Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Serie B or Second Division. It was the bastion of defensive football, which dragged Italy down in the 1970s. Changes come slow in the second tier, old ways persist – it was and is everywhere, not just in Italy. The 20-team league produced mostly ties – not a single club had less than 10. Only two clubs finished with more wins than ties. Goal scoring was not the aim – only 6 clubs scored more than a goal per game average. Not a single team achieved 2 goals per match, though : the highest average belonged to Udinese – 52 goals in 38 games : 1.37 average... Two of the best scoring teams reached only 39 goals. Defense was king and the strategy : tie the match, get a point, and don't risk.
Bari were the best at that – they managed to tie 23 of their championship matches. This was good enough for 16th place... that is, barely escaping relegation zone.
Right after them were Taranto – 21 ties. Behind Bari only in terms of ties – in the final table they were a place ahead of Bari : 15th, but thanks only on better goal-difference. The third highest number belonged to Ternana – 20 ties.
Ternana finished with only one point more than Taranto and Bari, but a point meant a lot in such league – Ternana finished 10th. Not bad, when all is over and the danger of relegation is gone : 5 teams finished with 35 points and 3 with 36 – 8 clubs barely survived, yet... the top among them was 9th, respectable mid-table position. If there was a club able to achieve the perfect dream – to tie every match played, such a team would had been 9th this year and two points ahead of half the league. But dreams are not reality and 9th was Sampdoria.
There is strong impression nowadays that Sampdoria is traditionally big Italian club, but it is false : Sampdoria were almost nobodies back in the 1970s and earlier, often found in the second division. The name rings a bell, but one pf their close companions do not :
Sambenedettese, an obscure club on the same level with Sampdoria ? Actually, yes – they were one of the almost constant members of second division. Never strong, so they were not among the leaders, but never too weak either. Mid-table club, like Sampdoria. 11th this year, but behind Sampdoria only on goal-difference.
That was pretty much the bulk occupying the mid-table : mostly clubs, which were no stranger to first division, but either fading away and slowly sinking (Spal, Taranto), or shaky and not ready for another try to stay among the best (Cesena, Genoa, Brescia, Palermo).
Palermo is always worth a glance, because of their rare colours – not many clubs play in pin. Not many clubs play on clay too... But this is now – back in the 1970s it was not unusual, although here Palermo is not lining for championship match – most likely for a friendly, visiting some tiny club. On grass – or partially grassed pitch – they tied 19 games and finished 7th with 41 points. So much for the bulk of the league, the typical clubs.
The last four were relegated – three outsiders and a team which came relatively close to salvation. Two were more or less expected outsiders, the other two were down on their luck.
Varese were last with 24 points. Not a big clubs and familiar with dreaded last place, but familiar with last place in first division. Now they were last in Serie B and going to get acquinted with third division football. A club in decline.

Rimini finished 19th with 24 points, like Varese, but better goal-difference. One of the expected outsiders, so nothing strange they were relegated. Rimini distinguished themselves with 2 seasonal records : the won the least matches – measly 3 out of 38 total – and scored the least goals in the league – 17. They also had vaguely familiar player : Massimo Piloni was reserve goalkeeper of Juventus for 8 years in which he played 12 matches, but was 3 times champion nevertheless. He moved to Pescara in 1975 and played regularly for three years, then joined Rimini. The beard he grew after leaving Juventus did not help much... after traveling Europe, he was to get familiar with Italian countryside in third division.
Nocerina ended 18th and nothing surprising for a club which highest dream was reaching second division. No Italian champions like Piloni here, but the modest club tried hard to stay in the league – they finished with 29 points – 5 more than Rimini and Varese. Yet, they were 4 points behind the club immediately above them and did not have a chance surviving.
17th and also relegated were Foggia with 33 points.
All is relative – Foggia is almost always an outsider when in Serie A, but in second division they were ranked high and considered candidates for promotion, not relegation. But since relegation is something so painfully familiar to the club, the pattern continued in a way. Weak they were this season – came close to safety, but only that : two points short, and down they went.
The top of the table somewhat mirrored the bottom – 4 clubs fought for 3 promotional spots. They were divided, just like the bottom four – two teams finished with eagual points, far from better two. The best team was without competition. Monza and Pescara finished with 48 points each, Pescara taking the third place on better goal-difference. Since promotion was concerned, play-off was staged.
A strong, even surprising, season for Monza, which was not usually a candidate for promotion. 4th place in the final table, but still having a chance to reach Serie A. A| matter of one match... but they were 4th and 4th they stayed : they lost the play-off 0-2. Unlucky ? Or tradition trumping novelty ?
Pescara finished 3rd in the season, and won the promotional play-off. May be the key was their better atack -they scored more than Monza during the year. They scored in the vital play-off too – the weaker Monza strikers did not. Lucky Pescara, but what an irony : Massimo Piloni left the club before the season and at the end his former teammates were going to play in first division, and he – in third.
Cagliari, down on their luck, finished second. At the start of the decade Cagliari were champions. They had famous squad, studded with stars. Riva was playing for them. But the squad aged, some players moved elsewhere, Riva retired, money was short, perhaps the moment of starting rebuilding was missed, and Cagliari slowly declined until sinking to second division. Which was not a place for them – with some difficulties and struggles, Cagliari managed to finish 2nd , besting Pescara and Monza by a point. At least exile did not last long...

Returning to Serie A, but it was clearly weak team – only Longobucco rings a bell, and he was neither young, nor a star. Cagliari escaped from Serie B, but the future did not look bright.
The champions were the only really raising club – or so it seemed. Dominant and confident, the most attacking team in the league, having also the best defense. 21 wins – the next best record was 16 – and only 4 losses. 52:22 goal-difference. 6 points ahead of the 2nd placed Cagliari – the winners appeared to be well-rounded team, without weaknesses. It was not exactly a club with familiar name – Udinese did not play much in first division, so their rise was very optimistic news. Something new – and may be different. May be not one-time wonder. And looking like a double of Juventus – the kit is the same – was also a positive sign, if only on superstitious level.
Udinese – supreme champions of Serie B. A double of Juventus ? Well, not fully – their away colours were entirely different.
A rare picture of Udinese in their second kit at the time.
Promising team, great season, but like every other second division team, Udinese did not have famous players. Not even recognizable names... whatever familiar names played in Serie B, they belonged to other clubs – like the top scorer of the season Damiani, a former Juventus striker, who now scored goals for Genoa. The strength of Udunese apparently was their well-rounded squad, players comfortable with each other, performing well as a whole. Was it enough for Serie A ?