Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Monday, July 28, 2014

Northern Ireland – familiar year: dominant leader, closed league without promotion and relegation, nothing new. Distillery (Belfast) was the weakest club this season – 7 points in total. A team like that should not have been among the best... but it was and the reason was largely preservation of the league itself. Unfortunately, Northern Ireland had the most inconvenient circumstances in the whole Europe. Mere survival of championship, a really sad story. Even the best club was not strong. It was Linfield, of course.
Another comfortable title – pointless to count how many. They lost 2 matches, won 14, tied 6, ended 6 points ahead of the second placed Glenavon.

Since there were no big changes from the squad a year before, the only conclusion is that this team had no good enough players to join English or Scottish clubs. A squad for domestic consumption... and much stronger than the rest of the league.
The Cup final opposed different teams – mid-table ones. Cliftonville vs Portadown. In its own way, a dramatic final.
The quality may have not been high, but it was spirited and tightly contested final. Goals were scored one after another.
Portadown tried hard – it was good to win a trophy, but they were a goal short at the end. 2-3. The Cup stayed in Belfast.
Cliftonville bravely kept their precious advantage to the last whistle. What else to say? Happy winners.
Here they are, Cup and all.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Reforms were going on around European leagues, all in hope of bettering the local football. Finland caught the desire in 1979 – the league remained the same, 12 clubs, but the championship was made of two phases: first the preliminary stage, which was the traditional formula – all clubs played against each other twice. Then the top 8 played a third round of single match against other in the so-called 'championship group'. The bottom 4 plus the best of the Second Division played a round-robin tournament in the 'promotion/relegation group'. The benefits of such formula are ever dubious: may be at first they attracted more fans, but it was short-lived fad. The quality of the game and particularly the class of the teams hardly changed. One thing was certain: such championship are statisticians nightmare – how to count the extra games in the mixed mini-league? It was neither first, nor second division. On itself – the number was small and there was hardly a club playing regularly in those tournaments. But the experiment started and the results perhaps supported the view of the skeptic critics. OPS Oulu built a 3-point lead during the first stage and finished first, followed by KuPS Kuopio and HJK Helsinki. KTP Kotka was 8th, 3 points ahead of the bottom 4 clubs. The top eight moved to their championship stage, carrying their records from the first round.
 The bottom four – KPK Kokkola, Ilves Tampere, Pyrkiva Turku, and MiPK Mikkeli, finishing in this order – grouped with  the top four of the Second Division -  MP Mikkeli, OTP Oulu, Sepsi-78 Seinajoki, and GrIFK Kauniainen, in that order. All clubs started with bonus points depending on their place in the preliminary round – the top with 4 points, and so on down to the last with 1 point. Thus, KPK Kokkola and MP  Mikkeli started with 3 points advantage to MiPK Mikkeli and GrIFK Kauniainen. As there is no really working formula for mixed groups, this one was good as any other and the tournament started – a single-match round-robin. The top 4 were to play in First Division the next season; the bottom 4 – in the Second. The lowest of the first stage from both divisions remained lowest – GrIFK finished last and MiPK – 7th. The winners of the preliminary stage of Second Division  - MP Mikkeli – dropped terribly their form and ended 6th only because of the bonus points. Without them, they were the worst in the final stage. Pyrkiva Turku, last in the preliminary stage, now ended 6th – still relegated. That is, 2 clubs of the First Division went down – as it was traditionally anyway. And the relegated were the last two in the top division – they were to be relegated in traditional championship. As for those surviving and promoted – KPV Kokkola dropped to third place, but starting with 4 points perhaps they did not put too much effort – here the point was not to be first: what really counted was only not to drop bellow 4th place. KPV Kokkola ended 3rd. Ilves Tampere were clearly the best – or at least the most determined to keep their place among the top – they did not lose a match, won 4, and tied 3. Even without bonus points they were to finish first. 
Second finished OTP Oulu – they were second in the preliminary stage, so no matter the formula, they were getting promotion with or without final round. 
 The only club really taking advantage of the innovation was Sepsi-78.
The team from Seinijoki finished third in the preliminary stage – just outside promotion zone in a traditional championship. Now having a chance, they went for it and clinched 4th place, meaning promotion to First Division. Well done. At the end, the real losers were MP Mikkeli.
Standing from left: Heikki Kangaskorpi, Markku Hämäläinen, Arto Hirvonen, Erkki Himanen, Vesa Tyrväinen, Seppo Hujanen, huoltaja Matti Tuominen, valmentaja Antero Hyttinen, valmentaja Eero Karppinen.
First row: Vesa Liikanen, Jukka Kaarna, Markku Kääriäinen, Juha Vuori, Reijo Vaittinen, Juha Viitikko, Silvo Niskanen.
Under normal circumstances, they were champions of the Second Division – and promoted. But they had to blame only themselves – after all, they started with 4 bonus points and they blew away their season at the end.
Yet, even with their failure the new formula hardly changed anything – apart from MP Mikkeli, one of the promoted and two of the relegated were to do exactly that without extra games. No matter what, the better were still better and lowly – lowly.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Monday, July 14, 2014

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

At the bottom of football hierarchy, Luxembourg was not a big news:

Spora Luxembourg and
Stade Dudelange won promotions from Second Division – both clubs were relegated the previous year and came back right away.
One of the newcomers to First Division finished hopelessly last.
Young Boys (Diekirch) earned only 8 points – 9 less then the team just above last place. Even in the weakest divisions there were especially weak clubs...
11th place was dreaded by 5 teams, almost half the league.
Alliance (Dudelange) were the second unlucky club – 17 points relegated them, exchanging divisions with their city rivals Stade.
Up the league four clubs fought for bronze medals – Union Luxembourg got them with 25 points, but they were far away from the title. The contenders were two and they went head to head to the very end, both finishing with 34 points. Goal difference decided the title: Red Boys (Differdange) had better one and won. They, however, were not to finish with one trophy – Red Boys reached the Cup final.
Aris (Bonnevoie) were the other finalists and the final was not without drama – regular time produced no winner. Red Boys excelled in extra time – the aggregate result was 4-1. A double and the interesting thing was that both trophies were won by a hair – on goal-difference and in extra time. All or nothing, but everything at the end.
13th Cup and 6th title for Red Boys – an excellent season, but little they knew of the future... this was the last title in the history of the club.
The unlucky ones were the champions of the previous year.
Progres lost just one match this season – Red Boys lost 2 – and scored the most goals in the league. Defense betrayed them though and they finished second. The consolation was a visit to Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid – a visit, for playing against Real Madrid in the first round of the European Champions Cup was doomed affair. So they photographed themselves at the famous venue for posterity.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Debut - Thomas Lafchis: