Bulgaria I Division

Most of the Bulgarian top division was nothing special. Decline settled in few clubs:

Botev (Vratza) was one of them, slowly going down. They were 10th this season – out of danger still, but their direction was clear. Similar was Sliven, although their fate mostly depended on the quality of players given or taken by CSKA. Sliven finished 13th. Trouble loomed for Pirin (Blagoevgrad) and Lokomotiv (Plovdiv) – they had the same problem: a core of very old stars, surrounded by talented youngsters lacking experience. No players at the prime of their careers – both clubs lacked key players 25-28 years old. The veterans were kept to lead and shape the game, but they were getting too old to produce strong football. Pirin escaped relegation, ending at 12th place, but Lokomotiv (Plovdiv) was not so lucky – they were 15th and relegated.

Lokomotiv (Plovdiv) was one of the best Bulgarian teams a few years back, even candidates for the title. It was sad to see them going to second division. It was even sadder to see great stars going to end their careers in second level league – Todor Ivanov (34 years old), Nedyalko Stamboliev (33), Kosta Bosakov (30), Gancho Peev (33), Georgy Vassilev (35), Christo Bonev (33). Especially the last two, who were leading players for years, national team players, legends. Bonev was the best Bulgarian player of the late 1960s and most of the 1970s, ranking high in Europe, and one of the all-time best Bulgarian players. It was also sad to see bright talent, much better than most players in the league, going down – Vesselin Balevsky (21), Krassimir Chavdarov (22), Eduard Eranosyan (19), and Ayan Sadakov (19). The quartet was already marked as raising stars and stars they became, especially the last two – but not before going to second division (except Balevsky, who moved to Levski-Spartak after the end of the season). It was painful lesson: late start of rebuilding was costly, very costly. Lokomotiv was shaky in the 1980s, unable to gather a team similar to the great one of the first half of the 1970s. Pirin followed the same pattern and same fate, but Lokomotiv went down first.

The other relegated team was Etar (Veliko Tirnovo), which just came back from a stint in second division. Etar came back with a team without chemistry and real class and nothing changed in 1979-80: a bunch of former reserves of Levski-Spartak were added to no good. The new coach was great, but perhaps not fully motivated – Vassil Metodiev made Lokomotiv (Sofia) champions in 1978, but committed ‘unthinkable crime’ – eliminated Dinamo (Kiev) in the European Champions Cup 1978-79, and was fired as a punishment. Etar was not his cup of tea and in any case he needed time to shape a team of his liking. There was not time, he had a rag-tag squad, and finished last. Which ended his engagement with the club.

The other newcomer did much better: Minyor (Pernik) belonged to first division even more than Etar, but normally they occupied the lower half of the table. Like Etar, the squad was misshapen and in early stage of rebuilding. Like Pirin and Lokomotiv (Plovdiv), it was risky squad of old stars and young talent, with mediocrity in between. But enthusiasm helped them and they finished 10th.

Good season for Minyor, but it was not a team for the future – this photo more or less spells out trouble: it is from the testimonial of Georgy Yordanov (pictured on the right), the all-time goal-scorer of Minyor. This season was the last for the well respected center-forward. Inevitably, the veterans were stepping down. At the same time Minyor, located next to Sofia, was old hunting ground for the big clubs from the capital – whatever young talent was spotted was quickly snatched. Minyor had almost no chance of building strong team and there was a sense the club was not going to last in the top league.

Lokomotiv (Sofia) finished 11th , too low for practically the same team, which won the title two years earlier. To a point, the team was shaken by the punishment of their coach Metodiev, but the lowly place was misleading: it was not that Lokomotiv was declining, but rather temporary misfortune, relatedto to their particular style. Lokomotiv played defensive football, depending on counter-attacks. They never scored a lot of goals and scoring was in the feet of Atanas Mikhailov, already a legend. Minimal wins and plenty of scoreless ties was the typical record sheet of Lokomotiv – this season they failed to win enough fixtures, drawing ties instead, and as a result finished rather low. The only problem the club had was the aging of Mikhailov – he was 31. However, it was a minor and even immediate problem – traditionally, Lokomotiv was one-man show and they already had the next great key player – Boycho Velichkov (22). And Mikhailov was not retiring yet – he was good for at least 2-3 more years with his peculiar style of playing (he was never involved in defensive efforts, did not run much, was highly technical, and even getting too fat was not a major problem – essentially, it was enough to give him a few free kicks and corner kicks and he will score at least a goal. Which more or less equaled victory, given the defensive approach of the team.)

The bright side of the league was supposed to be Trakia (Plovdiv) – the club not only managed to avoid a crisis a few years back, when the old stars retired, but emerged with the best young talent in the country. And there was no ending – the youth system of the club introduced new exciting players every year. The squad was young and internally highly competitive and balanced – there was ready replacement of practically every starter, even more than replacement: a newcomer often relegated a year or two older starter to the bench. So far, the team was labeled ‘young and promising’, thus excused for occasional failure – great things were expected in the future. Perhaps 1979-80 was the key season – most of the players were around for 4-5 years already. It was time to show real teeth, which they did not… Trakia finished 5th. Not bad, still considered the most talented squad and… the team for the future. Trakia was risking to become just a never fulfilled promise. Which they really became – coming close to greatness, never great. They should have been contenders in 1979-80, but were not, and the excuse that they were too young was no longer valid – their key players were already 25 years old (Zekhtinsky, Khorozov, Aleksandar Ivanov, Peychev, Krassimir Manolov, Garabsky).

Instead of champions – 5th. The moment was missed and lack of character was showing: at 25, Aleksandar Ivanov was already… past his best, a reserve, and ready to move elsewhere. Few years back he was thought the next great Bulgarian playmaker… Few years back Atanas Garabsky was playing for the national team – now, also 25, he was a substitute. So was Peychev, the reserve goalie, who was expected to be more than a regular – he reached the national team eventually, but for a very short spell. Yet, everybody was talking of these guys as future stars – and most of them retired under this label. No wonder… Levski-Spartak finished higher than Trakia.

The champions of 1978-79 had a problem and a problem detected perhaps two years back: morally aging squad.

Familiar faces for many years… Staykov, Aladzhov, Borisov, Voynov, lead by Panov. These played at the 1974 World Cup. Others came a bit later – Tishansky, Yordanov, Grancharov, Spassov, Stankov. Few were really old – Aladzhov (33), Staykov (31), Panov (30), but this was a squad which reached its prime around 1975-77 and it was far from perfect even then. There was persistent problem in the center of defense, for instance. Peculiar individual limitations became more and more a liability with time – the players were not really old, but getting older and no longer capable of developing or changing. 1979-80 was a season of crisis – the team was not even a contender. Levski-Spartak struggled. They finished 3rd, but far behind the top two. Leaky defense, inefficient strikers, moody midfield. It was a wake-up season – it was time for radical change, but… the eternal problem was at hand: how to dismiss legendary players, especially when they think they are still too good. Years later Stefan Staykov recalled the aftermath of this season with displeasure: ‘they benched us in favour of some youngsters. There was a whole national team sitting on the bench’. True… and not: why playing this very Staykov, who was blind to shots from a distance and reacted to balls by estimation: if the ball was judged going out, he simply did not move. He was often wrong and the ball ended in his net. Anyhow, Levski-Spartak was miserable this year – another finger pointed to Trakia: even when Levski-Spartak was so weak, the great talents of the country failed to come close – Levski-Spartak finished 4 points ahead of Trakia, outscoring them by 6 goals.

More or less, the league was not exciting and almost nothing optimistic. Yet, the season stays in memory -because of the race for the title.

The 1979-80 Bulgarian championship was decided by a single point and CSKA got their record 20th title. A memorable occasion, but tainted by the bitter accusations of the fans of Slavia. To this very day they – and the club after the fall of Communism – swear they were robbed. The race lasted the whole season – CSKA was leading by 2 points at mid-season, but Slavia had better scoring and defensive record. CSKA lost only one match in the fall – Slavia lost 3. In the spring, Slavia reduced the difference to a single point – at a glance, nothing dramatic: CSKA lead all the way. Not by much, but had the edge nevertheless. Given historic tradition, nothing surprising – Slavia did not win a single title after 1945 and were notoriously moody. Strong half-season did not mean much – usually Slavia was quick to destroy itself. But this year they stayed strong all the way – and the reason they lost the title, Slavia supporters claim, was that CSKA was helped. Interested Communist Party officials, the Federation, the referees, other clubs – all plotted against Slavia. CSKA had to win their record title, and Slavia was not to win ever, for, as the oldest Bulgarian club, Slavia would not serve Communist ideals well – they were tainted as ‘bourgeoisie’ . Well, CSKA was ‘helped’ often, so there was nothing new in that. The mechanism was as described by Slavia’s supporters. But they miss – deliberately – one key pointof pressure: CSKA and Slavia both belonged to the Army. Different branches, but in the military structure CSKA stayed higher and subjected to following orders. As a rule of thumb, Slavia hardly ever played seriously against CSKA and it was unlikely the club really rebelled this season: at the end of the day, if order came to lose the title, they will follow. It was not to the liking of the fans, perhaps not to the liking of the players and the club’s functionaries, but when the top general orders lesser officers obey. The sad thing is Slavia really had fantastic season and deserved to win. Were they robbed or ordered to lose the title is a matter of speculation, but nothing can be proved, for nobody involved is speaking. The politics of Bulgarian football, however, are known: the Army clubs – Trakia, Sliven, Cherno more – were to play strong against Slavia and lose without a fight against CSKA. Other clubs would do the same, when local Party bosses get a call from Sofia. Referees will show suspect yellow or red card here and there, give – or not give – a penalty, thus helping CSKA. And Levski-Spartak, out of the race this year, was not going to help – not because of rivalry with Slavia, dated back to the 1920s, but because Slavia usually served as CSKA satellite against Levski: giving away points to CSKA, but playing their best matches against ‘The Blues’. Slavia was alone against everything and everybody, including its own brass, which was going to give up, if ordered so. Slavia had excellent team this year – at last – and was at its peak, but in purely football matters it was not enough: CSKA emerged from its slump with a strong team precisely this year. And they won their record title.

Sitting from left: Vassil Simov, Mario Valkov, Krassimir Goranov, Nikola Christov, Plamen Markov, Tzvetan Yonchev, Vassil Tinchev, Angel Kalburov.

Middle row: Asparoukh Nikodimov – coach, Krassimir Dossev, Metody Tomanov, Tzvetan Danov, Ivan Zafirov, Angel Rangelov, Georgy Velinov, Dimitar Penev – assistant coach.

Third row: Ivan Metodiev, Spas Dzhevizov, Yordan Fillipov, Dinko Dimitrov, Georgy Dimitrov.

This is not the full squad, so one more picture is in order:

First row from left: Angel Rangelov, Tzonyo Vassilev, Ivan Zafirov – captain, Spas Dzhevizov, Vassil Simov, Ivan Metodiev, Tzvetan Yonchev, Angel Kalburov.

Standing: Georgy Velinov, Asparoukh Nikodimov – coach, Dinko Dimitrov, Krassimir Goranov, Mario Valkov, Vassil Tinchev, Nikola Christov, Plamen Markov, Georgy Dimitrov, Dimitar Penev – assistant coach, Yordan Fillipov.

Still missing – Stoycho Mladenov and Radoslav Zdravkov, suspended ‘forever’ for illegal transfers. Technically, not part of the squad – not part of organized football really, but since ‘forever’ was short time in Bulgarian football, they trained with the rest, getting ready to start playing. This vintage was full of former, current, and future national team players – a typical CSKA of any time, but with a difference: this was the new great team of the club. Asparoukh Nikodimov practically established himself as the leading Bulgarian coach this season – he was young and his team was young. As usual, almost all players were harvested from other clubs. The brightest talent of the country was gathered here – players defining the 1980s, becoming legendary: Velinov, the Dimitrov brothers, Yonchev, Markov, Dzhevizov, and add Mladenov and Zdravkov. Internally competitive squad, having equal to the regulars substitutes at almost every post. Young squad with young coaching staff, they were growing together. Young, yet, a squad with plenty of experience. It was said often – the mercurial star of the previous generation Georgy Denev, rudely dismissed from Nikodimov earlier, is never tired to support this view – that Nikodimov did not want to coach former team-mates and kicked out all of them prematurely, but the young coach was no fool: contrary to the legend, here are quite a few of the players he played with – Fillipov, Zafirov, Vassilev, in particular. The veterans were needed to provide leadership and back-up for the young boys. A new great period for the club started this year, one more legendary vintage, which is a matter of eternal, perhaps unsettlable debate: which vintage of the club was the greatest ever – the unbeatable one of the 1950s, the one of the late 1960s-early 1970s,which eliminated the great Ajax, among other victories, or this one, which just popped out in 1979-80 and went to beat two European Champions Cup holders. Few of this squad were not former or future stars – even the unknown deep reserve in 1979-80 – Tzvetan Danov – eventually became a member of the national team. Looking at the squad – they were worthy of the title. A deeper and more versatile squad than Slavia of the same year. Comparing the two opponents, it is hard to see how Slavia was ‘robbed’ from the title – CSKA was at least equally strong and played modern football, thanks to their younger coach. Round numbers stay in memory – and for CSKA this is historic year: their 20th title was won and fantastic period started.

Bulgaria II Division

The change of decades is remembered season in Bulgaria. It had its highs and lows, but it is not exactly great football remembered. Second Division reached its all-time biggest – save for the early 1950s, when the structure was different, the league never had so many members – 44 teams plays in the two groups of Second Division. Today people look back at that time with envy and nostalgia, but it was not great in real time. The division was greatly inflated, but the quality was low, and for many – even lower than before. Second Division was thought as supplier of young talent to the top league. This it failed to do – instead of producing new stars, second division was a consumer. Rejected players from the best clubs found cozy spots in the lower level, never fearing competition: the clubs were so many, the rejected players had plenty to chose from, but they did not even banded together in one place – one here, another there, they were the stars of small clubs, helping them to stay in the division and nothing else. Second Division did not make great teams, the competition for promotion thinned out. Most teams were happy just to keep a place in the second level, avoiding relegation and never aiming for anything better. And it was understandable why – most clubs came from small towns and had no financial means to build and keep strong teams. This was old problem and one of the reasons why second division often changed its format. The current one was surely not going to last – and it did not. The very 1979-80 was clear indication of coming reduction: at a glance, there was not a single club strong enough compared to the lowest first division teams. Usually former first division members were seen as potential candidates for promotion, but by now most former members sunk into comfortable obscurity:

Maritza (Plovdiv), the third club of the city at that time and former first division member. Plovdiv at that time was the greatest cradle of youth talent – not a single known player in this squad and not a single youngster, who eventually became a star. Maritza played in the Southern Second Division.

Dobrudzha (Tolbukhin, today – Dobrich). Like Maritza, they played first division football in the 1960s, but settled into sedated life in second division during the 1970s. Standing from left: Atanas Petkov, Petar Kirov, Christo Bozhkov, Ivan Georgiev, Ivan Manolov, Stoyan Gospodinov.

First row: Valentin Velchev, Dinko Christov, Valentin Radev, Nikola Konanov, Krassimir Nyagolov.

Like Maritza, they had a player or two, coming from first division, but the general squad was just experienced, yet, unambitious second league players. The club played in the Northern Second Division and this season was a strong one: they reached the ½ of the Bulgarian Cup. Nothing spectacular in the championship, though – Dobrudzha and Maritza were mid-table teams for years and this season was no different. Other former first division members were the same and worse. Northern Second Division was seen as the stronger group – the relegated teams in 1978-79 both belonged geographically to the South. To avoid having one more team relegated in Southern group, so to preserve the league numbers, Akademik was placed in the Northern group – the club was based in Sofia, the capital was considered geographically neutral. Thus, the club, no stranger to relegation, became the only Bulgarian club which played in both Northern and Southern groups of Second Division. But the team was strong enough to be considered contender and added to the few other strong clubs in the North: Akademik (Svishtov), ZSK Spartak (Varna), P. Volov (Shumen), Yantra (Gabrovo), and Dunav (Rousse). When the season started, it became clear that Yantra and Dunav are too weak, Volov was so-so, and only ZSK Spartak, Akademik (Svishtov), and Akademik (Sofia) had aspirations for promotion. Three teams, all with questionable qualities, but at least competitive and stronger than their Southern counterparts. Down South, the only candidate for promotion was Haskovo, just relegated from top flight. Not that they were really strong, but there was nothing else… at least Haskovo kept the team, which played in first division. It was felt that Akademik (Sofia) should have been placed in the Southern group, where it belonged geographically, if only for creating some competitive spirit. It was felt that balance was lost – inevitably, at least one Northern team, stronger than any Southern team, will stay in second division in the next season and some useless weakling will go up from the Southern group. At half-season, suspicions were confirmed: there was no outstanding team in he South. No favourite either – Rozova dolina (Kazanlik) ended on top, but leading by a single point a big group of teams: the next 5 teams were with equal points and the 13th in the table was only 3 points behind. That small Rozova dolina was not going to win was certain… but the final winner was not going to be better than Rozova dolina.

In the North, the championship was more competitive, but Akademik (Sofia) was leading 3 points clear from Akademik (Svishtov). ZSK Spartak was 3rd, one point behind, but already opening a 4-point gap with 4th placed Volov. Akademik (Sofia) lost just one match in the fall and outscored everybody else, but they were not favourites – it was felt that ZSK Spartak, having stronger squad, will be the likelier winner at the end. The reason was Akademik’s squad: the team gradually lost its great teams of the first half of the 1970s and sunk. Rebuilding started late – and relegation came exactly at the moment Akademik started making a new squad. It was far from final product – rather, it was first step of rebuilding. The new players were not very strong and unlikely to last. Compared to ZSK Spartak, Akademik seemed weaker. But they continued their successful run and won the league at the end. It was short stay for Akademik in the lower division.

Quick promotion for Akademik (Sofia), but the winners left no trace… This is actually the squad for the 1980-81 season. Front row, from left: G. Aleksiev, M. Metodiev, St. Parvanov, R. Dimov, Al. Dimitrov – captain.

Sitting: Ev. Popov, Pl. Nikolov, R. Iliev, D. Pavlov, Vl. Krazhanov, B. Gyorev, S. Ivanov.

Standing: P. Argirov – coach, K. Lyubomirov, S. Borissov, P. Gorov, St. Nenchev, Pl. Tzvetkov, R. Grozdanov, Sp. Nikolov, G. Roev – assistant caoch.

Even in this version, it was shapeless team. Various promising players – Aleksiev, Popov, Krazhanov, Gorov, who already played a bit for other clubs. Running ahead, all of them failed to develop. Another group was more experienced and of higher quality, but it was felt that they either lacked ambition or reached their peak and nothing better would come from them – K. Lyubomirov, Al. Dimitrov, S. Borissov, St. Nenchev, Pl. Tzvetkov. This group had mixed development – Lyubomirov and Nenchev faded away, as expected. Borissov, Dimitrov, and Tzvetkov soared, contrary to expectations, and had their best years in the 1980s – but with other clubs. The rest of the team were unknown players, possibly with some potential, but not much. Nobody remembers them today. The reinforcements were not very promising either – young and with some promise, they came from second division small clubs : R. Grozdanov and D. Pavlov. Both were former juniors of Levski-Sapratk and CSKA, natives of Sofia – perhaps that worked in their favour, but they were of the third kind: anonymous youngsters with some potential and nothing else. It was telling that the only survivors of the great squad from the first half of the 1970s were the left full-back Stefan Parvanov (30 years old now) and the striker Borislav Gyorev (25 years old now) – both were deep reserves back in the strong years. Gyorev rarely appeared on team photos, let alone on the pitch. Hardly an inspirational leaders… this was a team of early and questionable stage of making and there was no certainty the building will be successful. It was futher telling that Mikhail Valchev, one of the best Bulgarian center-forwards of the 1980s, is not even on the picture – he debuted and played well in 1979-80, but apparently there was no much faith in him… Gyorev was seemingly chosen starter for the next campaign. Most likely, not only the failures would leave, but also those who were more ambitious and talented (which happened quickly, in fact).

In the South, the battle continued between equal, but never really strong teams and at the end the winner was quite surprising. Belasitza (Petrich) – a small club from a small border town. At mid-season they were 5th , although only a point behind the temporary leaders, but nobody believed Belasitza to be among the best at the end. It was expected that, like many other teams before, will have relaxed spring, perhaps sinking to mid-table. True, Belasitza had strong years recently – from 1974 on, they finished second once, 4th – twice, and 6th, but looking for promotion was unlikely. Not only Belasitza never played in first division before, but they were not steady members of second division, often finding themselves in third division. To many, the club really belonged to the third level… but the underdog beat all others. It was not great championship, there was no real competition, but they won when everything was possible just because of the circumstances.

Sitting from left: Nasko Stanoev, Georgy Bokhorov, Lozan Trenchev, Valery Dagalov, Valery Stoyanov, Aleksandar Vukov, Dimitar Dimitrov.

Middle row: Nikola Tzanev – coach, Vassil Tanev, Mladen Trenev, Yordan Popov, Milan Karatanchev, Zhoro Vanchev, Atanas Atanassov, Georgy Bibishkov, Mitko Todorov – assistant coach.

Standing: Georgy Georgiev, Lyubomir Lichkov, Todor Krazhanov, Dimitar Karadaliev, Iliya Popov, Zakhary Smilyanov.

Compared to Belasitza, Akademik (Sofia) was famous team… at least most of its players were familiar and they had well known coach. Belasitza was anonymous – their coach was a big star as a player in the 1960s, but not as coach. This promotion was his highest achievement. His assistant was local guy, who was a playing coach during the 1979-80 campaign. Of the players, the only familiar name was Valery Dagalov – considered a great goalkeeping talent, playing for various youth national teams, and not even 20 years old. But he was a promise for the future, nothing more yet. Perhaps the most interesting feature of this squad are the goalkeeper – a very unusual number of 4, all young and promising. Eventually, one after another they left Belasitza, but the only one who made somewhat memorable career was the second goalie in 1979-80 – Milan Karatanchev. As a whole, the team was young – the experienced players were few, but almost nobody played first division football before. Of course, it was great success locally and pleasant victory of the underdog, but doubts were stronger: the team was seen as weaker compared to Akademik (Sofia), and they were nothing special. Few clubs from small towns reached first division historically and with the sole exception of Marek (Stanke Dimitrov, today Dupnitza) none managed to establish good reputation – as a rule, they were relegated almost immediately after promotion. The main reason was quite simple: in the Bulgarian political pyramid, money and influence were located in the county capitals and all smaller towns in the county were subservient. Not only resources were scarce, but in purely football matters, the central city pulled the best players to its own club and nothing could be done to prevent that. It was clear that Pirin (Blagoevgrad) will take the best players of Belasitza and other richer clubs will follow – and the exodus started right after winning promotion: Pirin took the full back Vanchev and the third goalie Atanassov. Eventually Dagalov and Karatanchev moved to other clubs too. The bargain was not in Belasitza’s favour – they were going to lose every good player they had, but unable to recruit players of similar class. The predicament of a small club was quick return to lower level. But this was not all – to a point, Belasitza benefited from peculiar circumstances, which were never named. It was said that their triumph was largely due to very strong home performance. What was not said was why: first, Belasitza had incredibly hostile stadium – very hard surface, deliberately kept hard. Since the city of Petrich is at the very southern end of Bulgaria, at the border with Greece, hot weather and scarce water supply was the reality, used as an excuse for the sub-standard pitch. Visiting teams had great dificulty adapting to the surface. The other reason was directly related to the border: back in Communist Bulgaria there was 20 kilometers closed border zone and Petrich was inside it. Closed for ordinary Bulgarians, that is – border guard check-points inspected documents for entry into it and who had no permit from the Police was turned away. Permits were hard to get – the whole reason was to keep population away from the border to prevent escapes. Locals, however, were free to travel outside to zone and come back. This situation also helped the local team – visiting teams arrived without their fans, who were not able to get permits and played in front of hostile and aggressive supporters of Belasitza. There was always the possibility to bully visitors by putting them under restrictions, surveillance, and what not before a match. Belasitza was notoriously unbeatable at home – and this when playing in first division (still in the future). However, Belasitza supporters had no trouble going to other towns. But it was impossible to name the main reason at the time – it was forbidden subject. Nobody was fooled, though, so Belasitza was not expected to last in first division – what worked against small second division clubs, would not be a decisive factor in first division, where the big clubs were helped and pushed ahead by other schemes and pressures. At the end, both newcomers were seen more as an example of the low quality of second division football – neither was seen near top level or meaningful addition to first division. Belasitza was expected to be relegated right away, Akademik, if lucky, could survive a year or two with such a squad.

Romania The Cup

Steaua experienced bitter year – coming close, but losing at the very last moment and by very little. They reached the Cup final too, where they faced Politehnica (Timisoara). It looked like done deal… Politehnica won a single trophy in their history – the Cup in the distant 1958. They were naver among the top clubs, usually found in the lower half of the league, if they played in first division at all. 1979-80 was not different – they finished 10th, but only 2 points above relegation zone. They had a single national-scale star, who was a veteran nearing retirement. Steaua was full of national team players, as it ever was… there was to be no challenge.

Steaua scored an opening goal in the 25th minute, it was over… the picture suggests it clearly: Tudorel Stoica high above inferior goalkeeper Suciu. But Politehnica equalized 2 minutes before half-time. Neither team scored in the second half. In the overtime the center-back of Politehnica scored a second goal and preserved their fragile lead to the last whistle. Steaua lost everything this season.

It was unbelievable even before the overtime – Politehnica camp seems rather desperate…


1 June 1980, “23 August Stadium”, Bucureşti, Referees: Nicolae Rainea

(Bârlad) – Otto Anderco (Satu-Mare), Vasile Tătar (Hunedoara)

Politehnica Timişoara – Steaua Bucureşti = 2 – 1 (1-1, 1-1)

0-1 Tudorel Stoica 25’

1-1 Viorel Vişan 43’

2-1 Dan Păltinişan 96’

Politehnica Timişoara (trainer Ion V.Ionescu)

Suciu – Nadu, Păltinişan, Şerbănoiu, Vişan – Manea, E.Dembrovschi,

T.Nicolae (61 Nucă) – S.Anghel, Nedelcu (91 Roşca), Cotec

Steaua Bucureşti (trainer Gheorghe Constantin)

Iordache – Anghelini, Fl.Marin, Sameş, Vigu – T.Stoica (75 Niţu),

Iordănescu (65 Zahiu), I.Dumitru, Aelenei – M.Răducan, Ad.Ionescu

Unexpected success for the old, but lowly club, closely related to the Univeristy of Timisoara. Their second trophy, their second Cup, and… their last to this date. Thus, a legendary victory. Even sweeter at the time, for it was against the odds and prevailing over mighty Steaua in Bucharest. Politehncia had very few strong players:

The defender Gica Serbanoiu, not a star, but well respected player, was the best a team like Politehnica usually was able to list. His partner in defense was a class higher:

Dan Paltinisan (sometimes written Paltinisanu) captained the team and was at his top form just at that time – he was included and played 3 matches for the national team of Romania in 1978-79. No matter how good, Paltinisan is only a local legend – one of the best ever players of Politehnica, but not a Romanian star at any time of his career. However, he was more than a hero because he played long time for the club – he delivered the victory this day, scoring the second and winning goal. Not bad for a defender.

The really big name of the team was Emerich Dembrovschi.

He was a big star for years and legendary Romanian player. He was also one of the Romanian players, who played at the last international finals Romania reached – the 1970 World Cup. Ten years later, he was going to retire and did so after the victory – Dembrovschi stepped down with style, with the Cup, as a true winner. But his presence also serves as a point showing the fantastical achievement of Politehnica: they were not a team even with a future – their top player was retiring and whatever was left was a local hero and a journeyman. That is why this quad deserves one more look:

Surprise Cup winners, looking modest even with the trophy in their hands, as not yet believing it was theirs. It was – and never again.


Romania I Division

At a glance, the Romanian final table suggests adventurous attacking football – only one team finishe with less than 10 wins and tied matches were few. Nothing like ultra-careful Italian or Soviet league, where the rule was to get a point from a fixture. But nothing like German or English football either – the Romanian approach was play for a win at home and when visiting – whatever happens. Win at home, lose away – no surprises. Scoring was not high, which is typical for such approach. More than half of the league was really trying to escape relegation as a result – 5 points divided at the end the 7th placed SC Bacau from the 17th. From the fretting bulk the happiest perhaps was the newcomer from the home village of Causeuscu:

Standing from left: A. Mincu, Lică, Ciocioană, Dumitru Anescu ( coach ), Nedea, Anghel, I. Carciumarescu ( assistant coach ), Stanciu, Badea, Martinescu.

Sitting : Voiculet, Fl. Dumitrescu, P. Manea, Palea, Ghe. Manea, Soarece, Florea.

There was little doubt that this club soared thanks to political support – the club was found in 1973 and in 1978 won promotion to first division. In 5 years it climbed from the lowest possible league to the top. The debutant changed its name for the occasion, playing as FC Scornicesti their first season among the best – the name did not last, may be because Scornicesti was not really a city, but rather the head-quarters of agricultural county Olt, which provided the financial support of the club. Thus, the club represented the area of the ‘kolkhoz’, not a particular town or village. Anyhow, the club was not all that mighty to compete with bigger cities and clubs – the best Scornicesti aimed for was staying in first division. They finished 13th – a point above relegation zone. For newcomers – well done.

It was not so for others. There was one outsider this season:

Gloria (Buzau) earned just 15 points and were the only team with less than 10 wins. No surprise at all – Gloria was never a big club, played rarely in first division, and when they did, they were expected to be on the bottom. And last they finished in 1979-80, going down to their familiar second division.

Above them were two unlucky clubs, which fought for survival, but lost the battle. By very little, but they lost it.

Olimpia (Satu-Mare) finished 17th with 30 points.

CS Tirgoviste (Tirgoviste) took 16th place with 31 points – they finished in the relegation zone on worse goal-difference. ASA (Targu-Mures) also had 31 points, but survived having better goal-difference. As for Tirgoviste, they were traditional outsiders and relegation was expected. Olimpia was not a strong club having a bad season either – usually the occupied the lower half of the table, playing hide and seek with relegation.

The club relatively down this season was Dinamo (Bucharest) – they did not have great squads in the 1970s. Yet, compared to most members of the league, Dinamo was ultimately stronger – they were 5th this season, not in the race for the title, but above most teams nevertheless. ‘Down’ was relative in their case: ‘down’ by the standards of the club and its fans, but still among the top 5-6 clubs. Dinamo edged their Bucharest neighbours Sportul Studentesc on goal-difference and ended only 2 points bellow bronze medalists Arges (Pitesti). Arges won the title the previous year and were still running strong – the 70s was arguably the best years of the club, yet, they never had truly great squad, which explains why they were not title contenders in the season following the title. The title contenders were just two clubs: Steaua and Universitatea (Craiova). Like Arges, Universitatea had great decade – unlike Arges, they managed to establish themselves as permanent force in Romanian football.

Head to head, the two clubs went from start to end, both finishing with 44 points – 5 more than Arges and FC Baia-Mare. Each team finished with 17 wins, 10 ties, and 7 losses. Goal-difference decided the title and it favoured the provincials. Steaua outscored everybody – 74 goals – but they also had leaky defense, allowing 44 goals in their net (6 teams had better defensive record). This tipped the scale – Univeristatea had the best defensive record (31 goals allowed) and second-best attacking record (66 goals scored). Steaus finished with +30 – Universitatea with +35, and the title was theirs.

It was familiar team from previous successful seasons, able to avoid decline because of generational change – rather, younger stars reinforced it. Legendary Ion Oblemenco was no longer playing, becoming assistant coach, but there was enough established and young talent – Balaci, Stefanescu, Camataru from the old guard and Lung and Negrila, who soon became famous, especially the goalkeeper Lung. Difficult victory, but may be because of that even sweeter – topping Steaua by so small margin.

Romania II Division

Second Division apparently was clean this season… Three groups of 18 teams each. The last 4 teams going down, champions – up. Most participants were and are unknown clubs, few were recognizable names – they played often among the best, but only one name was internationally familiar – Rapid (Bucharest), down on their luck, and relegated the previous year. Now in Seria II, they had tough time too – another club from Bucharest, which often played in the top league, opposed Rapid and at the end prevented it from returning to top flight. Seria II was perhaps the toughest Second Division group – few former first division teams plus a bunch of Bucharest clubs, which were not much, but surely were ready to give hard time to a famous club – Rapid – against which they had a rare opportunity to play in one league. Seria II was the only group where the first place was closely contested:

Progresul Vulcan, as the club was named at the time, finished first with 44 points. Rapid was second with 42. Petrolul (Ploesti), another former first division club, ended 3rd with 39 points.

The other two groups were one-horse race.

Corvinul (Hunedoara) won Seria III with 49 points – 6 more than 2nd placed Bihor (Oradea).

Second division clubs are rarely seen, so here is Bihor – not much of challenger in 1979-80.

Seria I produced the most superior winner:

FCM Brasov, normally playing first division football, was clearly too strong for second division: they finished 10 points ahead of FC Constanta.

The three winners were promoted – an end of second division exile for at least two of them.

Romania – overview and III Division

At the end of the 1970s and the beginning of new decade, Romania had peculiar position: it was respected, but not really known. Romanian football slipped out of mind largely because the country failed to reach international finals since 1970. It was not that much of a decline of Romanian football, yet, there was a bit of that – generation changed with the inevitable uncertain performance for awhile. The 1970s generation was perhaps relatively weaker compared to other countries. Now it was getting older and the next crop was not ready yet to take dominant position. Romanian football did not declined, but rather failed to improve. Apart from the prolific goal-scorer Dudu Georgescu no other Romania became internationally famous during the 70s. And it was a provincial decade – the big clubs from the capital Steaua and Dynamo lost their dominance. They were not getting weaker – they became equal to strong provincial teams. The general result was that Romanian football became enigmatic and unknown – a strange situation for a country having massive championship: 18-team top league, 54 teams played in the second division, and 192 teams played in the 12 groups of Third Division.

Naturally, Third Division was entirely unknown. 12 groups of 16 teams each, the lowest 4 relegated, and the champions promoted to second level. Small, unimportant clubs, but few of them played top league football in the 21st century. Clubs like Recolta (Stoicanesti):

Standing from left: Andrei, Cârstea, Florescu, Ciobanu, Răduţ

Crouching : Rotaru, Cioabă, Mihalache,  Zăvelcă.

Recolta finished was 9th in Seria VI. Some did much better, of course:

Minerul (Lupeni), for example. They won Seria VII and were promoted to Second Division. Along with the other winners: Ceahlăul (Piatra-Neamţ)- Seria I, CSM (Borzeşti) – Seria II, CSU (Galaţi) – Seria III, IMUM (Medgidia) – Seria IV, Sirena (Bucharest) – Seria V, ROVA (Roşiori-de-Vede) – Seria VI, CFR (Timişoara) – Seria VIII, Rapid (Arad) – Seria IX, CIL (Sighetu-Marmaţiei) – Seria X, Metalul (Aiud) – Seria XI, and Oltul (Sfântu-Gheorghe) – Seria XII. Metalul (Aiud) was the most dominant winner, finishing 10 points ahead of the closest pursuer – if that really meant anything. Perhaps the only interesting thing about the Third Division championship this season was the penalties given to clubs caught in fixing results: in the last round few strange results occurred – Gloria Strehaia – CSM Turnu-Severin 18-2 (Seria VII), Bihoreana Marghita – Armătura Zalău 1-10 (Seria IX), and Dacia Unirea Brăila – Amonil Slobozia 10-1 (Seria IV). The reasons were painfully familiar… Armatura tried to get promotion, the other two suspect winners – to avoid relegation. At the end, the fixed matches were voided and all participants awarded with 0 points and 0-3 loss. Corruption was possibly wide spread, but in the football world the usual measure is to punish the weakest… penalties in Third Division show ‘principle fight against corruption’, without even scratching the surface of the problem: compared to Third Division, the higher levels were ‘clean’. Were they? One can dig results of fixtures, particularly near the end of a season – or jump to the end of the 1980s, when the ‘Golden Shoe’ award was discontinued after the Romanians produced a number of clearly fake top-scorers.

Poland The Cup

The Cup final was played in Czestochowa and in it Legia (Warszawa) destroyed Lech (Poznan) 5-0. To a point, it was expected victory.

Lech had miserable season – they finished 10th in the championship, but they were traditionally not much anyway. Yet, their squad was stronger – as names – than Szombierki (Bytom), having few national team players – Mowlik, Chojnacki. A Cup final should have been mobilizing call, but apparently was not.

Legia, unlike Lech, was in good form at the end of the season,when the Cup final was played and easily won their 6th Cup. They were the better team anyway:

Lead by 1974 hero Marek Kusto, having current top players like Janas, and young talent like Okonski and Majewski, Legia was the superior squad and in better form. For the club, the victory was great success – it was the first trophy they won since 1973. The 1970s was not good for Legia – and for the clubs from the Polish capital in general – since Poland never had dominant big club, the capital was in disadvantage: industrial cities were able to take star players, because the big plants provided more money. Legia finally built a talented team, but like Widzew, it was perhaps not at its peak yet. May be the political situation in the country benefited Legia as well – it is difficult to evaluate, yet, the industrial cities, particularly ship-building and mining ones, were striking, money were blocked, and football was the last thing on the minds of both workers and establishment. Legia was in a better position, since the club was not attached to industry. But this is immaterial at the end: Legia won a trophy after many bleak years. Very comfortably too, suggesting that the team was rising and better things may come yet.


Poland I Division

Politcis aside, First Division experienced change of guard – it started earlier in the decade, but now it was explicitely pronounced. Stal (Mielec) finished 13th. Ruch (Chorzow) – 11th. A few years back those were leading clubs, but their stars left to play abroad and decline quickly followed. Most of the league was seemingly the same as ever – depending on momentary strength or weakness, especially of one or two key players. Arka (Gdynia) is a typical Polish club:

Adam Musial and Janusz Kupcewicz are the big names here – espacially the hero of 1974 Musial. The rest are ordinary players. This season they finished 8th – but the final position meant little: just as well the same team could end near the top, or relegated. Relative parity in the league, but there was one much weaker club than most:

Polonia (Bytom) won just 3 matches this year and tied 10. This gave them 16 points… 5 less then the nearest team and last. Usually, Polonia dwelled in the middle of the league, but a team which is never any special sooner or later is doomed to failure. However, the name should be kept in mind for a moment.

GKS Katowice finished 15th – not all that surprising, since the club was nothing much during the 1970s and no stranger to second division football. Now they were going down again along with Polonia.

Since Stal and Ruch were in decline, and Wisla, Gornik, and Legia – not too strong, more or less the favourite should have been Slask (Wroclaw) – they enjoyed good years recently, winning both the league and the cup, and had the most balanced team and may be the biggest group of talented players at the moment. But they were not great team and this season showed exactly that. Slask started well and was steady almost to the end of the championship, leading the league twice. Most of the time they were second, expected to come on top at the end. Until he 28th round their lowest position was 3rd place – in the 1st round and once more later! Then they suddenly colapsed, dropping in the last three matches out of the race for the title and to final… either 3rd or 4th place, depending on which table one looks at. Slask finished with 36 points, but Legia and Widzew also had 36. Widzew is allways placed 2nd, suggesting that goal-difference determined final positions. Slask had the worst goal-difference of the three clubs, yet, sometimes is given at 3rd place, sometime – 4th, behind Legia. Face to face record favours Slask, goal-difference – Legia. Which method was actually applied is unclear -even today different sources show different final tables. But the sure thing is that Slask lost the title, which is a bit surprising.

Widzew (Lodz) finished 2nd – perhaps the club ending just right on the spot coresponding to their relative strength. Widzew was steadily climbing up in the recent years. They were 2nd in 1976-77, second in 1978-79, and once again – second. Obviously, strong period of a club, which has been insignificant so far in their quite long history. The prime reason is easy to see today – they had Zbigniew Boniek. The climb of Widzew goes along with the climb of Boniek to stardom – he was almost the only Polish player noticed at the 1978 World Cup. But he was not at his prime yet, and so Widzew was not at its prime – and had to wait a little bit for real success. Silver medals were just right at the moment.

With Widzew not ready yet, and Slask not trully great, the title was left open… and Poland got the most surpirsing champion. Nothing at all suggested a title when the championship started in the fall of 1979 – the team was last after the opening round, and expected to stay in the bottom region, where they usually belonged. But this lowly team climbed to 1st place after the 6th round and after that they were 2nd only once. Szombierki (Bytom) finished 3 points ahead of all pursuers.

The club was old – founded in 1919 – but hardly heard of outside Poland: they were not playing first division football often, let alone finishing in the upper half of the table. Even in their home town they were not top – supporters were divided, but the bigger club was Polonia (Bytom), which at least played more or less regularly in first division. Szombierki was expected to excape relegation, if lucky, and perhaps the only pride of their presense in the league was providing a local derby – this season only Lodz and Bytom had 2 teams in the top league. It was very unusual for Europe lesser cities to provide derbies and not the capital, but that was the peculiarity of Polish football. However, Bytom was not expected to keep two clubs in the league – and it did not, but not as thought: Szombierki finished number one; Polonia – just the opposite: dead last. Half of the city was smiling, the other half was crying. As local rivalries go, Szombierki had a lot to brag about: they were smaller than Polonia, but brought the first success to the city in the very year Polonia hit the bottom.

Here are the new champions – a historic squad for three reasons: first, they won the very first trophy in the history of the club. Second, they were and still are the most surprising Polish champions. Third, Szombierki is considered the weakest Polish champion ever. Jumping ahead, this title is not only the only trophy won by the club, but a second one is highly unlikely: the club exists, but currently plays in 3rd Division and has not been heard of… well, almost since 1980. The extreme rarity of the club’s success deserves one more picture of the champions:

Well, nothing special as a team… the most famous of the squad is the coach: Hubert Kostka, the best Polish goalkeeper in the 1960s and long time national team regular. But that is the player – the coach never became big name: as for the club, this is the biggest achievement of coach Kostka. Among the players Roman Ogaza was the only star and that with a question mark. The winger was in and out of the national team for years, but never really a first choice. He belonged to the 1974 generation, but… he was part of the 1972 team, which won the Olympic games, yet, only a member, not a starter. This was his highest achievement with the national team – in 1974 he was not in the squad. For many, he was underrated. For others – he was not really top class, for he was slow for a winger. There was always a better option than him. And seemingly the critics were right – by 1980 Ogaza was already 28 years old and unlike his peers foreign clubs were not really after him. He played abroad eventually, but after a few years, when he was already nearing the end of his career. It tells volumes when the only recognizable player of the new champions is a player like Ogaza: it was not a strong team and it was not a team to develop further, let alone build a dynasty. What usually is said about this squad is that they were experienced players – journeymen, moving from club to club often. Ogaza himself played for variety of clubs. A good run this season, but the team largely took advantage of the weaknesses of opposition. Ruch and Stal in decline, Gornik and Wisla shaky, Widzew not ready yet, Legia attacking top places too late in the season and unable to compensate sloppy earlier performance, and Slask suddenly colapsing at the end. The record of Szombierki with their immediate pursuers is telling: they lost badly all away matches with the next three clubs in the final table, not scoring even a goal. Legia beat the champions at their home turf. True, Szombierki destroyed at home both Widzev (3-0) and Slask (5-0), but head-to-head total was 2 wins and 4 losses – every other team of the top 4 did better. Szombierki took advantage of sloppy performance of the others against lesser teams, steadiness, no flops, and a bit of trickery. Yers later the goalkeeper W. Surlit told what tactic was used this year: Szombierki used two stadiums at home. Their regular one was small, English-type stadium, where the fans were too close to the field. When Szombierki hosted big club with a huge home stadium, they played at their small stadium – the fans were too close, packed, and intimidating. Against clubs with similar small stadiums, they used the big stadium in the city – this time the visitors were in disadvantage: their fans were too far away and unable to form a compact group. The scheme worked may be because of the strikes and economic-political problems: football was not really in the mind of most people and fewer were travelling to other cities to support their club. Thus, Szombierki managed to have a compact crowd bigger or at least equal to the opposition’s and able to intimidate the visiting players. This helped, but such tactic helps only ones. Szombierki took advantage of the circumstances, did the best they could, and won. Which was great – a victory of the underdog. Kings of the city. Historic moment to be cherished forever – and still better than their home rivals: Polonia so far did not win anything.

Poland II Division



Poland had unusual season. Similarly to Sweden, Polish football was going through minor crisis – a change of generations. It was noticed at the 1978 World Cup and perhaps reached its lowest point in 1979-80 – by now, hardly anyone of the great 1974 squad was playing in Poland. New stars were still not at the their prime and the vacuum was enlarged by the traditional absense of bid clubs – good players were scattered in the whole league. The leading clubs of the most of the 1970s suffered by the exodus of their stars – Stal (Mielec), Ruch (Chorzow), and, to a point, Wisla (Krakow). Apart from purely football problems, there was a political one: Polish workers demanded economic and political changes, ‘Solidarity’ was born, industrial towns were on strike, tensions grew, and football was the last thing on people’s minds – including players, coaches, and officials. But the championship was played in full.

In the Second Division nothing special happened.

Baltyk (Gdynia) won the Western Group and was promoted to top flight. Zaglebie (Walbrzych) was a contestant of a kind, finishing 3 points behind the winners. Both clubs were head and shoulders above the rest of the league.

The Eastern Group did not have even resemblance of a rivalry.

Motor (Lublin) finished 10 points ahead of 2nd place Gwardia (Warszawa). Technically, the Eastern Group should have been the stronger half of the Second Division, judging by the clubs playing in it, but this was only on paper – since most clubs came from industrial cities, the political situation perhaps made the champion weaker than usual. Still, Motor and Baltyk ended champions and promoted to higher level.

Greece The Cup


No big club reached the Cup final. The finalists were curious pair: the penalized for bribery and fielding illegal player teams, Iraklis (Thesaloniki) and AGS Kastoria (Kastoria). If Iraklis, thanks to fixing matches, was solid mid-table club, Kastoria was lowly, fighting to survive in the league. On paper, Iraklis was favourite – they had arguably the greatest star in the country, Hadzipanagis, plus a Polish import, Wawrowski. Kastoria had no famous player at all and entirely Greek squad. Yet, they destroyed Iraklis – 5-2! It did not possible at first – Iraklis scored opening goal from a penalty early in the final. Kastoria managed to equalize near the end of the first half and the second half was entirely theirs. For a second consecuitve year the Cup went to small club – Panionios won it in 1979 and now – Kastoria.

The ‘Gounarades’ (Fur-traders) were small fry by any standard: they were born in 1963 from a merger of three local clubs: Aris, Atromitos, and Orestias. The new club was not much stronger than the former clubs, but eventually gathered some strenght and won promotion to first division in 1973-74. They did not take the league by storm, though – yet, this period is the best in the history of the club: they played in first division from 1974 to 1983. After that they managed just a single season among the best – 1996-97. Winning the Cup was their crown achievement – and their only trophy.

Naturally, the boys were happy and

the fans even more so. This was a great day for small Kastoria. The greatest day!

The Cup winners were nothing much so far – the victory made them famous instantly, but also it was ominous. A small club had no chance of keeping good players… The big clubs immediately took the strongest – Simeoforidis, Papavasiliou, Dintsikos, and Sarganis. The captain of the team, Giorgios Paraschos, was called to the national team, but did not establish himself there – he played only 4 times for Greece. The only real star emerging from the Cup winners was their goalkeeper Nikos Sarganis: he was bought by Olympiakos right after the Cup victory and debuted for the national team. Later he played for Panathinaikos too and between 1980 and 1991 played 58 matches for Greece. During his career he scored 6 goals – in the days when goalkeeper very rarely scored goals. Well, good for the players, but not so for Kastoria, which after the great victory only saw the best players leaving one after another. But a great victory is great victory – the best moment in the history of Kastoria remains in memory.