA. Miracles happen rarely and are never repeated... the match was in Sofia on top of everything. No chance for Chepinetz whatsoever. Yet, this match also ended 1-1 and went to shoot-out. Miracles are not repeated, but CSKA extracted victory by only 4:3! A tiny club, insignificant even by second division measures eliminated Levski-spartak and almost eliminated CSKA. Fantastic. But that was the end of Cinderella story... CSKA went to the final. There they were meeting Marek (Stanke Dimitrov), who eliminated Lokomotiv (Sofia) in the quarter-finals 2-1, and then had it a bit easier at the semi-finals against the worst first division team, Akademik (Svishtov). Marek won 2-0, but considering their weak season... there was no doubt who the Cup winner will be. CSKA did not have a great year, but they were always ambitious, still had strong chances for a double, and simply had classier squad. And just in case, non-CSKA fans were sure that Marek will be ordered not to put any resistance. It was a final not worth watching at all – the victory of CSKA was sure, the match was to be a mere formality, if not outrageous farce.
The farce ended after half an hour – the right full back of Marek Lyuben Sevdin scored. So far, Marek was fighting well and did not give signs of giving up, but still pessimism dominated: may be putting a resistance in the first half, so the whole affair to be covered. If the second half they will give up and the journalists will write that the team was not match for great CSKA, they got tired, and... what could you expect? The best wins. Marek still have to work a lot to improve their football. Such wisdom vanished when the underdog was suddenly leading. And they bravely fought to the end, preserving the result and winning their first trophy ever. Now, this was sensational. It was minimal victory – only 1-0 – but what a victory!
CSKA finishing empty-handed the season. They were expected to win a double – this they did in a way: twice second-best. 18 national team players (of different years, but still...) losing to mere tiny provincials. May be CSKA got consolation from the fact that in the fall of 1977 Bayern lost a UEFA match to Marek? The mighty Germans lost 0-2 – CSKA did better. May be not... second place equals disaster and shame for a club counting only trophies won.
Marek – the sensational winners. Sitting from left: Emil Kyuchukov, Dimitar Dimitrov, Ventzislav Petrov, Ivan Petrov, Aleksandar Raynov, Sasho Pargov.
Middle row: Dimitar Kukov - assistant coach, Roman Karakolev, Lyuben Kolev, Stoyan Stoyanov, Ivan Palev, Lyuben Sevdin, Yanko Dinkov – coach.
Third row: Stanke Bozhurin, Slavcho Lazov, Lyuben Brankov, Nikolay Vukov, Aleksandar Kyuchukov.
It was precisely the same squad under the same coach which surprised everybody the previous season by finishing third right after winning promotion. Yes, they played very well, but given the limitations of the squad and the vanishing of the surprise element, they were not expected to repeat their great year, let alone win a trophy. And predictions were so far right: Marek still played well, but now everybody knew them and they were at the bottom of the table, trying to avoid relegation. Reaching the Cup final was a bit surprising, but perhaps Lokomotiv (Sofia) chose to concentrate on the fight for the championship and did not care for the cup. Then Marek had been lucky, drawing a weak opponent. Luck is luck, but they won the final against CSKA. They really proved themselves. Yet, it was hard to believe, given their limited squad. Marek practically used only 14 players the previous season and it was absolutely certain that there was nobody behind the regulars. The team badly needed additions... yet, they did not recruit anybody in summer of 1977 and lost their sweeper Nikolay Krastev. Technically, he was still in the squad, but after his leg was broken in the previous season it was clear he was not going to play again. Now they had not more, but fewer good players – the photo of the Cup winning squad perfectly shows the very extend of Marek: the whole third row are reserves, with very few appearances. The back-up goalie Brankov still had to debut in official match. The field players probably had less than 15 appearances in two years each , and hardly anybody played a full match yet: the only play they got was a few minutes of occasional replacement of some regular. The reserves were clearly local boys included because there was nobody else. None of them not only was never a known player, but nobody became a starter for Marek. Marek had bigger squad on paper, but the others were not even good enough for reserves. There is one player missing, the midfielder Assen Tomov – his absence only amplifies the team's limitations: 12 players total to depend on. Tomov was practically the regular replacement, coming every match in the second half. Without him... only 11 left. Imagine one of them injured? Imagine two out of form? And something already a reality, not imagination: already three players were included in the national team. A few more were soon to be called – the regulars were suddenly taxed with too many important games: the championship, the Cup, the European torunaments, the national team matches. It was already a miracle they survived so far. But a heroic team too – despite the objective difficulties, they bested their best year. They won the first trophy for Marek! And, so far, their last... this team will stay heroic and legendary not just for the club and its fans. They truly deserved their success.
It was the season of small clubs and minimal teams – they won everything against expectations and logic. Strange similarity – both Lokomotiv and Marek depended on tiny groups of players, almost all of them home-grown. Their modest, if not entirely unknown coaches, were also closely related to the clubs – more local boys becoming famous out of the blue. An unique season, but also sad... the way they were, both winners were unlikely to stay on top. The most they were to hope for was the big teams to stay away of their players – so far, Levski and CSKA were disinterested... the winners were somewhat not the type of players needed by the big clubs. Levski did not even try to get back its former juniors, the Petrov twins. Even when they were called to the national team and even when Levski badly precisely centre-forward – the very position the twins played. At the end, only two players were taken by the mighty: CSKA took Zdravkov from Lokomotiv and two years later Levski took Lyuben Kolev from Marek. Lucky winners... they could have been robbed entirely. How pleasant it was to see modest clubs win everything, and such minimalistic teams on top of it. Pleasant and amazing, and not to be repeated...

Just because of the uniqueness of the seasonal winners, one more photo of Marek – made right after the Cup final ended and they received the Cup. Because of colour clash, Marek had to play with their second kit. White jerseys, blue shorts, red socks. Or,well... it was not to be their day: CSKA playing in their second kit against some provincial dwarfs? But it is even sweeter to win over heavily favoured opposition, in their home town, and after it is taken for granted that if anybody had to change kits, it is the small, insignificant provincial guys. In a way, Marek's victory was even a kind of symbolic revenge for the harsh and unfair suspension of Kiril Milanov – his troubles started when he was young and playing for Marek and related to CSKA and their powerful supporter in the top of the Communist Party and state leadership.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Monday, March 17, 2014

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Southern B Group was judged weaker than the Northern one – few former First Division members played there and all of them were in decline for years, not a factor at all. Thus, Minyor (Pernik), just relegated from the top league, was seen as sure winner. The rest of the league appeared very similar – the better teams had between one and three known former first division players, generally aging ones – enough for 'solid' performance, but not for aiming at promotion. Minyor was struggling in the fall, when finished 4th – 4 points behind the leader – but there was no fear: better than the rest, they were surely to end on top.

No matter what they did, Minyor were to be champions: sitting from left: G. Ganev, I. Todorov, B. Evtimov, G. Yordanov, V. Bankov.
Middle row: D. Kontev – coach, F. Filipov, A. Divyachky, S. Nikolov, B. Dushkov, V. Naydenov, S. Malinov, Y. Ikonomov – masseur.
Third row: V. Boyanov, A. Slavov, E. Banchev, G. Manolov, Y. Christov, Y. Katrankov.
Minyor was a mirror image of the better clubs of the Northern B group: a core of solid players carried it on so far since 1970. They were dangerously aging – Evlogy Banchev (31), Georgy Yordanov (30), Slavy Malinov (31) – or already reached their peak – Angel Slavov. The team leaders were pretty much alone, though – the other experienced players were rejected by their former clubs – Ganev, Evtimov, Naydenov. They were no leaders, but run of the mill players. And no great talent completed the squad – Boyanov was perhaps the best of the rest, but it was already clear he was not to be a star. Experienced, but rather ordinary team, depending on few old stars. The only exception was a boy not on the photo: the 17-years old winger Mario Valkov. He debuted with a bang and was the only one seemingly capable of replacing the old leaders. But... he was not to last in Pernik. Minyor was clearly unable to even start meaningful rebuilding, but the squad was experienced enough and obviously better than the rest of the league. On paper – yes. In reality Minyor was unable to win – they did not improve much in the spring, adding 24 points to the 22 earned in the fall. With that Minyor finished second. They were not contenders even for a second – the winners left them 9 points behind. So much for surety of predictions.
The winners were one of those clubs never expected to win – veterans of Second Division football, a staple really there, normally found in the upper half of the table. A typical second league club – just happy to play there and never aiming higher. The club did not recruit for more than second league stability, so it was a typical squad – a bunch of vastly experienced club veterans, some youngsters with exactly second-league potential, and two or three former first division players with fading names. The very making of the squad did not suggest any ambition old or new. But this very squad finished first in the fall with 26 points. It still did not look not serious... rather, in the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed was king. Behind were one similar club – Dimitrovgrad – and one surprise – Trakia (Novy Krichim) was third, a club more often playing Third Division football. The top three clubs were expected to drop down in the spring and Minyor to take the first place. But... only Trakia, a tiny club even by second division measures, dropped. The league was quite weak and no big changes happened in the spring: Dimitrovgrad finished third. May be the fall leaders were just caught by the inability of others to gather points, may be they developed some appetite for success – at the end, the fall leaders finished 9 points ahead of everybody: 22 wins, 11 ties, and 5 losses. 55 points, the best attack – 67 goals, the best defense – 27 allowed, most wins in the league and especially impressive number of losses – the next best were Minyor, losing 10 games – twice as many! The champions were overwhelming on paper. The name is Haskovo, a club named after their home city in South-Eastern Bulgaria.

Sitting, from left: Valchan Vassilev, Zhivko Gospodinov, Dimitar Dimitrov, Yordan Kichekov, Lyudmil Mikhalkov, Kostadin Latinov, Ivan Slavov.
Middle row: Petar Aleksiev -coach, Ivan Grudev, Dimitar Zarev, Krassimir Yakimov, Roussy Delchunkov, Pavel Pavlov, Svetlin Cholakov, Atanas Atanassov – assistant coach.
Third row: Dimitar Tekhov, Rossen Stratiev, Toshko Yanev, Valentin Marinov, Nikola Kordov, Saly Shakirov, Lyuben Lyubenov, Nikola Kostov.
This was the biggest success of the club founded in 1957 under the name 'Dimitar Kanev' so far – champions of Southern Second Division and confidently so. Not exactly a Cinderella story, but... the squad was hardly good for top league football. Relatively young team, depending mostly on typical second division players and following the pattern of most second-leaguers: two or three well known names, getting old. The left winger Latinov was the local star and one of the best strikers in the second division for years, already 30 years old. Nikola Kordov was the key figure in defense – at 32, his best years were gone. He was part of the strong Beroe (Stara Zagora) team circa 1967-1973 and was even included in the national team a few times, but injuries and age moved him to Haskovo. Yordan Kichekov was similar – although younger, 27 years old, his best years were already behind him. Five years back he was considered one of the most promising young players in the first division. Then he played for Trakia (Plovdiv), but the promise was not fulfilled – he lost his starting place, moved to Lokomotiv (Plovdiv) and eventually moved again – and down – to Haskovo. The trio shined in Haskovo and made a difference, but it was in the second division. For top flight new players were urgently needed, if Haskovo wanted to survive. As they were, they were not going to last, therefore, the best was just to enjoy their victory and promotion.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Bulgaria - Second Division Northern Group:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Romania - the championship.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The cup was won by Tatabanya. But this was not the Hungarian Cup – it was the winter cup provided by the sports magazine Kepes Sport. A novelty of that time – winter indoor tournaments were popular around Europe, largely to provide some semi-competitive football during the pause between fall and spring halves of the season, partly to help preparations for the spring.
Here are the winners – another feature of such tournaments was that otherwise weak clubs often performed well. No wonder: reserves and new players were tried and the rules varied. It was not futsal at all. With time these tournaments faded away and practically disappeared, so this note is mostly for the sake of history.
As for the real Cup, Ferencvaros and Pecsi MSC reached the final. For the 'peoples club' it was a chance to salvage the disastrous season. For Pecsi MSC too... they were in decline for some time, sinking to the lower half of the table. Once upon a time the club from Pecs was stronger, but not in the 1970s – so a rare opportunity to win a trophy, to restore pride. In the championship Pecsi MSC was worse than Ferencvaros – they finished 13th – and their squad was way weaker, but such things hardly matter at finals. Stakes were high – the 'peoples club' had to come back somewhat in a season dominated by the arch-enemies, the Army and the Police. In the same time the 'provincials' really wanted the noses of the hated big boys from the capital, robbing the provinces all the time. Intriguing rivalries. Perhaps they were not just on paper, perhaps the opponents were not all tha strong, but the final ended in a tie. In the overtime Ferencvaros prevailed 4-2.
One more Cup for Ferencvaros and season saved. Or may be not? The winners look not too happy...

The finalists did their best... and lost. Unfortunately, Pecs had no real argument – apart from their goalkeeper Katzirz they had no classy players. Ferencvaros had a very weak year, but still it was a squad full of former and current national team players.

This squad, led by Tibor Nyilasi, was good for a double. So the names suggest... yet, it ended only with the Cup, and the trophy was won with difficulties. It was better squad than Honved's and probably at par with Ujpesti Dosza's, but... lucky just to salvage this season. For some reason Ferencvaros never really soared in the 1970s. May be they were psychologically weak. May be there was always some missing key ingredient. At least they won the Cup – for the 14th time! And a real Cup, not like Tatabanya's.

Saturday, March 1, 2014