In part 2 of our series on unfamiliar clubs having their name etched on European trophies, we look back at one of the finest teams to come out of the Soviet Union.
BY MARK GODFREY
One could be forgiven for thinking that the pulsating 2015 UEFA Super Cup final between Barcelona and Sevilla is the most memorable thing to have happened to football in Georgia, and more specifically the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, since its construction (as the Lenin Dinamo Stadium) in 1976. And while the nine goal, thrilling end-to-end spectacle played out by Lionel Messi and the lesser mortals of La Liga no doubt wowed the locals who never could have expected such a prestigious event to be staged in the small Caucasus republic, their true heroes come from a time when the might of the Soviet Union (of which Georgia was one of 15 members) was a match for almost anyone throughout the continent.
As the name suggests, Dinamo Tbilisi enjoyed the backing of the of the Soviet state as part of the union-wide network of Dinamo sporting clubs; from football to athletics, ice hockey, basketball, volleyball and others, they benefitted heavily from the patronage and influence of the government’s secret police. As such, when the Soviet Top league was established in 1936, the Tbilisi club were immediately one of its leading lights, despite being from the periphery of the vast Communist-ruled territory. They were the first to break the Moscow-Kiev title dominance in 1964 and repeated the feat 14 years later when the championship was known as the Supreme League.
The late 1970s was undoubtedly Dinamo Tbilisi’s greatest era. As well as bring crowned Soviet champions in 1978, they came close in both of the preceding seasons. With domestic success comes European qualification, and their finest hour (to that point at least) came in 1979 when Liverpool – the best that England and Europe could offer at the time – were seen off 4-2 on aggregate in the first round of the European Cup; estimates of between 90,000 and 120,000 were inside the Dinamo Lenin Stadium to witness Tbilisi’s shock 3-0 second leg victory. Their reward was a tie with Kevin Keegan’s Hamburger SV. They couldn’t repeat the heroics of the first round, convincingly beaten over both legs by the eventual runners-up.
Knockout football agreed with Nodar Akhalkatsi’s team though; they won the Soviet Cup in 1976 and 1979 and just failed to defend that, losing the final to Shakhtar Donetsk in 1980. Cup kings Dinamo represented the USSR in the European Cup Winners Cup in 1980/81.
The now-defunct Cup Winners Cup was often regarded as the least meritorious of the European trophies behind the Champions Cup and the UEFA Cup, which was renowned for the strength in depth of its entrants. This may have been a fair assessment; many European domestic cup competitions have never been approached by the big clubs with the same reverence as our own FA Cup is, therefore throwing up some unfancied and unusual winners to compete in the following season’s Cup Winners Cup. Yet, if you look at the list of winners, plenty of top clubs tasted success in the competition during its 39 year history.
The big names in the hat for the first round included Celtic, West Ham United, Feyenoord, Benfica and Roma. Also involved, bizarrely, were Real Madrid’s reserve team Castilla; they reached the 1980 Copa del Rey final only to lose it to the Primera Division champions – Real Madrid. So, while the first team set about trying to win their seventh European Cup, and first since 1966 (they lost in the final to Liverpool), their second string failed to get past West Ham in the first round.
Dinamo Tbilisi began their campaign with a low-key affair against the Greek club Kastoria; a goalless first leg in northern Greece was followed by a 2-0 win in front of another packed house in the Georgian capital.
Although previously less well-respected as Valeriy Lobanovskiy’s Dinamo Kiev or the Moscow clubs, Dinamo Tbilisi had a reputation for attacking football and their team was littered with players who were not only used to domestic success, but had plenty of Soviet international caps to validate their undoubted and, to the rest of Europe, uncharted ability; the stars being David Kipiani, Ramaz Shengelia, Vitaly Daraselia and Aleksandr Chivadze.
Round 2 was a relative cakewalk as Ireland’s Waterford United were despatched with ease, 5-0 on aggregate. This facile success propelled the Georgians into the March quarter-finals where they were paired with the English FA Cup winners, West Ham.
John Lyall’s side were still in the Second Division but were on their way to the title and promotion, including – as they did – the England midfielder and scorer of the winner in the previous year’s FA Cup final Trevor Brooking as well as other internationals Phil Parkes, Billy Bonds, Alvin Martin, Ray Stewart and Alan Devonshire. In front of a packed Boleyn Ground, Dinamo danced merrily around the leaden-footed Hammers on a gluey pitch in the first leg, coming away with a comprehensive and unassailable 4-1 lead to take back behind the Iron Curtain. West Ham – a club renowned for producing attractive footballing teams – were not just picked apart, they were dissected with all the clinical micro-precision of a neuro-surgeon. Chivadze and Shengelia were particularly impressive, the former – a centre half with superb technique – kicked the scoring off with a 30 yard pearler in the first half. That the east Londoners won the second leg in Georgia 1-0 was of little consequence, the tie was won a fortnight earlier with the football lesson Dinamo dished out.
And so to the semi-finals: the draw produced a pair of David vs. Goliath ties. Well, kind of. Dinamo Tbilisi had to face the Dutch club Feyenoord while in the other tie, traditional European royalty Benfica were handed the seemingly easy task of dispatching the unfancied East Germans, Carl Zeiss Jena. However, this was the Cup of Cup winners and therefore the subsequent upsets should have come as little surprise.
Just as the Portuguese giants were slain by one Eastern Bloc team, Dinamo matched their achievement, by winning the first leg at home (3-0) and then hanging on in the second in Rotterdam, losing 2-0.
1981 was the year of the underdog, but to be more precise, it was the year of the unheralded. Freedom of information was not one of Communism’s strongest suits so very few people knew much about either side, although plenty in England – especially those connected to Liverpool and West Ham – had come to appreciate the slick, fluid movement and distribution of Akhalkatsi’s Dinamo Tbilisi.
The final was held in West Germany, at Dusseldorf’s Rheinstadion – an arena that had a capacity of 76,000. Sadly, just 4,750 people attended one of European football’s premier end-of-season finales; if freedom of information was one of Communism’s biggest sticking points then freedom of movement (for the fans) was certainly up there with it. The game failed to entice the locals either and there certainly wasn’t the ‘corporate’ clamour for finals tickets as there is for today’s UEFA showpieces. One must remember, though, that this was a different time; suspicion and mistrust was rife at the height of the Cold War between east and west and these two footballing enigmas, with names and faces unfamiliar, were here to display their dominance – all on the Bundesrepublik’s front lawn; the very same ‘lawn’ that so many Presidents, Prime Ministers, Generals and Comrades planned to use for their war games whenever the balloon went up.
Unsurprisingly, Dinamo were the favourites on account of their recent pedigree and very evident quality. But Carl Zeiss Jena were nothing if not stubborn and this, as so many European finals do, turned out to be a rather stodgy final where the silky skills of Shengelia, Kipiani, Gutsaev and Daraselia never flourished in the same way they had against Liverpool and West Ham.
Indeed, they went behind mid-way through the second half when the failure to clear a fairly innocuous cross led to Gerhard Hoppe drilling the ball home for the East German side. Parity was restored just four minutes later, however; typical panache from Shengelia saw him hurdle two lunging tackles around the Jena penalty area before sliding the perfect pass to Gutsaev who drilled a low shot past the keeper at his near post.
Dinamo went on the offensive, trying to secure the Cup before the need for extra time or penalties – a long range effort by Nodar Khizinashvili (father of former Rangers and Blackburn Rovers defender Zurab Khizinashvili) amongst a host of other chances that came close. The goal that sealed glory for Dinamo was a beauty and just in the nick of time on 86 minutes. Vitaly Daraselia picked the ball up on the left hand edge of the penalty area. First he zigged, then he zagged, moving ominously towards goal leaving Carl Zeiss Jena defenders sprawled on the turf in his wake. Then he unleashed a rasping toe-poked shot which flew into the net to give his club – and the Georgian people – their greatest night in football. It was a stunning solo goal, so reminiscent of Ricky Villa’s much-lauded winner in the FA Cup final for Tottenham Hotspur in the same year. The fact that Villa’s more famous slaloming effort took place 24 hours AFTER Daraselia’s dramatic feat just emphasises how insignificant the 1981 European Cup Winners Cup final was at the time and has remained ever since.
Unbelievably, Dinamo Tbilisi’s time at the top was over, just as it seemed to be beginning. For the remainder of the Soviet era, they failed to win another piece of silverware either domestically or abroad and by the middle of the 1980s they were struggling to even qualify for European competition – something that was unthinkable just a few years earlier. Of the team that appeared in Dusseldorf in the Cup Winners Cup final, four made the USSR’s 1982 World Cup squad. Most notably Aleksandr Chivadze and Ramaz Shengelia, whose goals helped to condemn Scotland to yet another group stage exit when the two met in a deciding match in Malaga.
In 1989, Dinamo played their last game under the Soviet system, drawing 2-2 with Dinamo Kiev. The result provided the club with a certain symmetry to end their days before playing in the newly-formed Georgian National League – it was the very same result and opponent they had faced in their first ever Soviet League game back in September 1936.
Since independence from the former Soviet Union, Dinamo have been crowned champions of Georgia on a record 15 occasions and have won the Georgian Cup 12 times – also a record. They have also had a hand in developing most of the country’s finest players of modern times – Shota Arveladze, Giorgi Kinkladze and Temuri Ketsbaia to name just a few. But even they cannot live up to the achievements of the great Dinamo players of the late 70s and early 80s who seemed to come from total obscurity to become one of Europe’s most bewitching football teams.