First division. Five teams exceeded the permitted number of ties, thus losing points, but none suffered from it – all were in mid-table. As a whole, the rule worked – the number of ties was reduced, but the more attacking approach did not increase significantly the scores. There was no hopeless outsider, but also there was not a great favourite – the league was fairly competitive. The three big favourites did not have a great year, largely because their coaches and players were preoccupied with the national team for about half of the championship. And because of that it is hard to judge the championship, except for those teams in decline. At the bottom finished usual suspects – Kairat (Alma-ata) was last with 24 points and relegated once again.
Kuban (Krasnodar) finished 17th with 27 points and was also relegated. True, they lost on goal-difference, but the club made the cardinal mistake of smaller clubs suddenly finding themselves among the best: Kuban was a typical mid-table second-division club for years: the most of the squad was not much and safety was achieved by recruiting 2-3 veterans with solid biography. It was enough to keep them out of trouble in the lower level. It was even enough for promotion. Combined with enthusiasm, it was enough for a year in top flight. But it was not enough for longer run – Kuban did not improve its squad, but once again recruited 2 veterans – the former national team goalkeeper Pilguy from Dinamo Moscow and the defender Buturlakin from Torpedo Moscow. Did not work… this time there was no survival. In the last round they visited their direct competitor Neftchi (Baku), which was 2 points ahead. Kuban won 3-2, equalized the points, but goal-difference still favoured Neftchi. Goal-difference? Actually, wrong… it was not decisive factor, but seemingly the number of wins – Neftchi had worse goal-difference by far, but finished with 10 wins. Kuban had 9. Neftchi survived… for now.
Down on their luck: CSKA (Moscow) – 15th. All Army clubs were weak at this time.
Shakhter (Donetzk) – 14th. Looked like Shakhter was going into decline and the reason most likely was too many Ukranian clubs in first division, some on ascent. Shakhter more or less lost its position as the second Ukrainian club, which affected its ability to recruit new quality players. The competition was more attractive.
The third team obviously in rough shape was Dinamo (Moscow). The decline was noticed long time ago and so far there was no sign of coming out of it. Internal conflicts were blamed for that – Aleksander Bubnov left the club after the end of the season because of that. Generally, the recruitment policy was wrong – for years Dinamo was not able to find worthy players: they actively recruited players, but somehow they were not as good as thought, did not blend together. 11th this year.
The newcomers were not spectacular, but did what was more or less the maximum expected from the freshly promoted: to survive. Somewhere in the lower half of the table. Torpedo (Kutaisi) ended 13th. The only remarkable thing about their performance was that 2 players scored almost all of their goals – Megreladze 18 and Dardzhania 11.
Metallist (Kharkov) ended 12th.
Dnepr (Dnepropetrovsk) – on the left of Metallist (Kharkov) – was 9th. Midtable position did not suggest that this team will play major role of Soviet football to the end of USSR.
Zenit (Leningrad) – 7th. Like Dnepr, solid season, but nothing special yet.
Pakhtakor (Tashkent) – here touring Italy – had excellent season, one of the surprise performances this year: 6th. The top scorer of the championship came from them – the veteran midfielder Aleksander Yakubik, 32-years old former Dinamo (Moscow) player, scored 23 goals. Back in 1979 he was sent by Dinamo to help Pakhtakor after its entire team died in aircrash. Over the hill, that what Dinamo thought – but Yakubik became essential part in the rebuilding of Pakhtakor and now Dinamo was 11th, Pakhtakor – 6th.
Ararat (Erevan) – 5th with 38 points. They were even leading for awhile in the first part of the championship. May be coming back to glory?
And finally the best. Dinamo (Tbilisi) and Spartak (Moscow) both ended with 41 points.
Dinamo (Tbilisi) – 4th and empty-handed, seemingly because of worse goal-difference.
Spartak (Moscow) got the bronze medals. From left: S. Shavlo, V. Grachev, G. Morozov, F. Cherenkov, V. Sochnov, E. Gess, A. Kalashnikov, I. Vishnevsky, Yu. Gavrilov, R. Dassaev, O. Romantzev.
Both teams suffered from the same problem: the national team. They lost points in the first half of the championship and were unable to recover. Rinat Dassaev later confessed that near the end of the championship, when it was clear Spartak cannot win the title, the team lost interest. There was something else – neither team was very deep. Take away the key players and they were quite ordinary. Dinamo was getting old as well. A heavy price was paid just because USSR played at the World Cup.
But the race for the title was breathtaking even after Dinamo and Spartak were left behind. Shoulder to shoulder to the end, 1 point was the fragile lead for at least a month. Both leaders played their last round away and their opponents were far from easy – Spartak and Ararat. Both leaders won by a single goal, 4-3 in Moscow and 3-2 in Erevan. The fragile lead was preserved and Dinamo (Kiev) lost the title.
Dinamo (Kiev) back in January 1982 training in Czechoslovakia. Crouching from left: Evlantyev, Lozinsky, Dumansky, Demyanenko, Khapsalis, Bessonov, Evtushenko, Baltacha.
Second row: Puzach – assistant coach, ?, ?, ?, Khlus, Sorokalet, Mikhaylov, Blokhin, Veremeev, Bal, Chanov, Zhuravlyov, Buryak, Boyko, Lobanovsky – coach.
Well, the best squad in the country… but they started poorly, thanks to the national team preparations, and really came back to convincing performance in the second half of the season. They climbed up, trailing closely the leader – 1 point behind. Unfortunately, this 1 point was still there when the dust settled. Dinamo overcome strong resistance of Ararat and won their last game – but so did their rivals.
Dinamo (Minsk) – brand new champions of USSR. Third row from left: Aleksandr Voynakh, Sergey Borovsky, Yury Trukhan, Grigory Tzyrkunov, Yury Kurbyko, Mikhail Vergeenko, Lyudas Rumbutis, Igor Kriushenko, Aleksandr Alekseychikov, Yury Pudyshev.
Middle row: Eduard Malofeev – coach, Leonid Garay – team chief, Andrey Zygmantovich, Yury Kurnenin, Valery Melnikov, Georgy Kondratyev, Andrey Sosnitzky, Igor Kulchenko, Yury Popkov, Anatoly Panteleev, Viktor Shishkin, Pavel Rodnenok, Roman Levkovich – team leader, Leonid Arzamastzev – assistant coach, Vassily Dmitrakov – doctor.
Front row: Igor Belov, Petr Vassilevsky, Sergey Aleynikov, Aleksandr Vanyushkin, Sergey Gotzmanov, Genady Kobrenkov, Igor Gurinovich, Aleksandr Prokopenko, Viktor Sokol.
Surprise winners and first time champions. The only 9th club becoming Soviet champions and the second non-Russian or Ukrainian. 19 wins, 9 ties, 6 losses and 63-35 goal-difference. 47 points – one more than Dinamo (Kiev), a fragile lead, which was preserved in the last few rounds. Lets start with negative points: Dinamo (Minsk) did not have the team to really compete and if the big favourites were able to concentrate on the championship from start to finish, it was unlikely Dinamo finishing even among the top three. Two matches practically decided their victory – the very last match Dinamo played and made them champions was away match against Spartak (Moscow). They won 4-3. But Dassaev later said that Spartak, already having no chance to reach even second place, was disinterested. They did not play in earnest. It was possible Spartak decided to help Minsk only to deprive Kiev from the title – already the main rivalry was between Spartak and Dinamo (Kiev). Earlier Dinamo (Minsk) visited their namesakes in Moscow and won 7-0. Dinamo (Moscow) was heavily criticized for their utter disinterest in this match, but their terribly toothless performance was blamed on internal problems. This was true and it was also true that Dinamo (Moscow) had awful year, but… both teams belonged to the Police/KGB system. In this pyramid Dinamo (Moscow) stayed on top. Dinamo (Kiev) already played independently, but Minsk was subordinate and there were ‘hot’ relations between the two clubs: two of the key players of Minsk were sent years ago from Moscow – Kurnenin and Pudyshev. To help the usually weak ‘cousin’. After the fall of USSR it was revealed that the Belarussian KGB played key role in the great season of the club. It was very possible Dinamo (Moscow) helped by losing 0-7 at home. However, accusations were never made – unlike the case of Zarya (Vorosholvgrad) ten years earlier, which title was almost openly rumored won with bribes even in Soviet time. So, it is just a suspicion – ill supported, but still there.
On the positive side – nobody ever denied that Dinamo (Minsk) played well. They were something fresh and rare: dedicated to attractive attacking football. Moreover, Dinamo participated in rare exciting race shoulder to shoulder to the very end of the championship, preserving fragile 1 point lead – and their rival was mighty Dinamo (Kiev), a very hard and intimidating opponent. There was no denying that Minsk improved a lot – they had there only second national player in history, Sergey Borovsky, and three more players – Aleynikov, Zygmantovich, and Gotzmanov – who played big part in Soviet football of the 1980s. If Minsk is compared to Zarya (Voroshilovgrad), the surprise champions 10 years earlier, there was one huge difference: Zarya was clearly one-time wonder. None of their players established himself in the national team (Onishtchenko came from Dinamo Kiev and returned to Kiev right after the champion season – he was Kiev’s star really) – this was not the case of the stars here: all four players made their names with Minsk and largely this very season. But they became stars in the true sense. As a whole, it was well deserved victory and if the opponents parcically missed half of the year, concentrated on national team duties, that was not a foul of Dinamo (Minsk): after all, who was to blame that at least two of the big clubs were not deep enough and their reserves were not strong enough. If one is suspect of the Minsk victory in Moscow against Dinamo, then consider the equally suspect 5-1 victory of Kiev in Tbilisi at the same crucial time of the championship – once again, two teams belonging to the Police/KGB system, only with ‘Southern flavour’. Dinamo (Tbilisi) played unusually weak and clueless match at home against Dinamo (Kiev), just the same as Dinamo (Moscow) against Dinamo (Minsk). Anyhow, the kind of football Minsk played was recognized as nice and fresh. The squad was found not particularly great, but experienced and motivated. The biggest credit went the coach – Eduard Malofeev (or Malafeev, as he often spelled after 1986-87). He was young coach and a star player in the 1960s – the first and only national team player Dinamo (Minsk) had before Sergey Borovsky of the champion squad. He was really up and coming coach, eventually becoming one of the top Soviet coaches and successfully leading the national team. So the positive changes came thanks to him.
One more photo of the new champions – here right after their last match with Spartak. The logo is wrong, but never mind. First time champions deserve more than one picture, especially if they open the door for significant changes. Yes, they did that – the rest of the 1980s witnessed a few more newcomers to the big scene, making the stale and dull Soviet championship suddenly competitive, exciting, and unpredictable.