First Division was strange, because it appeared upside down – traditional favourites were at the bottom of the table and weaker clubs at the top. Decline was not the only reason, for some clubs were just unexpectedly lousy this season. And as good as some of the former outsiders were in their own terms, none was really emerging as a new powerhouse – more likely was benefiting from the weakness of others, than building their own strength. The newcomers to the league, or rather returnees, for both new clubs had been first league members for years, performed at the both ends at the scale: Vardar (Skopje) had excellent season and finished 7th. Celik (Zenica) was the league's outsider, below everybody else and sunk to the bottom, only to return back to 2nd division. The second relegated team fought to the end lost the battle by a point – Osijek finished 17th, 7 points ahead of Celik, but unlucky.
Two clubs finished at the exact the same positions they had the year before:
Rijeka – 10th. Maintaining mid-table position was perhaps satisfying for both clubs at the moment. One more club maintained its normal during the 1970s position, but it was perilous one:
Olimpija (Ljubljana) played hide and seek with relegation, concerned generally with escaping it and so far survival by a hair: 16th in 1978-79, now – 15th, but both years they finished just a point above relegation zone. This was going on for years. If Olimpija stayed where they were, a group of clubs was clearly in decline: Borac (Banja Luka), Vojvodina (Novi Sad), and most alarmingly, Partizan (Belgrade). Of the three, only Borac was familiar with the bottom end of the table – the other two traditionally were near the top. Partizan was champion in 1977-78. The league was fairly equal up to the 6th position in the final table – 6 points divided Sloboda (Tuzla), 6th, from Osijek, 17th, but the group of those fretting to the end, desperately trying to keep their place in the league included not only Olimpija, the three mentioned above, one more usual outsider – Buducnost (Titograd), but, to a point, Rijeka, Zeljeznicta, Velez (Mostar), and Dinamo (Zagreb). Different cases. Partizan (Belgrade) experienced a crisis as never before: immediately after winning their last title, they dropped 15th place, escaping relegation by a single point. This season they moved two place up the table – 13th, finishing 3 points better than unlucky Osijek. But they fooled no one: the team was fighting not for the title, but for mere survival. They finished with 32 points and finished 13th thanks, losing on goal-difference to Dinamo and lowly Buducnost. Crvena zvezda fans surely enjoyed the suffering of the arch-enemy, but the health of Partizan was to a point a measure of the health of Yugoslavian football, so it was more than just club's crisis. Just above them, edging Partizan only on better goal-difference, finished Dinamo (Zagreb), which perhaps was even more puzzling, if not alarming:
In the previous season Dinamo lost the title only on goal-difference and were considered favourites, for the club finally made a strong new team and were perhaps the most promising side. Instead of winning the title, they struggled to stay in the league... However, Dinamo was different than Partizan – in their case, the weak season was due to the fact that the team was still young and unstable. A momentary slip, yet, a very dangerous one – and, hopefully, a good lesson for the talented bunch.
Similarly, although not to the same frightening point, the other great Croatian club underperformed: Hajduk (Split), the champions of 1978-79, underperformed a bit too and finished 5th.
Hajduk had one of the strongest, if not the best, squad in the country, but a certain tiredness was detected after 1975 – a fate they shared with Velez (Mostar). No longer improving, but rather maintaining their position, slowly moving down. The usual difficult to judge situation, preventing the club from taking big steps into rebuilding: key stars were around, leading the club, solid players assisted them, and young talent was constantly included. Tomislav Ivic was coaching them. Surjak and Muzinic were the stars, famed from the last Yugoslavian appearance at World Cup finals. But it was in 1974... and the stars had few teammates of the same year still: Rozic, Luketin, and Salov. The next generation grew up along the quartet of not old yet 'veterans' – Katalinic was a prime representative, for he reached the national team, but in the same time competition – Budimcevic – was elbowing him. And there was the newest generation at hand: Zoran and Zlatko Vujovic, Ivan Gudelj, Davor Cop. Something was not quite right... and few experienced players were added: Boro Primorac from Velez (Mostar), for instance. It was not like Hajduk – the traditional policy was dependance on home grown talent, not on stars recruited from elsewhere. A good team, yet, not at the level of the team of the first half of the 1970s, when players like Salov and Luketin were mere reserves, not key starters. Velez (Mostar) was in similar position too.
So, which were the improving teams? Sloboda (Tuzla) surely.
Second row from left: Verlasevic, Meskovic, Dzafic, Mujezinovic, Divanefendic, Mehinovic, Mulahasanovic, Cvetkovic, Hadzic M, Dzambic, Miljanovic.
Crouching: Hadzic I, Huseljic, Smajlagic, Sabitovic (fizio), Kovacevic, Sarajlic, Gerum (coach), Gogic, Memisevic, Tomic, Malisevic, Ibric, Geca.
Normally a lowly club, Sloboda experienced a great period at the end of the 1970s – they were 8th the prvious season, now they finished 6th. A strong team by their measures, enforced by the former Hajduk (Split) goalkeeper Rizah Meskovic, who returned from Holland, but compared to Hajduk, the squad was very limited. Strong by local measures, but on national scale rather taking advantage by the weakness of others. Sloboda already moved to the upper part of the table, so nothing really new – the big jump ahead was made by two other traditionally lowly clubs: Napredak (Krusevac) and Radnicki (Nis). They finished with 39 points each, so 3rd and 4th place were decided by goal-difference.
Napredak was unlucky and ended 4th, but what a season they had! The previous year they were still fighting for survival and finished 14th, safe only by a single point. This season they jumped 10 places higher, losing bronze medals by chance.
Radnicki (Nis) clinched 3rd place, but they already moved up, so it was rather a continuation of strong period. Strong period? This was their greatest year in history – never before Radnicki got medals! Such achievement usually stay forever in the memory of club and fans, but apparently nobody thought this squad really capable of finishing that high – there is not a single photo of it circulating today! A season, surprising everybody, then... and not so great team, but rather using fortunate circumstances. Radnicki managed to prolong their good play, but the only great player they had was the goalkeeper Dragan Pantelic, who was not stay for long with the club.
Pantelic was noticed not only for his goalkeeping skills, but for his goals – with 7 goals, he was the third scorer of Radnicki this season. At that time it was highly unusual for keepers to score goals.
The up and coming teams were not really strong – neither Sloboda, nor Radnicki, nor Napredak – they had to enjoy their short success, grateful, if good luck lasted a little longer (and clubs like Partizan remained in shambles for a year or two).
At the end, there were only two clubs competing for the title – if that is the word, for the champions finished 7 points clear of the silver medalists. Unusual season, indeed – one team had strong first half of the championship and another – the second half. Inconsistency seemingly ruled.
FK Sarajevo finished as the leader at the end of the fall season. Not exactly a big surprise – they had a good squad, led by arguably the best Yugoslavian player at the moment, Safet Susic. Predrag Pasic was the second big star, young and rapidly establishing himself as one of the very best. There were also Faruk Hadzibegic, Zoran Lukic, Zelimir Vidovic, Haris Smajic, perhaps a few more. Good squad, led by fantastic player, but not a great squad and actually coming short in almost every line. Not enough depth too - especially when compared to Crvena zvezda. Sarajevo finished firt before the winter break, but in the spring Crvena zvezda stepped on the pedal and quite easily left Sarajevo in the dust.
19 wins, 10 ties, 5 losses, 54-26 goal-difference, 48 points and 13th title. Familiar victor – Crvena zvezda. Not point even counting their trophies, even when the number is fatal 13.
Good coach and studded with national team players squad. Perhaps not as great as some previous generations, but Crvena zvezda had most of the current Yugoslavian stars at their peak – at the best age, vastly experienced, well fitting together, coming from the best international season of the club – they played at the UEFA Cup final in the previous season. Most importantly, this was squad with depth: Vladimir Petrovic was the leader and the great star, and around him – Savic, Sestic, Djurovski, Krmpotic, Milosavljevic, Jovin, Jurisic, Jovanovic (in the fall), Muslin, up and coming Repcic and Filipovic. Well rounded team, competitive players, strong reserves, the best squad at the moment. A bit sluggish in the fall, they were flying in the spring. Inevitable foreign transfers seemingly were not going to affect the team, because there were just as good players behind the current stars and Crvena zvezda was always able to get talent from other Yugoslavian clubs. Seemingly, supreme.