Thursday, October 23, 2014

Another 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.
The 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.
As 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 more.
Third 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 stadiums.
Third 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.
So, lets go directly to the winners, for there is hardly anything else exciting about third division.
Zone 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.
Crouching: Genady Svitavsky, Valery Danilenko, Anatoly Kuptzov, Dzemal Silagadze, Vladimir Ermichev, Anatoly Olkhovik, Aleksandr Gordov.
They '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.
Not having a star player meant lowly, but secure existence. Dinamo (Bryansk) – a typical eternal third division member.
Standing, from left: A. Takranov, S. Antonov, A. Lapin, S. Troitzky, V. Lagutin, M. Baranov, A. Shagin.
Sitting: V. Sychev, S. Bystritzky, V. Babichev, V. Novikov, V. Zimin – coach, A. Khokhlov, N. Suetin – administrator.
Zone 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.
Niva (Vinitza) was typical third-division permanent member. Down in the table this season, but out of any danger. Just most clubs...
They 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.
Zone 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.
Zone 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.
First row, from left: S. Agafonov, E. Golov – administrator, A. Mashin, S. Shilyakov, N. Daminov, O. Orlov, A. Aladin, V. Golikov.
Standing: 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.
Rubin finished 19th in the 24-team league. The past of nowadays Russian powerhouse... nothing to brag about.
Zone 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)
finished 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?
Zone 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 available.
The 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.