Monday, March 30, 2015

The African Cup Winners Cup:

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

 Central and North America was all about NASL. Talking about hype... statistics and awards. So many of those, it is even pointless to mention most: it looked like no one should have been forgotten and given something. The end of the1970s were the the peak years of NASL, a league going fast to its doom. 24 teams participated in the 12th league season. There were some changes: two teams were relocated. In another country that would mean two clubs seized to exist, but in North America it was just moving a franchise from one place to another... Colorado Caribous, the club with the most garish kit, was no more – there was Atlanta Chiefs instead. Oakland Stompers became Edmonton Drillers – they moved to another country, not just to another city. Two franchises only changed names: Toronto Metro-Croatia became Toronto Blizzard and Cosmos returned to its original name New York Cosmos. 
 The rules of the championship were almost left untouched, but must be mentioned because they were weird and complicated.  6 points for a win, 1 point for a shootout win, 0 points for a loss, 1 point for each regulation goal scored up to three per game. Goal-scoring was a combination of goal+pass -  2 points per goal, 1 per assist. The new addition was breaking the tie in the play-offs:  if a playoff series was tied at one victory each, a full 30 minute mini-game was played. If neither team held an advantage after the 30 minutes, the teams would then move on to a shoot-out to determine a series winner. The rest was 'familiar' – the league was divided into 2 conferences, each divided itself into 3 divisions, consisting of 4 clubs each. Every team played 30 games in the first phase – a mix bag of games played against their divisional opponents and some others. 8 clubs were going to the conference play-offs and here was the first little obstacle. The top 2 of each division was understandable... plus 2 of the three 3rd-placed teams. Points determined those, so the team with least points among the 3rd-placed was out. Practically, only 4 of the 12 members of each conference were out of the race after the first stage. The play-offs proceeded with 2 regular games and a mini-game after that, if there was a tie. Direct elimination followed to the conference final. The winners of each conference played a single match league final – the Soccer Bowl. The championship was played largely in the summer, ending on September 8th. The schedule, added by the lax transfer rules, made the usual mess – players changed clubs during the season, came on loan from other clubs, or moved to NASL after there European and South American seasons finished. The league always trumpeted its 'world' status, so the biggest emphasize was on foreign players – to the point to be impossible to tell who was legitimate import. Naturalized Canadians were presented often – but not always – as Canadians; naturalized or just born overseas Americans were most often presented as foreigners. The results were even comic, for there was a Japanese player according to NASL this year – in reality, a guy with american parents and thorougly Anglo-Saxon name, who was born in Japan, having no other relation to the country. The Yugoslavians – arguably, the second biggest group of players after the British – were the most complicated case: most were Yugoslavian born, yet, listed rather frivolously as Yugoslavians, Americans, and Canadians – real citizenship seemingly was not important to the league. Since proper team-building was never practiced in NASL, the closest to it was the current coach, also a foreigner, convincing the club's brass to get a bulk of players of his own country – thus, many teams had distinct flavour: British, Yugoslavian, and in 1979 – Dutch. For in 1979 a famous coach finally arrived in NASL – Rinus Michels was hired by Los Angeles Aztecs and with him – a bunch of Dutch players. Transfers, then... or what looked like traditional transfers. Since the list was enourmous every summer, only what appeared to be the biggest ones will be mentioned. Johan Cruyff signed with Los Angeles Aztecs – wait a second: he retired from the game in 1978. Well, he came back – without mentioning retirement, as if never announced. Wim Suurbier arrived in Los Angeles too. Plus three more Dutch players, hardly known, but Dutch – Leo van Veen, Thomas Rougen, and Hubert Smeets. Thus, Los Angeles Aztecs were clearly based on Dutch skeleton. Cosmos bought their usual group of big names  - Dutch stars Johan Neeskens and Wim Rijsbergen, the Brazilian full back Francisco Marinho, the Iranian full back, so impressive at the 1978 World Cup, Andranik Eskandarian, and... almost anonymous West German goalkeeper, who played largely second division football to this moment – Hubert Birkenmeier. Neeskens and Birkenmeier were clearly not on the same level, but... Birkenmeier quickly established himself as the best NASL goalkeeper, so may be he was more important player in the history of the league than his famous teammate. 
In short time Birkenmeier became the top NASL goalkeeper – nobody remembers him in Germany, but in USA he became a legend. 
Of course, the league was full of famous names:  here is a brief sample: Horst Blankenburg, Arno Steffenhagen, Wim van Hanegem, Peter Ressel, Jorgen Kristensen, and Dick Advocaat were all with Chicago Sting. Except Advocaat, the rest won huge number of domestic and European trophies in the 1970s. Then again everybody known who Advocaat is nowadays. Bjorn Nordqvist and Willie Morgan played for Minnesota Kicks. Alex Stepney and Antonio Simoes for Dallas Tornado. Salif Keita, Artur, Alhinho, and Jordao – for New England Tea Men, which seemingly chose Portuguese skeleton. Peter Lorimer was with Toronto Blizzard. David Nish with Tulsa Roughnecks. Alan Hudson and Harry Redknapp with Seattle Sounders. Clyde Best with Portland Timbers. Miralem Fazlic, Julio Baylon, and Piero Prati with Rochester Lancers. Phil Parkes, Kevin Hector, Willie Johnston, Allan Ball, and entirely unknown yet Bruce Grobelaar with Vancouver Whitecaps. Trevor Francis with Detroit Express. So far – relatively clear, but: Joszef Horvath (Washington Diplomats) and Laszlo Harsanyi, Hugo Sanchez, Leonardo Cuellar, and Julie Veee, all of San Diego Sockers were not so. The Mexican stars Sanchez and Cuellar were loaned to the Sockers after the end of the Mexican season – or may be even before the end? The three Hungarians are difficult to figure out – were they legally allowed to play abroad or were they refugees? Looks like Hungary started exporting players after the 1978 World Cup – largely, in 1979. But the trio played abroad before that and most likely were defectors. Horvath arrived from Rot Weiss (Essen, West Germany), where he played in the 1977-78 season. Harsanyi joined San Diego in 1978. As for Julie Veee, this is not his real name, but the one he chose to use when he left Hungary – he was clearly a defector, eventually became US citizen and even played for the national team of USA. Yet, listed as Hungarian in the NASL records – but American when he played in Europe, for he moved often from one continent to another. Big names, not so bi names... who is not familiar with the names above can just Google them and find out. Perhaps the most famous new arrival this year was Gerd Muller. If not the biggest, at least the most emblematic. 
Gerd Muller displaying his new shirt – contract signed with Fort Lauderdale Strikers. On his right, the old star of the team – one George Best. Well, who can dream of more lethal strikers than Muller and Best together? Note the number Muller got – 15. Strange, for NASL heavily promoted 'brands' – and Muller's 'brand' was number 9. The other option was 13 – the number he used at the 1970 and 1974 World Cups. The new number was not one associated with Muller. Then again, George Best played with number 3 this season. Eventually these two got one more famous addition to help them from the midfield – the Peruvian star Teofilo Cubillas. Jumping ahead, he had excellent season. Muller too, but the picture above was a hint of the life in NASL:  

Soon Muller was photographed enjoying American life. Doesn't look concerned with the next game... NASL was really well paid good time for aging stars. A bit of football and back to the pool with glass in hand – George Best was the master at that. Gerd Muller was starting to enjoy his booze too... eventually becoming an alcoholic, just like Best. 
As for the less important than drinking activity – playing football – this photo shows something unthinkable: Muller vs Beckenbauer. They never played against each other before 1979. The famous teammates, fond of each other, creating fantastic moments for years together, now were opposing each other. And both using new, unfamiliar numbers. Well, this was NASL summerized in three photos – no wonder European and South American players loved it. George Best summed it once upon a time: one can spent hours everyday in the bar and nobody will ever bother him with nasty press. After all, socker players were never real stars in North America – the press covered baseball, american football, basketball, ice hockey. Golf and tennis players, boxers were more important too – and socker players enjoyed almost anonymous, but rich life to indulge in their vices. British players liked their drink, Neeskens his drugs, and so on – and nobody cared. Life was great and to hell with football. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Monday, March 16, 2015

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Venezuela had two big news in 1979: new champion and second level championship. Eight clubs participated in the first second level tournament, but there was no promotion yet. Just for the record, the participants: Aragua FC, Atlético Portuguesa, Endeca-Lara, Falcón FC, Industriales de Oriente, Petroleros del Zulia, Polisport-Lara, Unión Deportiva Valera. The first division remained closed league, so it hardly mattered who won the second level.
The professional first division had the typical for South America tw0stage formula: standard league championship at first, and then the top 6 clubs proceeded to the second stage mini-league. Nothing was carried over from the first stage, not even bonus points – there was third stage: a play-off between the champions of the first two championships. The only surprise to outsiders was Portuguesa FC, the champions of the previous 4 years: they barely qualified for the second round, having just a point more than Deportivo Italia, which finished 7th. The the reason for the sudden decline became clear: Portuguesa FC had financial difficulties and owed money to the Venezuelan Football Federation. Unable to pay its due, the club was disqualified and Deportivo Italia went to play the final stage instead of Portuguesa FC. The league was more or less equal – at least 8 of the members. After them was Deportivo Portugues, neither here, nor there – they fell behind the top 8, yet, were much stronger the bottom three, leaving Valencia FC 5 points behind. Three outsiders – Valencia FC , 10th with 16 points, the forgotten by now Miranda-Canarias (Los Teques) - 11th with 11 points, and the absolute outsider Atletico Falcon (Coro) last with only 8 points. So much for the bottom of the league, which finished the season early.
On the top single point divided positions and Deportivo Tachira clinched the first place with 29 points. ULA Merida was 2nd with 28, Deportivo Galicia - 3rd with 27 points. Deportivo Tachira was a surprise, but first stage meant only qualification for the final, so they were not expected to play very hard in the second phase.
The battle in the second stage went between the above mentioned three teams, Deportivo Italia, replacing Portuguesa FC, Atletico Zamora , and Estudiantes (Merida). Most likely, Deportivo Tachira and Deportivo Italia were expected to be the weaker teams at the final, but it was not so: Estudiantes (Merida) were.
Estudiantes did not win even a match in the second stage: they lost five games and tied the other five, thus finishing last with 5 points. Atletico Zamora were barely better than Estudiantes – and also entirely out of the race for first place: they earned 6 points, but won 2 matches.
The rest of the final group were pretty much equal in strength – 2 points divided 1st from 4th at the end, and head-to-head record determined the winner. Deportivo Italia competed well, but finished 4th with 11 points. ULA Merida was 3rd with 12 points. Deportivo Tachira and Deportivo Galicia finished with 13 points.
nd... head-to-head record benefited Deportivo Tachira. Both clubs had exactly the same records otherwise: 6 wins, 1 tie, 3 losses. Tachira had 15-7 goal-difference and elsewhere would be 2nd placed team, but local rule made them winners. Since they won both stages, there was no final play-off – Deportivo Tachira won the title.
Deportivo Galicia, with the help of Peruvian imports, had the best goal-difference in the mini-league: 17-7. Yet, they finished 2
st place over Deportivo Galicia in the second stage. One can say the boys just fought well and wit ha bit of luck came on top by tiny margin. Mat be not great winners, but instant legends, for this was the very first title the club won.
The champions were not overwhelming victors: they won the first stage by a point and only head-to-head record gave them 1
At the time, their log had no 5 stars included, of course – they just got their first. They also continued the dominance of young clubs in the national championship – since 1975, the Venezuelan champions were very, very young clubs. Deportivo Tachira was founded in 1974 – a bit later than Portuguesa FC, who won 4 titles in a row, starting in 1975. It took only 5 years of existence for the club from San Cristobal to triumph. The credit goes to their founder: in 1970 Italian immigrant Gaetano Greco founded amateur club in San Cristobal – Juventus, named after the famous club from Turin. The original colours followed the name – black and white. Greco noticed that not only the city, but the whole province had no professional team and swiftly changed things by founding a new club in January 1974– Deportivo Tachira. It was new club, yet... not entirely new, for it was based on Juventus – players were moved to the new club, named at first Deportivo San Cristobal. The colours were blue and white – the colours of Italy. This did not last long – in January 1975 the club was renamed Deportivo Tachira – so to represent not just the city, but the whole province, and the colours changed to yellow and black. The new colours also represented the province, but additionally they were preferred by the Uruguayan coach Jose 'Pocho' Gil – a Penarol (Montevideo) fan. The changes proved to be final – name and colours remain. The beginning was on grand and ambitious scale and only few years after foundation the young club won its first title. Thus, they got – and deserved it too – the nickname El equipo que nació grande ( the club which was born big). As a final note, this was their only second season playing oficially under the name Deportivo Tachira – the club was renamed in 1975, but played in first division as Deportivo San Cristobal until 1978.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Monday, March 9, 2015

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Monday, March 2, 2015

Colombia – since there were no promotion and relegation, the only change for the new season was a name. Cristal Caldas became Once Caldas. The other changes were less visible to outsiders who rarely, if at all, glanced in the direction of that country: transfers. Big names played in Colombia since the introduction of the rogue professional league in the late 1940s. Foreign players were abundant in the 1970s thanks to lax rules and easy naturalization. In 1979 two Peruvians arrived, both well known – Jose Velasquez and Hugo Sotil. If it was European transfer, it would have been first page news... but this transfer was not even noticed, despite the strong 1978 World Cup Peru had just a few months earlier. Those two joined the massive group of foreigners playing for Colombian clubs – like Alejandro Estanislao Semenewicz, the Argentinian midfielder, who won 4 Libertadores and 1 Intercontinental Cup with Independiente in the first half of the 1970s. However, Sotil, plagued by personal problems very similar to those George Best had, had disastrous time in Colombia: he was in in and out of the line-up of Deportivo Independiente Medellin (DIM), played 33 matches in which scored 8 goals, and thought of retiring. It was not the aging and fading stars who shined in Colombia, but lesser known players – the Argentine striker Oswaldo Palavecino (Atletico Nacional) was typical example: run of the mill in Argentina, he was long-lasting big star in Colombia.
Lastly, shirt adverts were coming to South America – still an early and a bit confusing stage.
Atletico Nacional and Atletico Junior ready to clash. Junior displays uniformity – except the goalkeeper. Nacional is something else... only 4 players show adds, the others play with plain shirts. Their naturalized Argentine keeper Raul Ramon Navarro Paviato plays with strange for the time shirt with number 50. Even the kit is not uniform – another Argentine, Hector 'Palito' Candau uses different manufacturer. Immediately to the left of the referees Oswaldo Palavecino plays with adds, the future great coach and star Colombian defender in 1979, Francisco Maturana plays with plain shirt. Simple days... or confused days... depending on opinion.
The championship itself was the usual complicated South American formula. One champion, but two separate championships... The winners of Apertura and Finalizacion, if different, met at the end to decide the champion of the year. Torneo Apertura was simple enough: classic league championship. The 14 teams played twice against each other and after 26 rounds it ended with simple final table. Well, not so simple after all...
Deportes Tolima was the outsider this year – by far. They won only 2 matches and tied 6. 10 points – the 13th had 22!
Jumping ahead, Tolima did not improve in the second championship either – there they managed 3 points more – 13 – which were good for... 13th place. Yet, the weakest had nothing to worry about – no matter how bad they were, they were members of the closed league. No relegation.
The quality of football was not high, especially when it came to scoring and winning. 42 goals were the most scored in Apertura and the record did not belong to the leading teams, but to clubs in the middle of the table:
Millonarios, who finished 8th with 26 points, and Once Caldas – 4th.
Along with Millonarios, another traditionally strong club underperformed – DIM.
Sotil is obviously out, Velasquez – standing second from left – was not enough inspiration, Deportivo Independiente Medellin finished 6th with 27 points.
Most of the league was fairly equal – the 13th placed Cucuta Deportivo finished with 22 points.
Standing, from left: Miguel Núñez , Pitula Martínez, Francisco Nieto, Arnoldo Alberto 'el guajiro' Iguarán Zúñiga, Romero .
Crouching: Antonio Pérez, Salvador López Quiceno, Alberto 'el chamizo' Cañas, Manuel Rosendo Magán, Abel Dagracca, Rodrigo Cosme.
Cucuta were weak, but not much weaker than Union Magdalena, which finished 5th with 28 points – 9 of the 14 clubs were divided at the end by 6 points.
Atletico Nacional – with plain shirts here – finished 9th.
Independiente Santa Fe – 7th.
Four clubs competed for top spots – Atletico Junior finished 4th with 32 points. Once Caldas was 3rd with 33. America and Deportivo Cali both had 34 points and exactly the same goal-difference of +10 goals. The champion of Apertura had to decided by play-off. Two matches were played and both finished 0-0. Then goal-average was used as a tie-breaker – it was still popular method at the time and not at all nowadays. The goal-average usually benefits... lower scoring teams. America was 29-19, Deportivo – 37-27. America won...
Deportivo Cali – unlucky in Torneo Apertura.
America Cali – lucky winners of Apertura. That meant they ensured at least playing for the title at the end of the season.