Interesting year, although not only for the right reasons. Three major international championships – the European Championship finals, the Olympic games, and the African Championship.

The European finals got all attention, making the other two big championships in the dark – the Olympics were tainted by Eastern European boycott and the 14th African Championship followed the traditional fate of African football – nobody paid attention. On one side, things were critical in the football world – menacing and increasing hooliganism, the bribing scandal in Belgium, the decreasing interest in Olympic football – many countries for one or another reason chose to not participate at all, the plague of bankruptcies in South America. On the bright side shined the European finals – they were generally seen in very optimistic light.

            The finals went through rocky road and there were changes in the formula. The new 8-team was objected strongly: the 1980 experience was not positive – too many boring games. UEFA stuck to the larger format, though, and at the end of 1983 critics were ready to shrug their shoulders, ‘See, we told you so’. The finalists were not exactly the traditional major European powers, most of them struggling for years and Denmark in particular was not even second-rate European power, thus recalling the specter of Greece in 1980. Who needs that again? But it was too late for changing the formula – instead, it was improved. Back in 1980 the group winners at the finals went directly to the championship final – now the first two of each group went to semi-finals first. Further, the shameful match between West Germany and Austria at the 1982 World Cup was taken into account – now the last group games were to be played at the same time, so to avid any fixing of results. Lastly, the number of team players was reduced from 22 to 20 – the reason was questionable: the reduction was hardly able to save any money to the national federations. In sporting terms, there was no real gain either – a good team hardly used more than 15 players, the rest staying permanently on the bench. The real reason was seemingly an attempt to reduce scandals – there were players not wanting to join national teams only to watch others play and vitriol was let loose in the press. Football did not need more scandals, it had enough already, so the big aim was to present happy clean image. An illusion, but setting the road followed to this very day – a big smiling cover under which lurked all kinds of crimes, scandals, back stabs, dealings of more than questionable nature, and so on.

            But, to the surprise of many, the final tournament was great – highly entertaining football and emergence of bright strong teams from what was seen to be championship of underdogs. And that was very optimistic sign for breaking out of the stagnation rotting the game in the previous years. The 1984 Euro was better than the 1980 finals as a whole, thus silencing the critics. Dull football was seemingly at the losing end – West Germany represented it and its team did not reach the semi-finals. Compared to the 1980 finals, 1984 was sure winner – only West Germany and Yugoslavia were boring to watch. Four years earlier the list was longer – Greece, Holland, England, Spain, Czechoslovakia, Italy. Even severely handicapped Belgium – 6 national team regulars were suspended for their involvement in the bribing scandal – played well, despite the odds. What looked like predictable championship – France and West Germany were easily seen as finalists, with likelier nasty victory of the Germans – became fascinating and unexpected championship. It was easy to forget or forgive anything else this year – the  1984 European finals were great, football was coming back to the right track.    

USSR I Division

If Soviet football was seen as improving, it did not show very much this championship – a curious contradiction, for nothing especially bright happened in the first division. There was not even a race for the title. A rather routine season with no signs of up and coming clubs. From the distance of time, it is particularly interesting how insignificantly the teams making the 1980s of Soviet football played this year.

The absolute outsider was Pakhtakor (Tashkent) – they finished with 19 points, 4 less than the 17th finisher. Not a big surprise, but also alarming: because of the air crush, killing almost the whole squad in 1979, Pakhtakor was still exempt from relegation. The idea was to permit the club to build a new team – but it was not working. Safety seemingly made them disinterested and now they were dead last. But they were staying in the league.

Tavria (Simferopol) finished 17th with 23 points – they put some fight, but the small club was clearly not up to task and had to leave first division football. They ended 4 points ahead of Pakhtakor, but also 3 points behind the 16th placed. Outsiders, too bad, cherish the memories of top flight football.

SKA (Rostov) was 16th – an end of bitter-sweet season. This was the year of their greatest success ever and also the year they were relegated.

As a whole, not particularly strong team, depending on two guys, who did not make it at their original club – the goalkeeper Radaev and the defender Andryushchenko, the long-time Dinamo (Kiev) sustitute Zuev, one current star – Sergey Andreev, and the young, bright talent Zavarov. Not much, but still above relegation – they finished 3 points ahead of Tavria and under normal circumstances would have been safe. But fate played a bitter joke on them – Zenit took the 15th place on better goal-difference and since Pakhtakor was still exempted from relegation, the 16th was unlucky – SKA went down.

Zenit (Leningrad) was lucky 15th. Not a suprise, for they have been a so-so team most of the time. Judging by this season nobody would have imagined these guys were future champions – and in very near future at that. One interesting thing about their picture is the glimpse at forgotten side of Soviet football of the late 1970s and 1980s: indoor championship games were played in Moscow, something most clubs were not happy about. It was unfamiliar kind of game to most, played with different shows and even players dressed differently to avoid bruises, cuts, and injuries at the hard surface. The indoor kind benefited Moscow clubs at home, but… they had away matches too, to their peril.

Ararat (Erevan) was lucky 14th.

From left: Kh. Oganesyan, A. Antonyan, S. Kassaboglyan, A. Keropyan, Ash. Khachatryan, Raf. Galstyan, B. Melikyan, O. Kirakosyan, N. Petrosyan, G. Mkhitaryan.

One of the brighest Soviet teams in the first half of the 1970s slumped into a crisis after 1975 – the reasons were obvious: inability to rebuild. Only N. Petrosyan remained from the old winning squad and after that only Oganesyan emerged as a true star and national team player. Unfortunately, Armenia was small and not rich on football talent. Ararat was not alone – a host of teams was either going down or not not improving.

Kayrat (Alma-ata) finished 12th, a normal place for them – in the lower half of the table. Neither good, nor bad. The same were Chernomoretz (Odessa), Neftchi (Baku), Dinamo (Minsk), Dnepr (Dnepropetrovsk). Nothing new, nothing interesting.

Chernomoretz (Odessa) took the 11th place. Standing from left: P. Chilibi, Yu. Smotrich, V. Leshchuk, A. Chistov, V. Golovin, I. Shary.

First row: V. Mashnin, I. Bulankin, G. Shalamay, Yu. Goryachev.

Typical mid-table team – few local heroes, but middle-of-the-road in the big picture. Only Leshchuk remained from the squad winning bronze medals in 1974.

So much the same, that hardly anybody expected something from Dinamo (Minsk). Third row, from left: N. Gorbach, Yu. Trukhon, I. Gurinovich, Vl. Voytzehovich, Al. Golovnya, V. Yanushevsky, Al. Alekseychikov, Yu. Pudyshev, A. Zygmantovich, S. Aleynikov.

Middle row: L. Garay – team chief, V. Arzamastzev – coach, M. Vergeenko, Yu. Popkov, Al. Vanyushkin, Yu. Kurbyko, L. Rumbutis, Al. Voynakh, G. Tzyrkunov, A. Ussenko, L. Vassilevsky – administrator.

Sitting: N. Pavlov, V. Melnikov, I. Belov, S. Gotzmanov, P. Vassilevsky, Al. Prokopenko, G. Kondratyev, Yu. Kurnenin, V. Sokol, G. Kobrenkov.

9th place – more or less, normal for Minsk in a good year. Zygmantovich, Aleynikov, and Gotzmanov were noticed as talented newcomers, pushing their way to the national team of which they became integral part for the most of the 1980s, but the team performed as usual and it was unimaginable that the same squad will conquer the Soviet league in the next year.

11 out of 18 first division clubs played more or less as usual. The top seven must have been different then? Well, not quite.

Shakhter (Donetzk) were 7th – perhaps a tiny bit lower than expected, but in general they continued their solid play and stayed among the best. The good thing about the club was its ability to change smoothly generations without having real stars – something almost impossible for a club located so near Dinamo (Kiev).

CSKA (Moscow) ended 6th with 3 points more than Shakhter. On the surface – good season, for the Army club suffered quite a lot during the 1970s. Yet, it was not a memorable team – it was strange, because CSKA had virtually free hand at picking the best talent of the whole country: universal army service was unavoidable (only those playing for Dinamo organization were relatively safe, for the Police had their own military service, thus, able to keep their players.) CSKA had a handful of good players and even snatched a bright young star from Spartak (Moscow) -Vagiz Khidiatulin – but it was a rag-tag squad: some were getting old and on their way out, others were not able to better themselves. Contrary to its strong final place, the club was actually heading down.

Torpedo (Moscow) was 5th with 38 points. Not bad, but they were similar to CSKA – able to get some good players, but nothing exceptional and largely trying to maintain upper-half position in the league. Traditionally, they were in bad position: the smallest and most vulnerable of the 4 top Moscow clubs.

Dinamo (Moscow) was 4th, but they were similar to CSKA – unable to build a strong team for a long time, despite their privileged position in recruiting. Forth, but… mostly because the league as a whole was not very strong.

Dinamo (Tbilisi) was 3rd. A very distant third… 4 points behind Spartak and not for a second title contenders. Perhaps strange – this was their most glorious season in history, they had wonderful squad, they were perhaps the closest to Dinamo (Kiev) in terms of available talent, they had the best player this year and the top league scorer – Ramaz Shengelia. Seven national team players above… and third. Well, the Georgians were traditionally moody and not very consistent, but most likely the parallel run, leading them to winning the Cup Winners Cup was too much for them and they were unable to preserve top form for the whole year.

Spartak (Moscow) finished confident second – far ahead of Dinamo (Tbilisi), but nothing more. Standing, from left: S. Shevtzov, V. Sochnov, V. Samokhin, R. Dassaev, O. Romantzev, A. Mirzoyan, A. Prudnikov, S. Shavlo, S. Krestenenko.

First row: E. Sidorov, A. Kalashnikov, V. Safronenko, Yu. Gavrilov, F. Cherenkov, S. Rodionov, B. Pozdnyakov, G. Morozov.

Seemingly, that was the best they can do – not their best year, distant second. The lack of true competitiveness was attributed to pre-season losses: players left, but their replacements were not at similar level. The excuse was rather weak: Yartzev left, but the goalscorer was already 33-years old and no longer the same. Others were not even undisputed regulars. The only significant loss was Vagiz Khidiatulin, who moved to CSKA, having been called to Army service. One player, however great – and Khidiatulin was not yet considered great – hardly destroys a team. The problem was different – so far, Spartak had short squad compared to Dinamo (Kiev). Behind the first eleven were rather ordinary players.

That leaves us with the familiar name of Dinamo (Kiev) winning their 10th title, thus, equalizing the record so far held by Spartak. Clearly without a rival this season – Spartak was left 7 points behind. Dinamo lost only 3 matches and won 22 – the only team in the league winning more than 20 games. Superb defense, but not so great attack – a testimony not of defensive approach, but of the physical point-getting style they played at the time.

A record 10th title, achieved much quicker than the 10 title Spartak had, the most consistent club in USSR – already 20 years they were at the top – but there was no big celebration. The reaction was rather cold, giving the impression Dinamo just finished a routine season. In the post-seasonal introduction of the champions not Lobanovsky, but the veteran assistant coach Koman wrote of the team and his words were dry, as nothing happened. The players were introduced largely by numbers – Veremeev got his 6th title, trailing only Muntyan, no longer playing; Blokhin and Buryak – 5 titles; Konkov – 4 times champion, Bessonov and Lozinzky – 3 each; and so on. Instead of praise, reservations were voiced: Khapsalis, Evtushenko, and Boyko apparently had quite a lot to learn. Mikhaylov, Khlus, Dumansky, and Bal – promising youngsters, but let see. Sorokalet, Zhuravlyov, and curiously Viktor Kolotov – well, reserves with ittle contribution. Strangely the captain of the great 1975 team, Kolotov, was not even mentioned among the record makers – he, like Veremeev, also won his 6th title. Some kind of excuse was found for Yury Romensky, the goalkeeper, who missed most of the season because of illness – or rather chronic injury. With caution, only Andrey Bal was praised. The impression from Koman was that the season was not exceptional, may be because there was no stronger opposition. But Dinamo (Kiev) adopted severe and merciless attitude under Lobanovsky and what could be read between the lines was that some of the new champions were already goners or near that – Kolotov, Romensky, Dumansky, Khapsalis – and others had to keep in mind that the boot is ready to kick them too – Lozinsky, Zhuravlyov, Sorokalet. Aging Veremeev and Buryak had to keep in mind they will be dropped without even ‘thank you’ at the first moment somebody younger appears. Well, one after another all of the mentioned disappeared – bitterly, in the case of Buryak – but there was one more side to that: this was not yet the team Lobanovksy envisioned.

Greece I Division

Compared to Second Division, First Division was shiny clean… no strikes here and no reason for striking: after all, first division players were going to be officially professional starting next season. But top flight had its own scandal.

Iraklis (Thessaloniki) finished 8th . Having arguably the biggest star of the time – Hadzipanagis – was not enough for climbing higher, but… mid-table position was good only for relegation. The club was found guilty of fixing games and expelled from the league. One may only wonder who else was fixing games… One may also wonder what would be the status of Hadzipanagis next year – with his lucrative, but restrictive contract, who was obviously a professional player… in non-professional football. And now he was going down to officially non-professional league as what? Professional? Amateur? Go figure. One thing was sure: he was not free to join either big Greek club, or Arsenal (London). Iraklis was not the only club found guilty – Kastoria was penalized too. They had 1 point deducted for fielding illegal player. Compared to fixing matches, small potatoes… but for some reason wide spread and persisting. When and how clubs will learn that using illegal players is easily discovered and readily punished? Apparently, never.

Iraklis saved Apollon (Athens) – normally, they should have been relegated, for they finished 17th . Well, no such luck for the absolute outsiders this season –

A.P.S. Rodos, with their 19 points, were far bellow any other club and finished last. Down to Second Division they went – that is, to their usual dwellings.

Most of the league was pretty much the same as ever:

PAS Giannina still enjoyed the best years of its history and finished 6th. Decline was coming, though.

OFI Crete continued to struggle just to keep a place among the best – they were 11th. Their best years were yet in the unknown future. The club employed Austrian player – Peter Koncilia, the brother of the impressive goalkeeper Friedl Koncilia. OFI also played entirely in black, are very rare kit colour in those years.

The whole fun was at the top of the league. The championship was not only contested to the end, but the season finished without winners: Panathinaikos and AEK were with 45 points each, and Olympiakos and Aris – with 47 each. Play-offs were scheduled to decide the top three teams.

Goal-difference was not a decisive factor in Greece – at least not when medals were at stake. If it was, AEK should have been comfortably 2rd this year. But they had to meet Panathinaikos in one more match – the play-off took place on neutral ground in Pireaus. A goal in the 60th minute by Ore placed AEK 4th and outside international football.

Standing from left: Christos Giannakoulis, Vassilios Konstantinou, Spiros Livathinos, Kostas Antoniou, Anthimos Kapsis, Helmut Kirisits.

First row: Lakis Katsiakos, Juan Jose Ore, Giorgos Delikaris, Christos Yfantidis, Oscar Alvarez.

Panathinaikos had a weak season by their standards, but at the end clinched the bronze medals and a place in the UEFA Cup. As for the itchy foreign-player problems… well 3 are here: Kirisitz (Austria), Ore (Peru), and Alvarez (Argentina). Must be two… so one played as domestic. Soon it will be a problem – in the 1980-81 season, when a new Argentine arrival was registered with Greek papers under the name ‘Boublis’. But so far no scandal and third place in the final table.

The title was decided away from the big Athens-Piraeus stadiums: in Volos. Here Olympiakos met the aspirations of Aris to get away the title. But the team from Thesaloniki lost 0-2, after goals scored in the beggining of the second half by Vaggelis Kousoulakis and Thomas Alstrom.

Excellent season for Aris – they had a chance to win the title for the first time since 1946. Aris had a good squad, even some national team players, but they were a bit short of real class. A tiny difference showed itself at the play-off: Olympiakos scored two quick goals, which were unanswered. Thus, Aris lost its chance – and a chance it was, for if it was to goal-difference, they were behind Olympiakos in the regular season. Not by much, but behind.

Olympiakos added one more title, but it was hardly a memorable season. They struggled fighting with Aris to the end. It was not a season leaving fond memories – even a picture of the team is difficult to find.

This is a photo of the time period, but may be not from 1979-80. The team is rarely mentioned, although some of the players are time-honoured stars of the club – but when it comes to their big achievements different seasons are pointed out. Well known coach lead them to victory – the Yugoslav Todor Veselinovic – but when it comes to big names… his successor Kazimierz Gorski, who came after the end of this season is praised. The squad was full of srong names – Greek (Kyrastas, Kritikopoulos) and foreign (Losada, Rohrbach, Ahlstrom), yet, even players from this squad are usually mentioned as great in the next season (Martin Novoselac, Maik Galakos). One more title, that was all.

England FA Cup

Remarkable English season, because of the extraordinary successes of Nottingham Forest, but it was not all. The FA Cup final added more historic significance. Lowly Orient, 14th in the Second Division reached the ½ finals. Amazing that, but they met Arsenal and lost 0-3. The other ½ final opposed rising West Bromwich Albion to suffering Ipswich Town. Championship and cup tournaments do not share the same logic, yet it was more likely WBA to prevail. But the Tractor Boys won confidently – 3-1. Arsenal vs Ipswich Town at the final. Both eager to win – Arsenal were strong, but had no chances for more than bronze in the championship. The League Cup was also out of their reach – they were eliminated at the ½ finals by Liverpool. Now they had a third chance for victory and naturally wanted it bad. So Ipswich, who had disastrous season and tried to avoid relegation. Their weak season tipped the scales in Arsenal favour – Ipswich had wonderful squad, but underperformed so far. Arsenal on the other hand were in very good form. But predictions do not matter much at English cup finals: whoever plays is determined to win. Terry Neill vs Bobby Robson. Excellent Arsenal players – David O’Leary, Liam Brady, and Frank Stapleton almost at their peak, still rising. Pat Jennings between the goalposts. Grizzled fighters with tons of experience – Sammy Nelson, Par Rice, and David Price. Guys still considered to capable of climbing up to true greatness – Alan Sunderland amd Malcolm Macdonald. Young hopefull Graham Rix at the bench. And Alan Hudson, who was still expected to get his mind on football and fully reveal his talent. Ipswich had largely promising players, who needed to blossom yet and, therefore, to win something at last. Paul Mariner, Brian Talbot, Kevin Beattie, George Burley, John Wark, Roger Osborne (sometimes written Osbourne). Add the constant national team defender Mick Mills at his prime. Bad season they had, but Arsenal were not for a breezy walk against these boys. In front of another 100 000 crowd at Wembley, Arsenal had it tough.

Osborne clears the ball from speedy Brady. However, Ipswich was on the defensive, as the picture may suggest. Same Osborne excelled in attacking too:

Osborne shoots and David O’Leary can’t do anything about it.

Pat Jennings can’t reach the ball either and it ends in the net.

Triumphal players in blue jerseys: Ipswich -1; Arsenal – 0. No other goal was scored and Arsenal finished on their knees.

Mick Mills and Roger Osborne enjoy the Cup. Osborne has all the rights of smiling – he was not a big scorer, but this time he scored – perhaps the most important and memorable goal in his career. He did not finish the match – Robson substituted him in the 78th minute – but he was the great hero of the day nevertheless.

Ipswich won the Cup, completing the extraordinary year with another new name: new champion, new League Cup winner, new FA Cup winner. Ipswich never won the trophy before. They were quite similar to Nottingham – so far, they had a single trophy: the championship title won in 1961-62. First cup and second ever trophy! And what a strange season on top of it – their worst and their best at the same time. Barely escaping relegation, but winning the Cup. Amazing. They saved the season and their victory was well deserved. And to complete the confusion, they left a picture remarkable for its wrongness:

Here are the heroes displaying the Cup. The photo appeared in many publications and somebody made a mistake, which is often repeated to this very day:

Same team, photographed a moment later. This picture was published in Czecholsovakian sports magazine – either Stadion or Start – with the names of players. When exactly was published cannot be established now, but must be shortly after victory. The names are entirely wrong – Osman, Brazil, Butcher, Muhren, and Thijssen did not play at the final. The Dutch imports – Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen – were not in the team yet, but still played in Holland. This is actually a squad of the future… circa 1980. Certainly not Cup winners. May be it was the team of another victory? There is no other victory – the only FA Cup Ipswich ever won was in 1978. If the photo was published shortly after the final, the big mystery is where the names of the Dutch came from? There was no indication yet they will play in England, for no foreigners played in England for many years and actually many people still think England had a ban on imports, lifted in the summer of 1978. Not true, but even if it was, it would be still unknown in May-June. The Dutch were not the only ones prematurely included, but are most representable of the fake which still circulates as truth. A novelty, worth mentioning, but not all that important.

Here is the actual squad for the 1977-78 – no Dutch players, of course, and no Terry Butcher and Alan Brazil either. Happy cup winners, happy to escape relegation and add a trophy to their still very modest collection. To a point, unlikely winners. To a point, the careful team-building of Bobby Robson finally brought fruit. And complete rounding of one of the most unusual English season – all winners were new, all unexpected, all hardly had a history of success.

Welcome to a Never Ending Journey!

Formally, the game of football has a starting date, when the first match in history was played, or when the first club was founded, or maybe when some enthusiast historian decided it firs happened. But the journey began much earlier, much much earlier … And as far as its end – well, you guessed it!