Second Division attracted little interest outside Italy perhaps of the nature of the clubs playing there – it was a large league, 20 team strong, most of which played in the First Division often. Of all 1977-78 second division clubs perhaps only Rimini and Sambenedettese never played top flight. The rest moved up and down frequently, most never making any strong impression. Two names were interesting – Cagliari and Sampdoria. Some hard luck, some unwise decisions, may be money problems. Sampdoria was not exactly famous club yet, but still one normally to be found in the first league. As for Cagliari… they were champions of Italy at the down of the decade. The great Riva led them. The national team included quite a large group of his teammates. But… it was already in the past. The club gradually went down, finally to second division. Sampdoria finished 8th this season, but Cagliari was way down – 12th and only 4 points above relegation zone. As for relegation itself, in a league consisting of small clubs, it was equally possible some playing first division football only a few seasons ago to be really weak by now and vice versa. Modena was the absolute outsider this year, finishing last with 20 points – 11 points less than the 19th placed Como. Como lagged three points behind Cremonese, which was the only club trying to escape relegation to the end. The drama of the second division was relative parity – there was no great point difference between neighbours. Practically 8 clubs fretted over relegation and at the end Cremonese got the short stick by a point, but curiously went down with better goal-difference than 5 clubs above them. Cagliari also finished with curious goal-difference: they managed to escape relegation, which itself does not speak for great performance, yet, they finished with positive goal-difference and were the second highest scoring team in the league. Unfortunately, second they were in the other department too – only Modena allowed more goals in their net than Cagliari.
The drama of second division football is specific anywhere, simply because there are not really great teams playing there, but in Italy it is almost impossible to grasp it: the long tradition of defensive football made it both simple and difficult to judge – clearly, the ‘philosophy’ was aim at winning at home and try for a tie on the road. But this was the general approach of the whole Italian football for almost 20 years, so unlike other countries, here it can’t be easily said how good or bad were the clubs. The number of the draws can safely tell one thing only: a team with less than 10 ties would be either at the very top or at the very bottom. Only two clubs ended with fewer than 10 ties this year: Modena, dead last, and Ascoli, first. And both clubs built vast chasm between themselves and the rest – Modena 11 points behind the next weakest club; Ascoli 7 points above the second placed team. Everybody else had plenty of ties – from 10 (Pistoiese, 16th) to 17 (Brescia, 14th) – but there was not a single club with 50% or more of their games ending in a tie. Which may have been a tiny sign of changing the dreadful catenaccio mentality. Fierce competition, however: from the 11th placed at the end, half of the league had a chance for winning promotion – 6 points divided the 11th (Taranto, 38 points, ending there because of worse goal-difference) and second placed Catanzaro with 44 points (also getting their place thanks to goal-difference, but better one). Since the number of ties was pretty much equal, the difference came from numbers of wins and losses – no matter how defensive one’s game was, still wins counted most. Monza and Ternana won 14 matches each and finished just outside promotion zone – 4th and 5th, each with 42 points. The lucky ones also had equal points – 44. Avellino got the third place – they had 15 victories and second-best record of losses – only 9 – but weak goal-difference: 34-29. Avellino scored less than a goal per game on average – only in Italy a team with so weak striking record can be a winner. Let’s face it – out of 20 clubs, only 5 scored a goal per match or more this year.
Similar was the mood in Catanzaro, the small town in Calabria.
Second place after grueling season, thanks to 16 wins – the second best number in the league. Third best attack, but rather weak defense – 5th worst! But winning and scoring propelled them up, edging Avellino at the end.
So far, the greatest season ever for Catanzaro was 1965-66, when they reached the Italian Cup final. Their first promotion to First Division came in 1971 after play-off with Bari. Did not last long in Serie A… just a season. Bounced back up in 1976, but were relegated again. This time they came back right away, hoping to stay a little longer among the best at their third attempt.
The best of all were Ascoli.
No luck, no questions, no doubts – Ascoli were clearly supreme. 26 wins was astonishing number – the next best record was 16! Ascoli lost only 3 matches – the next best was Catanzaro with 9. They also tied only 9 games – it was clearly attacking team, well prepared and head and shoulders above the competition. The strikers scored 73 goals – 21 more than the second best attack, Cagliari. The defense was not exceptional, yet not bad at all – they allowed 30 goals in 38 championship games. Five clubs had better record than the champions, but it did not matter at all – the strength of h team was lethal attack. With 61 points, Ascoli left the nearest clubs 7 points behind.
One more small club trying to fit in Serie A. This was their second attempt – they debuted in 1974, but were relegated in 1976. To date, 1977-78 was their most successful year – winning Serie B for the first time ever. Small clubs have little to brag about, so second division champions was great success. A trophy at last.
Happy winners, although it was clear that the promoted clubs were not going to be great addition to the top league. Fighting for survival was their future – but it was future. Presently, it was just bliss.