One steps down, another comes in. José Roberto Gama de Oliveira debuted in 1983. He was 19 years old.

Of course, he was already nicknamed – Bebeto. The young striker was already noticed in Brazil, so baby-faced youngster did not last with his original club – Vitoria (Salvador). He was snatched so quickly by Flamengo, that for many his debut really happened with the famous club.

It was impressive beginning and observers were confident that new great star was born. The only question was how big Bebeto was going to be… He became a big star, as expected, but there was no way to see the future in 1983 – Bebeto, fragile and prone to injuries, was to be an object of heavy criticism and even some disappointment. Controversial player. It is easy to say this today, but not back then – in 1983 the sky was the limit, Brazil got new hope, Flamengo – exciting talent. But football was changing – what was possible in the 1950s was no longer the case. Bebeto was 19 – not 16 – and considered still too young for a full regular spot. He needed to get stronger, mature – that was the philosophy in the 1980s. How this mentality affected his career and his development is hard to say, but may be a bit negatively: considered fragile, he remained fragile. Well, controversies unfolded later. Let us close 1983 with this hopeful youngster.


Retirement. Paul Breitner stopped playing in 1983. One of the most colourful players of the 1970s, controversial from start to end, but one who influenced the sport greatly.

Born in 1951, Breitner debuted in 1970 as part of highly talented, but strange group of talented home-grown juniors of Bayern (Munich). A new wave of players – cocky, opinionated, not following hierarchy. At the time, Franz Beckenbauer said that he even does not understand them, they spoke different, intellectual German. Only Breitner and Uli Hoeness of the group truly established themselves, quickly becoming world class stars – both became members of the West German national team before been old enough for a professional contract.

Breitner’s career is well known, so there is no need for detailed story. However, he is closely associated with the major change in football – he was major force of the new total football. Breitner started as a left-back, but covered the whole field. It was exciting to watch him scoring goals from the right wing or giving deadly passes from the center, or suddenly appearing as the last man clearing the ball in front of Sepp Maier, but his free roaming was not undisciplined and hazardous – somehow, he always managed to be at his original post and perform the duties of left-back. No other left – or right – back played like him: they kept on their side, doubling as wingers, but hardly ever ventured at other parts of the pitch and never appeared as playmakers. Breitner was the typical total football revolutionary – wild looking, very creative, imaginative, perfectly fit, fearless, skilful.

In 1972 Breitner was essential part of the great West German team, just winning the European championship and he became a world class star.

In 1974 Breitner was world champion and controversies surrounded him entirely – forget about his cigar, which was to be seen in the years to come: he openly criticized the German Football Federation and left the national team for good. People did not like that and particularly Bayern fans did not like at all his transfer to Real (Madrid). At this moment, Breitner already won more than many great players ever did: a World champion, an European champion, a winner of European Champions Cup, 3 West German titles and 1 German Cup.

Going to Spain looked like major political clash – wild looking and politically vocal German hippie not only went to conservative heavy-handed club like Real, but Spain was still ruled by Caudillo Franco.

And here was a Maoist in Madrid… to be coached by Miljan Miljanic, who in his youth was Communist partizan fighting Nazis in his native Yugoslavia. Quite and explosive mix… which resulted in permanent move from left-back to playmaker’s position in midfield, 2 Spanish titles and 1 Spanish Cup.

In 1977 Breitner returned to West Germany, joining Eintracht (Braunschweig) – it looked like that Breitner was at the end of his great days, for he went to small club more often to be seen relegated than among the leaders.

May be that was to be the end – Breitner more likely to watch than to play and writing newspaper articles. But forget his cigarette again – he had another strong season and spurred by him, his new team. The next year he went back to Bayern and stayed with his original club to the end of his playing days.

Back in Bayern, he formed formidable partnership with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge – a duo so powerful and effective, that it was called ‘Breitnigge’ – and moved Bayern out of the dire straits the club plunged into after 1975. Then he returned to the national team as well.

His cigar nobody dared to criticize, but his beard was another matter – the rebel Maoist literally sold out in 1982, when he was paid 150 000 Deutsche Marks to shave the beard and advertise cosmetic products. He took the money and led West Germany to the 1982 World Cup final. The uninspired, to say the least, German team was much bigger offense to sensibilities than shaving a beard and Breitner was perhaps the biggest offender, for he formulated the whole disgusting approach to football in the 1980s: he said that football is war, only winning matters, and every mean is justifiable in achieving victory. It was particularly disturbing statement coming for it came from creative and elegant player. It was also disturbing for Breitner was seemingly at odds with his own concept – he was surrounded by dull robots clearly unable to read and follow his artistic directions. Breitner was not exactly liked by his new teammates, who he subjected to scorn and rather ugly pranks – they were not his equals, he was frustrated with them, and he quickly became rather cruel to them. On the field, Breitner appeared to be alone – his game was entirely different from the kind of football his teammates was capable of playing. May be this led to his somewhat surprising retirement – surprising, for he appeared fit and did not show any sign of fatigue or aging. Good for five more years, he looked.

Yet, he stepped down. And may be he was right – he quit at the top, not as some tired pale shadow of his former self, as many other players did. Very likely he saw not that much the inevitable damage of aging, but the fact he was at odds with younger players and current direction of football. He did not belong to the new kind of football, even if he himself formulated it. The exciting, creative, and pleasing total football was gone, stripped down to constant running and stomping the opponent. Breitner never played such kind of game, it was not his – after all, his own Bayern was no longer a collective of great players, but stripped down to Breitnigge. With his exit a whole era was closed.

The rest is cold numbers: 369 official games in which he scored 103 goals for Bayern, Real Madrid, and Entracht Braunschweig. 48 matches and 10 goals for the West German national team. World champion in 1974 and vice-champion in 1982. European champion in 1972. Winner of the European Champions Cup in 1974 and finalist in 1982. Five West German titles – 1972, 1973, 1974, 1980, and 1981. Two Spanish titles – 1975 and 1976. Two West German Cups – 1971 and 1982. One Spanish Cup – 1975. German player of the year – 1981. One of the only four players scoring goals in two World Cup finals – along with Pele, Vava, and Zidane – but the only one, who was not a striker. One of the true big stars in the sport. It was sorry moment to see him stepping down, but the memories remain.


Еuropean Championship Qualifications

Group 4. To a point, Yugoslavia was expected to win here. But only to a point – Yugoslavia failed miserably at the 1982 World Cup and looked like starting a new team. Not exactly great… Meantime Norway showed some teeth, so suddenly the group appeared quite equal and unpredictable. And very exciting – before the last group match 3 teams had a chance to go the finals. Wales was leading by a point, but the other two – Yugoslavia and Bulgaria were still to play between themselves. Calculations, calculations… a tie was making Wales the winner. Yugoslavia needed a win to finish first. Bulgaria needed also particular result: not only to win, but to win 3-2 or by 2 goals. The last match was in Yugoslavia, which tipped the scales a bit in Yugoslav favour. But only a bit. The fans of three countries were glued to televised drama. Real drama: Bulgaria scored first. The match – not a great one – went through changes able to give one a heart-attack. At the very end Yugoslavia scored the winning goal, the match ended 3-2. Who was feeling most? May be the Welsh – they were not playing, unable to control their fate at all – only watching, hoping, despairing, hoping again, crushed at the end.

No mater what, a modest squad, but going well to the end. Brave performance, surely – unlike Bulgaria, which was its own victim: a home tie with Norway, then home loss to Yugoslavia, then lost away to Wales… at least 4 points lost. True, Wales lost its chance just before the last group match – a 1-1 home tie with Yugoslavia – but they were the underdog team. All said, there was no really strong team in this group – it was a battle of equals and more a matter of luck than of skill.

1.YUGOSLAVIA 6 3 2 1 12-11 8

2.Wales 6 2 3 1 7- 6 7

3.Bulgaria 6 2 1 3 7- 8 5

4.Norway 6 1 2 3 7- 8 4

Group 5. Well, it looked like easy group for Italy – they just won the World title and the opponents were going through some troubles. However, those, who felt Italy did not deserve the World Cup had a field day. It was so easy to laugh and pontificate – Italy was out of the race after 4 matches, in which they tied 3 and lost 1 match. The champions of the world won only once in this campaign – and it was the last and entirely meaningless group match: everything was decided, Italy hosted Cyprus and finally won 3-1. The battle switched to entangled battle between three teams. There were some surprising results and in the end it was almost the same situation as in Group 4: Sweden was first with 11 points and no more games. Czechoslovakia was hosting Romania and were to be the group winners only if they won – then they would be ahead of Sweden on better goal-difference. Romania, with the worst goal-difference of the three, needed a tie to get ahead of Sweden by a point. And they got it, managing a 1-1 against Czechoslovakia.

This is Sweden in 1984, but the squad was pretty much the one dramatically ending second. May be rightly so – Sweden was always a fighter, but there was some acute crisis, more or less starting about 1977, when the previous generation aged. Now a new talent was filling up the vacuum, but the team was not fully shaped in 1982-83.

1.ROMANIA 8 5 2 1 9- 3 12

2.Sweden 8 5 1 2 14- 5 11

3.Czechoslovakia 8 3 4 1 15- 7 10

4.Italy 8 1 3 4 6-12 5

5.Cyprus 8 0 2 6 4-21 2

Group 6. No arguing here – West Germany was the obvious favorite, no matter in what shape or form. Austria was getting a bit old and since traditionally there was no big pool of players, replacements were hard to find. And Austria was true to expectations – not really challenging anybody. But tough Northern Ireland unexpectedly challenged the mighty Germans – mostly because the Germans were not so mighty… the problems of dull Germany were well displayed at the 1982 World Cup and under increasingly criticized Derwall nothing good was happening. West Germany struggled and reached the bottom when they lost at home to Northern Ireland 0-1. Only 2 games remained at this point – one of them was merely a protocol, then the last group match between West Germany and Albania. Northern Ireland was leading the group with 11 points, but hardly entertained any hopes – the Germans played at home against the group outsider and had superior goal-difference. Yes, they were 2 points behind, but it was hardly possible to imagine Albania getting a point in Germany. But they almost did – the Germans struggled tremendously and displeased entirely their supporters. They extracted with great difficulty 2-1 win. There was no joy – the national team was viciously and rightly criticized in the German press.

Northern Ireland in 1984 – but the team was pretty much the one almost going to the European finals. Back from left: Gerry McElhinney (Bolton Wanderers), John McVey (physio), Gerry Armstrong (Real Mallorca), John McClelland (Rangers), Pat Jennings (Arsenal), George Dunlop (Linfield), John O’Neill (Leicester City), Paul Ramsey (Leicester City), Billy Hamilton (Oxford Utd), Derek McKinley (attendant)

Front from left: Mal Donaghy (Luton Town), Ian Stewart (QPR), Nigel Worthington (Sheff Wed), Jimmy Nicholl (Toronto Blizzard), Billy Bingham (manager), Martin O’Neill (Notts County), Norman Whiteside (Man Utd), Stephen Penney (Brighton), David McCreery (Newcastle Utd) [Not pictured] Terry Cochrane (Gillingham).

Most of the same players were going to endear the World in not so distant future – at the moment, they almost prevailed over mighty West Germany.

1.WEST GERMANY 8 5 1 2 15- 5 11

2.Northern Ireland 8 5 1 2 8- 5 11

3.Austria 8 4 1 3 15-10 9

4.Turkey 8 3 1 4 8-16 7

5.Albania 8 0 2 6 4-14 2

Group 7. Holland, although in decline, was still considered the favourite. Spain was the other potential candidate, but Spain routinely disappointed. Considering the kind of football Spain played for years, Holland was the obvious choice, even in decline and struggling. As almost all groups, the last match decided the winner, but in scandalous manner. The group was plagued with scandals, complaints, accusations, and bitterness – the group displaying everything unpleasant in 1980s football: all that mattered was winning. For this, the pitch was not enough. At first was the more than suspect match between Malta and Holland – Malta was the host, but also was under UEFA penalty and could not use home ground. Holland ‘generously’ proposed the match to be played in Aachen, West Germany, near the border. It was good offer – the Dutch were going to pay all expenses of the Maltese national team. Agreed… and Holland won 6-0. Spain was not happy at all, but the result itself was not exactly unusual… The taint of this match plagued the group to the end – Holland played its last match at home against Malta. And won 5-0. Spain was not happy again. What remained, though, was their last match – also a home game against Malta. At this point it was rather mission impossible – Holland was leading by 2 points, but with goal-difference so great, Spain could qualify only with a victory by 11 goals. Even against Malta it was too much. Before the match Malta handed a complaint against Spain to UEFA – the hosts obstructed training, failed to provide training ground or flooded the pitch when Maltese training was scheduled. UEFA ignored the complaint and the match started, only to develop weirdly – about 30th minute it was 1-1. Spain got a penalty – questionable penalty, to Dutch eyes – but no big deal, for Spain missed it. Everything really started after the equalizing goal – the Maltese scorer went into strange quarrel with the referee and was expelled. Against 10 men, Spain started scoring… and scoring, and scoring to the final 12-1. The exact number of goals they needed to finish ahead of Holland. The result was reached a bit earlier and the last 6 minutes of the game were almost not played – the stands chanted happily, the players of both teams aimlessly walked on the ground. And many journalists, particularly Dutch, predicted the outcome – so suspicious was everything about this match. But everything was suspicious well before that and it is really hard to point a finger at anybody – Malta was really weak, Holland was not exactly kosher, Spain had a history of backroom deals, but… at best, it was tit-for-tat. UEFA, typically, did nothing, so apart from speculations, no truth can be unearthed.

Holland finished 2nd and may be rightly so – the crisis was still going on. This is the team,which won over Iceland in September, 1983.

Top, left to right: Pieter ‘Piet’ Schrijvers, Rudi Dil ‘Ruud’ Gullit, Petrus Johannes ‘Peter’ Houtman  ,   Erwin Koeman, Marcel ‘Marco’ van Basten,  Ronald Koeman.

Bottom, left to right: Huibertus Johannes Nicolaas ‘Ben’ Wijnstekers,  Gerald Mervin Vanenburg, Edo Ophof, Peter Boeve,  Wilhelmus Antonius ‘Willy’ van de Kerkhof .

It differs from the squads used in more important games and stronger opponents – here are the roots of the next Dutch great team, but it is only the beginning of the building process – Gullit, van Basten, Ronald Koeman are still young hopefuls. Holland – purely as a team – did not deserve to qualify. As a matter of fair-play, though… Spain were shameless cheaters. Because their victory over Malta was so suspect, their scores could be doubted too – 24 goals was the biggest score in the qualifying groups, but England was truly the highest scoring team.

1.SPAIN 8 6 1 1 24- 8 13

2.Netherlands 8 6 1 1 22- 6 13

3.Ireland 8 4 1 3 20-10 9

4.Iceland 8 1 1 6 3-13 3

5.Malta 8 1 0 7 5-37 2

European Championship Qualifications

The end of 1983 was mostly important for the end of the qualifications for the 1984 European Championship finals. It was quite exciting ending, but, as a whole, the qualifications were rather puzzling. On one hand, some major favourites failed and that put some question marks on those who qualified. It was exciting to see changes and advancement of the underdog. Countries, settled in secondary positions for a long time, were seemingly coming back: Portugal, Romania, to a certain point Spain. On the other hand, nothing really new was observed in the game – it was recognized that most teams were getting fairly up to modern requirements, but there was also the bitter note that leaders were not improving, even going down a bit. Yet, the ending of the qualifications was especially tough and exciting – winners were decided in the last minute, there was scare, hopes, scandals. France, hosting the finals, qualified directly, the other finalists came from 7 groups.

Group 1 was the easiest – everything was decided early. Belgium won first 4 games and became unreachable. The last 5 games in the group were mere protocol. Scotland failed miserably, but it was not a big surprise. Having nothing to play for perhaps focused the teams on the future, so not much could be made of last five results.

Switzerland finished 2nd and their sunny photo of African tour pretty much shows the mood in the group after it was clear that Belgium was the finalist.

1.BELGIUM 6 4 1 1 12- 8 9

2.Switzerland 6 2 2 2 7- 9 6

3.East Germany 6 2 1 3 7- 7 5

4.Scotland 6 1 2 3 8-10 4

Group 2. High tensions to the end – the winner was decided in the last match. USSR and Portugal went head-to-head all the way, although USSR was seen as obvious favourite – Portugal was second rater since 1970 and the Soviets were one of the most impressive teams at the 1982 World Cup. Big potential, a team ready for the big time, playing in relatively easy group. In the home game USSR destroyed Portugal 5-0. Now they were leading by a point and at least a tie was in the bag – Portugal was no match… but it was, they were hosts of the decisive match and prevailed 1-0. And qualified.

USSR lost. It was the same team many felt in 1982 could reach the sky, just give them a year or two. Well, they did not, although they were team which received the least goals in the European qualifictaions. Poland, 3rd at the World Cup, was not so strong either. Since Portugal was not really the leader most of the time, it was hard to thing they were going up – may be just lucky.

1.PORTUGAL 6 5 0 1 11- 6 10

2.Soviet Union 6 4 1 1 11- 2 9

3.Poland 6 1 2 3 6- 9 4

4.Finland 6 0 1 5 3-14

Group 3. At first seen as the easiest group – England was the overwhelming favourite. But England failed to qualify and not in the last minute either. The winners were quite a surprise, for normally Denmark was third-rate European team. The crucial games were pretty in the middle of the qualifying campaign – two disastrous home games: first England failed to beat Greece – 0-0, then lost to Denmark 0-1. Shame… but it was quite familiar by now. Overall, England was scoring plenty, but not in important matches at home. Three matches before the end of the campaign everything was shockingly clear – Denmark was unreachable and England was out.

This is not the regular English squad, of course, but presents problems plaguing the national team for many years already – every effort to change the squad with different players was failing. The big stars were unable to produce desired results, others were tried, found significantly bellow the stars, back to the old big names – and no results again. So, when everything was finished Robson was both right and wrong saying that there is no need of starting a new team. Really, was it that bad? England lost only one match. They scored the most goals in Europe – Spain scored more, but theirs was more than suspect achievement. The defenders allowed only 3 goals – USSR had better record, but England played more matches. With such results, why changing anything? Such results, but no European finals…

1.DENMARK 8 6 1 1 17- 5 13

2.England 8 5 2 1 23- 3 12

3.Greece 8 3 2 3 8-10 8

4.Hungary 8 3 1 4 18-17 7

5.Luxembourg 8 0 0 8 5-36 0


African Player Of The Year

African player of the year. Just like the clubs, individual players are difficult to evaluate – were they really good? European-based players were almost out of consideration – there was only one in the 1983 listing: Rabah Majer, playing for Racing (Paris) was 8th with 7 points. The exciting Cameroonians were also out of the picture – only Theophile Abega (Canon Yaounde) and Jean-Antoine Bell appeared among the best, but Bell was mostly there because he played for Al-Mokaoulun. And these three names were the only vaguely familiar names on the list… Typically, the best were considered players among the finalists in the international tournaments – were they consistently good the whole year, were they better than European-based professionals, is hard to judge and also purely academic. Even today individual winners are those with the highest contemporary profile, mostly depending on momentary victory of their team. And that around the world, not just in Africa. So, this year the battle was between two players, representing the finalists in the African Champions’ Cup. No wonder – most journalists saw them in action in only one or two games, still more than vast number of other players, not seen even once. Opoku N’ti (Asante Kotoko, Ghana) lost the battle – he ended with 89 points, 70 more than 3rd placed Rafiou Moutairou ( Agaza Lomé, Togo). But 9 points less the top player…

The forward Mahmoud El-Khatib was voted African Player of the Year with 98 points. The Egyptian remains confusingly anonymous today – other African players eventually became familiar after moving to Europe, but El-Khatib never went to play in Europe. ‘Bibo’, as he nicknamed by the fans, was already 29 years old – no longer a prospect for European clubs, if he ever wanted to play in Europe. He was already a legend of his club Al-Ahly – he never played for any other club – and although he lost the Champions’ Cup final, his status commanded bigger recognition (well, he was much better known in Africa than N’ti). So, it could have been more of a tribute to a long standing star than a recognition of great season. There was unfortunate problem – Bibo was often injured. His skills made him a target of rough defenders so much so that at least once his usual number 10 was given to another player to confuse the vicious hunters. Frequent injures may have contributed to his international anonymity and may have been the prime reason why he never played in Europe.

How well he was known in Africa and was he better than others is highly speculative matter, but one thing is sure – Bibo was truly outstanding player: he is voted the best Egyptian player ever, the Arab Sportsman of the 20th Century, the second-best African footballer in the last 50 years. So, 1983 may be or may not be his greatest season, but at least his great contribution to the game was recognized. And some times recognition is more important than momentary form and success.


African Cup Winners Cup


The Cup Winners Cup. Even less information than the Champions’ Cup… Two teams withdrew here – Ajuda Sports (Guinea Bissau) in the first round and Stationery Stores (Nigeria) in the 1/8 finals. Not bad – 32 out of 34 participants played. Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, and Egypt reached the semi-finals – still strange. Egypt, evidently, was strong – but no other country. Agaza Lome (Togo) and Al-Mokaoulun (Egypt) reached the final, which was decided in the first leg – Agaza Lome lost 0-1 at home. They tried to turn around the table, but managed only 0-0 tie in the inhospitable away match.

Agaza preserved nothing from the final – their highest achievement so far…

The winners left only the legacy of confusion. Al-Mokaoulun is club hard to find even today – not only it is often spelled in different ways in Latin alphabet, but the name more often used is Arab Contractors. Unlike Al-Ahly, a young club and very differently made – the closest to a professional club, privately founded, and belonging to business enterprise. Obviously, the set up was ambitious – good players were hired: if there is no mistake, the club employed the famous in later years Cameroonian goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell and the Ghanaian star Abdul Razak. Were they part of the winning team is hard to tell – at least Razak may have been hired after the victory. If anything, African football was seemingly moving toward proper professionalism – foreign players were scarce, but employed by clubs. No way foreigners were kept as amateurs – at least Al-Mokaoulun seemed entirely set to be professional club. Showing the road to the future, in a way – amateur football was no longer winning.

African Champions Cup

African Champions’ Cup. A general note on African football this year: the performance of Cameroon at the 1982 World Cup brought international focus at last. One would imagine that Europeans would be interested later and cover the African game better. Instead, the club football in 1983 was even more remote and hidden than before. And that, when the continent displayed better order and probably was in better financial shape as well. Only 3 teams withdrew in the African club tournaments, two of them were from Guinea Bissau, most likely dew to political problems. 36 teams started in the Champions Cup – higher than usual number. But the tournaments left almost no trace… Contrary to what is normally expected, the World Cup success of Cameroon did not transform into club success – even stranger, because the country was highly successful on club level recently. Also strange is the fact, that even the tournament winners pay no attention to the moment of glory to this very day – nothing can be found at the clubs internet sites, not even pictures. Impossible to tell why is that.

As for distribution of power – it depends on who one listens to. From aside, it is weird to see that the semi-finalists came from Zambia, Senegal, Egypt, and Ghana – Egypt was kind of understandable, the others… the dark continent, who knows what is going on there, except that the lack of consistency was the universal explanation. It differs when one reads continental observers: biased or not, they considered Ghana, Senegal, and Zambia better than most and Ghana, in particular, an old and constant power. And the final was between Ghana and Egypt – Asante Kotoko vs Al-Ahly. Given the results, it was tough final. Asante escaped with scoreless tie in Egypt and prevailed 1-0 at home.

Al-Ahly, one of the oldest, strongest, and very popular clubs in Egypt failed to concur Africa this year. May be the reason why the club’s website mentions the final only in passing.

Asante Kotoko is also shy about this victory. True, it was not their first – they won the Champions’ Cup back in 1970. But it was still their second continental trophy and won in a stronger competition the first one.

Standing left to right: Salifu Ansah, Kwaku Kyere, George Arthur, Kwasi Appiah, Asare Boateng, Saarah Mensah

Front row: Rauf Iddi, Opoku N’ti, Abdul Razak, Kodwo Addae Kyenkyenhene, Sarfo Gyamfi.

This most likely is not a photo of the winning squad – but it is from the period, the key participants are here. May be some local legends, but, internationally, unknown players. Evaluation of their status is further complicated by the names: Gyamfi, Boateng, Appiah, Mensah are names appearing frequently and easily confused. Perhaps the only known player was Opoku N’ti, for he played successfully in Europe later in the 80s. It could be said that the success of Asante this year placed him on the ‘map’ and eventually transferred him to Europe. The almost complete absence of information about the winners does not change the great fact: they won the African Champions’ Cup in 1983.


NASL was at its last legs – only 12 teams played this year, almost all of them also playing in indoor championship. San Jose Earthquakes changed its name to Golden Bay Earthquakes and strange new team was added: the national team of USA, which was located in Washington, DC, and played under the name Team America. This team was practically the last nail in the coffin of failed concept – NASL was created with the grand idea of making soccer popular in USA/Canada. Popularity, it was theorized, would give birth of domestic stars, gradually replacing the aging foreigners. By 1983 it was crystal clear the whole thing was just a huge misconception: no real American talent emerged – US national team was practically made of foreign-born players, none of whom was wanted by European club. Canada was not different. Team America, the national team of USA, was the weakest in the championship, losing left and right. NASL almost entirely depended of foreigners, although big names were not coming in flocks anymore. There were still aging stars coming (Roberto Bettega), there was some young talent, dispatched to get playing experience ( Peter Beardsley), but the bulk of players were either old second-raters, playing for years in North America, often for 2-3 clubs in the same year, like the West Germans Arno Steffenhagen, Hubert Birkenmeier, and Volkmar Gross, or Europeans, who liked living in North America and aimed at settling permanently there, like Slavisa Zungul. But increasingly the players were anonymous and the number of stars sharply declined. Even popular and seemingly well-doing club as Vancouver Whitecaps featured only a handful well-known names (Peter Lorimer, David Watson, Frans Thijsen, plus Arno Steffenhagen, David Cross, and Peter Beardsley), so local players were added to the ‘famous ones’ at last – Bob Lenarduzzi, Tino Lettieri, and Carl Valentine. The shift was great, some players were recognized as stars not in the field sport, but in its more popular now indoor version – Slavisa Zungul would be a star of indoor soccer and practically nobody would associate him with the 1976 European Championship finals.

Yet, NASL continued with weird and pompous practices and rules, so from a distant the championship became entirely incomprehensible. The teams played 30 regular games each, no ties existed, but the points… New York Cosmos ended with 194! As if that was not enough, the American love for statistics featured entirely meaningless section of ‘percentages’ – as if one is confused by the muddle of points, to be completely in the fog with the obvious discrepancy between points and percentages… Go figure: Tampa Bay Rowdies finished with 7 wins and 23 losses, but 83 points. Team America won 10 games and lost 20 – good enough for… 79 points. Percentages told different story – New York Cosmos, the strongest team by the rules (22 wins and 8 losses, and 194 points) had 0.733% – Vancouver Whitecaps (24 wins, 6 losses, but… 187 points) had 0.800%. Nothing made sense – the teams were divided into 3 ‘Divisions’, but 8 out of total 12 participants moved to the next stage – and this depended on points only. So, the Eastern Division moved ahead completely, for the last in it – Montreal Manic had more points than the 3rd placed in the Southern and the Western Divisions. The early losers were:

Team America, 4th in the Southern Division and with technically the weakest in the championship.

Tampa Bay Rowdies – 3rd in the Southern Divison, but the team which won the least number of games – only 7 (and still finishing above Team America!).

Seattle Sounders – 3rd in the Western Division with 119 points, and

San Diego Sockers – 4th in the Western Division with 106 points. Things were most desperate here – the team had the lowest attendance in the league, a bit over 4000 on average.

The next round was direct elimination – two wins were needed out of three matches. American rules – third match was not played, if one team already won twice, but no ties were allowed.

Here New York Cosmos went out.

And perhaps Cosmos was the best example of the sorry end of NASL – despite the proud words, this was hardly the squad of 1983:

The indoor squad was more to the point – no more famous names. Still the most popular team – only Vancouver Whitecaps had bigger attendance this season, but we are talking home attendance… both teams were the only teams nearing 30 000 viewers. No other club reached even 15 000, so negligible money were coming from the gates. Anyhow, Cosmos was eliminated by Montreal Manic 2-4 and 0-1.

Vancouver Whitecaps, the other strong and well-attended team, was eliminated by Toronto Blizzard in three matches – 1-0, 3-4, 0-1.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers lost to Tulsa 2-3 and 2-4, and Chicago Sting lost to Golden Bay 1-6, 1-0, and 2-5.

In the semi-finals

Montreal Manic was eliminated by Tulsa 1-2, 1-0, and 0-3, and

Golden Bay Earthquakes lost to Toronto 0-1 and 0-2. If there is anything worth noting, that would be Wim Suurbier in the role of assistant coach. The picture is almost laughable… Don Popovic guiding the Yugoslavs (Zungul, Keri, Velasevic); Frank Avilla – the Latinos (Cuellar, Clavijo), and Suurbier – the Dutch and British contingent (Goosens, Sanderson). What came out of it is better left in the dark.

So, the big final – the Soccer Bowl’83. Toronto Blizzard vs Tulsa Roughnecks. The Roughnecks won 2-0.

By the look of the squad, Toronto Blizzard should have been the winner – Bob Houghton was coaching the former Swedish internationals Jan Moller and Conny Karlsson, Jimmy Nicholl, the Canadian star Bruce Wilson, the eternal Steffenhagen, Geoff Wegerle, all led by Roberto Bettega. But they lost… so, the other team must have been much stronger.

It was not… Tulsa Roughnecks had no recognizable players, not even one. By North American standards, it was impossibly anonymous squad, a classic underdog. And may be that was exactly why they won – the famous veterans hardly had any reason to do more than just appear on the field. The unknown boys were stronger collective and winning meant something to them. Well deserved victory, first – and last – title for Tulas Roughnecks, bright future ahead…

Bright future? Right after the championship Montreal and Seattle folded and Team America left NASL too.

Mexico I Division

First Division played its usual mixed championship – at first the league was divided into 4 groups of 5 teams each, but every team played twice against all other league members. The top 2 in every group moved up to cup-like quarterfinals and the 2 teams with least points went to their own final for survival. Lets start with the losers. Atletico Morelia (Group 4) and Zacatepec (Group 3) ended with 30 points each and faced relegation. Their ‘vida o muerte’ duel was played on Azteca, but before that the foes met twice in the standard procedure – Atletico Morelia won 2-0 at home, then Zacatepec won their home leg 4-2 and third match had to be scheduled. On neutral ground, Atletico Morelia won 1-0.

A season Atletico Morelia liked to forget, but at least they escaped relegation.

Zacatepec was relegated after dramatic play-off – a bit unlucky, but, in general, they deserved to go down. Local fans beg to differ, of course.

Well, most teams finished their season after the first stage.

Monterrey, with future Mexican national team coach in its squad, was last in Group 1 with 31 points.

Tampico-Madero – last in Group 2 with 33 points,

Cruz Azul – 3rd in Group 3 with 35 points,

UNAM – 3rd in Group 4 with 38 points.

UANL – 4th in Group 4 with 37 points.

The formula provided for some teams to go ahead with fewer points than others – it all depended on initial luck with the draw. Atletico Potosino qualified with 36 points – they were 2nd in the weak Group A. Leon had 37, but was only 3rd in Group B, UNAM had 38 points and UANL – 37, which was not good enough in the tough Group 4. But good luck can propel a team only to a point – Atletico Potosino was completely destroyed in the ¼ finals by America – 0-2 and 0-4.

Atlante was also destroyed – CD Guadalajara won both legs – 3-1 and 3-0.

Toluca was also out after losing both legs to U de G 0-2 and 2-3.

UAG looked like having a fair chance after their home leg – they won 2-1. But the visit to Puebla crushed all fragile hope – the hosts simply annihilated UAG 5-1.

Still, Guadalajara had 2 teams in the semi-finals and Mexico City only 1 – the capital was losing fast so far. The rivalry between Mexico City and Guadalajara looked like going to the very end of the championship – Amercia won at the hostile ground of CD Guadalajara 2-1. The final, at least, seemed secured. Then the second leg started in Mexico City – and it was a big humiliation. CD Guadalajara triumphed with 3-0 in front of stunned America fans.

America was the best Mexico City team this season, but their hopes for a title were suddenly crushed right at home.

In the other semi-final Universidad de Guadalajara was eliminated by Puebla – U de G won 1-0 at home, but lost 2-4 in Puebla. So, there was not to be a Guadalajara final, but a provincial final instead – still good for rubbing the nose of jaded Mexico City.

CD Guadalajara won the opening leg in front of home crowd 2-1. Puebla was not giving up and won the second leg 1-0. The opponents were tied, but there was no third match under the rules – a bit weird, for Mexico had it for the relegation duel – and Puebla got some advantage by noisy home support. Still, the extra time produced no result and penalty shoot-out followed. Tough final to the last moment – Publa prevailed 7-6 in the shoot-out.

Wonderful, yet bitter, season for ‘Chivas’ as CD Guadalajara is better known. What a disappointment: to lose on penalties, to miss one – and thus the title.

Puebla won the dramatic final and was the new Mexican champion. By itself, not a surprise, for Puebla was among the leading Mexican clubs for years. It looked like they were the team most wisely distributing its strength through the long and complicated season – they did not shine in the opening stage, ending with the 3rd record – America was vastly superior at this point, but seemingly they spent their strength at this stage and slowly went down after that, when Puebla slowly was going up until they reached the final in great form. A bit of luck helped too at the final, but they were solid and consistent the whole season, so one cannot call them just lucky winners – the boys deserved it.

It was historic moment for the club – the 1st title.

No big stars here – even their Brazilian hero Muricy Ramalho was not among the biggest names in Mexico.

The credit must go to their coach Manuel Lapuente, a former national team player and future national coach, still at the beginning of his career. His work elevated Puebla to winning the championship.

And one last look at the squad, instantly becoming legendary in the city.


Mexico II Division

Mexico. Stable championship formula for years. Second Division had one promotional spot and that was all the lower level was about.

Santos Laguna, one of the better known clubs, had no luck.

The final was reached by Zamora and Union de Curtidores. At home, Zamora managed only a tie, 1-1, and in the second leg lost. It was tough and equal final between equally ambitious opponents, but Union de Curtidores extracted minimal 1-0 victory.

Union de Curtidores (Leon) – Second Division champions and moving up to play top league football in the next season.