Monday, September 22, 2014

As for the best of Czechoslovakian football, it was expected and familiar group – Banik (Ostrava), Zbrojovka (Brno), and Dukla (Prague). Zbrojovka, the champions of the previous season, were expected to be among the favourites, although it was hard to see them champions again. The club was strong and steady for some time, but lacked depth. No quality players were recruited between the seasons, so it was the same squad which won the 1977-78 championship, for good or bad. They still played well, but were not contenders this time: comfortably getting 3rd place, but 6 points behind the top two. Banik was one of the strongest and most consistent clubs during the 1970s and continued to be so – once again they aimed at the title and fought bravely to the very end. However, they were similar to Zbrojovka – with some aging stars and without influx of new blood, they had shortcomings and short bench of reserves. Yet, Banik had plenty of experience and ambition too. It was especially hard to best them – Banik finished with only 5 losses this year, nobody had a better record. Scoring was not their forte, but they collected enough points – 41. Again, no one bested that... so it came to goal-difference and the superior scoring power of Dukla won. Banik ended with +22, Dukla with +41!

It looked like Dukla fully recovered and was going to be the dominant Czechoslovakian club again. They had the best squad in the league by far and more importantly, it was not based on aging stars. Dukla practically had the 'next' generation of Czechoslovakian football – as a whole, about 17 players played for the national team, but the core of them were those defining the next strong period of Czechoslovak football: 1980-1984. Vizek, Stambachr, Barmos, Berger – no longer promising youngsters, no longer in the shadow of the great players of the first half of the 1970s, but rapidly becoming the stars of the country and the key players of the national team. Vejvoda continued to lead his squad to victory. It was still a time of transition, and the old guard was strong enough to compete with the younger players of Dukla, but the future belonged to the boys in yellow. The team already had depth and no doubt new talent was to be added, given the advantage the army club had: not only located in Prague, but benefiting from the universal military service – they were able to get whoever player they wanted as soon as he had to serve in the army. Dukla perhaps was not quite ripe – they clinched the title only because of better goal-difference, but their dominance was clearly visible: every other club was more or less either over the hill, or already in decline – Dukla was the only team rising, not yet reaching its full potential.
Older feet were still running strong, though. Banik (Ostrava) reached the Cup final. The other finalist was not Dukla, but Lokomotiva (Kosice). They were perhaps the best Slovak team at the time, enjoying their peak. Which was not all that much: Lokomotiva never had more than 2-3 real stars and even in their best years – perhaps no more than 6-7 solid players. Not bad for a small club, but hardly enough for major impact. Inconsistency was the result – one year strong, not so in the next. Lokomotiva finished third in the 1977-78 championship. In 1978-79 they were down at 11th place. But a squad like theirs was better suitable for cup tournaments. Lokomotiva won the Cup in 1977 – now they were playing at the final again. To a point, they had it easier than Banik – the national cup was played between the winners of the Czech and Slovak cups, and with Slovak clubs in sharp decline, Lokomotiva had weaker opposition. But never mind, the Cup final was another matter. Lokomotiva prevailed 2-1 and won their second cup!
It was great success – how many small clubs win the national cup twice in three years? It was the best period in the history of the club: the Cup in 1977, then bronze medals from the championship in 1978, and the Cup was theirs again in 1979. Before 1977 they had only one star – Moder. Now there were more – Seman, Kozak, Josza, Biros. Pavol Biros, formerly of Inter (Bratislava), was more than valuable recruit – he was already a national team player. Yet, Lokomotiva hardly had a chance of becoming a big force in the league: it was compact team, belonging to a modest club. Not much growth was possible – which made winning the Cup even sweeter: it was against the odds.