First Division. Let summarize the Soviet championship like that: the most stable team was stable indeed – never first. In the strange vacuum surprise winners were coming one after another. It could be that the exciting generation amounted to about 50 players – not wide enough to boost the league as a whole and when spread among 5-6 clubs none was truly great. 7 teams preoccupied with escaping relegation.
CSKA (Moscow) was last 19 points. Absolute outsider and no surprise: they had a few strong players, but were unable to recruit more of the same class. Instead of rebuilding and recovering lost ground – relegation.
Pakhtakor (Tashkent) – 17th with 25 points. They fought for survival and may be a bit unlucky, for they were just short of a point or two, but it was logical ending of long process. To begin with, Pakhtakor was never a strong leading club and the 1979 disaster, killing the whole squad, had its long tall – rebuilding was painful and not really successful. The club was exempted from relegation for awhile, but this period ended. Most of the post-disaster years depended largely from brought from outside players, generally on the oldish side, so even they could not help for long. The previous season was not bad, but the lack of reinforcements was predictably dangerous. And now Pakhtakor faced the music… going down to second division. It was inevitable, no matter lucky or unlucky.
Dinamo (Moscow) – 16th with 26 points. Barely saving their skins… well, the decline of Moscow football was noted years ago and seemingly there was no change. Was the mighty Dinamo going to follow the miserable steps of Spartak and CSKA and join the second division? They were terribly close already. Top row, from left: E. Mileshkin (?), A. Molodtzov, S. Nikulin, A. Minaev, V. Gazzaev, N. Latysh, A. Golovnya, A. Novikov, A.Molodtzov (?).
Middle row: A. Prudnikov, Yu. Pudyshev, Krupenin – administrator, A. Golodetz – assistant coach, A. Sevidov – coach, A. Maksimenkov – assistant coach, Gassov – masseur, Salnikov – masseur, N. Gontar.
Sitting: V. Matyunin, Yu. Mentyukov, N. Tolstykh, I. Bulanov, M. Chesnokov (?), A. Uvarov, A. Khapsalis, V. Demidov, A. Borodyuk, V. Kapustin (?).
If names win games, Dinamo should have been much higher in the table. Names… some were gatting too old, others already reached their peaks and limits, yet some others were still too young and not at their prime.
Neftchi (Baku) – 15th with 26 points. Managed to survive, that was pretty much their traditional unchanging aim. Good for another season, relieve.
SKA (Rostov) – 14th with 27 points. They won the cup not long ago, they played in the second division not long ago, they were… never a great promise. Fighting for survival, the usual…
Shakhter (Donetzk) – 13th with 29 points. Weak season, fighting to keep place in the league. However, they won the new cup played between champions and cup winners of the previous year – ‘The Cup of the Season’. Meaningless and misleading trophy, for the title suggests something great: the top team in the country. The real question was different: was Shakhter in crisis, how deep was the crisis, and was there quick way out of it.
Standing from left: Yu. Fishelev – administrator, S. Popovich, S. Pokidin, V. Rudakov, A. Radenko, A. Sopko, V. Gavrilov, S. Kravchenko, V. Goshkoderya, O. Glubokov- doctor, M. Kalinin – team chief, V. Nossov – coach.
Crouching: M. Sokolovsky, V. Elinskas, I. Vassilyuk, A. Shturlak, S. Morozov, S. Akimenko.
Metallist (Kharkov) – 12th with 29 point. They were the pleasant surprise in the previous year, but it was expected to get tougher this season – and it was: it was really a matter of establishing a place and adjusting to the top league. They were in danger, but escaped relegation. It was a season for building confidence and the future was not gloomy at all.
Ararat (Erevan) – 11th with 31 points. Predictable performance and hopefully they were going to stay like that in the future – there was no doubt the great early 1970s were not going to be repeated: Armenia was too small for producing big enough number of strong players.
Dinamo (Kiev) 10th with 34 points. They were terrible the previous season – 7th – and Lobanovsky urgently was brought back to coach them, only to sink even lower. Strange, considering that most of national team players came from Dinamo and for years Kiev had the biggest stars in its ranks. And ruthlessly recruited more, ravishing the other Ukrainian clubs. Well, the usual excuse was that the stars played too many games, combining club and national team duties. That was lame excuse at best – rather, the team was a bit uneven, having too many youngsters not quite good enough to pressure the regulars. And Lobanovsky, with his heavy-handed policies, was brewing conflicts – Leonid Buryak lock horns with the coach and left – or was dismissed – at the end of the season.
Zhalguiris (Kaunas) – 9th with 34 points. Now, that was a team going up and looked at as an optimistic sign. They climbed quite rapidly from nowhere, but were not a Cinderella story: it was clear they were going not just to stay in the league, but make an impact. Still developing and gaining experience, still not at the peak of their potential. A team for the future, doing well presently.
Kayrat (Alma-Ata) – 8th with 34 points. Wonderful season for them, but more or less accidental one. Back row from left: K. Sarsekov, V. Masoudov, I. Zaytzev, V. Agarkov – video operator, O. Dodonov, I. Kuzin – doctor, K. Ordabaev – team chief, S. Burakov, Yu. Naydovsky, A. Kuklev, Yu. Shadiev, S. Volgin, M. Kossanov, S. Bayshakov – assistant coach.
Middle row: E. Son, B. Evdokimov, S. Kirillov, V. Skulkin – assistant coach, L. Ostroushko – coach, E. Kuznetzov – assistant coach, V. Nikitenko, S. Stukashov, F. Salimov.
Crouching: I. Suvorin – masseur, B. Dzhumanov, A. Shokh, A. Ubykin, Yu. Konkov, S. Ledovskikh, K. Imanbaev, S. Savin.
Dinamo (Tbilisi) – 7th with 36 points. Declining and slowly going down.
Torpedo (Moscow) – on the left and against the outsiders CSKA, right – 6th with 40 points. Not bad, but nothing special.
Dinamo (Minsk) – 5th with 40 points. Still running strong on inertia, for it was clear already – this boys will not be champions again. The same team as two years ago, only two years older…
Sitting from left: I. Gurinovich, S. Gotzmanov, M. Vergeenko – assistant coach, L. Garay – team chief, V. Arzamastzev – coach, I. Savostikov – assistant coach, Yu. Kurnenin, P. Vassilevsky.
Middle row: V. Melnikov, O. Alekseenko, Yu. Trukhan, A. Batalov, Yu. Kurbyko, S. Aleynikov, V. Yanushevsky, L. Rumbutis, A. Zygmantovich.
Top row: L. Vassilevsky – administrator, S. Borovsky, V. Shishkin, G. Kondratyev, V. Dmitrakov – doctor, I. Belov, Yu. Pudyshev, V. Sokol, A. Usenko – masseur.
Frankly, it was really surprising they were able to keep their stars given the troubles Dinamo (Moscow) had. Dinamo (Kiev) not so much, but also was a potential predator – yet, Gurinovich, Gotzmanov, Borovsky, Zygmantovich, and Kondratyev were not stolen.
Chernomoretz (Odessa) – 4th with 41 points. A season almost as good as the one a decade ago, when they finished 3rd. However, the team was heavily criticized for uneven play and lack of ambition. Young players were blamed for already looking for other options. Of course, the critics missed the real big point – Chernomoretz was in the usual hunting grounds of Dinamo (Kiev) and just like always was seen as mere supply team for the mighty Dinamo – naturally, Igor Belanov was marked and even if he wanted to stay it would not have been possible. And not only he.
Crouching from left: N. Romanchuk, I. Sokolovsky, I. Belanov, I. Nakonechny, G. Psomiadi, A. Bagapov, A. Shterbakov, O. Sych, V. Pokonin, V. Ploskina.
Standing: V. Leshtuk – team chief, V. Prokopenko – coach, S. Tretyak, I. Shary, V. Fink, A. Skripnik, Yu. Smotrich, V. Sakhno, Yu. Romensky, S. Zharkov, V. Pasulko, V. Ishtak, S. Altman – assistant coach, V. Nechaev – assistant coach.
Dnepr (Dneproptrovsk) – 3rd with 42 points. Dnepr was fine and among the leaders most of the time. There was a slight chance for a consecutive title and they had the two best players in the league – the goal-scoring machine Protasov and the player of the year Litovchenko, but… it was the make up. Dnepr, having no chance of recruiting and keeping aces, developed a sturdy, physical, and constantly running team. No first-raters, though. Hardly even second-raters. Take away Litovchenko and Protasov and Dnepr was suddenly just an ordinary team. No wonder they dropped out of the championship race at the end of season – stamina they had, skills – not enough.
Spartak (Moscow) – 2nd with 45 points. Standing from left: E. Sidorov, G. Adzhoev, V. Sochnov, A. Bubnov, K. Beskov – coach, S. Rodionov, Yu. Gavrilov, G. Morozov, S. Shavlo.
Sitting: E. Kuznetzov, E. Milevsky, R. Dassaev, S. Cherchesov, S. Shvetzov, S. Shulgin, M. Rusyaev.
Spartak boasts that they were the most stable team in the league – 6 years in the top three already. But no titles. This year they were second a bit before the actual end of the season, one more disappointment, based on sluggish start and long drop of form for a stretch of 8 games – then they plummeted from 1st place to 6th. The final sprint was fine, but they were unable to catch the leaders. The problem was obvious: Spartak was not deep enough, they squad was somewhat always short and unable to recruit really strong reinforcements – from 6 newcomers 2 were former Spartak players coming back home after military service (Spartak was probably the most suffering club from that – for years there were key players taken away for army service), 1 was also belonging to Spartak, but temporarily loaned. From the 3 really new players only one managed to make the first team. It was familiar story by now… and at the same time better players left, the bigger loss was the inspirational captain Oleg Romantzev, who had to quit football prematurely plagued by injuries. When Cherenkov was out because of injury, the play of the team suffered immediately – Shavlo, after spending army time in second division, was no former self and contributed little. The most stable team may be, but second again.
And USSR had a new champion: Zenit (Leningrad). A good team, noticed for improvement in the recent years, but were they champion material? Let’s face it: the champions had 2 national team players and even at the peak of their form no other players caught the eye and were invited to play for USSR. It was not they took the championship by storm – they won largely because they were most consistent. Not at the top for good part of the championship, but near. When other teams had ups and downs, Zenit quietly added a point here, two points there, eventually arrived at the top of the league and stayed to the very end, keeping others at bay and even winning the title a bit before the last games of the season. It was steady work and fine tuning, credited to the their youngish coach Pavel Sadyrin. No matter what shortcomings Zenit had, it was historic victory – so far Zenit only one 1 Cup and that during the Second World War. Back than it was more of a propaganda thing – the whole staging of something like cup tournament, culminating with symbolic final, conveniently played between the Red Army and the heroic Leningrad. Nothing else Zenit ever won and not only that, but traditionally they were mid-table club at best – although rarely in danger of relegation. At last they triumphed and the squad became instant legend at home. Leningrad had to enjoy the moment to the fullest, because it was highly unlikely Zenit could win again. From a hindsight, it was true – Zenit became strong leading club only after the fall of USSR.