‘Some people believe that football is matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude, it is much, much more important than that.’
Thursday, October 23, 2014
heavily criticized season in USSR. A big fiasco of the national team
perhaps was the bitterest reason, but there was more. Strange too.
During the 1970s almost every season had new formula and 1979 was no
exception. Two things were new – the first was increase of first
and second divisions. The top league went from 16 to 18 clubs and the
second – from 20 to 24. Why? On the surface, a huge country had the
resources of supporting bigger leagues – sheer size demanded it.
USSR had huge leagues before, but they were reduced because they were
not competitive enough and the differences between clubs were so big,
there were no benefits. Nobody saw anything positive after the 1979
ended and rightly saw. The number of quality players was limited and
even USSR had bright and promising young generation – junior teams
played very successfully at the newly introduced junior world
championship – it was not translating into stronger clubs. Just
the opposite: most teams, speaking for the premier league only, were
in poor shape. Even mighty clubs like CSKA and Dinamo Moscow had poor
squads. As for the second division, the reason was the Spartakiad –
the domestic Olympics, which USSR organized long time ago and
continued to stage as the highest show of Soviet sport – an
all-sports affair, in which the republics of the union competed. But
times changed and the Spartakiad was no longer what it was,
especially in collective sports – national team players were not
involved and many classy players were not invited to the republican
selections. It was becoming more of a tournament for youthful teams.
However, the political clout of the tournament was big and two
republics successfully argued that their clubs should play in second
division in order of better preparation for the Spartakiad –
Turkmenia (Turkmenistan today) and Kyrgizia (Kyrgizstan today) won
and the division was increased. That meant that only one club was
relegated from top flight – Dnepr (Dnepropetrovsk). Lokomotiv
(Moscow) got a lucky break and stayed in first division. The first
three of second division were promoted. Thus second division was left
with 18 clubs. None was relegated, perhaps because the last in the
league was Kolkhozchi (Ashkhabad) from Turkmenia. The 6 winners of
the third division zones were all promoted: Traktor (Pavlodar), Alga
(Frunze), Fakel (Voronezh), Metallist (Kharkov), and Spartak
(Nalchik). Only one was from a republic wanting to prepare itself
better for the Spartakiad – Alga represented Kyrgizia. If the
reason was truly the case argued by Turkmenia and Kyrgizia, the
results were quite strange: only two clubs of these republics
appeared in second division – one was dead last the previous season
and should have been relegated, the other played a bit second
division before and was not up to the challenge. Because of two very
weak clubs the league was enlarged to 24 teams – so it seems...
More games was thought helpful, but in the same time weak teams
struggled financially and bigger number also brought better
opportunity for unambitious mid-table clubs to keep mediocre teams
and not to worry a bit. As a whole, the 6 newcomers were not thought
to increase the quality of the league – at least three of them were
clearly inferior and did not belong. But this was the new format and
it was to stay for the next season – the bottom 6 were to be
relegated and the 6 zone winners – promoted.
second change was still about the ties – the very reason rules were
changed practically every season during the 1970s. Now it was to be a
limit – only 8 ties brought points. Above that limit – no points.
That was for top flight. In the second division the limit was 12
ties. So far, nothing worked and the new rule was also doubted.
However, the problem was huge, that any new try was rather accepted
than criticized in advance. The clubs did not like it as they did not
like any previous innovation – ties were bread and butter for most
clubs: sure points and no trouble. Of course, there were diminishing
crowds, for who wants to watch two teams leisurely walking on the
pitch without the slightest effort to attack and score, but as long
as a club stayed in the league – happiness prevailed. Meantime the
whole system developed big ills, side effects of the 'secure' living.
Perhaps the biggest side effect was neglect of development of players
and almost complete breakage of inter-leagues relations. Every league
was almost entirely independent universe, existing on its own,
without any interest in the other universes. Problems were usually
articulated in post-season analysis and reviews.
for the new rule, it was cautiously considered helpful: still 12 of
the 18 first division clubs exceeded the limit, but only 4 in the
second division. However, it was different than before: not team
ended with half of their seasonal matches tied. Scoring slightly
increased. A small positive step was made, but the negatives were
Division was judged almost entirely in negative terms in the
post-season. Some problems were unavoidable because of the sheer size
of USSR: the 6 third division zones were made more or less on
geographic lines. The European zones, especially those consisting of
Russian and Ukrainian clubs, were relatively strong – some clubs
were at least at second division level. Going East was different
story – quality rapidly decreased. The zonal leagues were very
large – the reason went that quantity may lead to quality. 24 clubs
played in Zone V, perhaps the weakest of all, where clubs of the
furthest East played. It was very trying league: geographically, it
covered huge portion of Siberia plus Uzbek, Kyrgiz, and Turkmen
clubs. Hard to reach places – travel itself was a challenge and
financial strain, not to mention the climatic differences: one day a
team plays in frozen Tyumen, the next – in the scorching desert of
Samarkand. Big cities like Chelyabinsk had infrastructure and perhaps
even fans, but there were also barely known places hard to reach like
Karshi. To remedy the inconveniences, teams played three matches at
home and then three on the road, but this was interrupting training
and rest without cutting down expenses. Teams spend lots of time
traveling and idling in poor hotels. Many a coach felt that a zonal
league should be no larger than 18 teams. Facilities were heavily
criticized too – they were plain poor in most places. Sometimes it
took three days just to reach the destination. There had been few
changes in the members of leagues – for years they were practically
the same, for very few clubs went up or down, which in turn affected
the squads: same players traveled from club to club and coaches were
able to tell the possible strength of the opposition just by the list
of familiar from elsewhere names. No surprises at all, so there was
no need to train very hard. No need for developing home-grown talent
either: it was easier just to get familiar names from the vast pool.
There were no facilities for training the youth anyway and any
attempt for developing youth system meant only unwelcome expenses. As
a result, the big clubs were not interested scouting third division –
connections were already completely severed, so neither third
division coaches, nor players had any ambitions: they knew all too
well that no matter how they played, nobody will notice them and
invite them to big club. With time, vast chasm opened between third
division and the second: promoted clubs were much weaker and did not
last up. Because of that, normally the zonal winners played a final
tournament for three promotions – but now there were 6. Every zonal
winner was going up. Which brought to attention the internal
differences in the third division itself: normally, there were no
more than three relatively strong and ambitious clubs in a single
zone. The analysis of the season sadly concluded that there was
nothing new at all – 10 clubs competed for 6 promotional places.
The rest did not play a role at all... as ever. No wonder it was
estimated that 75% of the matches were played in practically empty
division splendor: Tekstilshtik (Ivanovo) scores against Dinamo
(Bryansk). The season was deemed successful for Tekstilshtik – they
finished second in Zone I, one of the stronger zones. However, they
ended 11 points behind the champions – one may have expected more
bite from a team no long ago playing in second division. But at least
the picture shows attendance and modern uniforms, at least the shorts
of the unlucky goalkeeper... The pitch, however, is another – and
more typical – story.
lets go directly to the winners, for there is hardly anything else
exciting about third division.
I: Iskra (Smolensk) was without competition. They lost only three
matches, earned 73 points, scored 86 goals, and left Tekstilshtik
(Ivanovo) 11 points behind.
Standing, from left:
Genady Gorbunov, Vladimir Babenko, Valery Andreev, Andrey Abzhinov,
Evgeny Martyanov, Vladimir Baytekov – administrator,Lev Platonov –
coach, Evgeny Miroshnikov – team chief, Roman Padura, Vyacheslav
Murashkintzev, Aleksandr Novikov.
Genady Svitavsky, Valery Danilenko, Anatoly Kuptzov, Dzemal
Silagadze, Vladimir Ermichev, Anatoly Olkhovik, Aleksandr Gordov.
'brought joy to the fans' , it was said... much later. True, in
part... Iskra played in relatively strong Russian group and also
going up was great moment. The team is of course anonymous, but they
had a star – Dzemal Silagadze was well known player and once upon a
time even a big promise. Certainly he had glorious days in the past,
but now represented in a nutshell the third division predicament: one
fading star was more or less enough for winning. An ambitious team
perhaps was best recognized by such a player – recruited precisely
for elevating the team above the rest. Usually it worked. This was
also an old club – founded in 1937, although named differently.
Named 'Iskra' (Spark) in 1964.
having a star player meant lowly, but secure existence. Dinamo
(Bryansk) – a typical eternal third division member.
from left: A. Takranov, S. Antonov, A. Lapin, S. Troitzky, V.
Lagutin, M. Baranov, A. Shagin.
V. Sychev, S. Bystritzky, V. Babichev, V. Novikov, V. Zimin –
coach, A. Khokhlov, N. Suetin – administrator.
II – largely Ukrainian league, hence, one of the best third
division group. Slightly tougher championship than Zone I. More or
less, three teams eyed the first place, but at the end Kolos
(Nikopol) left the potential rivals SKA (Kiev) 4 points behind. SKA
(Lvov) dropped out earlier. Kolos was very young club – founded in
1973 and representing not the city of Nikopol, but the whole Nikopol
district. This perhaps explains their success: financially, they were
supported by the whole district, thus able to aim higher. Of course,
they played only in the city of Nikopol.
(Vinitza) was typical third-division permanent member. Down in the
table this season, but out of any danger. Just most clubs...
became better known to the world only after Ukraine became
independent and Niva was included in the Ukrainian first division.
Something they were unable even to dream of in the Soviet times.
III – generally, mixed group of Russian and Ukrainian clubs plus
some Caucasian ones. Dinamo (Stavropol) was the only favourite,
ending 12 points ahead of Rotor (Volgograd). The oldest of all third
division winners – founded in 1924, but not successful at all. The
only club among the winners which never changed its name.
IV – Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, and some Russian clubs. The
only competitive league – three clubs fought to the end, Guria
(Lanchkhuti) prevailing by a point over Lokomotiv (Samtredia), and 3
points ahead of Karabakh (Stepanakert). Southern flair: goal-scoring
was everything and to hell with defense. Guria scored 110 goals,
Lokomotiv – 109. South being South, some fixing and back room deals
may be took place, but Soviet football was corrupt anyway, so it
could be only difference in scale. Guria was founded in 1952 under
the name 'Kolmeurne' (Kolkhoznik, in Georgian). Became Guria in 1960.
So far, the club meant absolutely nothing to anyone , but they were
to climb much higher in the 1980s. As a bit of curious trivia: Rubin
(Kazan) played in this league.
row, from left: S. Agafonov, E. Golov – administrator, A. Mashin,
S. Shilyakov, N. Daminov, O. Orlov, A. Aladin, V. Golikov.
A. Beryuchevsky – coach, A. Ivanov, I. Dolgopolov, R. Navrozov –
assistant coach, V. Skiba – team doctor, R. Shagivaleev, V. Usenko,
A. Semenov, I. Zagidullin, G. Vostokov – assistant coach.
in the 24-team league. The past of nowadays Russian powerhouse...
nothing to brag about.
V: The Asian republics – Kazakhstan, Turkmenia, Uzbekistan,
Kyrgizia played here. Plus few Siberian Russian clubs. The weakest
league, most likely. No real race for the title – Buston (Dzhizak)
6 points clear from the nearest pursuer, Shakhrikhanetz
(Shakhrikhan), which was 7 points ahead of the third finisher
Aktyubinetz (Aktyubinsk). Buston was founded in 1970 and so far
managed to use four names – DSK, Trud, then in 1975 was renamed
Buston, which was not final name either. In 1976 the name was
Irrigator, changed back to Buston in 1978. More name changes
followed – perhaps, this is the most important historic note of the
club. They hailed from Uzbekistan – the Spartakiad, remember?
VI – the furthest East, Siberia at the end of the world. Plus a bit
of Kazakhstan and may be some other Asian republics. If there was any
strength, it was located on the Pacific Ocean coast and industrial
cities – Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Omsk,
Tomsk, Ust-Kamenogorsk. But... too far away and too much in the North
for some real success. It was just hard enough to play the game in
the ice and upper league would be a nightmare for all involved,
because of the enormous travels. Thus, the league was a bit on its
own – local heroes, unknown anywhere else. Two clubs competed head
to head for the title – Shakter (Karaganda) lost by a point. SKA
(Khabarovsk) clinched the first place with 59 points. Founded in 1946
army club,which followed the general line of name changes of the
whole military-club system. Under the name SKA since 1960 – like
all their sister clubs scattered in the USSR. Sometimes they even had
good players – thanks to the relations with 'mother club' CSKA
Moscow. Young talent sent East to get experience or the odd veteran
generously given to the little brother when CSKA no longer needed
him. But currently CSKA was in dire straits, so little help was
6 winners brought joy only at home. Outside reaction was frosty –
third division reviewer spoke only of deficiencies and problems. Not
a single club was mentioned as a positive example. The winners
apparently like everyone else, just more persistent this year. Second
division commentators were even harsher – they did not see why such
clubs should be playing in second division at all. They were certain
that the league will be not stronger because of the newcomers and all
were expected to be relegated immediately. The just finished season
proved exactly that – the clubs for which the league was enlarged
ended at the bottom, going back to third division. Where they
belonged, surely having nothing to do with upper level football. The
newcomers were of the same ilk. No welcome for the winners at all.
I am Vesselin Vesselinov, born in Bulgaria and living in Canada. Football is my hobby since childhood – not the most important part of my life, but lifelong addiction nevertheless. Playing, watching, talking and collecting football. Now I am sharing my addiction with you. Hope you enjoy it.