France I Division

Four clubs competed for the title this season. Least serious was Olympique Marseille. The club had policy different than any other in France: not exactly building a strong squad, but buying every year stars. High rotation more or less kept Marseille among the favourites, but did not make them real contender or memorable. Four new players arrived before the start of the season – the French national team striker Marc Berdoll from 1. FC Saarbrucken (West Germany), the midfielder Anders Linderoth from Sweden, another forward, Michel N’Gom, with dual citizenship – French and Senegalese, and rather anonymous Spanish midfielder Christian Fernandez. Not very impressive bunch, but still consistent with Marseille’s habits. With Tresor, Bracci, Emon, Beretta, and Zvunka, they had, at least on paper, enough class. On the field it was a bit different – most of the names were already just names: aging, declining, no longer a big threat. Marseille was good enough to stay among the best clubs, but at the lower end. 47 points, 70 goals scored, 41 received, 20 wins… stable 4th – 3 points above Bastia, 3 points bellow bronze medals.

‘Challenger’ which was not. Crouching from left: Boubacar, Linderoth, Berdoll, Bacgonnier, Emon.

Standing: Tresor, V. Zvunka, Bracci, Baulier, Migeon, Fernandez.

The other three clubs were entangled in the real battle for the title. Three point separated champions from bronze medalists. Racing Strasbourg finished 3rd with 50 points. The year before Strasbourg was in Second Division – a big surprise to see them competing for the title and great success for the club.

Quietly, Strasbourg assembled good team – Dropsy and Specht were national team material, Novi, Gemmrich, Piasecki, and Dugueperoux were respected solid players, the Austrian Heinz Schilcher provided the ‘magic touch’ every former Ajax player brought to their new club. Raymond Domenech was added for the season. The future great coach Ivica Osim came back to Starsbourg for his last season as a player. The Yugoslavian was already 36 years old and not a starter anymore, but very likely he contributed with brain – Strasbourg had young coach, also 36, who just arrived from Xamax (Switzerland). An enigmatic name – Gilbert Gress. Once upon a time he refused to cut his hair and was left out of the going to World Cup finals French national team. The year was 1966 and Gress was the star of Strasbourg. But he played his best years in West Germany, for Stuttgart, and hardly ever was called to play for France. He ended his career in Switzerland, doubling as player-coach of Xamax. He came back to his original club in 1977 – effectively, his first year as a coach. Young, ambitious, with fresh ideas, without the burden of old habits, and very likely helped by Osim in tactical scheming. Strasbourg soared at once, achieving a rare success for newcomer to the league.

Familiar name got the silver medals – Nantes. Stable and strong during the decade, perhaps the best one for the club, Nantes was constant contender. No exception this season – they lost the title by a point. Disappointment perhaps, but not a big one – they were strong, may be a bit unlucky, but consistent and there was no trouble coming. Nantes was the only club in the league with really strong defense – they permitted 26 goals in their net, the single club achieving less than a goal per game average. Scoring was not their forte, though… typical for defensive minded teams and perhaps the reason they lost the title in the attacking French league. Nantes scored 60 goals – not bad, not exactly ‘catenaccio’, yet, the champions cored 19 goals more and 7 other clubs scored more goals than Nantes. Paris SG, ending at 11th place, scored 75. Tied defense perhaps was wrong, surely not enough, but Nantes was not to be dismissed – they were to try again the next season for sure.


The secret of Nantes was its transfer policy – they did not wait until their starters retired as Lyon; did not bet on few new stars every season to keep them afloat like Marseille; did not carefully changing a single player as Saint Etienne. Nantes acted boldly, not afraid to reshape the squad, discard still strong stars and include promising youngsters. Yes, Henry Michel, Hugo Bargas, Bertrand-Demasne were still the skeleton of the team as they were five years ago, but meantime time others established themselves so smoothly, nobody even noticed when – Bossis, Amisse, Rio. Rampillon, Baronchelli, Osman, Pecout were strong and very likely the next to go, replaced by the likes of Van Straelen and Sahnoun. Transition was so smooth it did not look like transition at all – the squad above was technically from 1976-77. Almost the same team played in 1977-78 – minus Triantafilos. Robert Gadocha is missing on the picture, rather symbolically – like Triantafilos, the Polish star was getting old and 1977-78 was his last season with the club. Nantes was not obsessed with the past at all – Gadocha was more or less relegated to second fiddle and young intriguing player was inserted in the starting eleven: Oscar Muller. Twenty years old midfielder, born in Argentina, but in Nantes since 1974. The youth system of the club, that is. Muller was – and is – listed as Argentine, but he also acquired French citizenship and played for the youth national teams of France. The future was secured – Gadocha was almost out, Michel and Bargas had numbered days, but no problem – there were Bossis, Rio, Amisse, Muller, a new skeleton already existed.

The title was won by a single point by both likely and unlikely club – AS Monaco. Chameleon club, Monaco – it was impossible to say how they will perform. Hardly favourites, yet, they were already twice champions. But Monaco was also capable of sudden failures – only two years ago they were in the second division. Back then Monaco had a team somewhat too strong for second level. Now they had a team not exactly expected to win a title. There was no telling how Monaco would perform. Somehow they fancied to be strong in 1977-78, still surprising performance by essentially the same players who played second league football almost yesterday.

An unusual club – representing France and another country in the same time. Of course, Monaco is just a city-state and there was no way for so small place to have a league. Monaco still had no national team and does not participate in tournaments for countries. It has only the club AS Monaco and when strong, represents France. Amusing in a way and belonging to this small category of clubs playing in the championships of counties different from their own. Given the financial reputation of the principality, AS Monaco should have been rich club, employing stars and constantly strong as a result – alas, it was not the case and hard to tell why. There was inconsistency – sometimes the club was better financed and soared, sometimes it was neglected and immediately went down. Formula 1 racing was clearly more important than football in the golden city. Things were fine this year, however – Monaco suddenly played well, especially at away games. They scored a lot, ending with the best seasonal record of 79 goals. Defense did not interest them – 46 times the ball ended in their net – but the attacking style was very sufficient when visiting. May be Monaco was underestimated by the other clubs, but if so, they paid heavy price – Monaco collected point after point and without been dominant, grabbed the title. Their third. Back in the 1970s three titles was quite a lot, especially in France, never monopolized by two or three clubs.

The heroes of 1977-78 were mostly home heroes – not a bad squad, yet, hardly a special one, and clearly not ‘dynastic’. They deserve another picture largely because it was not team able to stay on top.

Strange champions… the big star was of course Delio Onnis, the great Argentine goalscorer, who never disappointed. Another striker was solid national team choice, who went to play at the 1978 World Cup – Dalger. The captain Petit was also included in the French national team now and then. The young goalkeeper Ettori was rising, soon to become the preferred goalie of France. So far, he was making enough impact – he edged the experienced Chauveau from the starting eleven. Two more foreigners may be provided class, but were not great names – both were mild curiosities, though. Heriberto Correa, experienced 28-years old defender with dual citizenship – Argentina and Paraguay. Hardly known, not interesting for the Argentinian national team coach, but good enough for Monaco. At least this season, for Correa did not last all that long with the club. The other was also with dual citizenship – Raul Nogues, 25-years old forward, completing the free scoring striking line. Because of his name, normally he is thought French – in passing, for Nogues was not exactly famous, especially outside France. He is always listed as Argentine in statistics. Nogues came to France in 1972 and stayed. An Argentine, but not quite – a closer look at squad info (and only there) reveals that he played for youth national teams of France. So he was naturalized, which explains why Monaco featured three foreigners in their first eleven when rules permitted only two. Anyway, the strong players of the champions finish with him – the rest was rather run of the mill. Some better, some worse, some somewhat promissing, some suspect. Monaco was disjointed team of two very different groups not really complimenting each other. It was not a squad able to stay on top, unless getting about five stronger players. Yet, it was not a typical ‘one time wonder’ either – they were entirely unpredictable. Onnis alone was capable of destroying any team. Weak defense made not only winning suspect, but staying in first division. Impossible to tell what this team could do. May be a bit lucky champions, but champions.

France I Division

Above those threatened with relegation was the vast comfort zone of the mid-table clubs. Comfort for some, distress for others. Some were rising, others went the opposite direction. Paris SG so far was unable to materialize its ambitious project – the club spent money, bought players year and year out, but so far they were no more than mid-table club. This year they finished 11th , not a surprise. Bordeaux and Lyon, endangered by relegation and only dreaming of the ‘comfort zone’, presented opposite cases: Bordeaux finished low, but they already started their new team.

On the surface, it was a rag-tag team, combining rising players like Giresse and Bergeroo, dependable foreigners like the German Gernot Rohr and the Swisse star Jeandupeux, and various ‘hit and miss’ players of little note. The club was still searching and trying to find the right formula – they added the well respected Cameroonian Jean-Pierre Tokoto, formerly of Paris SG, loaned for the spring half of the season Spanish striker, Alfredo Megido Sanchez, from Real Betis. No results yet, but the seeds of the great team of the early 1980s were planted.

Lyon was the opposite case – their solid team of the first half of the 1970s inevitably aged, key players were retiring one after another, but the club missed the right moment for rebuilding and was hit hard as a result. A new team was practically started in 1977 and the jump-start was rather lame.

This is the squad with which Lyon finished the 1976-77 – pretty much the same team struggled in 1977-78, memorable largely for their unusual red kit. Domenech departed for Strasbourg, the rest were at hand. Aime Jacquet was hired to coach them – 36 years old, at the beginning of his illustrious career, and, at the time, a big risk. Young, inexperienced coach is always closely scrutinized and found at fault… but, on the other hand, the choice was right: building a new team needed a coach with fresh ideas. Whatever these ideas were, the new recruits were hardly the kind of players to carry them on. The 30-years old Yugoslavian defender Rajko Aleksic was good, but neither a big star, nor in his prime. He played for Yugoslavia in the very distant 1968, during the successful European Championship campaign of his country. He played a total of 2 games and was never called again. Hardly the player able to propel Lyon to glory. The other recruit came from Strasbourg – there is confusion about him, for some sources tell he came to Lyon in 1977, others say 1978 – in order of invigorating the midfield. The name is Giora Spiegel. A 30-years old Israeli of modest abilities. It was not really a start of a new team, rather the cleaning of the stable was not finished yet.

The third club to drop significantly down was Saint Etienne. Surprisingly, they finished 7th. Not a factor in the championship, although the team still won 18 of their 38 fixtures. They lost 14,though. A crisis? It was inevitable – the great squad of Robert Herbin was old as a squad. Same players for years, hardly going to become stronger if the future, very familiar to every other club in France, may be tired. Herbin made small, well thought changes, but the team reached its peak in 1975 and it was time for radical change. The problem was classical – individually, the players were old, save for a few, they were well tuned to each other, there was no reason to touch a winning team with reserves, who had played for France. No reason, as long as they were winning… but they were not winning, the signal was clear, and it was just a matter of coach’s vision and bravery.

Not a team of losers… the very problem! The policy of carefully made small changes exemplified by Zimako – a squad like that perhaps had no room for anything radical, just a new player now and then. Almost automatically one dismisses the very thought of replacements – replace who? Only Farison was at retiring age… But… Merchadier and Repellini reached their peak a few years back and by 1977-78 were more or less reserves. Rocheteau, P. Revelli, and Santini were missing scoring opportunities for years and everybody knew it. It was high time for something larger than inclusion of one new player because somebody retired. It is debatable whether rebuilding had to begin an year or too earlier, but now the signs of decline were sharp. There was no time for waiting, hesitating, giving one more chance – it was now or never. It was painfully sad to see these players gone, but there was no other option, if the club wanted to stay on top. Lyon was scary reminder of what procrastination leads to.

Three clubs went the opposite direction – Strasbourg, Monaco, and Bastia. Ascending fast. Which one was the most surprising is difficult to distinguish. The first two no long ago played in the second division. Bastia was no stranger to second level football and when playing in first division was unimpressive squad, living dangerously near the relegation zone. But they made the biggest French transfer in the summer of 1977, getting one of the top world stars Johnny Rep from Spanish Valencia. His impact was immediately felt as if the not-so bad team was spurred.


Descent team even without Rep – Ognjen Petrovic, Larios, Guesdon, Orlanducci, Vezir – but with the added class of the Dutch forward, Bastia experienced perhaps their greatest ever season. They reached the final of the UEFA Cup and climbed to 5th place in France. Not a title contenders, but coming close. One of the nicest surprises of the season. The only question was about the future – were they able to keep their best players and preserve good form? Or were they to be one-time wonder.

France I Division

Other intricate questions about foreign players appeared along with the vast drama of the championship . French rules were typical for the time – two foreign players may appear in a single match. But a list of foreigners playing in any given year was larger and more than two often appeared in the same game. Most of them were Africans from former French colonies, thus, considered domestic. Some were with dual citizenship, some were not. Some played for the national teams of their countries, some did not. It was not so clear why almost all of them were equalized to French players – there was always a tiny minority of Africans considered just foreign players, to whom the rules applied. Some other players – South Americans and Eastern Europeans – naturalized and once French citizens they were no longer foreign. Yet, they were listed as foreign in statistical books – and looked like some were subjected to the rule for foreign players. France was not as confusing as Spain, but still it was difficult to figure out who was French and who was import. France was traditional big importer of foreigners, so they were many, playing at almost any level of the football pyramid. Some were famous, some not at all – the variety made for strange contrasts sometime. To a point, the class of the imports decided to current fate of a club. Smaller clubs depended more on their foreigners than the bigger ones, but the imports were not the all-decisive factor.

The season had unfortunate outsider anchored at the last 20th place – Rouen. Years ago Rouen was more esteemed member of first division, but in the1970s they were almost constant outsider, more likely to be relegated than soar. And relegated they were, finishing the season with measly 18 points. No wonder – they lost 26 matches. The 19th club had 14 points more.

The more than modest squad practically explains why they finished last – some known names, like Horlaville, but no stars. The picture is a bit misleading: Rouen got two well known players in the summer of 1977 – the forward Yves Triantafilos from Nantes, and the former Yugoslavian national team defender Petar Krivokuca from Iraklis (Thesaloniki, Greece). Both were past their prime, though. Not much of a help. The other foreigner was Jorge Trezeguet, an Argentine, born 1951. It is very doubtful he was remembered in home land, unless one recalls scandals – Trezeguet, an ordinary player, moved from club to club without making enough impression, but he was involved in a doping scandal in the first half of the decade. At first he was found guilty and penalized, then he was considered innocent and the penalty was voided. But doubts lingered and since he was not a star, clubs became reluctant to hire him. He went to France. Once again he was not exactly a revelation on the pitch and perhaps most French were not even aware he was a foreigner: he was not making headline news and his name is French. He eventually naturalized, or so it appear nowadays, for is often mention as ‘French-Argentine’. May be so, may be not – he returned to Argentina eventually. But he was French enough… for his famous son David Trezeguet is French. All of that had no positive impact on Rouen… Right after the season’s end Triantafilos packed for Greece, where he made his name in the beginning of the 1970s – apparently, second division was not to his taste, but he was not his former self either and ended in modest Kalitea.

Above them seven clubs fretted to the last moment. Three ended with 31 points, three with 32, and one with 33. Half of them were usually found in similar situation at the bottom of the table – Nimes (13th), Valenciennes (14th), and Troyes, getting the short stick this time – 19th and relegated. Reims was steadily sinking in the 1970s and their 15th place was hardly a surprise – by this year, Reims was quite similar to three clubs already mentioned. Bordeaux was not in great health in the 1970s, yet, hardly the outsider they were this season – 16th, with 32 points and the worst goal-difference among the clubs with same points. The last two clubs from the unfortunate group were different – Lyon, normally strong, suddenly plummeted down. May be accidentally, may be as a result of wrong transfers, hard to tell. Lens was traditionally unpredictable – one of those French clubs playing great one year and awfully the next. Going straight from the top of the league to relegation and from second division – to almost title contenders. This season the only concern of these seven clubs was survival and it was more of survival of luckiest, not of the fittest. At the last day three four clubs breathed easy, escaping by one or two points. Three clubs ended with 31 points – only one was to survive. It was Lyon, thanks to rather good goal-difference: 56-59. For Lens and Troyes it was mere protocol, since both were relegated – Troyes had the worst goal-difference and took the 19th place.

To a point, it was surprising that Troyes had a chance of survival – their team was very similar, if not worse, than Rouen’s. Troyes fought bravely, considering the team they had, but unfortunately lost the battle.

If Troyes had no team to speak of, Lens was different.

Surely not a great squad, but no doubt a descent one. A mid-table quality, nothing fancy, but nothing pathetic either. Daniel Leclercq, Bousdira, Elie, the former Polish international Joachim Marx… and Didier Six, the exciting winger, playing for France and often seen as better option than Rocheteau. And the old Uruguyan defender Juan Martin Mujica, who was there and not there, playing about 5 matches in two years, a far cry from his good performance at 1970 World Cup. Inconsistent as ever, this year Lens just went down. Yet, the same team just as easily would have aiming at the medals… Lens were – and pretty are – an enigma. They fought for survival, came close, but it was terrible season first and foremost. From the three relegated, Lens was the only club with good players and expected to gain promotion the next year. Troyes and Rouen were most likely to stay down, unless buying a whole bunch of new better players.

France II Division

Interesting season in France – her football on the rise, competitive and attractive game, interesting players. Not the strongest championship in Europe, but certainly better than most. Large second division, divided into two groups of 18 teams each. The groups were not exactly constant – division was more or less geographical, but almost every year some clubs were moved from one groups to the other. The number varied for no obvious reason, but this provided some suspense – the new clubs in every group were often much more than the usual promoted and relegated newcomers. Three clubs were relegated to third level. The champions were promoted and the second placed competed for the third promotional spot. With so many clubs in second division, the better known names had some advantage, but various smaller clubs existed more or less comfortably untroubled by neither ambition, nor fear of relegation. Dunkerque was one of those:

They finished 4th in Group B without aiming at promotion. Not challenging the more ambitious, just occupying the comfort zone.

Some league members were hardly known even at the time and disappeared from sight long ago. Big league was good for such tiny clubs – it was the highest achievement, possible only because of the structure. However, it was more than questionable how much the country’s football benefits from large league full of small small clubs, often not able to sustain professional teams for long.

SR Saint Die was a typical example – they finished 11th in Group A. It was hard to pay attention to such clubs in real time, let alone remember and recall them after years. Two such clubs were relegated from Group A: SR Haguenau, 17th, and RC Fontainebleau, 18th. Both settled early on the bottom, far behind the 16th club – it happened to be Toulouse, which escaped relegation not because they had 9 points more than SR Haguenau, but because the second promotion to First Division was won by Group B. Toulouse ended 16th on goal-difference – 5 clubs finished with 30 points. Survival was on the mind of most clubs – three points divided the risky 16th place from the respectful 8th, taken by Avignon, recently playing in First Division.

Similar was the situation in Group B: AS Poissy (16th), US Noeux-les-Mines (17th), and Stade Malherbe Caen (18th) were relegated, but all of them gave up long ago. FC Limoges was securely sitting on 15th place with 5 points more than AS Poissy. Up to 6th place there was relative comfort without earning many points, yet, among the sedentary clubs was Stade Rennes, at 12th place, just relegated from First Division. Clubs like Rennes were perhaps more representative than the unknown little clubs: a rather large group of ‘unsettled’ clubs, moving up and down frequently. Unlike other countries, where the ‘unsettled’ are typically too strong for second division, but too weak for the first, the French clubs moved up and down differently: a club may finish high in the table one year, but suddenly perish the next. Then jump up again. Rennes played well only few years back, now it had difficulty competing with clubs like AS Poissy. At the same time recent members of second division were at the opposite end, deciding the French title. Yet, recently relegated clubs lived quite comfortably in second division – the competition was too weak to put them in real trouble. Dispersed in two groups, they had little competition and were inevitably bound to return to top flight. Thus, Group A gave the appearance of a race between three clubs, but SC Angers, just relegated, easily won.

Angers earned 49 points from 21 wins and 7 ties. They lost 6 games. Not exactly overwhelming winners, but it was enough – they finished 3 points ahead of the next pursuer.

Standingfrom left: Janin, Brulez, Heslot, Citron, Amersek.

Crouching : Brucato, Guillon, Felci, Augustin, Cassan, Gonfalone.

Angers slipped down, but were up again after a single season – they did not even change their squad, depending on two Yugoslavians – Vili Amersek, who came from Olimpija (Ljubljana) in 1976, and Miroslav Boskovic (not on the picture), who arrived from Partizan (belgrade) in 1975. Normally, Yugoslavian professionals were good and reliable, but those two were not exactly stars – yes, they helped Angers, but were getting old, and were not the kind of players able to elevate their club much higher. Angers was returning to top flight, but the possibility of coming back to second level was more than a possibility.

Second finished RCFC Besancon – three points behind Angers, but also three points ahead of 4th placed SC Toulon.

Now, for Besancon this was a success – unlike Angers, they were not regular first division club. Having a chance of going up was like a dream come true, but it was just a dream…

Standing from left: Bruder, Viscaino, Gazzola, Raymond, Bagnol, Traoré.

Crouching : Masson, Dralet, Sanchez, Bedouet, Martinez.

Anonimous, typically second-division squad, unable to really challenge Angers, let alone something stronger. At the end, Besancon did not get promotion, which was disappointing for their fans, but made FC Toulouse very happy: Besancon staying in the group meant only two clubs were relegated, not three. Besancon missed, Toulouse survived.

Group B was tougher: three clubs competed for promotion – Lille, relegated in 1976-77. and two Parisian clubs, eager to return to first division – Red Star and Paris FC. Four points divided success and failure at the end. Red Star failed – their relative weakness was largely in attack: they scored 58 goals during the season, but the competition scored over 70.

Lille Olympique triumphed at the end with 51 points. Best attack and second-best defense, 21 wins and only 4 losses. Going ‘home’ after one year in purgatory.

Unlike Angers, Lille tried to change their team – they recruited two new experienced foreigners: a curious player from Luxembourg, Gilbert Dussier, who was born in Zaire (Congo Kinshasa), and played already in West Germany and France. He came from Nancy and lasted only this year, moving to Belgium after the end of the season. Dussier hardly ever stayed longer then a season in the same club. The other one came from Antwerp (Belgium), but he was Yugoslavian – Zarko Olarevic. Unlike Dussier, the forward stayed, becoming a key player of Lille. Along with the re-enforcement some good players were at hand – Pleimelding, Simon, Dos Santos. Good enough professionals, a first division material. Lille looked stronger than Angers, perhaps the best of the promoted, but hardly capable of more than fighting for survival in the top league. Strong enough for winning second division.

Paris FC finished second, missing direct promotion, but still having a chance.

Paris FC was relegated from First Divison in 1973 and finally were strong enough to try a return. If ‘return’ is the right word… for the young club with strange history, leading to scandals and a split, giving birth of Paris Saint Germain, probably lost even hatred for Paris SG, taking ‘their’ place among the best French clubs by now. Paris FC only hoped to establish themselves at top level and may be then they would think of some real development. So far, they failed in their first attempt. It was their second chance, which they did not miss – at the expense of Besancon. Going up… the club was hoping, but in vein. Hope was strong at the end of 1977-78 season.

Hope is one thing, reality quite another. Paris FC already was financially limited. Back in the summer of 1977 they recruited only one player. True, they had few – may be not very ambitious, but good enough – players, like the goalkeeper Charrier, B. Lech, Lhoste, Bourgeois. Nothing exceptional, so some additions were badly needed. But there was only one – Nebojsa Zlataric (not on the photo), taken from Marseille. The Yugoslavian striker was supposed to bring some class… whether he did is debatable: he was out after the season’s end. Paris FC clinched promotion, but it was clear that they needed better players. At the end, Lille and Paris FC provided more interesting data about Yugoslavian export rules than French football: by 1977 the old rules regulating Yugoslavian export eroded to almost absurdity. Still national team players, the best Yugoslavs, that is, had to wait until reaching 28-years of age and were required to serve in the Army before getting permission to play abroad. But.. not everybody was subjected to the rules and lesser known players may be not at all. Olarevic (Lille), good, but not star player, was 27 and already played in Belgium. Zlataric was 24 when arrived in Paris, but he already played 2 years for Marseille. In fact, he played more in France than he did in Yugoslavia. Back home, Zlataric appeared in a single season with the jersey of small, hardly heard of lower tier club – Macva (Budva). Olarevic at least played for Vojvodina (Novi Sad) before moving abroad. Strange anyway, for when top players often had to wait for years, losing chances to play for great clubs as a result, little known players were easily moving to the West. Zlataric very likely did not even ask for permission, judging by his age. And he benefited by the strong reputation of Yugoslavian football – he was recruited by Marseille. Alas, he failed – either not so talented, as hoped, or lazy, or who knew what. At 24, he was stepping down, to second division. And he never became a big name player. Did not last in Paris FC either.

Belgium – the Cup

May be the big clubs exhausted themselves in the championship and the European tournaments, may be with the new crop of talented players the whole Belgian football was on a higher level, or may be the old ‘logic’ of cup tournaments was at play, but none of the big clubs reached the Cup final. Instead, mid-table, rather small and insignificant clubs appeared at the final – SK Beveren and Sporting Charleroi. Beveren got some notice, for they finished 5th in the championship – strong performance, if not excellent. Charleroi, however, ended 12th – nothing remarkable. But both teams excelled in the Cup, making their way to the final.

Beveren won 2-0.

To a point, playing at the Cup final was a success for Sporting Charleroi. To a point, it was not – they were not a force in Belgian football, yet, occasionally, they were able of a strong season. Sadly, they lost.

Standing from left : Mathy, Jacobs, Cloquet, Dekker, Van Toorn, Gebauer.

First row : Esgain, Royet, Vermeir, Iezzi, Bardaux, Bucci (supporter).

And their squad reveals why they lost… it was a typical mid-table Belgian team. No stars, not even half-stars. Sporting had no real sporting argument… they left an interesting picture, though: with apparently faithful supporter, Mr. Bucci. Nice recognition of the ’12th player’, usually anonymous, if photographed at all. Still, it was a team full of foreigners – 10 in total. Only the former Yugoslavian national team defender Enver Hadziabdic was known, but the veteran was well beyond his prime. The rest was mostly amusing names – the obligatory Dutch players, Chris Dekker and Mathijs van Toorn,, the anonymous Polish goalkeeper Andre Sumera, very likely a defector, for he was too young and entirely unknown for a legal transfer, an inevitable Congolese player – Victor N’Sengi-Biembi, the expected Austrian – Gerhard Bohmen, the also expected West German, Rainer Gebauer, and the mysterious Italian Antonio Iezzi. The last and biggest mystery was Muchel Esgain – a white player, but listed as Congolese. And among all that unknown players there was a young talented reserve, barely 18 years old, who was to be a star after a few years – one Alex Czerniatynksi. Too young to change the fate of his club in 1977-78.

 SK Beveren were amusing winners at first – it looked like chancy victory, taking advantage of big clubs not paying enough attention, and at the end facing pretty much equal squad. At least outside Belgium it did not matter who won – both finalists were little known and they were not the type of clubs going to challenge the status quo. In retrospects, though, the win of Beveren was not so chancy – the club was quietly building strength and confidence. The same team was to produce a sensation very soon. It was sensation in 1977-78 too, but somewhat underestimated. Actually, there was no way to take them very seriously – Anderlecht, FC Brugge, and even new Standard were full of professional stars. They had world-class players. Beveren was semi-professional club – some of its players had other jobs, including a veteran defender working at the docks, a stevedore, playing football part-time. Nobody was going to take such team seriously, but it was also very brave achievement: so rare and unusual was semi-professional club to succeed in the world dominated by professionals. Most importantly, this was the first ever trophy won by SK Beveren. So far, their biggest success was winning the Second Division twice – in 1966-67 and 1972-73.


Fantastic year for the modest club, but they were different team than Sporting Charleroi – they had rising players, with big potential still not fully revealed. Jean-Marie Pfaff was between the goalposts since 1974 – soon he was to be discovered as one of the top keepers in the world. The barely 20-years old Dutch Wim Hofkens will be playing for Holland in 1983. Marc Baecke – for Belgium. Jean Janssens already played for the Belgian national team. The club may have been semi-professional, but still employed foreigners – one more Dutch, Patrick Verhoosel; a German – Heinz Schonberger, and an Argentine – Saul Lisazo. It was a curious mix of veterans and youngsters, but the young players were really the strong ones. Contrary to common sense, Beveren was not to be one-time wonder. And most importantly, it was a fine example of the new rise of Belgian football – the young hopefuls were not many, but popped up in many clubs and made an impact. Two of them belonged to the Cup finalists – Pfaff and Czerniatynski. Pfaff enjoyed his first trophy, just a taste. Beveren also tasted success – and liked it very much.

Belgium I Division

First division. Clear outsiders at the bottom – two clubs with pathetic records. Only 4 wins each in a league generally playing attacking football. The outsiders were doomed early.

FC Boom finished last with 15 points. Nothing surprising – they rarely played at top level and when they did, the whole aim was escaping relegation. Hide and seek game, not lasting long.

KSV Cercle Brugge took the 17th place with 16 points. Normally, they were stable first-leagers, occasionally coming close to peril, but relegation was not exactly expected from them. Very poor season they played and had to accept the blow: safety was 8 points out of their reach at the end. Relegated clubs are pitied only by their own fans and nobody else, yet, it was a bit sad to see a city derby gone – Cercle Brugge was no longer a match for their neighbours, FC Brugge, but still a loss.

A large group of weak, but untroubled clubs, more or less waited for something better in the future – untroubled by fears of relegation, but having no squads for anything better than lounging in the lower half of the table. Five clubs, the lowest, KV Kortrijk, with 24 points, and highest, Charleroi, with 29 points at 12th place.

Another group occupied the real comfort zone between 11th and 5th place. SK Beveren was 5th with 40 points and KSV Waregem was 11th with 32 points. Rather equal clubs, not really able to do anything else than bumping into and edging each other. Such clubs exist anywhere and perhaps the Belgian ‘bulk’ was typical – clubs with few either fading or rising stars. Both suppliers and receivers of the top clubs.

KSV Waregem, 11th this season, was typical of this group: standing from left: DeMesmaeker, E. Denorme, A. Saelens, L. Millecamps, J. Dreesen, M. Millecamps.

First row: Giba, M. Devolder, R. Haleydt, H. Delesie, A. Koudizer.

Anonymous squads, having an occasional good player – Luc Millecamps, for instance. Talent was hard to keep, but Luc Millecamps became internationally famous playing for Waregem. For new recruits second division was the likelier source. Giba exemplifies that: he also played for KAA Gent and captained it, which brings the question of reliability of pictorial material: KAA Gent above is from 1977-78 – Zoltan Varga did not play anymore after this season. Waregem’s photo is also labeled 1977-78… unless Giba changed clubs in mid-season, something rare and even unlikely at the time, one of the pictures is wrong.

Perhaps the Belgian league was just too large for a small country with small pool of talent – 14 out of 18 first league clubs were entirely out of the race for the title. But it was exciting race – normally, two or three clubs really competed. This years they were four and the race was tight to the very end. And this was the big optimistic change. Anderlecht and FC Brugge were in top form, successful in Europe, and a fair match of the biggest European clubs. Standard (Liege) spent most of the 1970s in decline, but now had a new bright team and was back in the race. And K. Lierse SK, usually a modest club, had a splendid season. These four clubs left the rest in league far behind – the 5th placed was 7 points behind the 4th – but the difference between the champions and the 4th was only 4 points. The quartet played attacking and high-scoring football. The highest number of wins in the rest of the league was 15 – the lowest of the top 4 had 20. The lowest number of goals scored of the top four was 69 – the highest in the rest of the league was 59. Surely, these four clubs outclassed the rest, but in the same time they appeared very up to date clubs, playing open football, not scheming and fearing anybody. Pleasure to watch.

Lierse finished 4th with 47 points. Certainly their squad was short on big talent and may be enthusiasm carried them that far, but it was not a bad team at all.


Unlike most Belgian clubs, Lierse did not depended heavily on foreigners. They had only one – the Portuguese forward Raul Aguas. The real strength was young Belgian talent – Janssens, Leo De Smet, Walter Ceulemans, his younger – only 20-years old – brother Jan Ceulemans and even younger Erwin Vandenbergh (or Van den Bergh), born in 1959. A teenager practically. These group obviously inspired their rather modest teammates and was enough to challenge the big clubs. And, if Lierse was able to keep their stars and add a few more, they had great chance to become really remarkable. The future depended on money and planning, but Lierse was already significant sign of change in Belgian football – a new vintage of excellent players was emerging and already making an impact.

Standard finished with bronze – they ended with 2 points more than Lierse, a point short of second place, and two points short of the title. Historically, this was hardly remarkable year for Standard, but it was a great sign of recovery. The 1970s were bad years for the club – it suffered from long decline, was late to rebuild the aging squad with which they entered the decade, and lost their position as one of the two best Belgian clubs. Given the weakness of the rest of the league, Standard never sunk low, but struggled and not a factor in championship race. This year was entirely different and most importantly – the new young team was shaped and it was clear that these boys were to be going up and up.


Gerets, Renquin, Preud’Homme – the world was yet to hear about them, but these were staple names in the 1980s. The difficult name of the goalkeeper was to trouble fans and journalists until 1996! Obvious talent – Michel Preud’Homme was just 18 in 1977-78 season, who benched the well known Belgian national team keeper Christian Piot. At 30, the best age for goalkeepers, Piot had to give way to a mere teenager – this speak loudly of the qualities of the youngsters in Standard. Eric Gerets already captained the team – another recognition of young quality. But it was not all – Standard was well rounded and had quite a long reliable bench. Still, it was mainly young team – the 22-years old Siguirvinsson from Iceland was also to be very well known in the 1980s. The 24-years old West German striker Harald Nickel was also making a name for himself – he was the top scorer of the season with 22 goals. Like his Belgian teammates and Siguirvinsson he was soon to be asked to play for West Germany – he did not last, unfortunately, unlike his teammates, but still moved from Standard to better contracts in the Bundesliga. These were the great hopes for the future, young talented players already making the skeleton of Standard. They were complimented by competent and experienced bunch – the 28-years old Austrian national team striker Alfred Riedl, who was the best scorer of Belgium in 1974-75; the 31-years old West German Helmuth Graf; Christian Piot, still a prime choice for the Belgian national team; the Yugoslavian Josip Keckes; and the Hungarian defector Yuli Veee (real name Gyula Visneye), who already was statistical nightmare – listed as Hungarian, Belgian, and US American, not to mention the problem with his two names, one of which a whimsical confusion. And not to mention where he really played, for he shuffled between Europe and North America and was found in different clubs in the same year, depending on the month. Lastly, Standard had a very good coach – Robert Waseige – thus, entirely matching Anderlecht and FC Brugge. It was clear Standard was just coming back, was rising, and was to stay and compete for the title for a long time.

Anderlecht finished with silver, thanks to their 50 points. One point better than Standard, one point behind FC Brugge. Anderlecht was flying high – excellent team, carefully adjusted every year, great coach – Raymond Goetals – and great stars.


To go player by player would be redundant – Anderelecht were famous. It was also the year of their second Cup Winners Cup. May be playing both domestic championship and the strenuous final rounds of an European tournament was too much and they had to sacrifice the league title? Hardly a strong argument – FC Brugge was in exactly the same situation. The national team of Holland perhaps had a reason to grumble for not having star players and coach on time for World Cup preparations, but Anderlecht had enough experience and depth to fight for he title along with competing in Europe. It was a ‘Dutch team’ – Arie Haan, Nico De Bree, Johnny Dusbaba, Rob Rensenbrink, Ronny van Poucke – but the Belgian part was not at all to be dismissed as mere helpers: half of the regular Belgian national team. Add the Dane Benny Nielsen and the Congolese (or Zairean, for his home country was still called Zaire) Jean-Claude Bouvy for ‘spice’. Strong, well balanced squad, in its prime. One of the most exciting to watch teams of the time, one of the very top in Europe. To beat them was a privilege. To beat them was not a matter a luck, but a matter of real class.

FC Brugge had it and clinched the title at the end of the exciting race between three great clubs and three great coaches. Lierse was tough opposition too, only not all that famous, so the success of FC Brugge has to be really appreciated – Ernst Hapel was pressured by the Dutch federation to start training Holland for the World Cup. Meantime, FC Brugge had two tournaments to win – the European Champions Cup and the Belgian championship. They lost the European cup, but not in disgrace, and still outfoxed the domestic enemies. It was dramatic victory by a point – Anderlecht had much better goal-difference and equal points were to leave FC Brugge second. The champion’s defense left much to be desired – they allowed 48 goals in the 34 season’s matches, the worst record among the title contenders. Anderlecht allowed exactly ½ less – only 24. Eleven clubs had equal or better defensive record than the champions – telling only that FC Brugge was shaky in its own half. But they had the best scoring record in the league – 73 goals. An anomaly, when compared to their European performance, clearly marked by tough defense and almost Italian approach: defensive football, waiting for occasional counter-attack. They scored little and hardly allowed any goals in their net. May be that was all because of Hapel – his team had two faces, depending on the opposition. Credit to the great tactician, but the players were to be credited too – for understanding and executing very different tactics, changing from one to the other in a single weak. Worthy champions of wonderful and dramatic race. And more – it was their third consecutive title. Belgium was theirs.

Standing from left: Jensen, Bastijns, Volders, De Cubber, Leekens, Vandereycken.

Crouching: Soerensen, Cools, Lambert, Sanders, Courant.

Another team no needing much introduction, but deserving perhaps one more look:


Lovely Puma kit – their home blue and away white. The huge strange numbers of the sponsor’s name, looking more like uniform element than advertizement. In the battle of kit makers, Puma topped Adidas in Belgium. As for the team, just like Anderlecht, FC Brugge continued to shape its squad, thus making one more interesting opposition – if Anderlecht were Dutch, FC Brugge were Danish: to Jensen and Le Fevre (who departed in 1977, but captained FC Brugge the previous two years) one more was added – Soerensen. The Danes were not as famous as the Dutch, but they bested them three years in a row. Of course they were not alone – big group of Belgian national team players: Lambert, Bastijns, Cools, Leekens, Volders, Van der Eycken; the defector from Hungary and former national team player of the same country Ku; the Austrian national team player Krieger, going to the World Cup finals soon; the English striker Davies; the former Holland-Under 21 goalkeeper Barth. Coached by Hapel, FC Brugge firmly established itself in Europe and Belgium.

Belgium II Division

Belgium next. Strong Anderlecht and FC Brugge in Europe, but there was something else as well – the emerging of new great generation of ‘Red Devils’. They were still young and not fully developed, so Belgium missed the 1978 World Cup, so the strength of Belgian club football was based on the foreign stars. To many, Belgium was a country without any restrictions on foreigners, which perhaps was not the case. It was foggy matter – since Belgian clubs were hardly the best known and had constant financial problems, leading to mergers and bankruptcy, the best world stars were clearly not to be found on Belgian soil. Most imports were little known or completely unknown. Congolese players were often to be found playing for Belgian clubs, but they were no international stars and perhaps even considered domestic, for they came from former colonies. The Dutch traditionally played in Belgium in huge numbers. Hungarian defectors often appeared in Belgium perhaps because of the liberal rules. West Germans too, including suspended in Germany players. Yugoslavians, Swedes, Austrians, Danes, any kind of foreigners. Including stars – Lothar Emmerich back in 1970-71, for instance. Rolf Russmann during his suspension – 1973-74. Robbie Rensenbrink and Arie Haan by the current year. At least the biggest Belgian clubs had money for stars and to them their international success was often attributed – most of the league consisted of small, financially shaky clubs of no significance. Haan and Rensenbrink together with semi-professionals, and, curiously, the part-timers were even able to top the clubs with famous players now and then. The last intriguing thing about Belgian football was their unusually big sponsor adds on their shirts: shirt adds were still a bit exotic and normally not very large, except in Belgium. As a result, the club shirts were quite colourful and interesting to the eye. Of course, the real reason was plain money – the clubs had to find any possible mean to survive as professional clubs in a country with small and not so crazy about football population.

Naturally, the second division football was entire under the radar – the first league was barely known to outsiders, to whom the whole Belgian game consisted of the national team, Anderlecht, Standard, and, recently, FC Brugge. The rest was a blank… and no wonder. The 16-team strong second division hardly had better known clubs. It was poor league too – perhaps the reason why only one club was directly promoted at that time. The second promotional spot had to be earned in play-off tournament between 2nd and 5th finisher in the regular season. Made sense, since most of the clubs were really small fry, like KFC Diest.

KFC Diest finished 6th with 34 points, 3 less than the 5th placed, but really the most interesting thing about them were the exotic large adds on their shirts. Clearly, not a club able to disturb the status quo – and that was the case of every second division club. The four clubs above KFC Diest were not very different, except that they all were no strangers to first division football. Unfortunately, no strangers to second division either… they competed for the second promotion in two-legged round-robin play-off group. In the regular season 3 points divided 2nd from 5th place, which was decided on goal-difference. The promotional tournament mirrored the championship: AS Oostende KM ended last with 2 points. In the championship they were 4th, thanks to better goal-difference. KAA Gent finished 5th at the end of the season with the same points as AS Oostende KM (torturous full name has to be preserved because there was one more Oostande in the league: KVG Oostande, which finished dead last) – 37. KAA Gent was not a surprise in the promotional tournament either – they finished 3rd, 2 points more than AS Oostende KM, but hopelessly 5 points behind the other two clubs.

KAA Gent achieved nothing, but is a good example of Belgian football bursting with foreigners:standing from left:  Brösch, Coenije, De Groote, Van Wassenhove, Tudor, Daffe, Temmerman 

Crouching:  Heyt, Varga, Bene, Giba, Van Herp.

Two Africans plus one Hungarian, certainly a defector. Intriguing name, Varga – yes, the much travelled Zoltan Varga in his last year as a professional. Add the West German goalkeeper Helmut Brosch, the Dutch Henk Heijt, one Brazilian – Francisco Benedito, and very Italian, only 17-years old, Francesco Pirelli.

Second and third place were decided by a single point in the championship and the parity was preserved in the play-offs: both clubs ended with 9 points and goal-difference decided who went up and who stayed in purgatory for another or more seasons. KSK Tongeren finished 3rd in the league – they finished 2nd in the mini-league. They were unbeaten – 3 wins and 3 ties, but, just like in the regular season, a little something was missing. Goal-difference – 5:2.

K. Bershem Sport bested Tongeren by a single goal. They were one point better in the championship, but it was a equal race. Tongeren were stronger in the direct clash – a win and a tie. But Bershem made no mistake against the outsiders – 4 victories, with which they also finished with 9 points. However, Bershem scored 7 goals and received 3 – they ended with +4 goals, Tongeren with +3, and Bershem went to up – or returned to first division, where they used to play in the 1960s and sometimes in the 1970s. It was doubtful they will last, but it was a concern for the next year. Lucky now – and happy too.

The direct promotion was unquestionable – K. Watershei SV Thor finished far above the competition: with 46 points, they had no real pursuer – the next team was 6 points behind. Best attack, second best defense, they lost only 3 championship matches – a record shared with K. Bershem Sport, but they excelled in winning – they won 19 out of 30 total championship games, the only club with more than 50% wins this year. The name of the club means nothing nowadays, for the club does not exist, but back in the 1970s they were one of the two clubs in the city of Genk, Limburg province. The other was Winterslag, slightly better known, for they played almost constantly in the first division, sometimes qualifying for the European tournaments. Watershei had nothing to be proud of so far – founded in 1919, they registered in the Belgian FA in 1925 and played mostly lower-level football. Their best years were in the late-1950s -early-1960s, when they played in the first division. Relegation followed and in 1977-78 they finally matched the relative success of the old 1950-s team – won the Second Division and promotion for second time.


Confident winners, but, as normally is the case with second division clubs, nothing really can be said about the squad. May be the only thing worth saying about the winners is description of their name. It was very, very long and amusing: Koninklijke Watershei Sportverenigung Thor. A mouthful? Not even close… for ‘Thor’ itself was an achronym of ‘Tot Herstel Onzer Rechten’, meaning ‘To Recover Our Rights’. Politically motivated name, hardly all that rare in football, but just try to use the whole proper name of the club… Try chanting it in full voice… no wonder the name was shortened to just Watershei. Watch out, first division, here they come. Minus their Moroccan player of 1977-78, Mohammed Maarouf, who was to stay in Second Division with KAA Gent.

Spain Cup

Barcelona still saved the season, setting a new record as a cup winner. It was tit for tat – Real won their 18th title and Barcelona – 18th cup. A consolation, but still second best. Second best, but still something to be proud of -especially because the final was played in Madrid, right on Santiago Bernabeu stadium. The home stadium of the arch-enemy, which was out of the race. It was interesting final for other reasons, though. UD Las Palmas was the other finalist.

No doubt, it was great for the islanders to reach the final. They hoped to win it too and it would have been great for seasoned players like Carnevalli and Brindisi. But the two Argentine stars were no match for the much classier Catalunian squad, led by Cruyff. Barcelona won 3-1.

Brave Las Palmas, reaching the final, but just like in the championship, they ended empty-handed. Good team, good coach, but a relatively small club – this was the best they could do. Munoz, though, was to coach the Spanish national team thanks to his work with Las Palmas.

Barcelona triumphed at the enemy’s den. It was the last hurray for Cruyff.

Familiar Barcelona squad, betraying nothing of dark dealings. The flying Dutch captained his team to a record win of the trophy. Confident victory. So far – so good. Lost championship, however… with Cruyff, Barcelona won one title back in 1973-74. With the other great Dutchman, Neeskens – nothing. Cruyff was at the end of his contract and hinting retirement. The question was much debated, but in terms of Holland’s national team and the World Cup finals. At the end of the season Cruyff announced his retirement in his typically veiled manner: he was true to his old word announced at the end of the 1974 World Cup, that he was going to retire in 1978. But he nevertheless added that he ‘is semi-retiring’. Hard to tell what he really meant – at 31, he was still good for active professional football. Yet, he was out of it, in his own words. And it was his own decision, perplexing as it was. He was loved by Barcelona’s fans, there was no known conflict with the club – both the player and the club acted as they were happy with each other, it was only the that the star did not want to play the game anymore. Respectful goodby… sadly, nothing was to be done about it. In the fall of 1978 Cruyff played his testimonial match and there his words of ‘semi-retirement’ suddenly took another meaning: Cruyff played only for two clubs – Ajax and Barcelona. Barcelona, his last club, where he was a god, did not participate – it was a match between Ajax and Bayern. True, the time was bad, right in the middle of fall domestic and international tournaments, but Barcelona was entirely absent from the testimonial. It was strange… and most likely the whole retirement-semi-retirement story was different, but hidden from the general public. It was more than likely, that Cruyff wanted to stay in Barcelona, perhaps not only expecting a new contract, but a bigger one. It was also clear that Barca needed a new, different squad. Cruyff, often antagonizing, may have been out of favour – he left open the possibility, but Barca was not interested. He was out, may be he miscalculated the situation. May be so, but the sad reality was not in favour – Barcelona really needed rebuilding and new stars. Cruyff, and Michels as well, had to go. For one of the greatest players in football history it was noble ending: he finished his days in Barcelona with a trophy.

There was one more thing about the squad: a strange black player, called Bio. By sight, a third foreigner… but Bio was listed as Spaniard. Still worth a note, for there were hardly any black Spanish players at the time. Even if he was a genuine Spaniard, still Barca had too many foreigners in the squad above: Rafael Zuviria was an Argentine. So, oriundi again… with two Dutch players, may be Bio, like Zuviria, was also with Spanish blood? No. He was naturalized Spaniard. The 26-years old striker with real name Williams Silvio Modesto Verisimo was Brazilian by birth. Bio had no Brazilian fame and came to play in Europe very young – at first he played in Portugal, then moved to the Spanish second division club Terrasa. Maried Spanish woman and became Spanish citizen by marriage. Barcelona took him from Terrasa, but most likely in mid-season, for he was not listed at all as Barcelona player in 1977-78. But he played at the cup final, in April 1978. Obviously, Barcelona counted on him for the future, but… Bio played a total of 9 matches for Barca and that in 1978-79 season. Scored 3 goals, not a bad percentage, but that was all. A curiousity really, not a new star. For him, winning the cup in April 1978 was to be the highest career achievement. For Barcelona – just a small episode.

Spain I Division

The top of the league proved to be somewhat equal – six clubs competed not for the title, but mostly for bronze and silver, dropping out of race for the first place one after another. There was no real division between the top clubs and the rest of the league in term of points. Las Palmas finished 7th, continuing consistent strong performance – strong, but not great.

A mid-table club really, Las Palmas hardly challenged anything, yet remained solid for quite some time. More or less, the team depended on two Argentinians already under the radar: Brindisi, skilful midfielder and a star just a few years ago, and the long-serving former national team goalkeeper Carnevali. Brindisi kind of disappeared from the big picture, perhaps going to Las Palmas was the reason. Carnevali was a bit of curiousity – one of the first foreign crop imported by the Spanish, he settled in Las Palmas. Strange for a goalkeeper – the general ‘wisdom’ was that the imports were mostly strikers and attacking midfielders. Goalies were not interesting, so the wisdom went – Carnevali contrdicted it. Apart from that, the other novelty was his shorts: narrow and long, excentric in the 1970s , when such shorts were sported generally by Sep Maier and Hugo Gatti.

Atletico Madrid finished 6th, out of the race for medals for a long time.

The familiar successful team of the 1970s, nothing new. The same boys won the title the previous year, but they were never able of coming to the real top, so to say. Consistent, always among the best 6 teams, but not a dynasty. Not able to win two titles in a row or conquer Europe. The team needed rebuilding – Ayala, Luis Pereira, and Leivinha, their key foreign players reached their peak may be two or three years back. Good as they were, they were getting old, not able to improve anymore, and their football was well known to everybody. Atletico was still running, but it was inertia… the club missed the right moment of changing the team.

Fifth was unlikely club, which was ascending at that time – Sporting Gijon. Normally, lower half of the table, flirting with relegation. Quitely, the usually modest club built sturdy team and now was disturbing the peace.


As a whole, not an exceptional team, but they had fantastic striker – Quini. Prolific goal-scorer, strong, physical, hungry, Quini was already one of the best Spanish players. The strength of Gijon was largely based on him, but it was also clear that the club would not be able to keep him and develop greater team around him. Gijon had to enjoy the moment and they did, missing second place by two points – very admirable season.

Valencia finished 4th on goal-difference. Apparently, no better and no worse the rest of the top clubs. May be they should have been stronger, considering their possession of the best player of the world… but such consideration would be faulty, for it was based on performance at the World Cup finals, following the normal season.

Mario Kempes shined in Spain – Valencia’s captain scored plenty of goals, ending not only the top goal-scorer of the season, but leaving pursuers in the dust. Kempes scored 28 goals – the next best, Santillana of Real Madrid, had 24. Only two other players reached 20 goals marker – scoring in Spain was difficult, so Kempes’ achievement was remarkable. But Valencia did not have a team strong enough to compete for the title – Kempes was not enough. May be the best about them was their reserve kit – a bit outlandish, but nice nevertheless.

Athletic Bilbao clinched the bronze, narrowly missing silver in the same time – one point above Gijon and Valencia and one point behind Barcelona. Second-best attack in the league, decent defense, good mixture of old,experienced players and new talent.


To a point, the Basques are eternal enigma – their performance is traditionally strong, they rarely slip outside the top half of the league. But their policy of using only Basques players make them unpredictable – all depends on the team of the moment. The best stars often move to other clubs, so it is hard to maintain consistency. Athletic played well during the 1970s, but so far the teams they had did not match great teams of the past. They were good for occasional cup, more likely just to play at finals, instead of winning them – they reached the UEFA Cup final in 1977 and lost dramatically the cup to Juventus. In Spain, third place was just about the best they were able to do – but the club was really on ascend, preparing their much more successful squad of the early 1980s.

At the end, Barcelona vs Real Madrid… as ever. Well, no. There was no race, Barcelona dropped out and finished 6 points behind. May be the most interesting about Barca was their defensive record – they had the best defense in the league, allowing only 29 goals. Their scoring was also very low, however. Michels, Cruyff, Neeskens represent attacking football, that is why the low numbers were strange. And also not strange – it was the swan song of this squad and of Cruyff in particular.

No goalkeepers? Barcelona posed in team colours before their fans before the season started and hopes were still high. The goalies are in the picture, only dressed in regular jerseys – for the record, Mora and Artola. Familiar squad… familiar for years, getting older and older, and stubbornly postponing the moment of starting a new one. To their peril, for this team won only one title and that was a few years back. Of course, hopes were high in August, 1977. By the end of the season in 1978 there were no hopes, but getting rid of failures. Perhaps it was too late, but getting rid of Cruyff was not an easy thing.

With Barcelona out of the way, there was confident victory for Real Madird. They won easily, finishing with 22 wins – the next best record was 16. Scoring was high – 77 goals. Far better than any other club. Attacking team, then, not concerned with defense , which received 40 goals. A new record for Real – their 18th title. What else could be expected from the legendary club? Quite a lot more, actually – a double did not happened. European triumph was not coming at all. By Madrid’s standards, hardly an exceptional year.

Only one cup on display? Rather modest… may be the reason the name ‘Molowny’ is not very well known. Born in 1925, the former striker-midfielder was already at his second stint with Real. The first was a brief one in 1974. Already Luis Molowny appeared as an emergency coach, filling up until ‘a real coach’ was hired – he was to coach Real on two more occasions, will win more than ‘just’ the Spanish league, will become one of the most successful coaches in the club’s history, and… will remain almost unknown name, never lasting more than 2 years at the helm. The curse of the Spanish coaches, especially in the biggest clubs: reluctantly hired, easily fired – foreigners were preferred, native coaches were heavily scrutinized and criticized, almost never seen as equal, let alone better, than foreigners. Every mistake was amplified; every success was not exactly enough. Molowny won the title confidently, yet… he win only a title. The squad at his disposal was quite good – unlike Barcelona, Real constantly shaped and reshaped the team. In the summer of 1977 Uli Stielike arrived and fitted more than well – a young, vastly talented German star, still far from reaching his peak and entirely modern player. Versatile enough, physically fit, technical, strong in every aspect of the game, Stielike already played in every position for Borussia Moenchengladbach, so far seen as a constructive midfielder, but it was obvious already that he was going to be moved further back and made a libero, like the great Beckenbauer. With him, Real had a key player for many years to come. Of course, Stielike was not alone.


Apart from the mystery who was and who was not foreign player, the team was strong and healthy – the squad above was not even the strongest: Del Bosque and Camacho are absent. Both were key players at their prime, the core of the team. Pirri was getting old, but transition was going on smoothly. Real had many options not only for this particular season, but also for the future – the Argentine defender Enrique Wolff and the Danish centre-forward Henning Jensen most likely were not going to last, Pirri was nearing retirement, but with Stielike, Santillana, Camacho, Del Bosque, Juanito the future was secured. In the case of Real Madrid, the proper question was not who was a national team players, but who was not. Few of those… one thing clearly distinguishing Real from Barcelona of that time was goalkeeping: Barcelona was unable to find strong replacement of Sadurni. Artola and Mora rotated, neither great. Perhaps weak goalkeeping affected negatively Barcelona’s tactics, somewhat restraining the team. Real had two national team goalkeepers – Miguel Angel and Garcia Remonq a luxury. Strong team, no doubt, but still not strong enough to conquer Europe – the European dominance from mid-1950s to 1966 waited heavily, every new team was compared to Di Stefano and Co. But great clubs are like that and Real Madrid was the greatest in the world. Too bad for Molowny… a title in only a number, much more was expected.

Perhaps the last note on Spanish championship will be on kits: ‘modernity’ was not completed yet. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia, Athletic Bilbao were seemingly supplied by Adidas. “Seemingly’, for every club appeared in traditional uniforms without a sign of kit-maker’s logo. Training tops had the famous three-stripes and goalkeeper’s jerseys. Were Spanish clubs using mixed kits? Or were they insisting on plain kits made by Adidas? The big clubs perhaps had the last say. Smaller ones played with ‘normal’ Adidas – or Puma – kits. Yet, it was a bit strange – goalies played with obviously different kits than their teammates. Well, just you wait a few more years. As for 1977-78, the curious question may be only this: who made Cruyff’s kit? Barcelona seemingly was supplied by Adidas. Cruyff had his personal contract with Puma – and played with different kit than the rest of the Dutch national team for years. Was it the same when playing for his club? Or was he quietly ‘compromising’ with his employer? He readily abandoned his famous number 14 when the club gave him number 9 – or ordered him to take it. Food for thought.

Spain I Division

First division, the real drama, the real excitement, the real winners, if only on Spanish scale. Same old, same old, in other words – Barcelona against Real Madrid. But it was never just that. Difficult league, where scoring was not high – only one club scored 2 goals per game average – but unlike Italy, there was worship of the single point in Spain, and everybody fought for a win, not for a tie. At the end, only three clubs finished with with 10 or more ties – Hercules (Alikante) with 10 and Las Palmas and Burgos, 11 ties each. There was no club with 50% or more of their games tied, like in Italy and USSR. Winning was everything, yet, it was largely winning home games. As for outsiders, there was one – the debutant Cadiz CF.

A rather typical story – a modest club, finally reaching top division, but not having enough resources to recruit strong players. Lasting a single year at the bottom of the table practically from the start of the championship and existing more or less as a point donor to the other clubs. Cadiz CF fought the best they could, but were clearly outclassed. They were the only club with less than 10 wins this season. Their strikers were second worst with 30 goals – only Racing Santander scored less goals. Their defense was also the worst – Cadiz received 69 goals. The finished last. May be the only thing needed to be said about them is a reminder of the fashion trends in the decade – the bell-bottoms of their coach above. Even then it was weird to see middle-aged men dressed in youth fashion, but the trend was already accepted by the mainstream culture. Even in conservative Spain. Yet, it looked and look weird. Such were the days, though. Fashion did not help Cadiz a bit.

Not did anybody else. Elche and Real Betis joined Cadiz.

Ten foreigners were unable to save Elche from relegation. They fought to the end, but lost the battle for survival – ended with 27 points, 5 more than Cadiz, but still three points behind the nearest escapee. For Elche a whole period ended this year – their perhaps most successful period, stretching from 1959 to 1978. Elche never won anything, but played constantly in the first division and back in the 1960s were among the strongest clubs, finishing among the best 8. But the club was gradually slipping down in the 1970s, reaching the sad and fearful stage of small clubs concerned only with escaping relegation. The inevitable happened this year.

Above them competition was vicious. All teams from the 10th placed down (if not even from the 5th placed down) spent the season running away from the spectre of Second Division. Six points divided Atletico Madrid at the 5th final place from the relegated 16th, but the bitter struggle was between the clubs spread from 10th to 16th place. Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad at the end finished 10th and 11th with 33 points each. Burgos and Racing Santader ended just bellow them with 31 points. Three clubs finished with 30 points each. Two survived – Espanol (Barcelona) and Hercules (Alikante). The third did not. What was the decisive factor? Hard to tell, for there was no particular consistency in the rules deciding the places of clubs with equal points: up the table, goal-difference was seemingly the factor. So it appears, looking at the goal-difference Valencia (4th) and Sporting Gijon (5th). But only between these two clubs appears so – all other clubs with equal points were seemingly positioned not by goal-difference, but on the accumulated results of their head to head matches. Real Betis had rather good goal-difference – certainly better one than not only Hercules’ and Espanol’s, but better than a total of 9 clubs: 51:52. Did not matter.

16th and relegated… Real Betis won the Spanish Cup in 1976-77 and were relegated the next season. Strange, yet not so strange – after all, Real Zaragoza were relegated not very long after winning the cup. Looked like a curse for smaller clubs – winning the cup exhausting them to death. Real Betis did not look all that on paper, but in reality Gerrie Muhren and Atilla Ladinsky were fading rapidly. Both were mostly reserves this season. The club hardly had strong core players and they went down. Sadly, with their relegation the number of local derbies in the league were reduced to two cities – Madrid and Barcelona. May be the fans of Sevilla FC were happy to see their neighbours down and out, but still it was sad to see a local derby gone to the dogs. Real Betis may have been unlucky, but such is football. Others were lucky:

Rayo Vallecano finished 19th, which may be considered a success for the modest club from Madrid. Playing in first division was a success, indeed – with neighbours like Real and Atletico, a chance of another club attracting fans and money was next to impossible. Once upon a time there were few clubs competing more or less on equal footing in Madrid, but by the 1970s the two giants dwarfed whatever other clubs existed. It is even questionable whether Real and Atletico considered the matches against Rayo Vallecano as a derby. Clearly, the smaller club was unable to compete with the big clubs, but still it was great to have them in the league. Madrid was the only Spanish city with three first-division clubs, at least for the moment. Rayo Vallecano could not even dream of winning anything or even building relatively strong squad. Playing in Primera Division was their success.

Standing, from left: Alcazar, Anero, Uceda, Nieto, Tanco, Rial

First rwo: Francisco, Landaburu, Salazar, Fermin, Alvanito.

Not a single recognizable player here, if those are the right names. And if the names correspond to players’ positions on the picture… but lovely kit. And something else about their kit – small Spanish clubs used the ‘orthodox’ production of Adidas and Puma. The big clubs – no. These were still early years for the new kits, advertizing more the maker than the club, in Spain. The change was coming with clubs like Rayo Vallecano, the small fry.