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.