England III Division

Third Division. Chesterfield was last with 37 points.

Doncaster Rovers was 23rd with 38 points.

Wrexham – 22nd with 51 points.

Reading – 21st with 53 points.

These four were relegated.

Wigan Athletic – 18th with 54 points. Nobody was crazy enough to suggest that Wigan will play top league football in the 21st century in these years.

Southend United – 15th with 59 points.

Gillingham – 13th with 61 points.

Sheffield United – reduced to insignificant third division existence. 11th with 64 points.

Walsall – 10th with 64 points, ahead of Sheffield United on better goal-difference.

Brentford – 9th with also 64 points.

Plymouth Argyle – 8th with 65 points.

Lincoln City – 6th with 76 points.

Oxford United – 5th with 78 points.

Newport County was lucky – they bested Oxford by a single goal. That was the whole difference.

Huddersfield Town ended 3rd with 82 points. After hitting rock-bottom at the end of the 70s, the club seemingly was coming back. May be all the way to its former place in First Division? Nobody could tell, but already they moved to Second Division.

Cardiff City – 2nd with 86 points. One more former First Division member climbing up.

Portsmouth was almost unchallenged favourite this season and won the league with 91 points. Well done.

So, going to play in the upper league next year: Portsmouth, Cardiff City, and Huddersfield Town. Good luck.

England IV Division

England was losing ground and the reasons were largely three: many clubs experienced financial difficulties and that was the biggest one. The second was frequent squad changes – traditionally, England had more transfer options than most European countries, but now shortage of cash increased the changes during the season. This created some confusion – when looking back it is often difficult to properly place a team photo in time. Which squad represented particular season is often tough guessing work. The third reason was international football – England lost its edge and lagged behind for quite some time, compensating with exciting domestic championship. But now the focus was moving towards Italy, which was rapidly buying the best players in the world. To say England was going down may be harsh – English clubs still dominated the European tournaments. Liverpool was arguably the best club in the world. In the same time the national team was constant disappointment, English football neglected to adopt the newest developments in the game, foreign players were still looked upon with suspicion, even hostility, so they rarely had the chance to influence the British game. No foreign coaches were even considered – instead, English clubs thought modernizing the game by introducing young local coaches. ‘Playing-coach’ was old and well established feature of British football, but at this time there were much more playing-coaches than usual. The results were not all that great, though.

Negative trends – and to them the failures of some traditional powerhouses must be added – were counter-balanced by domination in the European Champions Cup and the rise of Tottenham Hotspurs and, surprisingly, of Watford. The coming of the underdog was marked a few years back by the sudden leap forward of West Bromwich Albion, followed by Swansea Town, now Watford, and the remarkable climb out of obscurity to the top of Wimbledon just started. England also firmly established – the only leading innovation of British football since 1966 – the system of 3 points for a win and 1 for a tie. It worked, because it rewarded attacking football and winning, and soon became the staple we are familiar with.

And, of course, only in England 4th Division football attracted interest and coverage. But 4th Division is 4th Division…

Teams like Northampton Town inhabited the league. They were 15th.

Chester finished a bit better – 13th.

Mansfield Town – 10th. Apart from local interest, the lowest professional division was interesting only at the top – which clubs get promotion. This season they were:

Scunthorpe United – 4th with 83 points.

Port Vale – 3rd with 88 points.

Hull City – 2nd with 90 points.

Wimbledon won the league with 98 points. Back: John Leslie, Paul Fishenden, Doug Hatcher, Alan Cork, Steve Ketteridge.

Middle: Alan Gillett (Assistant Manager), Mark Morris, Glyn Hodges, Steve Jones, Dave Beasant, Stewart Evans, Mick Smith, Tony Tagg, Derek French (Physio), Dave Bassett (Manager).

Front: Chris Dibble, Wayne Entwistle, Steve Galliers, Gary Peters, Dean Thomas, Wally Downes, Kevin Gage.

At this point nobody paid much attention – 4th Division champions, wonderful, going up to Third Division, well done, who are Wimbledon? But in 1986 many had to look back to this victory, saying ‘Aha, it started this very year’. Apart from winning the championship, Wimbledon scored most goals in English professional football this season – 96. Liverpool was second with 87 goals.

France the Cup

Nantes came close to a double, for they reached the Cup final. Paris SG, winners the previous year, was the other finalist. Ambitious opponents, but Paris SG prevailed 3-2.

Nantes failed to win a double, but it was still a great season.

Second consecutive Cup for Paris SG, which also doubled the total number of trophies they won so far. So far, the club’s ambitions did not really materialized and the reason for the failures was the approach – seemingly, Paris SG thought that money is enough for making a winning squad. For years they simply bought players with big names. Yes, on paper the squad was more than impressive; closer look tells differently: Bathenay, Rocheteau, and Barateli were quite old by now and no longer at their prime. The same with Dahleb and Toko, who played for Paris SG for years already. Ardiles was 30 years old. The younger stars were Fernandez, the Dutch scorer Kees Kist, and the Yugoslav exciting attacking midfielder Safet Susic. But the mistake was not just getting old players – Osvaldo Ardiles came to Paris SG on loan and only because of the Falklands War. Neither Tottenham Hotspur, nor the Argentine wanted to part with each other. Ossie like Tottenham, liked London, and was big favourite with the fans. The war changed things and Tottenham loaned him to Paris SG. It was clear that the French club would be able to keep him and use him in full only if the war between England and Argentina lasts for many years. There was no way to focus the team on Ardiles under such circumstances, it was almost a temporary showcase. Ardiles played only 14 matches and scored 1 goal for Paris SG, but his brief presence opened another problem – suddenly Paris SG had too many foreigners. Safet Susic was temporary sent back home. Not good for moral, even worse in terms of team-building. When he came back there was more: Susic and Rocheteau were quite similar. The attack was centered on either of them and who got the ball usually kept it and finish the attack. Not very effective strategy, but both were a bit egocentric and also displayed the same limitation: both kept the ball a bit too long, just enough to miss opportunity and allow the opposition to regroup and kill the danger. But since the game was focused on them, Kees Kist became the odd man out. No balls came to him ever. There was no effort to create opportunities for his great scoring talent. Kist became invisible and useless – he scored 12 goals in 34 games, but he was let go after the end of the season. It was clear that mere collection of names was not the key for success, but Paris SG followed this path from start and stubbornly continued the same mistaken and unproductive policy. At last they were able to get some trophies and winning the Cup two years in a row was great, but it was only the Cup – the long championship, needing consistency, was beyond their reach.

France I Division

One thing about this season in France – the championship was very competitive, no outsiders or internal divisions. Some teams were no longer in great shape, but that made the league fairly equal. Except for one team, much better than any other and dominating without any trouble.

Mulhouse ended last with 28 points. Not a surprise really – newcomers often are unable to stay long in the top division. Mulhouse hardly had experienced, dependable players – only former national team goalkeeper Rey.

If Mulhouse was not a surprise, the team just above them was – Olympique Lyon managed 17th place only on better goal-difference. Lyon was hardly ever a title contender, but were normally solid, among the best in the league. Some terrible neglect was allowed at the end of the 1970s, the club missed the call for rebuilding, lost players, and now had only pathetic bunch of veterans, whose best days were long gone – Chiesa, Emon, Ferri. By now nobody even remembered that Topalovic was considered more reliable option than Schumacher in 1975-76. The only possible star was Domergue, but he was not at his prime yet and even if he was, he would be only one bright players in rapidly decaying squad. So, Lyon was going to play in the second division.

Tours was 18th with 31 points – one candidate for relegation, which fulfilled expectations and was relegated. Not without a fight, but still down. Delio Onnis still scored a lot of goals, but he was aging unfortunately. Better clubs were no longer interested in him and his goals did not help Tours at the end.

Bastia survived – they finished 17th with 32 points. Their brief successful ended with return to the normal – near the bottom of the table, concerned only with survival. However, they fatefully continued to depend on Yugoslavs – this season the former Crvena zvezda (Belgrade) player Borovnica captained them. Bastia had much bigger Yugoslav names before, but Borovnica still helped.

Rouen perhaps was happy with 16th place – they got it only because of better goal-difference, but relegation was avoided and practically that was all the club was concerned with.

Strasbourg ended 15th with 33 points. Not long ago they were champions… but it was one-time wonder really. The club was trying to keep some solid core, but unfortunately more and more depended on aging players beyond their peaks: Dropsy, Rouyer, Jodar, Lacuesta.

Now, that was a big surprise – St. Etienne finished 14th with 34 points. This came out of the blue, for St. Etienne was still expected to be a title contender – the squad was strong, as names go, and Herbin tried to reinforce it as well. But compared to the great squad of mid-70s, it was rather short team – back then there were about 15 national team players. Now there were 7. This season signaled the end of an era – Herbin seemingly was losing his touch, the team was tired. They stayed on top too long – more than 10 year – and after such a spell there is inevitable crisis.

Lille edged St. Etienne with better goal-difference and took 13th place. Rather normal season for Lille.

Sochaux – 12th with 35 points. Their usual position in the lower half of the table – yes, they had few good years recently, but they were exceptions to the rule.

Toulouse – 11th with 36 points. Also usual performance.

Modest Brest finished 10th with 37 points. A very good season by their measures. The Yugoslav striker Vabec was their beloved hero and he still delivered.

Metz also did well – 9th with 37 points. Seemingly, Kasperczak was becoming a good coach.

A bright news: Auxerre. Getting stronger every next year and climbing up. Of course, Guy Roux was the instrumental man of the team and his formula was unchanged: have always two reliable Polish stars. Szarmach was already an institution with the club, this year complimented by Janas. But quietly the Poles were getting surrounded by talented French players – Bats, Ferreri.

Nancy was quite amazing in beating the odds: after Platini left, it was expected they will quickly drop out of sight. Somewhere in second division and forgotten. They had no other stars. Yet, they managed well campaign after campaign and this year finished 7th with 41 points. Brave little club.

Monaco’s ups and downs were so frequent, that any place would have been accepted without any fuss. No title contenders, but not dropping low either – in fact, 6th place looked like testimony of newfound stability. Ralf Edstrom was in the team, which was also optimistic sign – the number of classy players, young and old, was getting larger. 43 points.

Fantastic season for Laval – one usually finds them at the bottom of the table, so 5th place and 44 points was big surprise. Credit to their coach Le Milinaire, for the team was pedestrian – even the Islandic import Thordarsson. Looked like one-time wonder, though.

Lens – like Monaco, traditionally unpredictable. Strong this year – 4th place with 44 points, ahead of Laval on goal-difference. However, there was hope that this vintage will stay among the best longer: Houllier was rapidly becoming rising coach, Vercruysse, Xuereb, Senac, Leclercq, and Islandic international Thordarsson were solid enough core to keep the team going.

Paris SG – 3rd with 47 points. Standing from left: Cees Kist, Pascal Zaremba, Jean-Marc Pilorget, Yannick Guillochon, Dominique Baratelli, Dominique Bathenay, Moustapha Dahleb.

First row: Nambatingue Toko, Philippe Col, Jean-Claude Lemoult, Luis Fernandez.

Frankly, more was expected of this vintage. Third place was not bad, but Paris SG, having arguably the strongest squad in France, was not at all title contender – they finished with 47 points. 11 less than the champions. Paris SG did not fulfill expectations so far and it looked like that something was fundamentally wrong with the policies of the club: they spent money, got famous players, and nothing. May be that was their fate… never to win. Never to be able to win.

Bordeaux, the most improving team in recent years, finished 2nd with 48 points. The team was practically made – Tresor, Bracci, Lacombe, Giresse, Tigana, Domenech, Specht, Girard, Thouvenel, and three West Germans – Dieter Muller, Caspar Memering, and Gernot Rohr. It was just not their moment yet.

Nantes dominated the league from start to finish, ending 10 points ahead of Bordeaux. No contest. 24 wins, 10 ties, 4 losses, 77-29 goal-difference, and 58 points. Highest scoring team, but Nantes was especially impressive in defense – they allowed only 29 goals; the second best record, Monaco’s, was 35. Wonderful work by coach Suaudeau, who managed to keep the team strong with careful small, but perfect, changes. At least on this picture, Nantes claimed the prize for the most bearded team in Europe – 14 players plus the coach. A very unusual fashion statement at that time. As for football, the squad was very experienced and full of talent – Bossis, Rio, Bertrand-Demanes, Bibard, Amisse, Tusseau, Ayashe, the Argentine, who played only in France from the start of his career, Oscar Muller, the Danish international Henrik Agerbeck, and the wonderful Yugoslav striker Vahid Halilhodzic. Nantes maintained leading position in French football since mid-1960s – a huge achievement of stability and testimony of strong work and great vision.

France II Division Group A

Group A.

AS Corbeil Essonnes finished last with 14 points. Osvaldo Piazza, now 35, came back to Frenca after 3 years in Argentina, for his last season. It was disappointing season, as it turned out, but also the year he started his coaching career.

Entente Viry-Chatillon was 17th with 19 points. There was no doubt about those two from start – they were too weak and easily relegated.

Which was fine for Olympique Ales – they were safe with 26 points, although 16th place was hardly a success.

FC Limoges – 15th with 28 points.

Former national team striker Gallice, now too old, had to be satisfied with 14th place. AS Libourne was ahead of Limoges only on better goal-difference.

With playing coach Revelli Berrichonne Chateauroux finished with 29 points and 13th.

SC Angers far away from dream for return to top flight – 12th with 29 points.

AS Beziers – 11th on better goal-difference.

US Noeux-les-Mines finished 10th with 31 points. Not bad, but they were relegated – most likely because of financial irregularities.

SC Abbeville – 9th with 35 points.

En Avant Guingamp – well done. 8th with 35 points and better goal-difference than Abbeville. Keruzore the only well known name, by veteran by now and playing coach.

La Paillade Montpellier, with former national team player Santini, was good only for 7th place. 37 points.

AS Angouleme settled for second-division existence long time ago – 6th with 38 points.

AC Le Havre – 5th with 41 points.

Racing (Paris) – 4th with 43 points. Like the other formerly strong Paris clubs – Red Star and Stade Francais – they fell under the shadow of Paris SG and there was no way up.

US Valenciennes was 3rd with 47 points. They missed the boat, but nothing strange – known for unsettled club, constantly promoted and relegated, now they just stayed in the lower level for one year. May be more.

Olympique Nimes finished 2nd with 49 points. No high aspirations for the first place, but second was fine enough – they eventually won the play-off against Reims and returned to First Division. The big figures – van Gool, the Belgian striker famous from the great days of FC Brugge in the second half of the 1970s, and Nygaard, who was part of the impressive AZ’67 (Alkmaar).

One more return to top flight for Stade Rennes. They simply left everybody else far behind and dominated the league, finishing with 54 points. However, they too needed reinforcement for the next season – Rampillon and Bousdira were hardly enough to keep them among the best.

France II Division Group B

France. The usual reshuffling of Second Division teams from one group to the other before the season. After that – the championship with some former strong teams now struggling in obscurity. Second Division Group B.

CS Blenod 18th with 16 points and relegated.

RC Fontainebleau – 17th with 21 points and also going down to third level.

Montseau-les-Mines survived with 22 points – 16th place.

Stade Francais (Paris) – 15th with 25 points. Nothing left from their former glory.

CS Cuiseaux-Louhans – 14th with 26 points. Pretty much satisfying – not relegated, thank you.

CS Thonon – 13th with 28 points.

FC Gueugnon – 12th with 31 points.

RCFC Besancon – 11th with 32 points.

Red Star (Paris) – 10th with 33 points. They had to embrace nostalgia too, for the present was not good.

FC Grenoble – 9th with 34 points.

US Orleans – 8th with 34 points, but better goal-difference placed them ahead of Grenoble.

AS Cannes – 7th with 38 points. Some former stars playing their last days here – Revelli, Rampillon, Pleimelding. Nice life under the sun, but nothing else.

FC Martigues – 6th with 39 points.

US Dunkerque – 5th with 40 points.

Olympique (Marseille) – 4th with 41 points. Tough time – anonymous squad, able only to compete with clubs like Dunkerque. Return to first division? Hard to imagine.

OGC Nice – 3rd with 48 points. Much better than Marseille, even coming close to the promotional race, but just that. Nice used to compete with Marseille for the top spots in the top league… Slightly better squad than Marseille’s, but far cry from what they had ten years ago.

Srade Reims finished 2nd with 52 points. Lost first place on goal-difference, then lost the promotional play-off against the 2nd in Group A, and continued its second division existence. Vercruysse, Troussier… not enough for going up.

May be just lucky, but SC Toulon finished 1st. Since Reims, Marseille, Nice, Stade Francais, Red Star were in the group, the victory of lowly Toulon was surprising. 52 points, but better goal-difference made them winners, promoted to the top league. Dalger and Courbis were quite enough to invigorate the team. Well done.

Holland the Cup

But looking even to the near future was not right for the moment: Ajax had truly great season to enjoy. They reached the Cup final as well, where they met NEC Nijmegen in two-leg final. In great form, facing the last in the league was not a problem at all – Ajax won both matches with identical results: 3-1.

Of course, NEC Nijmegen wanted to win and were disappointed at the end, but not very much. They had no argument against Ajax and knew it. The final sweetened a bit a terrible season in which they were relegated – they were going to play in the Cup Winners Cup. Not bad at all, from their perspective. From another point of view, they contributed to the downfall of the tournament, which was rapidly becoming a competition not of countries’ second-bests, but of rag-tag second-division and near-second-division teams. General public was rapidly losing interest, fewer and fewer watched and cared for the tournament, still ranked number two in Europe, but effectively taking third place for the lack of forth.

Ajax made a double this year and everything was wonderful. Standing from left: erzorger Rob Molet, 2e trainer Van Wijk, Trainer Aad vd Mos, Silooy, Leo V. Veen, Storm, Moelby, Galje, Molenaar, Boeve, looptrainer Cees Koppellar, jeugdtrainer Bruins Slot.

Sitting: Vanenburg, John Van T. Schip, Kieft, Lerby, Schrijvers, Ophof, Schoenaker, Olsen, Cruijff.

Not a worry in the world. A total revival. So good, Ajax lost its mind – and the real revival as a result. Cruijff should have been resigned…

Holland I Division

First Division offered the usual battle between Ajax, Feyenoord, and PSV Eindhoven high above the rest of the league. Bellow the mighty trio, it was gradual spread of teams in slightly different form. No big divides and no real outsiders. The last three were relegated.

NEC Nijmegen was 18th with 22 points. Last, but going to play in Europe, as it turned out.

NAC Breda was 17th with 24 points. Third row from left: Ton Smits, Ferry Kotta, Leen Swanenburg, Hans Heeren, Jacq De Kroon, Anton Joore, G. v/d Wiel.

Middle row: Hulptrainer Buitelaar, Willy Janssen, Guus van Schijndel, Frits Von Seydlitz-Kurzbach, Matthe van Kelle, Ad Krijnen, Koos Waslander, Jo Jansen – coach.

Sitting: Hans Neeskens, Edy De Schepper, Guus v/d Borgt, Ton Cornelissen, Dirk v/d Laan.

Twente finished 16th with 25 points. If there was nothing strange to see NEC and NAC going down to Second Division, Twente’s relegation was quite a surprise. True, decline settled a few years back, but relegation? The squad did not look all that bad, although it was far cry from the great team of the mid-70s. For whatever reasons, Twente was unable to keep strong team and after those reaching UEFA Cup final moved away or retired, suddenly there were less than 5 really good players. Second division became reality.

Helmond Sport was happy at the end – they took 15th place with 26 points. Barely survived, but survived – at least for one more year.

Willem II – 14th with 26 points too, but better goal-difference. Nothing new… if they escaped relegation at all, they were normally at that position.

Similar to Willem II, PEC Zwolle also took its usual position – 13th with 27 points.

Go Ahead Eagles – 12th with 29 points.

AZ’67 had very disappointing season – 11th with 30 points. Quite a drop down, but if one looks closer – nothing all that strange: the rise of AZ’67 was peculiar: their collection of veterans, discarded from other clubs players, and rising stars was very fragile in a long run. The veterans, if still playing, were experienced, but weaker every next year. New stars were bound to move away – to either domestic big clubs, or abroad. AZ’67 had no money to compete with the big three, so the squad inevitably was thinning out and losing it edge.

FC Utrecht ended in their traditional position – 10th with 31 points. Third row from left: J. Stroomberg, J. v.d. Akker, H. v. Breukelen, G. v.d. Lem, J. v. Ede.

Middle row: J. Verkaik (assistant coach), H. Verrips, T. du Chatenier, W. Carbo, F. Adelaar, T. van Leur, B. Rietveld, T. de Kruyk, H. Berger (coach).

Sitting: W. Flight, K. van Tamelen, J. Wouters, G. Tervoort, G. Kruys, J. van Doorn.

Not bad, but the fate of small clubs was well known… Van Breukelen and Wouters were going to be snatched by any of the big clubs. It more likely that Utrecht would be worse, not better in the future.

Excelsior – 9th with 32 points. Enjoy the moment, for next year could be worse. A small club, unfortunately.

Fortuna (Sittard) – 8th with 33 points. Well done, but nothing special. However, Fortuna did well in the 1980s and their rise most likely started this year.

Haarlem – 7th with 35 points. Looked like they became stable, but it was an illusion. Rather, the team was running on inertia and the key was Ruud Gullit. He left to play for Feyenoord… and there was nobody else.

Roda JC – 6th with 35 points and better goal-difference than Haarlem. Slowly, unnoticed, Roda was climbing up.

FC Groningen – 5th with 37 points. Good season, high enough at the end, but with the same problem as Utrecht: Ronald and Erwin Koeman were already the key players of the team – and Groningen had no chance keeping the brothers. It was one thing with them, quite another without them.

Sparta (Rotterdam) finished 4th, having slightly better goal-difference than Groningen. Wonderful season for modest Sparta, rarely ending that high. Good players at the moment, but… for how long? Adrie van Tiggelen, Danny Blind, Robert Verbeek. Add Gert Meijer,one Louis van Gaal, and English Douglas George. The last three were hardly enough to keep Sparta at the top, if van Tiggelen, Blind, and Verbeek leave soon.

PSV Eindhoven finished 3rd with 51 points, but dropped out of the championship race at one point. No enough stamina. Big, solid team on the surface, but only that – PSV was getting old and depending on old players too much. Of course, van de Kerkhof brothers were still the movers and shakers and if they were the only veterans the picture would have been fine. There was plenty of talent around – Piet Wildschut, Huub Stevens, Jan Poortvliet, Ernie Brandts. All in the perfect age, although none a true leader. Add Norwegian Hallvar Thoresen and South Korean Jung Moh Huh – still rather exotic addition, but South Koreans were increasingly signed by European clubs. Not bad… but lacking good goalkeeper, lacking big scoring striker – and here was the problem: PSV got 40-years old Piet Doesburg and 35-years old Ruud Geels. Famous names, but at this age there was hardly any hope for the future. No wonder PSV lost steam near the end the championship. PSV needed rebuilding and fast.

With 54 points, Feyenoord finished 2nd. Lost the title, which never makes the club and its fans happy, but the problems of the second half of the 1970s were finally resolved: the new strong squad was made. It needed a few finishing touches, but essentially was already completed: Hiele, Wijnstekers, Troost, Houtman, Valke, Vermuelen, the Dane Ivan Nielsen, plus very strong new additions Ruud Gullit and the Bulgarian Andrey Zhelyazkov, who became the first foreign-based national team player of Bulgaria after 1950. Wim van Hanegem was still in the team, providing inspiration, but he was almost 40 and playing his last season. His presence was more moral than active – the new team was doing quite well without him on the field, newer stars took the reigns at last. However, Feyenoord was outdone by the arch-enemy.

Ajax won the title with 58 points and after having wonderful season – they won 26 games, tied 6, and lost only twice. Scored astonishing 106 goals, receiving meantime 41. Four points clear of Feyenoord at the end. Feyenoord was good, but Ajax was seemingly coming back to the greatness of the early 1970s. Third row from left: Jesper Olsen, Frank Rijkaard, Sjaak Storm, Sonny Silooy, Gerald Vanenburg, Wim Kieft .

Middle row: Hassie van Wijk (assistent-trainer), Rob Nolet, Keje Molenaar, Leo van Veen, Hans Galjé, Peter Boeve, Jan Mölby, Aad de Mos (trainer), Tonnie Bruins Slot (assistent-trainer)

Sitting: Dick Schoenaker, Sören Lerby, Marco van Basten, Piet Schrijvers, John van ‘t Schip, Johan Cruijff, Edo Ophof.

Good job by Aad de Mos, who had already wonderful squad, although not at its peak as a team – but very promising for the future, for it was full of young, not famous yet talent: van Basten, Rijkard, Silooy, van’t Schip, the Danish players Olsen and Molby. The core was at or near their prime, already international stars – Danish Lerby, Schoenaker, Kieft, Vanenburg. Piet Schrijvers was quietly stepping down, but still reliable and influential. And the return of Cruijff simply ignated the team to a wonderful, attacking and attractive season. It was more than winning the title – Ajax seemingly was returning to the great days, to the great football, and very likely to leading position in Europe. Exciting and promising season, which ended on sour note when Cruijff and the club clashed once again and the great one left and joined the arch-enemy. Both sides shared the blame – on one hand, Cruijff always demanded too much and was quick to leave, when things were not going his way. Yet, he wanted to finish his career with his original club. Ajax also wanted the living legend to play his last football at home, but the club traditionally looked for cheaper solutions whenever possible and had long history of frugality, often looking plain cheap, even mean. The club also had history with his mercurial star, saying one thing now and another the next minute, and always going for the better deal. Since both club and player were ‘pig-headed’, mirroring each other, a compromise was rather impossible and Cruijff was left without a contract. It was both sad and in character. It was also laughable, for at the bottom both sides wanted the same thing. It was also a heavy price to be paid by the club and Cruijff to have the last laugh soon.

Holland II Division

The Dutch season was marked by the return of Johan Cruijff. Years, after he played his testimonial, his last match, he returned to Ajax. Jumping ahead, it was interesting to read about him that year – his impact was acknowledged, but with sour note that he was not the same. Of course, he was not the same – he was 35 years old. May be not as consistent as once upon a time, but his touch was not lost. Nor his speed, nor his great reading of the game. As most aging players, he was no longer at the edge of the attack, but a playmaker, a midfielder rather than a striker. Not the same, they said, but he invigorated Ajax, which had a few young players with great talent. Suddenly Ajax played differently – stronger, confident team, on ascend. As for vision, Cruijff had no equal – which was a bit of a problem, for his teammates often failed to read his mind and missed his passes. But Ajax was going up again.

The other news for the season was less important for Holland and more for Bulgaria – Feyenoord bought Andrey Zhelyazkov from Slavia (Sofia), which was the biggest Bulgarian transfer so far and also seemingly influenced a bit the mind of Bulgarian football officials: it proved possible to sell players to bigger championships. The trouble was the age-rule: if players were only a bit younger, the opportunities would be better. As for Zhelyazkov, it was an impossible dream suddenly becoming a reality – he was teammate with van Hanegem and later with Cruijff.

The third news came in mid-season:

Second-division SC Amersfoort was removed from the championship and their record annulled. Lack of money… However, the eviction of SC Amersfoort made the league normal – instead of the odd 17 teams, there were 16 at the end of the season. Otherwise, it was business as usual,with the usual frequently changing fate of small clubs.

Telstar finished 15th with 20 points. Once upon a time they played in the top league, now they were at the bottom of the second division. Well, there was no relegation further down in Holland, so Telstar could play second tier football as long as they had enough money to pay the bills.

What really mattered was the top – the first two teams were directly promoted and another 4 played a final play-off for the third promotional spot. Must be mentioned every year, for it was always odd to outsiders: the four teams going to promotional play-off were those finishing high in particular sections of the season. At the final table, FC Den Haag was above VVV Venlo, but since VVV did better than FC Den Haag in one of championship sections, they had the chance to win promotion. Along with Spcl. Cambuur, 5th in the final table, MVV Maastricht, 4th, and FC Den Bosch, 3rd.

Spcl. Cambuur was unlucky – they lost promotion by a single point. They also represented a new trend – British players were coming to play in Holland. Not the famous ones, but those hardly known – two such players helped Cambuur this season: Kelly Herrington and Mark Paine.

FC Den Bosch won the promotional tournament with 9 points. Well done and fair too, for Den Bosch were 3rd in the final table of the championship.

FC Volendam was 2nd the championship with 40 points and thus directly promoted. Third row from left: Cees de Koning, Theo Mooijer, Jack Kemper, Klaas Tuyt, Frank Kramer, Wim Kwakman

Middle row: Fritz Korbach (coach), Jan Schokker, Kees Guyt, Jan Molenaar, Dick de Boer, Dick Helling, Jan Holthuysen, Leo Tholens, dr. Duin

Sitting: Wim Tol, Jaap Jonk, Frans Hoek, Jan Klouwer, Nico Zwarthoed, Johan Steur.

DS’79 Dordrecht won the Second Division championship with 42 points. For them – a great victory, for the club was new, as the name suggests. Of course, it was not entirely new – it was just this amalgamation which was new, but it was great nevertheless. Going up.

Belgium the Cup

The Cup final opposed SK Beveren to Club Brugge KV, or FC Brugge. Technically, the second best Belgian clubs after Anderlecht and Standard – Beveren having its strongest period, although not exactly great, and FC Brugge a little bit shaky and not as great as they were in the second half of the 1970s. Still, they had presumed advantage – before the game. During the final Beveren was much more effective and won 3-1.

Losers. Third row from left: Birger Jensen, Walter Ceulemans, Luc Vanwalleghem, Jacky Debougnoux, Guy Dardenne, Daniel De Cubber , Philippe Vande Walle.

Middle row: Raymond Mertens (assistant-coach), Chris Verhulst, Tjapko Teuben, Peter Leysen, Bart Maes, Luc Hinderyckx, Koen Sanders, Johan Renier, Eddy Warrinnier (physio).

Siting: Willy Wellens, Antoni Szymanowski, Jan Ceulemans, Peter Nilsson, Georg Kessler (coach), Alex Querter, Jan Sörensen, Gilbert Van Binst, Ronald Spelbos.

What was wrong with FC Brugge? Nothing much – they simply lost their edge, trying to keep consistently competitive squad. There were still quite a few players of the great seasons in the 70s – older and some never outstanding to begin with. Unfortunately, some of newer recruits were also old and beyond their prime – Antoni Szymanowski, Gilbert van Binst. It was only temporary shakiness, but the team was unable to win.

As for modest SK Beveren, they were still big surprise. When they won the championship only few years earlier, it was wonderful victory of the underdog, but nobody expected them to stay strong. Beveren was typical one-time wonder: they had part-timers, some very old guys, and hardly any even remotely famous player. Jean-Marie Pfaff eventually emerged as world-class goalkeeper, but his fame was more related to his play for the national team. And after he moved to Bayern (Munich), it was clear and typical case of one-time wonders: if they had occasional star, he was the first to go to better club after the successful year. Both club and player were eager to accept offers, for good money came only at such rare moments. Beveren, like all one-time wonders in the world, had no means to improve the team, so they were expected to drop out of sight just as soon as they came into focus. But, curiously, Beveren stayed strong in the next years – and now they won their 2nd Cup. Instead of cherishing sole trophy forever, they tripled it so far – 1 title and 2 Cups. All done with modest, insignificant squad… which remained similarly insignificant after winning this final too. Beautiful unlikely winners – even their sponsors were unlikely: a dairy firm. ‘Drink milk’. A joke… but winners!