USSR – ranked 3rd by UEFA. The 50th championship of USSR. There was a bit of repeating 1976 – Dinamo (Kiev) again was in bad shape right after conquering Europe. There was also a failure of restructuring the third level: for years various specialists called for bringing the best teams from the huge league into one new league of 22 teams and that was finally announced before the season, but at the end was not done and Third Division remained as it was: 9 groups of teams. What was objective, but apparently unsolvable problem was economical: in a country stretched on two continents, teams were scattered so far away that there no satisfying formula was found. Travel was expensive and time consuming and all proposals failed, for money were becoming overwhelming issue. The original intent was to increase the quality of the game, to combine the stronger teams in one league – but at the end reform was scrapped and the old formula remained: 9 groups (Zones), with different number of teams (from 27 to 15) and strength (competitive Russian-Ukrainian zones and very weak Far East groups). The winners continued to go to promotion play-offs and the 3 best teams in them were promoted to Second Division.
Here is a taste of the vast third level:
Gastello (Ufa) – actually, the name is ‘Sport Club named after N. Gastello’, weird name, so with time it was popularly shorten.
Those three played in solid groups and had no chance to move up, although they played well – Gastello finished 4th in Zone II, Torpedo – 8th in the same Zone II, SKA – 5th in Zone VI. SKA had it very tough: they played in the largest Zone, where the Ukrainian teams played – that was 27 teams! A regular season of 52 games.
The winners went to play for 3 promotions and even here the candidates were uneven: some former First Division members, some former Second Division members, some unknowns. Some currently strong teams, noticed during the regular season, some trying to rebuild and come back, and some coming from weak Zones and thus not much to speak of, unless they quickly hired stronger players for the play-offs. Iskra (Smolensk) – winner of Zone I, Zvezda (Perm) – Zone II, Kuban (Krasnodar) – Zone III, SKA (Khabarovsk) – Zone IV, Nistru (Kishinev) – Zone V, Tavria (Simferopol) – Zone VI, Neftyanik (Fergana) – Zone VII, Meliorator (Chimkent) – Zone VIII, and Lokomotiv (Samtredia) – Zone IX. Iskra, Tavria, Kuban, and Zvezda, which got good press during the season, were the favourites – and at the end, they won, except Iskra.
Tavria (Simferopol) and
Zvezda (Perm) were promoted.
Tavria and Kuban did not attract much press perhaps because they were well known names, which played top league football – it was somewhat expected from them to recover and come back. Zvezda (Perm) was seemingly the pleasant surprise, yet, observers were cautious. It was critical caution old and tired: a team assembled of relatively good and experienced players from elsewhere, instead of local guys coming from the youth system of the club. As a rule of thumb, such ‘mercenary’ teams were almost immediately relegated back to lower league they came from – Krylya Sovetov (Kuybishev) was the current scary example used, but it could have been a long list of teams from every year and cautions like that did not work so far, so the chances Zvezda (Perm) would suddenly become sensible were nil. After all, if you look around to find players for a team, it is certain you have no productive youth system to depend on. But that was for the next season – for the moment, Zvezda, Tavria, and Kuban enjoyed promotion to Second Division.