Second Division. It was going to reduced from 24 to 22 teams, so 5 teams were relegated at the end of the season. As usual, the top 2 were getting promoted to First Division. The season was intriguing, including the make of the final table – the issue at hand was 20th place, the last relegation place. Four teams ended with 40 points, so the Federation decided who was going down: it boiled down to a mini-table between 3 teams, their head-to-head results in which Kuban (Krasnodar) had the worse goal-difference. Of course, the rule of the limit of ties to 12 was still in force and many teams lost points for more ties than the limit. If this rule was not in place not only the 5th relegated teams would have been the one which was not even considered by the Federation, but the champion of the league would have been different. As for the championship itself, observers largely recognized higher playing qualities of the players than before and simultaneously – more brutal football and incompetent refereeing. Three teams fought for promotion, entangled in dramatic battle, but that is according to the final table. Reality was more baffling – 8 rounds before the end, there was a leader, having 8-point advantage and needing just 3 points from the remaining games to win if not the championship, at least a promotion. This team finished 3rd… Other early leaders also unexpectedly went down near the end of the season – and since they were familiar names… Shinnik (Yaroslavl) and Pamir (Dushanbe). Two ‘eternal’ second division members. Both considered strong teams, yet, once again they failed – or may be decided to fail. Which was not new – they have been criticized for years for their ‘lack of ambition’ and some time even more directly: for preferring security among the stronger clubs in second level than risky life in first level and thus deliberately failing to reach promotion. Of course, nobody could prove anything.
Nistru (Kishinev) ended last – a hopeless outsider with 21 points and negative record maker: they received 101 goals in their net. Nothing surprising, though – football in Moldova was never strong and although Nistru used to play a bit of First Division football, they never built tradition and rarely had strong home-grown squad. Their decline was noticed a few years ago and eventually reached its conclusion – relegation to third level.
Atlantas (Klaipeda) was also outsider – 23rd with 29 points. It was expected as well – the newcomers from the Baltics hardly had strong enough team, for traditionally football was not strong there.
Iskra (Smolensk) was 22nd with 34 points. Tried to fight, but relegated at the end. Not a surprise either – they had their day already, but to maintain competitive squad was difficult. As many teams around Moscow, they depended on some help from the big Moscow clubs – but the big boys had many satellites and hardly enough players to dispatch to all.
SKA (Khabarovsk) suffered similar fate as Iskra – 21st with 36 points and relegated. The military club from the far, far East had little chance of getting help from mother CSKA (Moscow): yes, they craftily got a few players when they climbed to second level, but it was unlikely good players would go to the wilderness for long. And CSKA had its own difficulties in recent years, so supporting other clubs was not realistic.
Kuban (Krasnodar) was unfortunate 20th with 40 points. Perhaps theirs was not a real decline, but more a matter of bad luck. True, Kuban was not bog enough club to keep decent team and attract classy players from elsewhere, but still they were not all that bad. Rules worked against hem, however – if there was no limit on ties, they would have been safe with 42 points. But they lost 2 points for having more ties than the limit. Was it goal-difference decisive factor, Kuban would have been still safe – they had better one than Pakhtakor (Tashkent) and Kotaik (Abovyan). Well, it was goal-difference which relegated them at the end, but only goal-difference from games against direct rivals.
Kotaik (Abovyan) was lucky survivor – 19th with 40 points. For the small Armenian club remaining in Second Division for one more year equaled triumph. All about size… for another club such dramatic escape would have been a disaster, but for the tiny club was great achievement.
Dinamo (Stavropol) was also lucky at the end – 18th with 40 points, thanks to best goal-difference in the head-to-head matches with Kotaik and Kuban. Rules played a joke on them too – under ‘normal’ rules, Dinamo would have been safe on more points. Under standard goal-difference rule, they would not have been in danger of relegation either – the ended with rare record for a lowly team: with positive goal-difference, 66-58. On the picture – in white jerseys after a game against Dinamo (Kiev).
Rules benefited Pakhtakor (Tashkent) most, however – they ended 17th with 40 points and were not even part of tricky triangle on which the Federation decided the fate. Under usual rules, though… Pakhtakor would have been relegated. If there was no limit on ties, they would have been relegated on fewer points. If there was no head-to-head rule, they would have been relegated on worst goal-difference. Frankly, Pakhtakor suffered the consequences of the fatal 1979 airplane crash, killing their team. It was delayed backlash – for a few years the slump was postponed because a number of good players were dispatched to play for them from other clubs. It was artificial help, perhaps creating an illusion that worst was avoided – but as soon as grace period allowed by the Federation, in which Pakhtakor was not to be relegated from First Division, ended and the aging players other clubs gave them retired the truth was plain and ugly: Pakhtakor had no team to speak of. And down they went.
Spartak (Ordzhonikidze) – 16th with 42 points. Relatively weak season, but the prime aim for Spartak was to stay in Second Division, so the place did not matter.
SKA (Rostov) – 15th with 43 points. Another team in sharp decline, but in their case it may be also related to the weakness of CSKA (Moscow) plus the situation in Rostov itself. In the past SKA depended on CSKA players – either allowed to be recruited by SKA instead of CSKA, or just given by CSKA – to strengthen their team. CSKA was vulnerable now, so no gifts. And in the same time the other local team – Rostselmash – was quite strong, so local talent was more likely to join the civilian club than to SKA.
Shinnik (Yaroslavl) – 14th with 44 points. Back to the 36th round… Shinnik was 3 points behind the leaders and observers entertained the illusion that may be they will run for promotion. An illusion… for Shinnik was careful not to leave the comfort mid-table zone this championship – just like every previous season. Considered strong, certainly experienced, but never wanting to get higher – that was really the truth. Sitting from left: V. Gavrikov – masseur, V. Pomazov, S. Novoselov, D. Popov, E. Kotrussov – administrator.
Middle row: V. Petrov – team chief, A. Piskunov, A. Tzenin, E. Martyanov, B. Gavrilov, A. Goryukhov, V. Melnitzky, V. Sotnikov, V. Chistyakov – coach.
Top row: V. Kossarev, D. Kurytzin, Yu. Mentyukov, Yu. Panteleev, V. Kasyan, V. Churkin, M. Morozov, Yu. Rodionov, A. Tyutikov, R. Bilyaletdinov.
Kuzbass (Kemerovo) – 13th with 44 points. Well, same as Shinnik – secure mid-table position. Still having the record-scorer of Second Division Vitaly Razdaev in the squad – the first man to score 200 goals in this division, but also a player of amazingly long career and not considering retirement yet.
Metallurg (Zaporozhye) – 12th with 45 points. Like Shinnik and Kuzbass – holding fast to mid-table position.
Dinamo (Batumi) – 11th with 46 points. Not bad, really. On the other hand… Georgia had 4 teams in First and Second Division. For a small republic without many resources, perhaps too many clubs playing high-level football.
Fakel (Voronezh) – 10th with 48 points. Nothing special.
Rotor (Volgograd) – 8th with 51 points. Attracted little attention so far – and may be for their own good. Quietly climbing up.
Rostselmash (Rostov) – 7th with 52 points. Not bad at all and secret may have been in the name – they belonged and were named after a giant plant for farming machinery. As an ‘industrial’ club, they were hardly the first choice to support, but recently SKA was not in great shape and although they were traditionally ‘the’ club in the city, they belonged to the Army – not quite local, therefore, and also depending on Moscow orders. Rostselmash at least was local and very likely the weakening of SKA rallied local Party administration to support Rostselmash. Having the upper hand locally, but not able to run for promotion.
Pamir (Dushanbe) – 5th with 54 points. They and Shinnik were usually blamed together as prime example of what was wrong with Second Division football: no ambition. Once again having strong squad, once again looking like going to make a jump higher, and once again settling for lower place.
SKA Karpaty (Lvov) – 4th with 54 points. Unlike Pamir, this was a team wanting to get promoted. The problem, however, was complex – a few years back local administration amalgamated the two city clubs – SKA and Karpaty – into one. The idea was to cut off the army from weakening Karpaty by taking young talent under the pretext of doing military service. Another hindrance was not up to locals to block – promising talent was most likely to be snatched by Dinamo (Kiev). The amalgamation was not to be able to prevent that, but at least, it was hoped, the new team will have the best players remaining in the city. It did not quite work, for fans did not like the new concoction at all. They wanted their old Karpaty, partly for nationalistic reasons. Anyhow, the club wanted to reach First Division, but was not strong enough.
Daugava (Riga) – 3rd with 60 points. Missed promotion by a point, but had incredible season nevertheless. After years of third level football, Daugava came to Second Division and now was a leader. However… after leading a good part of the season, Daugava suddenly failed. Remember: 8 rounds before the end they were leading by 8 points and needed only 3 points from the remaining games to get promoted. Finishing 3rd was tremendous failure, hard to explain. For many, they crumbled under pressure – a plausible explanation, for Daugava had little experience. But it may have been deliberate loss of form too – 3rd place was still great, the season still exciting. Going up though… risky. The team was not really at First Division level and there was hardly a chance of getting experienced players from other clubs. Better stay in Second Division than becoming the joke of top flight. Whatever the truth, Daugava lost the battle for promotion.
CSKA (Moscow) – clinched 2nd place and promoted with 61 points. Things were really dark and miserable for CSKA in recent years – playing second division football, struggling to return to toip flight, and unable to stay there. This season was good only in that the team managed to secure 2nd place, but they were not better than others – in fact, CSKA was on the level of small Daugava, even smaller Guria, and if Pamir and Shinnik played seriously, CSKA may not have been promoted. Lucky may be, but it all right – at least they were going up. Crouching from left: S. Fokin, D. Kuzhetzov, V. Tatarchuk, D. Galyamin, V. Medvid, S. Savchenko, S. Myasnikov, M. Kolesnikov, V. Novikov. Standing: M. Plakhetko – team chief, Yu. Morozov – coach, D. Bystrov, G. Denisov, S. Berezin, A. Afanasyev, V. Bubukin – assistant coach, L. Nikolaenko, G. Shtromberger, Yu. Shishkin, V. Kordivar – administrator, E. Veshev – doctor.
It was the squad – yes, few very good players, but few and somewhat not at the level they used to be. Novikov was national team goalkeeper once upon a time. Tatarchuk was perhaps the only great talent for the future, but at least the squad was generally young. Great coach – Morozov – was unable to do more with rather limited squad and the worst was that CSKA for years was unable to recruit enough good players.
Guria (Lanchkhuti) won the championship. Standing from left: A. Kiladze – the chairman of the District Football Federation, G. Dundua – assistant coach, G. Giligashvili, A. Kondratyev, T. Tchkhaidze, L. Melikia, M. Akopyan, B. Sikharulidze – coach, G. Imnadze, M. Tevzadze, T. Ebanoidze, D. Ugrelidze. Front row: Ya. Ormotzadze – administrator, E. Tevzadze, B. Pridonishvili, G. Tkebuchava, M. Kiladze, V. Kopaleishvili, B. Danelia, D. Imnadze.
One of the greatest surprises in the history of Soviet football. It was a victory only on better head-to-head record against CSKA, but it was truly David beating Goliath – CSKA represented not only Moscow, but all-mighty Soviet military. Guria represented a village… even in Georgian terms it was peripheral and obscure place. Yet… 28 wins, 5 ties, 13 losses, 80-66 goal-difference, 61 points. Who would have imagined it? This victory should be placed in proper perspective: a small club cannot be really dominating. Guria apparently played all-or-nothing kind of football, so they lost many games. But the opposition was no better… Georgians usually depended on attack and scored lots of goals – no surprise here, only Rostselmash outscored Guria. The defence was dismal, which was also no big surprise. Enthusiasm certainly played big role and various weaknesses of other teams also helped. And may be the fact that Guria was not coming from relatively big provincial city, but from from really small town helped – here going to play first division football was matter of great excitement and pride, no matter the coast. No calculations what could be ‘safer’ in the long run – even one year among the best was something historic, worth risking everything, even going broke because of it. It was simply wonderful. As for the future… what Guria had at hand was a few players who played a bit for Dinamo (Tbilisi) and Torpedo (Kutaisi). A bit… not good enough, they were quickly dismissed and thus ended up in Guria. Local boys mostly. New recruits were certainly needed and there was little hope for significant additions: may be some second-stringers and veterans at the end of their careers from Dinamo (Tbilisi). The republic was too small and usually supported Dinamo (Tbilisi) with talent. The short spells of Torpedo (Kutaisi) in First Division were direct result of the small pool… Now Guria and not Torpedo was going to get those not needed by Dinamo, but there was no much certainty even in that: Georgia was having 4 teams in First and Second divisions now and Lanchkhuti was the smallest location of them. Practically there was no way attracting players from outside Georgia. But the present was great – Guria was found in 1952 and reached Second Division in 1979. Now they were the third Georgian club to play in First Division. They were going to be above the Georgian second ranking club – Torpedo (Kutaisi), the first club representing agrarian – or village – sport society in top flight, Second Division champions. Amazing story, one of those making football so attractive and dear.