USSR. Ranked 2nd. This was the last full, or ‘classic’, if you prefer, championship of USSR. Tensions were growing along with ‘perestroyka’ and ‘glasnost’, but nothing yet suggested collapse. In the realm of football, the central problem was the transition to real professionalism, which most obviously were represented by clashes between professional players and their clubs still run non-professionally. At the end of the season only Dnepr (Dnepropetrovsk) was judged really transformed club. The clashes were often expressed in terms of democratization, the twisted and painful battle for changes which noboidy really understood and translated sometimes widely into something more or less corresponding to their own wild imaginations. Thus, the end result of the battle for democracy produced strange results: the democratic election of coach by the players produced the champion this year, but also the last team in the league – there was hardly a coherent lesson or working formula by the application of the same democratic experiment. On another level, the first imported player in USSR appeared this season – the story is interesting trivia: the first imported foreigner was the Bulgarian defender Tenyo Minchev. He moved from Beroe (Stara Zagora) to Krylya Sovetov (Kyubishev), a Third Division club. The transfer recalled the first exports of both countries, USSR and Bulgaria, made roughly 10 years ago. The first Bulgarian transferred to the West was also aging player of Beroe – Petko Petkov, about 35 years old back then, went to Austria (Vienna). Tenyo Minchev, a teammate with Petkov back then, was now 35 years old. The first Soviet player to play abroad, Zinchenko, was playing for Second Division club – Dinamo (Leningrad) – when he was transferred to Rapid (Vienna). Both Soviet and Bulgarian first exports went to Austria. The first Soviet export and import involved lower league clubs. Both times they were purely football matters, involving political factors: ten years ago Austrian Socialists negotiated the Soviet ‘help’ and now the Communist Party local officials negotiated the transfer of Minchev – Stara Zagora and Kyubishev were ‘sister cities’, so their governing bodies frequently visited each other, the football clubs of the both cities visited each other too. As 10 years ago there was no official regulation for foreign transfers in the USSR, so now there was no such regulation for imports. May be that was why in both occasions low key Soviet clubs were involved – and in the Bulgarian case, a provincial club, and common for both countries – the first transfers were of old players, nearing retirement. Thus, the first imported player in the USSR appeared in Third Division, but in the second half of the season the first foreigners in the top league popped up: if the transfer of Minchev was negotiated at the end of 1988 and the player appeared at the start of 1989 season, the next foreigners came in October 1989 in the league debutante Pamir (Dushanbe) – 3 Zambians arrived: Derby Makinka (24 years old), Wisdom Chansa (25), and Person Mwanza (21), all members of the Zambian national team, so attracting the eye of their new employers in the 1988 Olympic games. Although leading Zambian players (Makinka amassed 98 games for the national team in his career), only Mwanza established himself in Pamir – the other two played 3 games each and were let go. Thus importation of players in USSR started. Meantime the export was increasing speed, placing new burdens on the transformation of football in the country – weakening of the teams and scandals. As the season progressed, tensions progressed as well and even FIFA was unable to provide clear guidance to increasing Soviet problems. But the complexity of situation is beyond the scope of this review, so back to football as it was.
Third Division – still divided in 9 Zones, which winners after the regular season competed for 3 promotions to Second Division. A glimpse of the vast lower levels of Soviet football:
Spartak (Archangelsk) – bronze medalist of the championship of their county this season. Most teams in the country, never heard of, played in such local championships and tournaments.
Novator (Archangelsk) – winner of the city championship of Archangelsk.
Here is another: the winners of the trade unions championship of Belarus – Belarus (Marini Gorki).
Slightly higher level: Sputnik (Minsk) won both the Cup and the Supercup of Belarus this season.
Obuvshtik (Lida) – champion of Belarus.
Similarly, Torpedo (Riga) won the Cup of Latvia.
RAF (Jelgava) won the championship of Latvia.
Gradually coming to third level…
Dinamo (Kirov) – posing here with the Lev Yashin Cup, which they just won. This was internal trophy for the teams of the vast Dinamo system – the big members of the system from Moscow, Kiev, Minsk, Tbilisi, did not compete in such tournaments and some were even quite independent, yet the system remained.
Gomselmash (Gomel) celebrated its 30th year in Third Division – they became better known abroad after Belarus became independent.
Arsenal (Tula) – another third level team, which, like Gomselmash, climbed up after the collapse of USSR.
Sokol (Saratov) – one more team coming out from obscurity after the collapse of USSR. Presently, no more than Third Division for them… Standing from left: V. Shpitalny, A. Nikonorov, E. Tumassyan, S. Bassov, A. Aslamov, A. Kochetkov, R. Monassipov, Yu. Vassilyev, A. Podgorodny, A. Kislyakov, I. Kurakin, A. Koreshkov, A. Silkin, G. Semenov. Sitting: V. Komarov, A. Pospelov, V. Plotnikov, V. Ponomarev, O. Pritula, A. Issaev, D. Maksimov, O. Terekhin, S. Ivanov.
Meliorator (Shimkent) – the far East hardly produced memorable team at any time, but this club was steady Third Division member.
Unlike Meliorator, Dinamo (Barnaul) won the championship of its Zone – the Far-East-Siberian Zone. And went to the semi-finals of the Third Division structure… whatever that means.
Better known from their Second Division seasons SKA (Odessa) remained in Third Division – they had it tougher than most third level clubs, for they played in the strong Ukrainian Zone.
Kolos (Nikopol) was in the same situation as SKA (Odessa).
Krivbass (Krivoy Rog), dressed in white, was also in the same situation as Kolos and SKA – return to Second Division was impossible, but they played a friendly against Ipswich Town this year and that most likely was the most memorable moment not just of 1989.
What mattered most was the promotion tournament, of course – 9 teams divided in 3 groups and the winners going up to Second Division. The happy winners became known before the final round was played, but the promotion phase was not without controversy.
Group A: Tzement (Novorossiysk) was considered favourite here, but they finished last. They were so apathetic at the last game, played at home, that the fans chanted ‘Mercenaries’, ‘Sell-outs’, and ‘Shame’ most of the time. What really happened is probably unpleasant story, but Tzement instead of first, finished last with 3 points from 4 games. Irtysh finished 2nd with 4 points and Lokomotiv (Gorky) – 1st with 5 points from 2 wins, 1 tie and 1 loss, 6-3 goal-difference. They won promotion before the last round, because they had superior goal-difference to the rest, Irtysh already played its last match then and Tzement had goal-difference so bad, that they needed a win with 4 goals difference to take top position.
Group C. Traktor ended last with 2 points. Neftyanik (Fergana) took 2nd place with 4 points and Dinamo (Sukhumi) won promotion with 6 points – 3 wins and 1 loss, 5-1 goal-difference. They won the tournament before the last round was played and were perhaps the most admired team at the promotion tournament. Of course, there is no good without some tint of bad – Dinamo was accused of too rough play.
Group B had the already mentioned Krylya Sovetov (Kuybishev) in it, so the team with the first foreign player in USSR was actually looking for promotion. At least, it looked that way, given the past of Krylya Sovetov – they were most famous team at the promotion stage, the only one which played in First Division and that for years. But the present was different…
Krylya Sovetov finished last with 2 points and without winning even one game (2 ties gave them points). So, even with foreign player, their huge crisis was unending. Standing from left: V. Antikhovich – coach, V. Gaus, V. Fillipov, V. Korolev, S. Marushko, N. Shtukin, V. Guba, A. Eremeev, M. Volodin, Tenyo Minchev, B. Valkov – assistant coach.
Front: R. Valiev, D. Sharipov, V. Tumaykin, A. Tzygankov, I. Lakutenko, S. Mikhnevich, ?.
Volyn (Lutzk) finished 2nd with 3 points.
Tekstilshtik (Tiraspol) confidently won promotion – 1st with 7 points. 3 wins, 1 tie, 0 losses, 7-2 goal-difference – the best record of all winners. Front row from left: Eduard Lemeşco, Igor Raicev, Vitalie Culibaba, Denis Lozinschi, Oleg Iavoriv, Andrei Stroenco.
Middle row: Iuri Hlâzov (administrator), Evgheni Şincarenco (antrenor), Victor Barâşev, Alexandr Camaldinov (antrenor), Serghei Stroenco, Ivan Grin, Ivan Mandrâcenco, Oleg Flentea, Veaceslav Proţenco, Ivan Danilianţ (antrenor principal), Mihail Iarmolinschi (şeful echipei).
Top row: Veaceslav Alexeev (medic), Nicolai Mandrâcenco, Alexandr Şicov, Vitalie Carmac, Alexandr Veriovchin (captain), Igor Artiomenco, Ghenadi Tiumin, Petru Sârbu.
Thus, the newly promoted team were Tekstilshtik (Tiraspol), Lokomotiv (Gorky), and Dinamo (Sukhumi). Only Dinamo (Sukhumi) played Second Division before. However… if one looks at Second Division in 1990, he will find only Lokomotiv (Gorky) in it. If searching deeper… the Moldovians were there too, but under new name, more in accord with their national belonging – they became Tiras (Tiraspol). Dinamo (Sukhumi) did not appear at all (and split into 2 clubs, depending on who wanted to play in which championship), for Georgia was going into separation from USSR and the football clubs left the USSR championship, soon followed by Baltic clubs.