Great Reputations: Slovan Bratislava 1969 – just a touch of irony

IN the late summer of 1968, Russian troops rolled into Czechoslovakia in response to the so-called “Prague Spring” that took place between January and August of that year. The Cold War was raging and the sight of tanks in the picturesque capital city raised fears that the world was on the brink of a global conflict. From a football perspective, the invasion prompted Eastern Bloc countries to withdraw their clubs from UEFA competitions after the governing body ensured they met each other in the first round draws in order to avoid any awkward fixtures.

In the European Cup, this meant clubs like Dynamo Kyiv, Red Star Belgrade and Levski Sofia withdrew, while in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup, Union Berlin, Gorńik Zabrze and Dynamo Moscow, among others, refused to enter. Ironically, Czech clubs – Spartak Trnava in the European Cup and Slovan Bratislava in the Cup-Winners’ Cup, both took part.

Eastern bloc clubs were difficult opponents in European competition, but only in the Inter-Cities Fairs’ Cup had an eastern European club won a trophy. In 1968-69, Slovan Bratislava emerged triumphant in the Cup-Winners’ Cup, surprise winners in a still relatively strong field of clubs.

Momentum

Slovan had won the Czechoslovakian Cup in 1967-68, beating Dukla Prague over two legs. They had also finished runners-up to rivals Spartak Trnava in the league, finishing five points behind the champions. They were coached by Michal Vičan, an advocate of tight defending and fast, simple football that wore-down Slovan’s opponents. The 1967-68 season was the second in a three-year run in which Slovan were runners-up in the Czechoslovak First League – the club had last been champions in 1955, but they were one of the most popular teams with crowds averaging over 15,000 at the Tehelné pole stadium.

Slovan’s team included more than half a dozen players who would be included in the Czechoslavakia squad for the 1970 World Cup. It was a mix of youth and experience, including the giant highly respected defender Alexander Horváth who captained his country in Mexico. Generally, the quality of Czech squad was underrated, but their national team had disposed of Hungary and Portugal in the qualifying group for 1970.

Similarly, very few people expected Slovan to be in with a chance of winning the Cup-Winners’ Cup. The British contenders, West Bromwich Albion and Dunfermline Athletic were ahead of them as possible winners and there was Barcelona, Köln, Porto and Torino also in the pack. Slovan’s first opponents were Yugoslavian side FK Bor, who had qualified for the competition by default after losing to double winners Red Star Belgrade 7-0 in the cup final. Bor, who won promotion to the Yugoslav first league in 1968, were beaten 3-0 in Bratislava and had Slovan very worried in the second leg, winning 2-0.

Into the second round, Slovan pulled off an resounding 4-1 aggregate victory against a Porto side that would push Benfica to the limit in Portugal in 1968-69. Slovan lost the first leg in Porto 1-0, but they bounced back in style, winning 4-0 with the Čapkovič twins, Ján and Jozef, on the scoresheet.

The quarter-finals paired Slovan with Torino, a hard task as the Italians were virtually unbeatable at home. But Slovan won 1-0 thanks to a goal from midfielder Karol Jokl and the second leg saw them win 2-1 in front of almost 21,000 people at Tehelné pole.

The last four included Scottish side Dunfermline, Barcelona and Köln. When the names came out of the hat. Both Dunfermline manager George Farm and Slovan’s Michel Vičan must have breathed a sigh of relief. The Scots had unexpectedly beaten West Bromwich Albion in the last eight and were arguably the third best side in Scotland after the Glasgow “old firm”. They also rarely lost at East End Park, their home ground, where the first leg took place.

Impressive

Slovan were impressive in every department and it was a surprise when Jim Fraser gave Dunfermline the lead just before half-time. Patiently, Slovan took control and equalised five minutes from time through Ján Čapkovič, who later hit the crossbar as the visitors went in search of a winner. A 1-1 draw wasn’t a good result for Farm’s team. And so it proved, for Slovan won 1-0 in Bratislava, Ján Čapkovič scoring again after Ladislav Móder’s shot was parried by goalkeeper Willie Duff.

Barcelona awaited the winners, with the game scheduled for Basel’s St. Jakob-Stadion on May 21. They were overwhelming favourites, but this was not a classic Barca line-up and they hadn’t won the Spanish league title since 1960. They won the Spanish Cup in 1968 by beating Real Madrid 1-0 but in 1968-69, they went out of the competition cheaply and were pushed into third place in the league by Real and Las Palmas. Barcelona were going through a crisis of confidence in the late 1960s and losing to Slovan would make matters worse.

It was a memorable evening in Basel for Czechoslovakian football. Vičan’s team went for Barcelona from the start and after just two minutes, 30 year-old striker L’udovít Cvetler, a member of Czechoslavakia’s Olympic silver medallists, gave them the lead, a tame finish after the Barca defence had failed to clear the ball. Barca had problems dealing with Slovan’s direct runs into the area throughout the game.

Barca levelled after 16 minutes when José Antonio Zaldúa netted from close range as the ball was headed back across the penalty box. But Slovan kept attacking and another run through the middle ended with Vladimír Hrivnák shooting past Barca keeper Sadurní after 29 minutes. In the 42nd minute, it became 3-1 when Ján Čapkovič found himself in a one-on-one situation and he calmly sent his shot round the keeper. Barca were stunned, but pulled one back with Carles Rexach, a future acolyte of Johan Cruyff, scored direct from a corner – Slovan keeper Aleksander Vencel claimed he had been deceived by the floodlights – seven minutes into the second half.

Slovan held on to win 3-2, creating a landmark achievement for Czechoslovakian football. Bizarrely, Slovan captain Horváth received the trophy pitch-side without his shirt, suggesting the celebrations had already started. The city of Bratislava enjoyed the victory and Slovan continued their success with a league title win in 1970 and were narrowly denied a double when they lost the cup final on penalties. Halcyon days on the banks of the Danube.

@GameofthePeople

Photos: PA

Dynamo Kiev 1975 – the Soviet school of science

YOU ONLY need see pictures of Chernobyl to understand what happens when science goes wrong. The world’s greatest nuclear disaster took place 150km from Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine and in 1986, part of the USSR. Science and the Soviets went hand-in-hand and a scientific approach, needless to say, was also applied to its sport and, in particular, football.

Kiev represented the heart of Soviet football. Indeed, in the mid-1970s, Dynamo Kiev represented the USSR as a nation. In this period, the great British public knew little about Kiev – it was synonymous with chicken, lending its name to the highly sophisticated dish of the decade. Music fans, of both classical and rock genres, would also have been familiar with Kiev through Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, also adapted by progressive rock giants Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Kiev was the birthplace of Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel, and Igor Sigorsky, the inventor of the helicopter. And on November 5, 1952, Oleg Blokhin, one of the USSR’s greatest footballers, was born in Kiev.

When anyone selects an all-time USSR XI, Blokhin is invariably named alongside legends like Lev Yashin, Albert Shesternev and Valentin Ivanov. Between 1973 and 1975, he was Soviet Player of the Year, and in the six seasons between 1972 and 1977, he was top scorer in all but one.

Blokhin proved that “Russian” footballers could have charisma and flair

At his peak, Blokhin was outstanding. In 1975, he was named European Footballer of the Year. The west was slightly surprised. Why? First of all, we were not too concerned about what happened in the USSR, apart from its cold war activities and the depiction of Russians in John Le Carre novels. Secondly, we considered that Russians (they were all Russian rather than Ukrainian, Georgian etc) produced robotic sportsmen who lacked charisma, excitement and flair. Blokhin proved that was not the case.

He easily won the 1975 Ballon d’Or, securing 122 points, 80 ahead of second-placed Franz Beckenbauer. No less than 20 of the 26 voters named Blokhin as the first choice. There were comparisons between Blokhin and the man who had stood astride European football for the previous few years, Johan Cruyff. Blokhin was the Cruyff of the Steppes.Ten months after being named Europe’s finest player, Blokhin had still not received his trophy, which may have had more to do with East-West relations than UEFA inefficiency.

Before 1975, we knew very little about Blokhin, or his Dynamo Kiev side. In 1971 they won the Russian league playing front of an average of 60,000 people per home game. They finished runners-up for the next two years and in 1974, under coach Valery Lobanovskyi, they were champions again. But such was the Russian football calendar, they were not eligible for the European Cup until 1975-76. In the meantime, as winners of the Russian Cup in 1974, they entered the European Cup-Winners Cup in 1974-75.

Lobanovskyi, formerly a plumber and engineer, adopted a deep analytical approach to the game, studying his players to the extreme. He partnered with Anatoly Zelentsov, a sports scientist, who worked at the Soviet Union’s Institute of Physical Education. As well as measuring performance, Lobanovskyi and Zelentsov built their ethos on the belief that the eradication of errors would build a very successful team. Underpinning this was a strategy of winning all home games and drawing away. It was a code that was adopted across football, way beyond the USSR.

Lobanovskyi was the master of realising ideas

When asked how this all impacted the players, Zelentsov said: “We evaluate the functional readiness of players and how their potential can be realised. And we influence players in a natural way – we form them following the scientific recommendations. With the help of the modelling, we assemble the ‘bricks’ and create the ‘skeleton’ of the team.” Blokhin, whose relationship with Lobanovskyi was never more than ‘professional’, was one of the beneficiaries of this regime, becoming faster – he could run the 100m in 11 seconds – and more tactically aware.

Zelentsov gave huge credit to Lobanovskyi for Kiev’s success. Some years later, he commented: “Ideas are good, but most important is to realise them in practice. Valery is the unsurpassed master in the realisation of ideas. What’s more, he does it in his own way.”

Lobanovskyi’s way was not far removed from the “Total Football” invented by the Dutch a few years earlier. In Jonathan Wilson’s excellent Inverting the Pyramid, he explains that Lobanovskyi called his version “universality” in that he wanted his forwards to defend and his defenders to attack. Lobanovskyi and Zelentsov devised chess-like set pieces that players practised incessantly.

Technically, the Kiev players were well-schooled, fit and skilful, and in 1975, the fruits of their labour could be seen by a wider audience as they won the Russian league and the European Cup-Winners Cup.

CSKA Sofia, then a very tough outfit, were beaten in the first round 2-0 on aggregate, and then Eintracht Frankfurt (5-3), Buraspor (3-0) and PSV Eindhoven were all disposed of as Kiev reached the final in Basle.

Their opponents were another Eastern Bloc club in the form of Hungary’s Ferencvaros. The final had not won over the Swiss public and on the eve of the match, only 4,000 tickets had been sold. It was hinted that Oleg Blokhin may not be fit enough to play and that Kiev had something of an injury crisis. Blokhin, Volodymyr Onyschenko and Vladimir Muntyan had all received knocks in a recent league game against Ararat Erevan. Blokhin had been under intense treatment since arriving in Switzerland, said the Soviet press.

There was a degree of kidology involved, because when Dynamo lined-up in Basel, their team was at full strength:

In goal, was the giant Evgeniy Rudakov, a 33 year-old who had played in the European Championship final of 1972 and also in the Olympics in Munich later that year. A Moscovite, he was twice nominated in the Ballon d’Or in his career. Vladimir Troshkin (28), was another member of the 1972 USSR side. He played for the Yenakiieve Chemical Plant before joining Kiev. Viktor Matvienko (26) came from Zaporizhia in the Ukraine. He won 21 caps for USSR between 1971 and 1972. Stefan Reshko (28) played for the USSR in the 1976 Olympics and won 15 caps overall. Mikhail Fomenko (26) played for Kiev between 1972-79 and won 24 caps for the USSR. In midfield, Vladimir Muntyan (28) was an acrobatic player who featured in the 1970 World Cup. He only played for one club, Dynamo Kiev, and won 49 caps for the USSR. He is frequently named among the best players of the Soviet Union years. Anatoliy Konkov (25) was the hard man in midfield. He joined Kiev from Shakhtar Donetsk and played 47 times for the USSR. He was also in the USSR squad for the 1972 European Championships. Leonid Buryak (21) was the youngest in the team. He was the only Jew in the squad. Viktor Kolatov (25) played 54 times for the USSR. A midfielder who was signed from Rubin Kazan, he featured in the 1972 and 1972 Olympics and the 1972 European Championship. Striker Voldomymyr Onyschenko (25) became a Soviet legend and played 44 times for the USSR, scoring 11 goals. He also featured in the two Olympic sides and Euro 1972. Oleg Blokhin (22), the winner of 112 caps (42 goals) and eight titles and five cups. Arguably the greatest Soviet player in history. Of the team that started against Ferencvaros, eight went on to have top coaching careers. 

Muscular comrades honed by science and technology

Ferencvaros had beaten Cardiff City, Liverpool, Malmo and Red Star Belgrade on their way to the final. They had Tibor Nyilasi in their side, but they were not the Fradi of old, by any means. They would finish third in the Hungarian top division in 1974-75, way behind Budapest rivals Ujpest and Honved.

Pre-match predictions suggested that Dynamo Kiev would be too strong for Ferencvaros, and so it proved. The Fradi defence was slow moving and once Kiev had established control, they were seemingly content to play at walking pace.

The Times commented that the outcome, a 3-0 victory for the Soviets was “little short of embarrassing…a sterile match in front of three quarters empty St.Jakob’s Park.

Blokhin created the first goal of the game for Onyschenko in the 18th minute. In the 39th minute, he scored again, cutting inside a sending a long range shot into the top corner, thanks to some slack goalkeeping.

Blokhin netted the third with a slick finish on 67 minutes, receiving the ball just inside the penalty area, cleverly slipping it past a defender and then rounding the keeper to slide the ball home. The commentators suggested that this young Dynamo Kiev side could become the next force in Europe. It didn’t quite work out like that, but they did beat Bayern Munich in the UEFA Super Cup later in 1975.

Lobanovskyi and the government saw Dynamo Kiev as the epitome of everything that was good in Soviet sport – muscular comrades honed by science and technology. A month or so before the Cup-Winners Cup final, Lobanovskyi, who was also the USSR manager, fielded an entire Dynamo Kiev side as the national team. It was an experiment to show that international managers were at a disadvantage in trying to build team spirit and continuity. It was quickly aborted, not because his team was not good enough to perform the task, but because the political ramifications of a team mostly comprising Ukrainians representing the USSR.

Nevertheless, the concept was not lost on the international media. In Britain, for example, World Soccer, among others, championed the idea that a team built around, for example, Liverpool, could represent England. Ron Greenwood tried it, without success.

Dynamo Kiev did achieve European success again in 1986 when they lifted the European Cup-Winners Cup again. Once more, this was accompanied by great expectations for the USSR national team, but in Mexico that year, Blokhin and his team-mates flickered brightly before being surprisingly beaten, which really sums up the whole Soviet football experience.

Main photo: Alamy

 

Forever blowing bubbles – West Ham’s mid-60s heroes


ON THE London Fenchurch Street railway line out to Essex there was a building that resembled a mill of some sort, alongside a canal. On the wall of this mill was scrawled, “West Ham United – World Cup winners 1966”. It may still be there today, but it’s doubtful given the amount of building and demolition that’s taken place in East London down the years.

This short statement was the calling card of a club that provided almost a third of England’s most successful football team. The holy trinity of Moore – Hurst – Peters was as important to West Ham as the Best – Charlton – Law triumvirate was to Manchester United. In the mid-1960s, if you wanted to watch good football, Upton Park was the place to go.

And for a while, good football became successful soccer. West Ham had in their ranks the England captain and the two men who scored the four goals that won the World Cup. The fact that they kept this trio together until 1970 says a lot about the club and what it meant to players. Managed by Ron Greenwood, a football purist heavily influenced by the Mighty Magyars of Hungary, West Ham’s approach wasn’t always frtuitful, but it delighted the neutral.

Moore to the point

West Ham reportWest Ham returned to the first division in 1958 as second division champions, but didn’t make much of an impact on the top flight. That said, they did start to build a culture of highly educated football with many of their players meeting “after hours” to discuss tactics and formations, using salt and pepper pots in a local café to illustrate their ideas. It was no coincidence that many West Ham players, like Dave Sexton, Noel Cantwell, Malcolm Allison and John Bond, went on to have successful managerial and coaching careers.

Ted Fenton, the manager who took them up, left the club in mysterious circumstances in March 1961 and Ron Greenwood was appointed as his successor. Greenwood moved from Arsenal, where he had been assistant manager to George Swindin.

In his first season in charge, 1961-62, Greenwood took the Hammers to eighth place. The following campaign was disappointing and West Ham dropped to below mid-table, despite the club signing Johnny Byrne from Crystal Palace for a record transfer fee of £ 65,000. But in 1962-63, West Ham’s team started to take shape, with the introduction of Martin Peters, who Greenwood described as “virtually the complete player”. In 1962, Bobby Moore made his England debut to begin a long and distinguished career with the national team. West Ham were starting to acquire a reputation for being the great entertainers.

Greenwood was building a team around players like Moore and investing in a very fruitful youth system. He had a plan: “When I first went to West Ham they employed inside-forwards and wing-halves, but eventually we changed our system to a flat back four to encourage Bobby to play – he was the lynchpin. We set standards because we had players capable of it…. Our full-backs would push up and get forward. In fact, they were more attacking than some present-day wingers… At the back, Bobby could read along the line and cover the whole area. Everyone was tight going forward and Bobby played loose, free, behind everyone else, and the team could go forward with the confidence Bobby was always behind them, reading anything coming through, mopping up. It was a joy to watch him play.”

Boyce and the boys

West Ham United 1964-65 First Team with the F.A. Cup and the F.A. Charity Shield

 

In 1963-64, West Ham still laboured in the league. They started the season well, including a 2-1 win at champions-elect Liverpool, but a poor spell in mid-season, including a 2-8 home defeat at the hands of Blackburn, sent them tumbling down the table. On their day, they could beat the best – they actually completed the double over Liverpool – including wins against European Cup Winners Cup winners Tottenham (4-0), FA Cup holders Manchester United (1-0) and reigning champions Everton (4-2). Equally, they were frequently a “soft touch” for the ultra-professional sides emerging at the time.

The FA Cup was the competition that kept the season bubbling along and the Hammers beat London neighbours Charlton and Leyton Orient in round three and four. Swindon and Burnley were disposed of next, setting up a semi-final at a muddy Hillsborough with Manchester United. Two goals from Ronnie Boyce and one from Geoff Hurst surprisingly beat United 3-1 to send West Ham to Wembley.

West Ham would meet second division Preston North End in the final. Greenwood’s men were clearly favourites but they made hard work of overcoming a team that included then the youngest player to appear in a FA Cup final in Howard Kendall. They had youngsters of their own, however, including Boyce and 17 year-old John Sissons, who had featured in the Hammers’ successful 1963 FA Youth Cup winning side.

Preston twice took the lead, but Sissons and Hurst levelled each time. West Ham didn’t play well, in fact Bobby Moore commented that the Hammers’ team felt let-down because they failed to produce their best football. Boyce won the day, however, scoring in the closing seconds after veteran Peter Brabrook had floated the ball invitingly into the penalty area. “I’m forever blowing bubbles,” was heard at Wembley for the first time. West Ham fans revelled in the club’s first piece of silverware. It was “light and bitter” and jellied eels all round, to the tune of “Knees up mother Brown” in the old East End – not to mention that giant wooden hammer that accompanied the players as they embarked on their lap of honour around Wembley.

What was interesting about that 1963-64 side was that only three players, goalkeeper Jim Standen (Luton Town), winger Brabrook (Chelsea) and Byrne (Palace) had come from other clubs. Bond, Jack Burkett, Eddie Bovington, Ken Brown, Moore, Boyce, Hurst and Sissons were all home grown. They were also all English.

 

West Ham United celebrate with the European Cup Winners’ Cup: (back row, l-r) Joe Kirkup, Alan Sealey, Jim Standen, Bobby Moore, Ronnie Boyce, Ken Brown (front row, l-r) Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst, John Sissons, Jack Burkett

Twin Towers revisited


West Ham were back again in 1965 in the European Cup Winners Cup final. The Hammers enjoyed Europe and midweek games against foreign opposition, under the Upton Park lights, were always special. Greenwood, a student of continental football, relished the opportunity to pit his wits against overseas coaches. The first round of the competition paired West Ham with La Gantoise of Belgium. Boyce was the match winner in Ghent as the Hammers clinched the first leg 1-0, going through eventually by 2-1 on aggregate. Sparta Prague were beaten in round two 3-2 on aggregate, a 2-0 home win and 1-2 away defeat. The came Lausanne (6-4 on aggregate) and Real Zaragoza in the semi-final. Brian Dear and Byrne gave the Hammers a 2-1 win in the first leg against the Spanish side and Sissons netted in a 1-1 draw in Spain to send West Ham through to the final, where they would meet TSV Munich 1860.

The West Ham side had changed little. In at full back was Joe Kirkup, another product of the club’s successful youth set-up, strikers Alan Sealey, formerly of Leyton Orient, and youth graduate Brian “Stag” Dear, were also included in the final. Martin Peters also came into the team.

At Wembley, West Ham put on a superb display of football steeped in Greenwood’s values. Their free-flowing style produced attack after attack and could have resulted in a more comprehensive win than the 2-0 final score. Both goals were scored by Sealey, who enjoyed the finest moment of his career. The woodwork was struck a couple of times and Munich keeper Petar Radenkovic prevented a more emphatic result. Greenwood was ecstatic, claiming, “Everything we believed in came true in that match.” Bobby Moore said at the time: “We had the experience of Wembley from 1964 and that made us a little more relaxed. This was one of the best games of the era at Wembley, we played a lot of good football against a very strong opponent.”

Route 66

Moore, Hurst and Peters experienced their country’s greatest sporting moment when they were all in the 1966 World Cup final side. But in 1965-66 West Ham finished 12th and remained a team for cup competitions. They almost got through to a second successive European Cup Winners Cup final but lost to Borussia Dortmund in the semi-finals. And they reached the last two-legged Football League Cup semi-final, losing to West Bromwich Albion 3-5 on aggregate, after winning the first leg at Upton Park by 2-1. They were highly respected and much-loved around the country for their style of football. The Moore – Hurst – Peters partnership broke up in 1970 when Peters left for Tottenham. Hurst went to Stoke in 1972 and Moore departed in 1974 for Fulham. Their names are synonymous with a glorious chapter for both West Ham and England. Well, didn’t “yer actual ‘ammers” win the World Cup?

Photos: PA