USSR The Cup

The cup final opposed Dinamo Tbilisi and Dinamo Moscow. The Moscovites were expected to win – they had few players participating in the Spartakiad, which finished just before the final and the team was fresh. Dinamo Tbilisi were in poor form and had injured players, including their star David Kipiani. They also provided almost the whole squad of Team Georgia, which finished with silver medals at the Spartakiad, so they were tired. The final was traditionally played in Moscow – another advantage for Dinamo M. The predictions seemed right in the first half of the final – Dinamo Moscow chose astonishing fast tempo, which, to the eye, pressed the Georgians into defense. Nikulin was assigned to mark the rapidly rising striker Shengelia and managed to neutralize him. Manuchar Machaidze, the key midfielder of Tbilisi, was neutralized in similar way. The biggest troubles were expected from Gutzaev, as ever – but he was notoriously moody player, the very reason he rarely played for the national team: one could never tell what Gutzaev would do – play fantastic match, or fall asleep. It was the latter in the first half. Dinamo Tbilisi was unable to slow down the tempo and get advantage of their better technical skills. They were pushed back into defense. It looked like Dinamo Moscow was going to win easily – but as minutes ticked away, the dominance proved to be more of an illusion. The speedy approach was not exactly benefiting the Moscow team – they were not skilful enough and made great many mistakes in passing. They mostly run around, but the Georgian defense – particularly the central defenders Khinchagashvili and Chivadze – easily deciphered the simple ideas of opposition, took full advantage of their passing mistakes, and generally were in control. Dinamo Tbilisi appeared outplayed, but the dangerous moments were few – and then the young talented goalkeeper Gabelia excelled. The first half ended as seemingly one-horse race, but in reality the Georgians were not in grave danger – it was clear that the Moscovites were above themselves: their own tempo destroyed their precision. The problem for the Georgians so far was attack – they were unable to slow down the tempo and organize counter-attacks. The midfield was dominated by the Moscovites, Gutzaev was entirely out of the game, and Shengelia was tightly marked.

The second half started like the first, but Tbilisi made a change and Kipiani came on the pitch, replacing Koridze. The aggressive fast game of the Moscovites misfired – it was ineffective so far, they run out of ideas and their mistakes continued. With Kipiani on the pitch things started to change – the elegant attacking midfielder was difficult to mark, he was dangerous in attack, and his creativity suddenly awoke Gutzaev. Tbilisi equalized the game and turned it over – in the last 15 minutes they were the more dangerous team, their Moscow namesakes pushed back into defense. But no goals were scored.

The extra time did not change anything – Tbilisi were tired to begin with and extra time was no help, but curiously it was the Moscow team which looked in worse shape: their own speed exhausted them even before the regular time ended. Dinamo Tbilisi appeared fresher and controlled the extra time, but they were only slightly more dangerous than Moscow and unable to score. 120 minutes passed without a goal and 65 000 spectators were to experience the drama of cup final in full: it was to be decided by penalty kicks. After the game the football statistician Sergey Essenin recalled that once upon a time tied games were decided by the number of corner kicks: amusingly, such a rule would not have determined anything this day – the opponents were tied in that as well: 8-8. Post-factum, Essenin also suggested that dragging the match to penalty kicks tipped the chances in favour of Tbilisi: Dinamo Moscow lost all their important matches when coming to penalty kicks since 1973. But it is easy to be clever after the end of a game… The shoot-out started with David Kipiani – and he missed! He never missed a penalty before…

Dinamo Moscow captain Makhovikov started the penalties for his team. He was the best player of his team this day… and he missed. Gutzaev next for Tbilisi – and he missed too. Maksimenkov scored the first goal – for Moscow. Chivadze equalized. Petrushin missed. Daraselia gave Tbilisi a lead. Pavlenko equalized. Shengelia made it 3-2. Bubnov equalized. Manuchar Machaidze made it 4-3. Tolstykh equalized. Sulakvelidze scored – 5-4. V. Gazzaev kicked the ball – Gabelia guessed rightly and saved, winning the cup!

Dinamo Tbilisi won the dramatic final.

The captain of Dinamo Tbilisi Manuchar Machaidze and the hero goalkeeper Otar Gabelia make their run of triumph with the cup. Happy moment, against the odds, and in front of fans, generally supporting the other team. It was the second cup for Dinamo Tbilisi and the 4th trophy in their history. It was also continuation of their successful decade. It was second trophy in a row, and although they were not in good form, still managed to win – champions 1978, cup winners in 1979. As for the losing finalists… too bad.

A moment of the final illustrating the ups and downs… David Kipiani running clear from A. Minaev (left) and E. Lovchev. He did not start the match and missed a penalty, but ended with the cup. One can pity Evgeny Lovchev… he left Spartak Moscow because he got tired from mediocrity and wanted to win. And what an irony… Spartak won the championship in 1979, Dinamo lost the cup, and Lovchev was on the losing side again. Symbolic picture too: Minaev and Lovchev left in the dust, no longer national team players, an old guard brushed aside; Kipiani going forward, at his prime and defining the current Soviet football even when injured and not at his best. And age has nothing to do… Minaev was 25, Kipiani – 28, and Lovchev – 30… it was not the age, but the kind of football – Moscow Dinamo was yesterday’s football, Tbilisi – tomorrow’s. Literally, as it turned out.

Here they are, the Cup winners: crouching, from left: N. Kakilashvili, R. Shengelia, V. Gutzaev, O. Gabelia, G. Machaidze.

Standing: V. Daraselia, T. Sulakvelidze, M. Machaidze – captain, A. Chivadze, D. Kipiani, S. Khinchagashvili.

A good team by all accounts, but there was something else: when Manuchar Machaidze spoke of his teammates after the game, he pointed out the cup experience of the squad – there were veterans, who got their first taste in 1968. Then there were those from 1971-72, followed by large group of 1976 cup winners, and finally – young brooms, getting on board after 1976. The captain spoke only of cup finals experience, but nevertheless his words reveal something rare: so far, Dinamo Tbilisi successfully avoided the typical decline when generations changed. The club somehow managed to blend newcomers painlessly. Retiring veterans did not open a gap. For then years Dinamo Tbilisi managed to rebuild without any pain and seemingly were still able to do so – there were three veterans from 1968: David Gogia, Piruz Kanteladze, and Shota Khinchagashvili. Back then they were young hopefuls. Now Gogia and Kanteladze were 30-years old and no longer regulars – and not making fuss about it. Khinchagashvili was 28 and key player, but it was clear that Chivadze and Sulakvelidze were taking the leading position from the captain of the 1976 cup winning squad. The 1976 group was the in its prime and the core the team: David Kipiani, Vladimir Gitzaev, Manuchar Machaidze, Gocha Machaidze, Vakhtang Koridze, David Mudzhiri, Nodar Khizanishvili, plus the ‘young brooms’ of the same year – Aleksander Chivadze, Revaz Chelebadze, and Vakhtang Kopaleishvili, Vitaly Daraselia. And there was the younger talent, rapidly gaining fame – Ramaz Shengelia, Otar Gabelia, Tengiz Sulakvelidze, Tamaz Kostava. The gradual replacement of old players was very smooth – for instance, at the beginning of the 1979 season Givi Nodia, the long time winger, was listed as a player. By the time of the Cup final – late summer of 1979 – Nodia was no longer a player, but an assistant coach. He was 31 years old. The very age the active veterans were – Gogia, now a back-up goalkeeper, was 31; Kanteladze – also a reserve player – was 30. Only two players of the same age were regulars – Koridze and Manuchar Machaidze, both 30 years old. And it was clear that they were going to step down soon – the team was lead by the next generation – Chivadze (24) in defense, Kipiani (28) in midfield, and increasingly Shengelia (22) in attack. The veterans were giving up their positions gracefully and no tremors occurred, unlike any other club. The current regulars were more than impressive: Gabelia (26) between the goal-posts, Sulakvelidze (23), Khinchagashvili (28), Chivadze (24), and Mudzhiri (23) in defense; M. Machaidze (30), Kipiani (28), Koridze (30) in midfield; Gutzaev (27), Chelebadze (24), and Shengelia (22) in attack. Khizanishvili (26), Kostava (23), Daraselia (22), G. Machaidze (29), and Kopaleishvili (25) were not exactly reserves, but more like regulars – there was good rotation in the squad, a really strong group of 15-16 players and promising youngsters behind them. Almost all of the above played for the national team of USSR, but Chivadze, Sulakvelidze, and Shengelia were to be the key players of blossoming national team of the 1980s. It was a team ready for the future – and although 1979 was not exactly great year for Dinamo Tbilisi, the more or less lucky win of the cup opened the door for their finest ever season. Nobody knew that in 1979, of course. And given the shaky season the Georgians had, nobody would have predicted international success – but it was to come and these very same players were going to achieve it.

USSR I Division

Since the tragedy with Pakhtakor was downplayed as much as possible, the championship was normal and rather plain. After its end, few positive changes were observed – apparently, the new limit on ties worked. The scoring slightly increased – at least when compared to the season, hitting rock-bottom: 1977. Looked like the dreadful stream of scoreless ties was coming to end. The general increase of goals immediately affected individual scoring records: for the first time in 11 years the top scorer went over 19 goals. True, only one player scored over 20 goals and the followers were in the usual bracket of 16-17, but by now people had difficulty even remembering when someone scored near 20 goals, let alone more than 20. As for all other aspects of the championship… there was not much to say. It was clear that the whole league was going through transitional period – the promising players were so young, they did not play central role and rightly so, for they were still years away from their peaks. But the previous generation was retiring and talent was short: the increased league only spread it thinner. There was obvious shortage of quality players – most clubs very few players with names, and some of this names were recognizable largely if compared to their anonymous teammates. The squad of Lokomotiv Moscow was typical example – practically, the only ‘classy’ player was the goalkeeper Samokhin. He spend most of his career sitting on the bench of Dynamo Kiev, as ‘eternal’ back-up of Evgeny Rudakov. Even the retirement of revered goalkeeper did not change Samokhin’s position – clearly, he was mediocre player… so his moved to lowly Lokomotiv. At 32, he barely played 100 matches in the league… and he was the most recognizable player of team. Perusing the roster, one can see only only one more name: V. Petrakov. He was 21, still a promise, rather than established ‘star’, but at least he was known. The rest paled, when compared to this two. The lack of reputable players was very dangerous to declining clubs: they were unable to do anything radical – the players they had, declining, lazy, indifferent, injured, appeared still better option, when looking around the league for possible recruits. What was the point of discarding a goalie when the possible replacement was someone like Samokhin? Very likely worse than whoever was at hand, but, most importantly, it was impossible to start building a new team with the likes of Samokhin. They were no leaders and did not represent anything fresh or even slightly ambitious. Nine clubs – exactly half the league – were the same as Lokomotiv. Thus, the new bigger league benefited only two clubs: Lokomotiv, which was saved from relegation and now had a good chance surviving, for there were too many clubs just like it; and Dinamo Minsk, which was promoted by fiat, and having at least more rounded and enthusiastic team than most, suddenly soared. But it was largely a championship of mediocrity – even the best teams were not in great shape and better place in the table depended often on slips and mistakes of the opposition, rather than consistently good play of the leaders. Nothing exciting.

Too many clubs were only concerned with survival, shuffling position frequently, but without real improvement during the season. At the end, Krylya Sovetov (Kuybishev) was last. Nothing strange – they were traditionally outsiders, moving back and forth between first and second division. Promoted in 1978 after winning the second division, relegated back to the same league in 1979… They depended largely on few fading veterans, who never impressed even at their prime (Vl. Abramov, A. Arutyunyan, A. Fetisov). Yu. Eliseev knew better days – 7 years ago. A place above finished Zarya (Voroshilovgrad). The team was in decline practically since they won the championship. Instead of upgrading, they gradually lost their best players, without finding a single inspiring player. By now only four of the champion team remained, all over 30s. Nobody of the younger players was even remotely impressive – goalkeeping and the attack line were particularly poor.

The surprise champions of 1972 were not much even then, but the 1979 vintage was really nothing. Seven years of steady decline reached its logical point: relegation. A very young player was part of this weak team – one 18-years old boy named Aleksandr Zavarov. Nobody noticed him and rightly so. The future mega-star started his career with relegation.

Zarya finished with 20 points – one more than Krylya Sovetov, but 4 behind a thick group of lucky clubs, finishing in safety with 24 points each – Torpedo (Moscow), SKA (Rostov), Neftchi (Baku), Kayrat (Alma-Ata), and Lokomotiv (Moscow). Their final positions were not clearly understandable – goal-difference was not a factor, so it must have been the head-to-head record. But it was not so either, if one looks at the results. Whatever the rule was, Lokomotiv finished at the top of this group – 12th , and Torpedo at the bottom – 16th. All were similar to the relegated – a group of 4-5 aging second-rate veterans, hardly any impressive young player, and problems in almost every line.

SKA (Rostov), just promoted, were happy to survive. They distinguished themselves with one thing: the most ties in the league this season – 14. Which meant they lost 6 points for exceeding the tie limit. Still, 15th place was not so bad for them, for they remained in the league for the next season.

As a team… nothing really. Two players came from the ‘mother’ club CSKA – goalkeeper Radaev and central-defender Andryushtenko. Not all that long ago they were bright promises, playing for Under-21 national team of USSR. Now they were 25 each… Radaev had played only 7 first league matches… promise was long dead, but they were among the better players SKA depended on. The others were two 30-years old veterans, who were well known from other clubs, but not stars – the other central-defender Bondarenko, and the striker Markin. Not much… but SKA had a rising star – S. Andreev, 23 years old striker. He was soon to be constant member of the national team.

Neftchi, usually playing hide and seek with relegation, ended typically low – 14th. If goal-difference determined position, they should have been 16th: with -21, they were at the league very bottom – only Krylya Sovetov had worse record.

Like so many clubs in the league, Neftchi stayed the same for years – it was not declining, like Zarya, but rather did not move at any direction – year after year, they were mediocre. Perhaps their 33-years goalkeeper Kramarenko was the best they had… and he was not a star keeper. A team more suitable for second division, but how to judge them since at least half the league was the same.

Yet, Neftchi and SKA finished above Torpedo (Moscow). Three years ago Torpedo was champion and now pretty much the same squad was struggling to avoid relegation. Decline settled after 1976, but it was peculiar one: the team as a team, not as individual players, reached its peak, aged, and settled on downward course. But since the players were mostly in their best years, it was difficult to discard them. They were not stars – rather second-best in the overall scheme – but looking around the league there was almost nobody better, another problem when considering replacement. Lacking ambition and perhaps knowing that the club was in no position of replacing them, the boys underperformed and almost everyone was playing worse than the previous years. There was no invigorating new talent, no spark. Torpedo was in decline, although the team list did not suggest so. Decline was much stronger pronounced in CSKA – by 1979 there was only a pale shadow of the mighty club once upon a time. CSKA had mediocre team, depending on few veterans like Astapovsky and Olshansky, who no longer were called to play for the national team, and bunch of players best described as failed promises – N. Petrosyan, Yu. Chesnokov, A. Pogorelov, A. Belenkov were not old and had experience, but it was clear that their best seasons were either in the past, or they were not improving. The rot was infectious – only 2 years back L. Nazarenko was playing for the national team, and now, only 24 years old, he was over the hill. It was clear that he was not going to be a star, his development stopped. A. Tarkhanov, at 25, was decent and reliable, but he also promised much more when he was younger – and did not deliver. CSKA clearly needed a whole new team and, unlike Torpedo, had the clout to get whoever they wanted – but the fact they did not meant more than administrative incompetence: there were very few players worth taking around. Very few. So, teams with few reliable second-raters fared better – nobody wanted to snatch players over 25 with known and limited abilities, but their experience was good enough for club they played for: compared to poorer clubs, such a club performed quite well. Like Zenit (Leningrad).

A good coach – Yury Morozov – and cluster of experienced second-rate players – Tkachenko, Golubev, Davydov, Kazachenok, Redkous, Klementiev, Lokhov – was enough for mid-table position. Zenit finished 10th – nothing to do with the top of the league, but well above the bottom. Around them were similar teams – nothing impressive. The top of this kind was Dinamo (Moscow). They were 5th, a good 6 points clear from Dinamo (Minsk), but also 4 points behind the 4th placed club. And Dinamo was obviously yesterday’s news – not that much old squad, but clearly beyond its prime: Pilguy, Gontar, Makhovikov, Nikulin, Dolmatov, Lovchev, Minaev, Yakubik, Maksimenkov, Gershkovich were promising players years ago, and most of them never fulfilled the expectations. Some were dangeroulsy aging – Lovchev, Dolmatov, Gershkovich – and time was not on their side. Others were clearly unlucky – the goalkeepers Pilguy and Gontar were lucky to step in exactly when Yashin retired, but unfortunately they were of the same age, so competing against each other left them both shorthanded. Both played for the national team, but neither became a star. Now both were over 30 – and Gontar did not even play 100 league matches yet! The younger talent was so far shaky – V. Gazzaev, Yu. Reznik, N. Latysh, A. Novikov, A. Bubnov. None was exactly a born leader and with the exception of Bubnov none really became a star player. Yet, Dinamo had a squad most clubs of the league could not even imagine at that time – about 15 solid names! But ‘solid’ does not translate into ‘winning squad’.

Four clubs fought for the title – a rare really competitive season, although due largely to shortcomings and limitations rather than strength. Leaders rotated during the season and for the most time looked like the real battle was Dinamo Kiev and Dinamo Tbilisi. The Georgians, champions of 1978, had perhaps the best rounded team, a good blend of veterans, players at their peak, and young talent. They also had perhaps the ‘deeper’ team in the league – 19 classy players (the bottom 10 clubs combined did not have that many). There was healthy competition and strong back-up for almost every post. But, Dinamo Tbilisi did not play as good as the previous year. No improvement, perhaps a temporary problem, but even with shakier play Dinamo was prime candidate for the title. Perhaps they lost it when they decided to allow the unlucky Pakhtakor to win. It was decent decision, but it was loss. Ups and downs during the year – and 4th place at the end. Against their immediate rivals Dinamo did not lose a single match – 1 win and 5 ties. All other favourites lost matches against each other.

Dinamo Kiev finished 3rd – a point above Dinamo Tbilisi. They lead for a while, but like all other strong clubs they were not consistent. This was still ‘transitional’ Dinamo – aging veterans of the great 1975 team were still around, but clearly declining. The young stars were still just promising players, not real leaders. The problem of goalkeeping was painful search started after Rudakov retired and so far there was no solution. This year Dinamo had 4 keepers, none too experienced. Yurkovsky was benched in favour of Yury Romensky, who had been one of the most talented keepers in second division 4 or 5 years ago. So far, his best moments were in the past – at 27, he had only 38 first league appearances at the start of the season. Two bright youngsters, both under 20, completed the list – Krakovsky and Grishko. Grishko was perhaps the biggest promise. However, none really made it – none was part of the second great team of Lobanovsky, none was major star in Soviet football of the 1980s. Perhaps nobody remember Yurkovsky today and those who remember Romensky, remember his misfortune: he had strong season in 1979 and seemingly was on the road of becoming national team regular. But… Romensky suffered heavy injuries. He already missed two years because of that – and actually was persuaded by Lobanovsky to give another try when he had practically given up and had no club. 1979 was more or less his last season – certainly his last good one. Soon he was injured again, lost his regular place in Dinamo, never fully recovered and eventually had to quit playing football early. So, he was not a solution for the goalkeeping problem. The defensive line was a bit rag-tag – Konkov and Zuev remained from the old team, helped by Baltacha and S. Zhuravlyov. Konkov was dangerously aging, Zuev spent practically all his years with Dinamo as a reserve – the other two were still too young. Baltacha was still unknown – even his name was usually misspelled because of that. Zhuravlyov never really established himself – his greatest strength was zeal and merciless physical approach. Rough player, not skilful. Demyanenko completed the group – and he was just breaking in the first team. The midfield was typically crowded, but it was clear that Veremeev and Kolotov are playing their last days, and Buryak was clashing with Lobanovsky. Berezhnoy, Lozinsky, and particularly Bessonov were the future. But past and future did not mix all that well at the present. The attack as always depended largely on Blokhin. Slobodyan and Khapsalis completed the line, but… Lobanovsky traditionally sacrificed strikers to accommodate the large number of midfielders he always had, so the strikers were more reserves than regulars. May be because of that neither striker becamethe star he was expected to become. They were not the players Lobanovsky really needed as well. The transitional team was not consistent, depended too much on extremely physical, if not outright dirty play, and was very predictable – no wonder they were unable to win the championship.

The unassuming Shakter (Donetzk) edged Dinamo (Kiev) by a point, finishing second. Perhaps nobody truly considered them champions, but they were the steadiest team of the top four. For Shakter, silver medals were pretty much their best achievement. They came very close to winning the title, but it was perhaps impossible task to do – Shakter played strong football for years, were solid, but their good squad depended also on good luck. They were lucky to keep their players,who were not first rate stars and also were not young enough to attract the interest of Dinamo Kiev or one of the Moscow clubs. Thus, Shakter had decent, if not great, squad – experienced, talented enough, well rounded, and complimented by peculiar players giving it an edge. They were not a revelation – they just continued their strong performance.

Silver boys – crouching,from left: L. Maly, M. Sokolovsky, N. Fedorenko, V. Kondratov, V. Pyanykh, V. Rogovsky,A. Varnavsky, Yu. Dudinsky.

Second row: V. Nosov – coach, V. Gorbunov, V. Maly, E. Shaforostov, I. Simonov, Yu. Degtyarev, V. Zvyagintzev, V. Safonov, V. Rudakov, V. Yaremchenko, V. Starukhin, M. Kalinin – team chief.

Most of the regulars played together for years – Degtyarev, Zvyagintzev, Sokolovsky, Pyanykh, Dudunsky, Yaremchenko, Rogovsky, Safonov, Kondratov, Starukhin. Most pf them were between 25 and 30 in 1979. Zvyagintzev played for the national team a few years back, when he was with Dinamo Kiev. Currently, Yury Degtyarev was in the national team. But, although noticed long ago and respected, the best players of Shakter were not interested for other teams – usually, they had similar or better players, or they needed younger ones, or had style the boys from Donetzk did not fit in. This was perhaps why Vitaly Starukhin, one of the most colourful Soviet players of the 1970s, arguably the best centre-forward in the country, and big favourite of the fans, never played for any other club, although all of the big clubs needed strong goal-scoring forward. But he was an English type striker, powerful, and concentrating the game on himself – not the type needed by Dinamo Kiev. Not the type needed by the Moscow clubs too – when Starukhin was younger, the Moscow clubs had their own good strikers, and later they opted for younger talent. Starukhin never played for the national team, always rated somewhat lower than others, but he was a great scorer and more or less defined the style of Shakter. Now, 30 years old, he had his best season:

Vitaly Starukhin scored 26 goals this year. He not only finished as the leagues best scorer, but he was the first player since 1968 to score more than 20 goals in a single season. In fact, only two players scored more goals in the whole history of Soviet football so far: Nikita Simonyan (Spartak Moscow) – 34 in 1950, and Oleg Kopayev (SKA Rostov) – 27 in 1963. N. Simonyan also scored 26 in 1949, but that was all equal or better. The best Oleg Blokhin did was 20 goals in 1974. Starukhin was voted player of the year as well – unique recognition of someone who never played for the national team.

Although Shakter was not seen as possible champion, they not only came close, but, arguably, it was their match which decided the championship. In the 32nd round they met Spartak (Moscow) and lost the match. The conditions were difficult – mud and snow – but both teams made a hearty game.

In the 66th minute E. Sidorov (Spartak) was just a bit quicker than Yu. Degtyarev and scored a header with which Spartak won, built a 2-point lead and in the last two matches preserved it – both teams won their last games, and the crucial goal of Sidorov practically gave the title to Spartak.

Spartak not only was not overwhelming winner, but they were entirely unlikely to win back in August, when the second half of the season started – they were 4th and a bit distant from the other three leaders. Spartak came from behind, slowly adding points, perhaps making fewer mistakes than the competition and taking full advantage of the mistakes of the others. Even at the end of the season observers were cautious – many were glad that Spartak was back at the top (after all, only two years ago the new champions were in second division), Konstantin Beskov was praised (but he was big name for so many years, it was hardly anything new), but it did not look like Spartak was hailed as the great team. Even in their own camp, Spartak was described in sober terms. If Dinamo (Kiev) was in transition, Spartak was still in the making – it was still row squad, not very experienced, with some shaky players. It needed a few changes, few better players, polishing. Most players were still unknown around the league – Dasaev’s name was misspelled at the time – Renat instead of Rinat, as the great star of the 1980s was really named. Even their captain – Oleg Romantzev – was more a curiosity: a second division player suddenly leading his teammates to victory. Was he for real? Vagiz Khidiatulin was just a new promising midfielder, not the defender known around the world in the 1980s. So was the case of other future big names – Fedor Cherenkov was found ‘soft’, Shavlo – promising, if not injured. Most were too young – and clearly the future was to tell what they could be, not the present. Yartzev was already getting old. The most important player was so surprising, people had hard time to really believe that almost hopeless mediocrity a few years back was now influential – Yury Gavrilov was 27 and he was let go from Dinamo (Moscow) as hopeless: no wonder it was hard to accept him as star. A lot of players were entirely unknown youngsters, but there were also remains of the terrible squad which ended in second division – Vl. Bukievsky, V. Samokhin, A. Kokorev, M. Bulgakov. They clearly appeared as ballast best to be off-loaded as soon as possible. Two players were added during the season – Aleksandr Mirzoyan, an experienced defender from Ararat (Ereven), but not a star, and Edgar Gess from second division Pamir (Dushanbe) – a talented unknown, who however suffered an injury. Spartak looked like chancy winner – and not very likely to win anything again. It had potential, but needed almost everything – experience, additional players, more solidity, class. The only really positive thing about Spartak was that they played pleasantly technical football – a welcome contrast to the robotic, physical, and often dirty brand of Dinamo Kiev. But… mellow technical approach was something of the past: the future was in the opposite direction.

It was perhaps the least praised champion in the 1979 – it did not look like positive change, but rather a testimony of deeply troubled national football: Dinamo Kiev and Dinamo Tbilisi were supposed to be the top clubs and they were unable to best second-raters like Shakter and shapeless Spartak. The new champions did not look a team for the future – it was impossible to imagine that this club will be one of the key teams of the 1980s and major part of the revival if Soviet football.

And one last look at the champions: standing from left: K. Beskov – coach, V. Mironov – administrator, Yu. Gavrilov, A. Mirzoyan, S. Shavlo, R. Dasaev, A. Kalashnikov, N. Starostin – team chief, V. Chelnokov – team doctor.

Crouching: V. Khidiatulin, G. Yartzev, O. Romantzev, F. Cherenkov, E. Sidorov, E. Gess.

By the end of the season the great Spartak of the 1980s was getting into shape – Gavrilov, Shavlo, Dasaev, Khidiatulin, Romantzev, Cherenkov were the core. And the master-minds – the unlikely tandem of Starostin and Beskov, who often clashed and hardly ever agreed on anything, but amazingly the impossible combination worked for years. Even when they were no longer even talking to each other. Spartak blossomed at the beginning of the 1980s and remained strong.

USSR I Division

Evaluation of the top division was subdued and a bit puzzled. It was not possible to be optimistic first of all because the national team, going down during the whole decade, reached the lowest possible point – it was eliminated again. This time there was no excuse – no more political protests, like in 1974, no more biased referees, like in 1976 and 1978. This time it was clear inability of team USSR to prevail over weaker opponents, some of which – Hungary and Greece – were obstacle not long ago too. The ‘crown’ performance was a 2-2 tie against Finland. At home… The result did not matter by the time, but still it a disgrace. On the other hand USSR twice excelled in the world junior championships – in 1977 and 1979: young generation was coming, and it was very promising, but it was too young to make any impact on the league and the national team. Meantime general change of generations was taking place, which left most clubs with very insignificant squads. The problem was perhaps aggravated by the enlargement of the league – there were simply not enough players around. Some clubs were declining for years, but now even those usually having no trouble making decent squads suffered. Yet, the newest change of rules, limiting ties to 8 games, and clubs not getting points for any tie above the limit, was seen as working. Slowly, but working. Increase of goal-scoring was noticed. Better physical condition of the teams was noticed. Four clubs competed for the title, which was also promising – usually, it was a two-team race at best. For a first time since 1970 an individual scored more than 20 goals during the season. Yet, the season was darkened by a tragedy, which was toned down, but it was not possible to keep out of public eye, as the Soviets traditionally preferred. It could be said that Soviet football was in a tradition, reaching its lowest point because of that – so, pessimism was not overwhelming, but there was little to be cheerful about and really promising better future. Little was said as a result.

As for the tragedy, it was of a kind ‘never possible’ in a communist country. An air crush killed the whole team of Pakhtakor (Tashkent) in the middle of the season. The catastrophe had to be made public… it was not possible to explain otherwise why a whole club suddenly disappeared from the championship. As little as possible was said, but it was said… On August 11, 1979 Pakhtakor team going to play championship match in Minsk. They traveled on regular Tashkent-Donetzk-Minsk flight. Above the city of Dneprodzerzhinsk their plane collided in the air with the regular flight servicing the Chelyabinsk-Voronezh-Kishinev line. A total of 178 people died – 165 passengers and 13 crew members. Among them – 14 players, assistant coach, the team doctor, and the administrator of Pakhtakor. At first nothing was said… the regular issue of the weekly ‘Football-Hockey’ came out on August 12 and there was no word. But it was not possible to keep the news under the lid: it was mid-season and in the same issue the current table was published: Pakhtakor were 8th after 18 games. They had strong season going on. Apart from attention focused on them because of their performance, Pakhtakor had two high-profile stars – Mikhail Ahn and Vladimir Fedorov, both on and off the national team. There was no way to avoid the news, for sudden disappearance of whole good playing squad in mid-season would only focus attention on Pakhtakor. But, by Soviet logic, there was no convenient way to convey bad news – priorities were entirely different: the paper’s issue from August 12 had its big news – the end of the Spartakiad. Pages were dedicated to the glorious event, and the first page pictured the winners:

It was Team Moscow, followe by Team Georgia, and Team Ukraine was third. Even without terrible news, the front page was not really great news: it rather confirmed what everybody knew for some time – as far as football was concerned, this tournament was inconvenient interruption of the regular championship, not to be taken very seriously, if teams, including the national teams, wanted to keep their players healthy and focused. Technically, Ukraine appeared to be the strongest by far – it was largely the national team (12 players of Dinamo Kiev, all regulars, including Blokhin) plus the 4 key players of Shakhter Donetzk. The rest consisted of from Chernomoretz Odessa and Karpaty Lvov. The new sensation Stepan Yurchishin was included, of course.

Team Georgia was largely Dinamo Tbilisi and Team Moscow was weird mix – the core consisted of young players of Spartak. The rest belonged to Dinamo Moscow and mostly for ‘colour’ the odd payer from Lokomotiv, CSKA and Torpedo completed the squad. There were current stars, but also players over the hill and rather suspect low key players. The team seemingly was based on promising talent, not on the stars. Two players dropped out during the tournament due to sickness and injury. This team not only looked weaker than than Ukraine and Georgia, but also was the only one really needing some training and shaping – the opposition had the advantage of simply fielding well oiled Dinamo Kiev and Dinamo Tbilisi regular squads under different name. But this was also the great rick of losing regulars injured during irritating mid-season tournament. Who played at earnest and who just went through the motions was not an issue of debate – the Spartakiad had to be only praised. And so it… anything else, either criticism, or other news was unthinkable.

The news about the death of whole team appeared on August 19. Even in ‘normal’ time it was to be minimized, but this was not ‘normal’ time… the Spartakiad just ended and the USSR Cup final was played… Half the newspaper was dedicated to the final and the winners. Then and interview running on three pages with the Canadian hockey superstar Bobby Orr followed… A tiny note on the funeral of the team on August 17 appeared on the vary last page of ‘Football-Hockey’:

It was half the size of the material published just next: about some obscure football competition between school teams. On August 26 the decision of the USSR Football Federation finally appeared in print – once again, it was short note on the very last page of ‘Football-Hockey’, titled ‘Pakhtakor will not left without help’. Two matches were postponed – with Dinamo Minsk, originally scheduled for August 12, and against Kairat Alma-Ata, originally scheduled for August 18. The transfer regulations were waived and Pakhtakor was permitted an exception for the current season and the next year. Another exception was made – Pakhtakor was not to be relegated, regardless where they were at the final table, for the next three years. ‘Practical help’ was urged and seemingly already started: all other clubs were asked to send players to Tashkent and some already did so. The language was murky… it sounded that clubs were ordered to help, yet, on voluntary base. This ‘voluntary obligation’, neither here, nor there, brought strange results: a total of 17 players went to Tashkent – 12 in August, 4 in September, and 1 in October. Six of them arrived from Third Division, 3 – from Second Division, and 8 from First Division. The first division players were generally the last to arrive. Seemingly, they came temporary – until the end of the season, ‘loaned’ rather than really given to Pakhtakor. Practically all first division players were deep reserves in their original teams. From the leading clubs only Spartak and Dinamo Moscow gave players. Tellingly, Dinamo Kiev sent none… Oleg Bazilevich, who was in tandem with Lobanovsky when Dinamo Kiev won the Cup Winners Cup and the European Supercup in 1975, was now coaching Pakhtakor – and he got no help from his former club and his ‘friend’ Lobanovsky. At he end only one player with big name went to play for Pakhtakor – Andrey Yakubik from Dinamo Moscow. Back in 1972, he got bronze medal from the Olympic games as part of the Soviet Olympic team. By now he was considered over the hill and not really needed by Dinamo Moscow. He was 29 years old. So, that was the ‘big help’…

As for the catastrophe, the case ended one year later when two people were sentenced to 15 years in prison. Much later information slowly, by bits and pieces, leaked out, never completely uncovering what really happened and why. Three corridors for air traffic existed in the sky above the city of Novokuznetzk. On August 11 Chernenko was to fly and may be Brezhnev, on a different flight. Time was unknown, so one corridor was closed for all other traffic – reserved for the big shots and their whims. Down, in the control tower it was ‘business as usual”: two dispatchers. The senior one ‘routinely’ ordered the junior dispatcher to handle the air traffic. He did, but there was miscomunication, or carelessness, or incompetentness – the junior dispatcher thought he gave the right orders and they were confirmed. Even with one corridor closed, it seems there was not all that heavy and complicated air traffic, but two TU-134 passenger planes, flying in the opposite directions collided in the air. The court found the two dispatchers equally guilty and gave them severe sentences, but… nobody else from the airport was called to the trial. Not even the shift supervisor in charge. Not even as a witness! Strange, since the court still found that the junior dispatcher was wrongly placed on duty under the circumstances – it was hardly possible the senior dispatcher to be the man giving the orders who deals with traffic, most likely it should have been the job of the shift supervisor. Anyhow, that is what is known now.

As for Pakhtakor, it was disaster and time of grieve. The veteran defender Mogilny was lucky: he was injured and stayed in Tashkent. Mikhail Ahn was unlucky… he was also injured and not playing, but decided to go with the team anyway and died. Oleg Bazilevich was also lucky – he took advantage of the trip West and did not travel with the team, but separately, wanting to visit family on route. Many years later Vasilis Hadzipanagis, one of the young trio bursting into stardom in the early 1970s , went to visit the graves of his friends and wondered what could have been if he did not move to Greece, but stayed in USSR – he was unable to come to conclusion, but considered that he most likely would had been playing for some Moscow club by 1979 and thus avoid the crash. Yet, Hadzipanagis could not make his mind: his friends Ahn and Fedorov had the same options, but stayed with Pakhtakor… but his speculations are clearly academic. The reality was bitter: the team died. Hadzipanagis recalled the old days, when Mikhail Ahn often invited the whole team to visit his parents’ house outside Tashkent and feast on Korean home-made food. Only memories remained after the crash.

Pakhtakor (Tashkent), 1979 at the beginning of the season. At the time of the catastrophe Kochetkov was no longer coaching them, but Oleg Bazilevich. M. Ahn, Yu. Zagumennykh, and S. Bazarov are missing on the photo. First row, from left: V. Fedorov, M. Talibdzhanov-administrator, G. Antonov, T. Isakov, V. Ambartzumyan -assistant coach, K. Bakanov, Sh. Ishbutaev, Yu. Bassov, K. Novikov.

Middle row: O. Burov , V. Chumakov – team doctor, I. Tazetdinov – assistant coach, V. Makarov, A. Kochetkov – coach, A. Mogilny, N. Kulikov, V. Sabirov, P. Agishev, D. Roman.

Top row: A. Dvornikov – masseur, A. Musaev, S. Pokatilov, A. Korchenov, O. Ashirov, A. Yanovsky, A. Ubaydullaev, G. Denisov, V. Churkin.

R. Agishev, M. Ahn, S. Bazarov, K. Bakanov, Yu. Zagumennykh, V. Sabirov, V. Fedorov, V. Churkin, A. Ashirov, M. Ishbutaev, A. Korchenov, N. Kulikov, V. Makarov, S. Pokatilov died in the crash. Also the administrator Talibdzhanov, the assistant coach Tazetdinov, and the team’s doctor Chumakov. The big funeral, staged in Tashkent, apparently aimed of burying the whole team together – may be because of the monument built for the occasion. But it was not so – Yury Zagumennykh was buried in his home city of Leningrad; Mikhail Ahn – in his native place: the Sverdlov Kolkhoz near Tashkent, and N. Kulikov – in his native village of Krivsk, Kaluga District, Russia. Currently, it seems only five bodies actually remain at the official site, but the monument is there.

And another photo commemorating the team:

Soon after the tragedy Dinamo Tbilisi had to visit Pakthakor for the next round of the championship. Pakhtakor won. Years later David Kipiani said that the Georgians talked before the match and decided to let Pakhtakor win – it was their, however small way, of commemorating comrades and helping the club struck by tragedy. Perhaps other clubs acted similarly – Pakhtakor finished 9th this season.

Here is the list of ‘volunteer’ players, who went to Pakhtakor after the disaster: Renat Fayruzov (Avtomobilist Termez, 3rd division, August), Vladimir Karman (Aktyubinetz Aktyubinsk, 3rd division, August), Andrey Yakubik (Dinamo Moscow, 1st division, September), Petr Vasilevsky (Dinamo Minsk, 1st division, September), Sergey Strashnenko (Karpaty Lvov, 2nd division, August), Anatoly Solovyov (Lokomotiv Moscow, 1st division, October), Aleksandr Maltzev (Metalurg Tula, 3rd division, September), Vladimir Enns (Neftyanik Fergana, 3rd division, August), Nuritdin Amriev (Pamir Dushanbe, 2nd division, August), Sergey Bashkirov (Spartak Moscow, 1st division, September), Valery Glushakov (Spartak Moscow, 1st division, August), Zurab Tzereteli (Torpedo Kutaisi, 2nd division, August), Vladimir Nechaev (Chernomoretz Odessa, 1st division, August), Mikhail Bondarev (CSKA Moscow, 1st division, August), Tura Shaymardanov (Yangier, 3rd division, August), Vyacheslav Kim (Yangier, 3rd division, August), Yury Churkin (SKA Rostov, 1st division, August).

And one last photo of the unlucky team before the tragedy – Oleg Bazilevich is the coach here.


USSR II Division

No wonder the winners of third division brought no enthusiasm – the championship of second division was viewed in largely negative terms. Critics focused first of all on the large size: the increase of the league from 20 to 24 teams was seen as the main problem. Since the introduction of the second division the size was a prime target – too many clubs simply had an easy living, not improving a bit the general quality. Now a bunch of teams were just inadequate. Traditionally, 5-6 clubs were stronger and may be close to first division teams in strength. Now the number shrunk, because the first division was also enlarged, thus decreasing the number of strong teams in the second, but in the same time a large group of third division clubs was included and they were not even on the level of the sleepy habitual residents of the league. The teams which should have been relegated in 1978, but were allowed to stay in the league only enlarged the number of inadequate clubs. Those were: Spartak (Ordzhonikidze), 18th in 1978, Dinamo (Leningrad), 19th, and Kolkhozchi (Ashkhabad), 20th. The Turkmen Kolkhozchi was one of the reasons for enlargement of the league – the already mentioned argument about preparing for the Spartakiad. One year later – with the bottom six relegated – Kolkhozchi finished 23rd, Dinamo – 22nd, and Spartak – 13th. Only Spartak improved their play, the other two were still at the very bottom. As for the newcomers – Fakel (Voronezh), Metallist (Kharkov), Spartak (Nalchik), Zvezda (Perm), Traktor (Pavlodar), and Alga (Frunze), they were vastly divided. None impressed, but Fakel and Metallist finished in the upper half of the table – 5th and 7th, respectively; Spartak was 15th, and the rest… were at the bottom: Alga dead last, Traktor – 21st, Zvezda – 20th. So, in the relegation zone ended those who should have been relegated the previous year plus half of the newcomers. Plus Terek (Grozny), which was not much to begin with and suffered another typical problem of league management – mismanagement and chaotic change of ‘ownership’ (that is, the big organization to which most clubs belonged – Terek started the season as belonging to the sporting organization Trud, then moved to Spartak, with a transitional period, when the club ‘belonged’ to nobody. This affected the squad – some players were sent down from the ‘mother’ organization – Pavlenko from Spartak Moscow was the biggest name – but later they left, because it was no longer the same organization and there was no obligation to stay in the distant city. Pavlenko got offer from Dinamo Moscow and left in mid-season.) The big size immediately presented the problem of players – there were no enough competent players anyway, and now the needs went beyond limits. ‘Same faces, moving from club to club’, complained observers. Most teams did not bother to organize decent youth system – why doing it, when experienced players were available. They were lazy and not very talented, but good enough to keep a team in security in the vast untroubled zone between 3rd and 18th place. Training was found wanting anyway around the league – most teams were poorly prepared and lacked consistency. They also looked alike and any unusual tactic from the opposition left the other team without a clue what to do. Facilities were constant problem too – the worst example cited was the match between the reserve teams of Zvezda (Perm) and Zhalgiris (Vilnius): the hosts, Zvezda, offered asphalt-covered pitch, which was naturally rejected. A search for grass took long time and when at last something was discovered, the match was not played anyway, for Zvezda fielded only 6 players. Discipline was old and constant problem too: the bitter joke around the league was ‘The Dutch play football, but our players know the rules’ – it was based on arguing every call the referees made. A mountain of critical points piled up, and very little positive was observed: a few coaches, small number of players, mostly experienced veteran midfielders, and a handful of teams – Karpaty (Lvov), Pamir (Duashanbe), Fakel (Voronezh), and to a point, Kuban (Krasnodar) and Shinnik (Yaroslavl). However, only one club was seen without severe limitations and promising hopeful – Karpaty (Lvov). As a conclusion, nothing good was expected from the next season either.

Most of the criticism was objective: the increase of first division immediately decreased the already small number of clubs expected to compete for promotion. Usually, teams relegated from the higher league were assumed favourites – this years it was only Dnepr (Dnepropetrovsk) and it was a flop. Instead sailing back to the top division, Dnepr sunk down and barely escaped new relegation – they finished 17th, having 2 points more than Terek (Grozny) in the relegation zone. Torpedo (Kutaisi) and Nistru (Kishinev) also considered favourites, settled for mediocrity – Torpedo ended 11th, Nistru – 8th. Thus, the group of possible contenders was reduced to nothing and strange teams popped up at the top of the league. Fakel (Voronezh) was the real surprise – they finished 5th. Above them were two clubs representing the typical constant members of the league, strong enough to stay out of trouble, but without any ambitions. Shinnik (Yaroslavl) finished 4th.

Shinnik was one of the few positive things this year, especially finishing so high in the league and so close to promotion – with 52 points, they were just 4 points bellow the second placed team. However, it was doubtful that Shinning really tried to win promotion. They had no team for top division football, but had perfectly adjusted to second division squad. Although a strong season, very likely Shinnik carefully organized to stay just bellow promotional place: realistically, they had nothing to do in first division.

Pamir (Dushanbe) was of the same kind – they were the only club which played in every season of the second division since it was established 10 years back. Like Shinnik, one of the ‘sleepy’ teams of the league, so their sudden climb was quite a surprise. They not only finished 3rd, but also appeared having real aspirations for promotion. At the end, they were 3 points short.

The big surprise of 1979 – it was so, for Pamir was aging and started the painful change of generations. That was why nobody expected them to play well. The strength of the team was their coach – A. Tunis was one the most experienced and respected coaches in the league. He managed to navigate the squad through difficult time, somehow blending veterans and unknown youths into working team. It was even more surprising because during the season Pamir lost two key players, taken by first division clubs – Gess by Spartak Moscow and Amriev by Pakhtakor Tashkent. For a second division club it was a big loss, yet nobody complained – conceptually, the second division was organized 10 years ago with one aim: to prepare players and supply first division clubs with new talent. Perhaps nobody liked that, but at least publicly nobody was in a position to speak against the practice – upper level clubs were able without fuss to take whoever they wanted at almost any time. Pamir perhaps developed a taste for promotion during the year, but at the end may be it was best that they did not qualified: it was perhaps the worst possible timing for going up: the team was at the beginning of rebuilding.

Three unlikely clubs fought for second place, or may be just two… Pamir perhaps paid the price of their situation, but Kuban (Ktasnodar) benefited. Were they really ambitious is hard to say: perhaps they started the season without big aims, then, finding themselves at the top of the league developed some appetite. Not really outstanding, may be they benefited from Pamir’s troubles and the calculated play of Shinnik, lacking real ambition. Kuban was not better than their rivals – perhaps more determined, perhaps more consistent, perhaps luckier, but nothing more. 22 wins, 12 ties, and 12 losses were enough for second place. With the new limit on ties, they finished with just the permitted maximum – Shinnik lost three points, because of excess ties, on the other hand. Head to head, Kuban was no better at all: both games with Shinnik ended in a tie. The home match against Pamir was also tied, but visiting Dushanbe was a disaster: Kuban lost 2-5! However, Shinnik won both matches against Pamir, so at the end there was relative parity between the three clubs – either that, or the calculating spirit of Shinnik was at work. But Kuban had nothing to complain of – they achieved their highest success to date.

Standing, from left: V. Sereda – team chief, V. Korolkov – coach, A. Chakhalyantz – doctor, A. Ploshnik, V. Erkovich, V. Fursa, A. Artemenko, S. Andreychenko, V. Komarov, A. Rybak, A. Ovchinnikov, V. Grokhovsky – assistant coach, V. Solodko – administrator.

First row: Yu. Semin, A. Smirnov, I. Kaleshin, Yu. Chebotarev – team captain, V. Batarin, A. Semenyukov, E. Polovinko, V. Vasiliev.

It was not much of a team – or rather, the typical second division team… bunch of unknowns and few veterans. Whatever former first division players were recruited were the stars… Just like any other second division club Kuban was a supplier – and they lost their good goalkeeper Vasiliev, taken by Ararat (Erevan). As a quad, they were nothing to brag about – in fact, motivation was a big problem: after the season their coach revealed that success came largely because of his constant nagging that the opposition is not better then his boys and beatable. Nothing optimistic about a team which has to be convinced during mid-game break that they actually may score a goal, that the match is not lost yet, that they can get a point, even two points, if… they put a bit of effort. Insiders admitted to serious problems, but carefully did not blame anybody personally – outside critics had no such inhibitions and pointed a finger at Semin, Rybak, Ovchinnikov, Komarov and Erkovich – the ‘stars’ with first league experience – and openly wondered what such a team would do in the top division. The insiders were not very optimistic either – they thought their club has a chance, for it was not worse than… the weakest teams of first league. The team clearly depended on few players – defenders Anatoly Rybak and Vitaly Fursa, both 33-years old. Plenty of experience, but mostly in second division. Rybak played in first division and was the captain of Nistru (Kishinev) a few years back, when they played a single season in first division. He moved from club often. Somehow unable to settle anywhere. He scored quite a lot for a defender, but curiously his 2 years with Kuban produced no goals. The other three former first division players – Ovchinnikov, Komarov, and Erkovich – never made names for themselves, sitting mostly on the bench, but had attitude… Komarov, spending years with Dinamo Moscow, was perhaps the worst when it came to motivation. From the young players the striker Aleksandr Ploshnik was the biggest promise – he was the top scorer with 21 goals and was called to the Olympic team of USSR, but… he was also the one severely reprimanded by the club for disciplinary reasons. Yuri Semin, the future great coach, was clearly the star of the team. Not a spring chicken either and more or less a failed promise, he already had a big history of quarrels: was let go from Spartak Moscow after arguing with Konstantin Beskov in 1972, followed by even bigger scandal in Kairat (Alma-Ata), after which he was saved from banishment from football only by relegation to third division club. No better was his stay in Lokomotiv Moscow, from which he moved to Kuban in 1978, along with Rybak, dismissed from Chernomretz (Odessa). Semin, however, played more or less heartily for Kuban and most likely was the true leader and inspiration. All said, Kuban had little to depend on… so the promotion brought practically no joy. May be even the fans did not see any bright future, probably resigning to the idea that one season in first division is the maximum.

The general gloom about the season perhaps blinded observers for anything good. Even the champions of second division were not really praised. But there were things to be more optimistic about: Karpaty (Lvov) may be was a bit shaky at the start of the season, but at the end they were overwhelming, finishing 6 points ahead of Kuban. They scored 89 goals. They won 27 matches and were the only club ending with less than lost games. Their top-scorer set a record, which was never bettered. Two players appeared in the national team. The squad was really a bunch of highly promising youngsters, some of them becoming huge stars in the 1980s. Yet, praise for the champions was lukewarm at best. In general, observers praised Karpaty only for daring to use local young talent. Even the scoring record was more criticized than praised: it meant that Karpaty was short in attack, the specialists said. The team desperately needed strikers, same observers lamented. The rare inclusion of second division players in the national team was even not mentioned as something promising, let alone recognition of class. Only one thing was certain – that Karpaty was the only second division club ‘on the right track’ and there was no point comparing them with any other club of the league. As for how they compared to first division clubs, nothing was said at all… it looked like that they were considered much weaker and there was no point to waste time to predict their future. Well, may be Karpaty were really not so impressive winning a league so weak… but winners they were. They won promotion to first division for a second time in their history.

First row, from left: A. Saulevich, G. Batich, I. Tziselsky, Yu. Susloparov, V. Gunko, V. Ratz, V. Diky, I. Palamar, A. Shvoynitzky, I. Mosora.

Standing: A. Melnik – team doctor, B. Greshtak – assistant coach, I. Sekech – coach, V. Shterbey, S. Yurchishin, Ya. Dumansky, O. Rodin, L. Brovarsky, A. Bal, Yu. Dubrovny, M. Kusen – team chief, Ya. Dmitrasevich – assistant coach, A. Tishtenko – administrator.

Istvan Sekech, of coarse, was credited with the success – a coach working with Karpaty, yet, having big reputation and considered one of the best Soviet coaches in the 1970s. His winners were immediately compared to the surprising rise of Karpaty in the late 1960s, when the modest club soared in three years from third division to first league, winning the Soviet cup along the way, as the only second division club winning the trophy. Back than, the squad consisted of largely home-grown boys. Same in 1979, many said. Karpaty managed to completely change its previously aging squad, so no problem with transitional shaky period: they were relegated in 1977, changed the team in 1978, and won promotion in 1979. Practically only the 31-years old captain Lev Brovarsky remained from the old squad. He and Dubrovny provided experience and stability. The rest of the squad was very young – and noticeable. A whole bunch was part of the successful USSR Junior national teams of 1977 and 1979. Some were to play at World Cup finals, generally a big part of the successful 1980s: Yuri Susloparov, Andrey Bal, Vasily Ratz. A big number played for Dinamo Kiev in the also great years of the club in 1980s: Bal, Ratz, Saulevich, Palamar, Batich. Most of the above were already noticed and considered great hopefuls, but the brightest future was expected from some more – Yaroslav Dumansky and Rodin. As for Stepan Yurchishin, he was considered the biggest Soviet talent at the moment and certainly a leading star of the country after a year or two. Before the end of 1979 both Yurchishin and the 23-years old right full-back Oleg Rodin made their debut for the national team of USSR. Very young and talented squad, needing some experience and 2-3 classy additions to become a major force… Alas, Karpaty had lowly rank in the Soviet pyramid and the players one after another were snatched by other clubs, mostly Dinamo Kiev. Yes, some became big stars – but also became known to the world as players of Dinamo Kiev. Few faded quickly… Dumansky, Rodin, and Batich. As for the biggest hopeful, the ‘certain star’…

Stepan Yurchishin came with more than a bang in 1979 from nowhere. That is, he came from village football. First to the second club of Lvov – SKA – playing in third division. Noticed, he was moved to CSKA Moscow – since SKA , as an army club, supplied the central club with talent, whenever available. Yurchishin debuted in first division in 1977 – played 8 matches and scored one goal. Nothing much… his army service ended and he went to Karpaty in 1978. In 1979, the 22-years old scored 42 goals in the 46 championship games. Actually, Yurchishin appeared in only 42 matches, so the record was really a goal per match. Impressive by any standard, even more impressive for the normally low scoring Soviet football. Astonishing record, unmatched by any other Soviet player. This remains as the all-time scoring record of USSR – for both first and second division.

Stepan Yurchishin hungry for the next goal.

The fantastic record was also about 50% of all goals Karpaty scored this year – of total 89, 42 scored the young striker. With season so great, Yurchishin was proclaimed certain star and included in the national team. It was to be only going higher from that… but it was not. To a point, he repeated the story of another ‘bursting a few years back goalscorer – Anatoly Shepel, who scored the previous record of second division in 1973: 38 goals for Chernomoretz (Odessa). It was all downhill after that and by 1979 nobody remembered Shepel, although he was still playing. Or, rather, sitting on the bench… In a few years Yurchishin was also forgotten – in 1981, like Shepel before, he was taken by Dinamo Kiev and played grand total of 1 match. In and out of Karpaty, he eventually played for Pakhtakor (Tashkent) and third division Podolye (Khmelnitzky), ending his career in 1990 with Karpaty. For the national team he played only 4 matches , all in his ‘bursting’ years. Years before his retirement hardly anybody remembered him, except as a grand failure. He never came even remotely close to his astonishing scoring record. He was scoring, but… mostly when he played in the second division. His first division record is mediocre. Why he failed is hard to say, but may be Dinamo Kiev was the reason – he apparently did not fit in the team, or Lobanovsky did not see a place for him, and his career was clipped as a result. Or may be he was just not a first division player… may be the expectations were too big for him to handle… one of the three failures of this Karpaty vintage, along with Rodin and Dumansky, but certainly the biggest one. His record lives, though.


USSR – Overview and III Division

Another heavily criticized season in USSR. A big fiasco of the national team perhaps was the bitterest reason, but there was more. Strange too. During the 1970s almost every season had new formula and 1979 was no exception. Two things were new – the first was increase of first and second divisions. The top league went from 16 to 18 clubs and the second – from 20 to 24. Why? On the surface, a huge country had the resources of supporting bigger leagues – sheer size demanded it. USSR had huge leagues before, but they were reduced because they were not competitive enough and the differences between clubs were so big, there were no benefits. Nobody saw anything positive after the 1979 ended and rightly saw. The number of quality players was limited and even USSR had bright and promising young generation – junior teams played very successfully at the newly introduced junior world championship – it was not translating into stronger clubs. Just the opposite: most teams, speaking for the premier league only, were in poor shape. Even mighty clubs like CSKA and Dinamo Moscow had poor squads. As for the second division, the reason was the Spartakiad – the domestic Olympics, which USSR organized long time ago and continued to stage as the highest show of Soviet sport – an all-sports affair, in which the republics of the union competed. But times changed and the Spartakiad was no longer what it was, especially in collective sports – national team players were not involved and many classy players were not invited to the republican selections. It was becoming more of a tournament for youthful teams. However, the political clout of the tournament was big and two republics successfully argued that their clubs should play in second division in order of better preparation for the Spartakiad – Turkmenia (Turkmenistan today) and Kyrgizia (Kyrgizstan today) won and the division was increased. That meant that only one club was relegated from top flight – Dnepr (Dnepropetrovsk). Lokomotiv (Moscow) got a lucky break and stayed in first division. The first three of second division were promoted. Thus second division was left with 18 clubs. None was relegated, perhaps because the last in the league was Kolkhozchi (Ashkhabad) from Turkmenia. The 6 winners of the third division zones were all promoted: Traktor (Pavlodar), Alga (Frunze), Fakel (Voronezh), Metallist (Kharkov), and Spartak (Nalchik). Only one was from a republic wanting to prepare itself better for the Spartakiad – Alga represented Kyrgizia. If the reason was truly the case argued by Turkmenia and Kyrgizia, the results were quite strange: only two clubs of these republics appeared in second division – one was dead last the previous season and should have been relegated, the other played a bit second division before and was not up to the challenge. Because of two very weak clubs the league was enlarged to 24 teams – so it seems… More games was thought helpful, but in the same time weak teams struggled financially and bigger number also brought better opportunity for unambitious mid-table clubs to keep mediocre teams and not to worry a bit. As a whole, the 6 newcomers were not thought to increase the quality of the league – at least three of them were clearly inferior and did not belong. But this was the new format and it was to stay for the next season – the bottom 6 were to be relegated and the 6 zone winners – promoted.

The second change was still about the ties – the very reason rules were changed practically every season during the 1970s. Now it was to be a limit – only 8 ties brought points. Above that limit – no points. That was for top flight. In the second division the limit was 12 ties. So far, nothing worked and the new rule was also doubted. However, the problem was huge, that any new try was rather accepted than criticized in advance. The clubs did not like it as they did not like any previous innovation – ties were bread and butter for most clubs: sure points and no trouble. Of course, there were diminishing crowds, for who wants to watch two teams leisurely walking on the pitch without the slightest effort to attack and score, but as long as a club stayed in the league – happiness prevailed. Meantime the whole system developed big ills, side effects of the ‘secure’ living. Perhaps the biggest side effect was neglect of development of players and almost complete breakage of inter-leagues relations. Every league was almost entirely independent universe, existing on its own, without any interest in the other universes. Problems were usually articulated in post-season analysis and reviews.

As for the new rule, it was cautiously considered helpful: still 12 of the 18 first division clubs exceeded the limit, but only 4 in the second division. However, it was different than before: not team ended with half of their seasonal matches tied. Scoring slightly increased. A small positive step was made, but the negatives were more.

Third Division was judged almost entirely in negative terms in the post-season. Some problems were unavoidable because of the sheer size of USSR: the 6 third division zones were made more or less on geographic lines. The European zones, especially those consisting of Russian and Ukrainian clubs, were relatively strong – some clubs were at least at second division level. Going East was different story – quality rapidly decreased. The zonal leagues were very large – the reason went that quantity may lead to quality. 24 clubs played in Zone V, perhaps the weakest of all, where clubs of the furthest East played. It was very trying league: geographically, it covered huge portion of Siberia plus Uzbek, Kyrgiz, and Turkmen clubs. Hard to reach places – travel itself was a challenge and financial strain, not to mention the climatic differences: one day a team plays in frozen Tyumen, the next – in the scorching desert of Samarkand. Big cities like Chelyabinsk had infrastructure and perhaps even fans, but there were also barely known places hard to reach like Karshi. To remedy the inconveniences, teams played three matches at home and then three on the road, but this was interrupting training and rest without cutting down expenses. Teams spend lots of time traveling and idling in poor hotels. Many a coach felt that a zonal league should be no larger than 18 teams. Facilities were heavily criticized too – they were plain poor in most places. Sometimes it took three days just to reach the destination. There had been few changes in the members of leagues – for years they were practically the same, for very few clubs went up or down, which in turn affected the squads: same players traveled from club to club and coaches were able to tell the possible strength of the opposition just by the list of familiar from elsewhere names. No surprises at all, so there was no need to train very hard. No need for developing home-grown talent either: it was easier just to get familiar names from the vast pool. There were no facilities for training the youth anyway and any attempt for developing youth system meant only unwelcome expenses. As a result, the big clubs were not interested scouting third division – connections were already completely severed, so neither third division coaches, nor players had any ambitions: they knew all too well that no matter how they played, nobody will notice them and invite them to big club. With time, vast chasm opened between third division and the second: promoted clubs were much weaker and did not last up. Because of that, normally the zonal winners played a final tournament for three promotions – but now there were 6. Every zonal winner was going up. Which brought to attention the internal differences in the third division itself: normally, there were no more than three relatively strong and ambitious clubs in a single zone. The analysis of the season sadly concluded that there was nothing new at all – 10 clubs competed for 6 promotional places. The rest did not play a role at all… as ever. No wonder it was estimated that 75% of the matches were played in practically empty stadiums.

Third division splendor: Tekstilshtik (Ivanovo) scores against Dinamo (Bryansk). The season was deemed successful for Tekstilshtik – they finished second in Zone I, one of the stronger zones. However, they ended 11 points behind the champions – one may have expected more bite from a team no long ago playing in second division. But at least the picture shows attendance and modern uniforms, at least the shorts of the unlucky goalkeeper… The pitch, however, is another – and more typical – story.

So, lets go directly to the winners, for there is hardly anything else exciting about third division.

Zone I: Iskra (Smolensk) was without competition. They lost only three matches, earned 73 points, scored 86 goals, and left Tekstilshtik (Ivanovo) 11 points behind.

Standing, from left: Genady Gorbunov, Vladimir Babenko, Valery Andreev, Andrey Abzhinov, Evgeny Martyanov, Vladimir Baytekov – administrator,Lev Platonov – coach, Evgeny Miroshnikov – team chief, Roman Padura, Vyacheslav Murashkintzev, Aleksandr Novikov.

Crouching: Genady Svitavsky, Valery Danilenko, Anatoly Kuptzov, Dzemal Silagadze, Vladimir Ermichev, Anatoly Olkhovik, Aleksandr Gordov.

They ‘brought joy to the fans’ , it was said… much later. True, in part… Iskra played in relatively strong Russian group and also going up was great moment. The team is of course anonymous, but they had a star – Dzemal Silagadze was well known player and once upon a time even a big promise. Certainly he had glorious days in the past, but now represented in a nutshell the third division predicament: one fading star was more or less enough for winning. An ambitious team perhaps was best recognized by such a player – recruited precisely for elevating the team above the rest. Usually it worked. This was also an old club – founded in 1937, although named differently. Named ‘Iskra’ (Spark) in 1964.

Not having a star player meant lowly, but secure existence. Dinamo (Bryansk) – a typical eternal third division member.

Standing, from left: A. Takranov, S. Antonov, A. Lapin, S. Troitzky, V. Lagutin, M. Baranov, A. Shagin.

Sitting: V. Sychev, S. Bystritzky, V. Babichev, V. Novikov, V. Zimin – coach, A. Khokhlov, N. Suetin – administrator.

Zone II – largely Ukrainian league, hence, one of the best third division group. Slightly tougher championship than Zone I. More or less, three teams eyed the first place, but at the end Kolos (Nikopol) left the potential rivals SKA (Kiev) 4 points behind. SKA (Lvov) dropped out earlier. Kolos was very young club – founded in 1973 and representing not the city of Nikopol, but the whole Nikopol district. This perhaps explains their success: financially, they were supported by the whole district, thus able to aim higher. Of course, they played only in the city of Nikopol.

Niva (Vinitza) was typical third-division permanent member. Down in the table this season, but out of any danger. Just most clubs…

They became better known to the world only after Ukraine became independent and Niva was included in the Ukrainian first division. Something they were unable even to dream of in the Soviet times.

Zone III – generally, mixed group of Russian and Ukrainian clubs plus some Caucasian ones. Dinamo (Stavropol) was the only favourite, ending 12 points ahead of Rotor (Volgograd). The oldest of all third division winners – founded in 1924, but not successful at all. The only club among the winners which never changed its name.

Zone IV – Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, and some Russian clubs. The only competitive league – three clubs fought to the end, Guria (Lanchkhuti) prevailing by a point over Lokomotiv (Samtredia), and 3 points ahead of Karabakh (Stepanakert). Southern flair: goal-scoring was everything and to hell with defense. Guria scored 110 goals, Lokomotiv – 109. South being South, some fixing and back room deals may be took place, but Soviet football was corrupt anyway, so it could be only difference in scale. Guria was founded in 1952 under the name ‘Kolmeurne’ (Kolkhoznik, in Georgian). Became Guria in 1960. So far, the club meant absolutely nothing to anyone , but they were to climb much higher in the 1980s. As a bit of curious trivia: Rubin (Kazan) played in this league.

First row, from left: S. Agafonov, E. Golov – administrator, A. Mashin, S. Shilyakov, N. Daminov, O. Orlov, A. Aladin, V. Golikov.

Standing: A. Beryuchevsky – coach, A. Ivanov, I. Dolgopolov, R. Navrozov – assistant coach, V. Skiba – team doctor, R. Shagivaleev, V. Usenko, A. Semenov, I. Zagidullin, G. Vostokov – assistant coach.

Rubin finished 19th in the 24-team league. The past of nowadays Russian powerhouse… nothing to brag about.

Zone V: The Asian republics – Kazakhstan, Turkmenia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgizia played here. Plus few Siberian Russian clubs. The weakest league, most likely. No real race for the title – Buston (Dzhizak)

finished 6 points clear from the nearest pursuer, Shakhrikhanetz (Shakhrikhan), which was 7 points ahead of the third finisher Aktyubinetz (Aktyubinsk). Buston was founded in 1970 and so far managed to use four names – DSK, Trud, then in 1975 was renamed Buston, which was not final name either. In 1976 the name was Irrigator, changed back to Buston in 1978. More name changes followed – perhaps, this is the most important historic note of the club. They hailed from Uzbekistan – the Spartakiad, remember?

Zone VI – the furthest East, Siberia at the end of the world. Plus a bit of Kazakhstan and may be some other Asian republics. If there was any strength, it was located on the Pacific Ocean coast and industrial cities – Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Omsk, Tomsk, Ust-Kamenogorsk. But… too far away and too much in the North for some real success. It was just hard enough to play the game in the ice and upper league would be a nightmare for all involved, because of the enormous travels. Thus, the league was a bit on its own – local heroes, unknown anywhere else. Two clubs competed head to head for the title – Shakter (Karaganda) lost by a point. SKA (Khabarovsk) clinched the first place with 59 points. Founded in 1946 army club,which followed the general line of name changes of the whole military-club system. Under the name SKA since 1960 – like all their sister clubs scattered in the USSR. Sometimes they even had good players – thanks to the relations with ‘mother club’ CSKA Moscow. Young talent sent East to get experience or the odd veteran generously given to the little brother when CSKA no longer needed him. But currently CSKA was in dire straits, so little help was available.

The 6 winners brought joy only at home. Outside reaction was frosty – third division reviewer spoke only of deficiencies and problems. Not a single club was mentioned as a positive example. The winners apparently like everyone else, just more persistent this year. Second division commentators were even harsher – they did not see why such clubs should be playing in second division at all. They were certain that the league will be not stronger because of the newcomers and all were expected to be relegated immediately. The just finished season proved exactly that – the clubs for which the league was enlarged ended at the bottom, going back to third division. Where they belonged, surely having nothing to do with upper level football. The newcomers were of the same ilk. No welcome for the winners at all.

Portugal The Cup


The clash between new and old was seen in the Cup tournament: declining Benfica did not reach the final. Still unripe FC Porto was not present either. Sporting Lisbon and Boavista Porto, the smaller version of the Lisbon-Porto rivalry, contested the cup. Technically, Sporting appeared much better – Boavista had no famous players at all. But those were good years for previously unsuccessful club – Boavista excelled precisely in the cup in the previous few years.

Still, Sporting, lead by Jordao was favoured… the opposition fought bravely, though, and the final ended undecided after extra-time: 1-1. In the replay Boavista scored a goal and Sporting did not.


New-old Cup winners. Third cup in the last 5 years – and third trophy in the club’s history too. Modest Boavista was establishing itself as one of the few Portuguese clubs with trophies – one of the most successful in the country, yet, without becoming really strong club. Historically, a great period for the club, if not the greatest. No stars here, of course – perhaps the best players were the Brazilian imports Jorge Gomes (b. 1954) and Salvador (b. 1949). Brave little club – lovely because of that, not to mention their checkered black and white jerseys. Check-mate!

Portugal I Division

Perhaps the new configuration of Portuguese football was established during this season – instead of Lisbon’s derby Benfica vs Sporting, Benfica vs FC Porto. Sporting slipped permanently to third ranking club, Belenenses already settled into mid-table obscurity. The country remained dominated by two clubs… not a big change really: just one of the protagonists changed. Business as usual otherwise – the best players were not that many to support truly competitive league. At the bottom the outsiders were clear during the whole season and nobody else was troubles.

Last and 18th ended CAF Viseu.

Apart from their entirely black kit, almost entirely reserved to Portuguese teams unusual colour before 1990s, the team distinguished itself with trivia: Mysterious name, alternatively written either CAF or Academico to confuse foreigners, and their perfect away record: 15 matches – 15 losses. Away from home CAF scored a grand total of 2 goals. They were slightly better at home, winning 5 matches and tying one. 11 points all season – dead last and back to second division.

The season was not good for ‘academic’ clubs – the other ‘students, also playing in black finished 17th. Academica Coimbra used to be among the better clubs in Portugal, but suffered steady decline since 1970. Going further and further down, until ended relegated. They earned 7 points more than Viseu, but… they were also far behind from the safe 16th place. Academica actually never recovered their once upon a time respectable place in Portuguese football.

So, the ‘academic’ clubs were last, heading to lower level football. Nothing else interesting up the league:

Belenenses finished 8th – their firm new place in the middle of the table. Another club in decline… a permanent decline. At the time, it was mostly irritating news, thought more or less to be something temporary. The club was expected eventually to improve and become a force again. May be in two-three years time. On the other hand, it was not all that bad – along with Boavista, Belenenses appeared to be the new solid mid-table core of clubs – the backbone of the league.

Not like smaller clubs going up and down all the time, exemplified by SC Beira Mar (Aveiro)

They were 12th this year, nothing interesting at all – Beira Mar, higher or lower in the table, never made any impression. One of the rather anonymous bulk…

Perhaps the only club deserving admiration was Sporting Braga. Quietly – for they escape any attention outside Portugal – they were establishing themselves as the forth best Portuguese club. They were not so bad in the past either, but there was new consistency – since 1970 Braga stayed mainly among the top 6 clubs in the league. They were 4th at the end of the season.

With 37 points, Sporting was far ahead of the surprisingly good this year team of Varzim – 5 points clear – yet, they were also 5 points behind the bronze medals. With few respectable players, but no real stars, Sporting was definitely third tier club in the country – not a contender, but stronger than the bulk of the league. Replacing at this position Setubal and Guimaraes. It looked like Braga was going to keep this position, thus bringing general hope for country’s football: there was a chance of having five decent clubs right bellow the big three – Belenenses, Boavista, Vitoria Setubal, Vitoria Guimaraes, and Sporting Braga.

Sporting Lisbon – comfortably third.

Nothing new on the surface – Sporting was always among the best. But… it was to be the second best and title contender. Now it was not the only rival of Benfica – in fact, it was not a rival at all, except for the traditional derby of Lisbon. Sporting had nothing to fear from the league – they had far stronger team than anybody else, but two clubs. However, a team inferior to those of the leaders – Sporting was 7 points behind the leaders. The squad said it all… Sporting had four really strong players: the midfielder Baltasar (b. 1948), and the striking trio of Manoel Costa (Brasil, b. 1953), Salif Keita (Mali, b. 1946), and Jordao (b. 1952). Jordao was one of the best players in the league and a great star in his prime. As for the rest… Keita was aging and fading, Baltasar was only a league star, Manoel Costa – not a real star at all. This was not a squad of champion quality, but distinguished itself by remarkably sturdy defense, allowing only 3 goals at all their games.

The duel for the title was between Benfica and FC Porto – a tight race, decided by a point difference. Old school Benfica vs new power. Benfica lost by a point.

On the surface, Benfica had supreme team – most known names of Portuguese football played in red and white. The English coach John Mortimore was may be the best known coach working in the country, but… he had familiar for years squad of players who never really reached fame. Henrique, Bento, Humberto, Toni, Nene, Joao Alves, Alhinho, Eurico, the younger stars Bustos Lopes, Sheu, Chalana… deep squad, looking unbeatable, but somewhat old-fashioned, still dominated by veterans. Chalana was too young yet. Benfica came close to winning the championship and would not have been surprising if they did, but they belonged to the past.

Not so the Dragons – they were still not very famous, still appeared weaker than Benfica as a whole, but they were much more promising and younger too. A different breed of players, modern, when compared to the stars of Benfica. The Dragons lost only one match this year, ended with the best defensive record in the league and the second best attack. The title was theirs, clinched by a single point.

7th title for FC Porto! Jose Maria Pedroto, already 60 years old, was not very well known abroad, but apparently he was able to come in terms with current realities of the game better than the coach of Benfica – perhaps, because he did not have a ballast of oldish stars and the dilemma to replace them or not, and if he did – at what coast. Pedroto had more options.

Compared to Benfica, the champions were limited – their starters, shown above, were pretty much everything they had. But they were younger – the three veterans brought solid experience, but they were not the key figures: the Brazilian striker Duda (b. 1947), Octavio (b. 1949), and Freitas (b. 1947). Marco Aurelio (b. 1950), Oliveira (b. 1952 and sold to Spanish Real Betis after the end of the season), Costa (b. 1953), Teixeira (b.1952), and Frasco (b.1955) were the movers and shakers, rapidly becoming the new stars of Portuguese football. But the big name was the great scorer Fernando Gomes – only 22 years old, but rapidly becoming the greatest star of the country. Their was no dead weight in the team – these were the boys of the future, turning Portuguese football around. With them, FC Porto became a powerhouse – but still the development was at early stage. The future was theirs – they were not yet at their prime, they were going up.

Portugal II Division

Scottish football was on the slippery slope of long lasting decline, but the Portuguese game was going the opposite direction. So far, the 1970s were terrible disappointment, but new generation was finally coming in. Slowly, without real bang, but coming. There were no memorable moments yet – it was just change of guard. Early stage and because of that – nothing interesting. Just a championship like in the most recent years. The second division was perhaps stubbornly the same as before. 48 clubs, modest and barely known abroad, divided into three groups. None was especially competitive – in all three it was a race between two clubs, the rest far behind.

Espinho won Zona Norte, followed by Rio Ave.

In Zona Centro Uniao Leiria finished first.

Standing, from left: Félix Mourinho (coach) Ferro, Tomé, Figueiredo, Espírito Santo, Vitor Amaral, Orlando, João Maria Ferreira (masseur);

Crouching: José Luís, Álvaro, Dinis, Paixão, Delfim, Nando Machado.

Second, by a point, ended Uniao Lamas

Third row: Cardoso, Jorge Leal, Quim Belinha, Pinto da Rocha, Edmundo, Vivas, Redol

Middle row: Xico Batista (coach), Chico, Ricardo, Baba, Eurico, Cadete, Armando, Angelo, Coimbra

Sitting: Aires, Simplicio, Delfim, Léo, Romão, Rui Manuel, Jorginho

Of the three second placed clubs Uniao Lamas came closest to winning.

Juventude Evora finished second in Zona Sul.

Standing, from left: Lapa, Ricardo, Artur, Fernando Sousa, Ferro, Modas.

Front row: José Luis, Edmilson, Lelo, Arnaldo José, Jeronimo.

Second row, from left: Diamantino,Jorge,Nelson,Paulo César,Manuel Fernandes,César,Almir,Hélder,José Manuel Proença.

First row: Fernando,João Cardoso,Sota,Galvanito,Paulo Campos,Edinho,Tião.

Portimonense finished first in the zone. Champions, with cup and sashes, as it should be. Not much smiling, though… And the reason perhaps was that winning the championship did not mean anything yet – promotion was not automatic. There was second stage – the top two clubs of the zones were further divided into two mini-leagues, playing twice against each other. The winners were promoted to the highest division. It was at least fair, because the best second division clubs competed – since only two clubs were clearly best in every zone, there was no sense any team was left out. The final stage produced a bit of surprise.

Portimonense, Espinho, and Uniao Leiria were in the one mini-league. The club from Porto won 3 matches and lost one. Espinho won 2 and lost 2, and Uniao Leiria, the champions of Zona Centro, won a single match, losing the rest. They were last, allowing 10 goals in their net as well. Espinho was second, but with 12:4 goal record. Portimonense finished with negative record by contrast: 5:6. Champions with negative goal-difference. Strange anomaly, worth mentioning, but they had the most points.

Portimonense won promotion and returned to top flight. If anything, they had a star – or at least a player, who was considered a star a few years back – Diamantino, the blond at the end of the first row. May be enough for winning in second division.

The other mini-league was tougher. Juventude Evora ended last with 3 points. Uniao Lamas was second with 4 and 5:2 goal-difference. The winners finished with 5 points and… negative goal-difference – 3:4. Both promoted clubs won with negative goal-difference, truly amazing and probably unique record! But if Portimonense won their zone championship, the other promoted team did not – they ended second in heir zone. Here one could question the wisdom and fairness of the format: in the first group the champions of the zones played for one promotional spot. The teams not winning the zonal championship also had one promotional spot… what was the point of winning the whole season then? But whatever the format was, winners are worthy – in this case, Rio Ave.

Second row, from left: Andersson, Rodrigues Dias, Reis, Carlitos, Serrão, Moreira, Fernando Ferreira, Maravalhas.

First row: Varela, Paquito, Tininho, Álvaro, Quim, Duarte, Ladinho, Rocha.

Nothing to brag about, except that Rio Ave had two imported players – a rarity in Portuguese second division football at that time. Ladinho, unknown Brazlilian striker, and Eric Stefan Andersson of Sweden. He played in Swedish 3rd division for Stenungsunds before joining Maritimo Funchal in 1977. Rio Ave was his second Portuguese club, but he did not play at all in his first season with them – and moved to Estoril in the summer (Andersson never stayed longer than a year with any of the 5 Portuguese clubs he played for). It was yet to be seen whether Diamantino and Ladinho would be able to keep their clubs among the best, but so far – happy end.


Scotland Championship and Cup

The Premier league was mostly about survival too. 10 clubs playing against each other 4 times during the season did one thing for sure: the worse teams fell far behind, having to play too many games against teams too strong for them. Whatever talent remained in Scotland was concentrated in two clubs – by now, there was not enough talent even for them. Aberdeen, still in the making, inevitably dropped a bit after a great 1977-78 season; Dundee United was able to keep strong enough team for comfortable third place – not capable to challenge the big two clubs, but far better than the rest of the league. Hibernian was slowly declining. The rest of the league just made the numbers… Adjustment to the small league format was not easy for many smaller clubs, but Heart of Midlothian suffered the most: one of the better Scottish clubs no long ago, they were in dire straits since the top league was reduced. The Hearts were relegated in 1977. Came back right away in 1978 – only to be relegated again in 1979.

Hearts finished 9th, but it was not bad luck – they were hopeless outsiders. With 23 points, they were 11 points behind the 8th placed Partick Thistle. Down to second league football again… once upon champions, now the Hearts were seemingly becoming ‘unsettled’ club: too strong for second division, yet, too weak for top flight.

Motherwell were even worse.

Dead last with 17 points. Unable even to fight for 9th place. A typical mid-table club in the old big league, they were steadily going down since the new format was introduced – and finally sunk right to the bottom.

Greenock Morton had strong season on the other hand – strong, by their standards anyway.

They were relegated in the last ‘bid league’ season – 1974-75 – when they finished 17th. Did not really matter, since half the league was demoted anyway. 1975-76 was shaky – 11th in second division, three points above relegation. In 1976-77 they finished 4th, but were not contenders. In 1977-78 they were second league champions on goal-difference and one point better than third placed Dundee FC. Nothing much was expected from them – certainly less than Heart of Midlothian – but Greenock Morton played surprisingly well and finished at 7th place. A success, when compared to the fate of the Hearts. As for lasting… it was doubtful. May be playing hide and seek with relegation a season or two.

Hibernian finished 5th, but the decline was detectable. The only interesting thing about them was that they were still the only Scottish club using shirt adds. Did not appear helpful…

Dundee United were on their own: much better than most of the league and not a match for the best two clubs, they were steadily… third. Back in the first season of the reduced league, 1975-76, they stumbled and escaped relegation only on better goal-difference, but after that… it looked like the new format was the best for them. No worries about relegation – constantly finishing with medals instead. Fewer teams meant fewer options for better players – those not good enough for Celtic and Rangers were easily going to Dundee United, making a stronger squad than most of the league had. Stronger, yet, not excellent… but collecting medals in a league traditionally dominated by two clubs was sweet, almost big success. Dundee United finished 4 points ahead of promising, but still shaky Aberdeen of young Alex Ferguson.

Before the start of the season Glasgow Rangers was a sure bet – Celtic had disastrous previous season, when Rangers won every trophy. They had better squad than Celtic. Expectations were confirmed quickly: Rangers had surprisingly strong European performance, going up to the ¼ finals of the European Champions Cup – no Scottish club played so well at international stage recently. Meantime Celtic had a new young and inexperienced coach and no great additions to the roster… May be Rangers was too concentrated on international games; may be Celtic was spurred by shame and boosted by new coach – it was not another triumphal year for Rangers at all. Yes, they added two more trophies, but lost the championship. Not an easy wins either – the F.A. Cup final against Hibernian was undecided at first – 0-0. The replay ended again 0-0 after extra-time. A third match was played, also going to overtime, when finally Rangers prevailed 3-2. Big drama, sturdy Hibernian, but… not confident Rangers too. The League Cup final opposed them to Aberdeen and again it was difficult victory by small margin:2-1.

Two cups, but without a title… good team, but not exceptional. And by Rangers’ standards… may be a poor season: here they pose with three cups won in 1977-78. Now – one less. Title lost to arch-enemy…

Which was not supposed to win. The year before Celtic finished 5th, almost 20 points behind Rangers. The only real fight they did was at the League Cup final, yet, they lost it. The legendary Jock Stein was ‘sacked’, or ‘retired’, or whatever. The former club’s star Billy McNeil was hired to manage the team – a radical change: McNeil was very young coach with minimal experience – just a few month with Aberdeen, not as head coach on top of it. The team was not greatly improved with new recruits: yes, there were decent players like Danny McGrain, the Icelandic international Johannes Edvaldsson, Roy Aitken, Ronnie Glavin, the promising George McCluskey and Peter Latchford, but it was a lesser team than Rangers’, perhaps best defined by Alfie Conn – a huge promise a few years back, but a failure with Tottenham Hotspur, and back to Celtic. Where he did not last very long… Patrick Bonner, a future Scottish national team regular, was very young and neither well known, nor a potential starter. Celtic did not appear potential champion at first – and certainly was not a great team yet: it was perhaps more enthusiasm than real quality. But it worked – McNeil obviously was a great find, the risk paid off. Celtic was not overwhelming, but won the title – three points ahead of Rangers.

Nothing new at the end… one more title for Celtic. Very promising beginning for McNeil, but real fruits could be expected after a year or two, it seemed. A great team this one was not – well, Celtic fans beg to differ. They are right about one thing, though: the wings of Rangers were clipped for quite a long time. Nobody knew it yet, but perhaps this season really was the end for this Rangers’ vintage. The time of new crop of managers started and Rangers did not see it coming.

Scotland II Division

With practically all outstanding players in England, Scotland had little to offer. Struggle was firmly setting in – most pronounced in the Second Division, where a handful of clubs tried to recover top flight status, but had in the same time difficulties coming in terms with new realities. Mostly financial ones… Thus, unlike the English Second Division, the Scottish one was not competitive – since the reform in 1975, two or three clubs were obviously above the rest. Pretty much was the situation at the bottom of the table. As for the leaders, they were former first division clubs – recently relegated too. Third Division – called Division 2 now – was no different: three clubs fought for 2 promotions. Falkirk lost by 2 points. Second finished Dunfermline Athletic with 52 points and the champions were Berwick Rangers with 54 points.

Up in Division 1 – the second division of Scotland – most clubs had no worries: they were not going neither up or down. At the bottom, Queen of the South and Montrose were hopeless outsiders, saving the other clubs fears of relegation. The combined record of the bottom club gave 49 points – good enough for 4th place without coming even close to the top three… The only real intrigue was about promotion: a battle between three clubs. Clydebank was relegated the previous season and wanted to climb back. Kilmarnock was relegated in 1977 and also wanted back among the best. As for Dundee FC, they were ‘old-timers’ – relegated in 1976. They finished 3rd two years in a row, missing promotion by a point the previous season. The most distinguished club playing second-tier football, they desperately wanted to return to the top league. But it was not easy… ambition is one thing, reality – quite another. No club had outstanding squad, so the race was tight – and exciting because of that – decided at the end of the season by tiny differences. Clydebank and Kilmarnock ended with 54 points each. Clydebank had the best strikers in the league, but leaky, if not atrocious defense. Kilmarnock had the best defense this season – and that was the whole difference: with better, much better goal-difference ( +37 to Clydebank’s +28) they clinched second place and promotion.

Victory for Kilmarnock, however chancy.

The champions were no different – Dundee fretted to the end. They won 24 matches – but so did Clydebank too. Kilmarnock lost one less game than Dundee. Their attack was 5th in the league; their defense – second. Dundee did not excel in anything, but they squirreled 55 points – one more than rivals.

Champions by a single point – Dundee FC coming back to top flight after three years of second division misery. Hail the winners, but nobody saw the newcomers as sensation, going to challenge the status quo. Both Dundee FC and Kilmarnock were pretty much fodder… if they survived the next season would be just great.