What were the crucial games that helped Zbrojovka Brno claim their only league championship?
From a rout of the pre-season favourites through to a vital draw in the shadow of the Tatra mountains, here are five ties that were instrumental in ensuring that Josef Masopust’s charges finished top of the 1977-78 Czechoslovak First League.
Zbrojovka Brno 5-1 Lokomotíva Košice (28.08.1977)
Brno’s rout of Košice laid down an early marker and set the tone of things to come.
The eastern Slovaks had finished just one place and two points behind Zbrojovka the previous season and their visit to Lužánky looked to be a good early barometer of both side’s title credentials. Instead of the close, free-scoring encounter (with perennial Golden Boot winner Ladislav Józsa upfront, Košice boasted one of the best forward lines in the country) that many likely would have predicted, the game turned out to be a one-sided rout.
Zbrojovka blew Košice off the park. Jan Kopenec opened the scoring, before his counterpart out wide, Petr Janečka, made it two on the half-hour mark. Midfielders Josef Pešice and Vítězslav Kotásek made it four with goals either side of halftime. The only person not to score by this point was Karel Kroupa, but the striker got his goal with two minutes left to play.
After a breathtaking ninety minutes of football, Brno had put in what was perhaps their most complete team performance of the Masopust era and given Košice’s fearsome forward line a lesson in attacking football.
The victory marked the start of a twelve-game unbeaten streak, characterised by similarly high-scoring victories – a run that ultimately transformed Zbrojovka from dark horses into bona fide title contenders.
Zbrojovka 5-2 Slavia Prague (23.10.1978)
If the thrashing of Košice hinted at things to come, the 5-2 rout of Slavia was the coming-of-age moment for the side.
At the start of the season, Slavia were seen as one of the few sides expected to mount a title challenge. The Prague club had begun their campaign reasonably well, defeating Baník Ostrava and holding Dukla Prague, seemingly confirming their status as potential championship favourites. But at Lužánky, they were no match for a ruthless Zbrojovka Brno.
Slavia went down to ten men after only thirteen minutes when midfielder Peter Herda was given his marching orders. By this point though, the Červenobílí were already trailing to Petr’s Janečka’s early strike and although Dušan Herda found a leveller to provide some hope, Slavia were unable to compete with Brno and found themselves 3-1 down at the break thanks to a quick-fire brace from Karel Kroupa.
Robert Segmüller did get a second for Slavia, but it ultimately little as Kroupa completed his hattrick and Miroslav Bureš scored what would be his last top-flight goal to round off another scintillating display.
In the aftermath of the 5-2 win, the state-backed Czechoslovak press recognised Zbrojovka’s brilliance and rhetorically asked if anybody could stop them. This was the game when Brno shed the tag of underdogs and became the team to beat.
Zbrojovka Brno 1-0 Žilina (03.05.1978)
The visit of bottom-placed Žilina to Lužánky in early May should have been a formality. It turned out to be anything but as Zbrojovka toiled to a 1-0 win over a side staring into the abyss of relegation.
Whilst not pretty by anyone’s standards, the game was crucial. Aside from securing the win, Josef Masopust also found the back four that would help Brno towards the title. After dropping regular left-back Jan Klimeš, Masopust had chopped and changed his back four. But here, he handed a first start to Jaroslav Petrtýl, who would go on to make the number three jersey his own for the next few years.
The sole goal came from Karel Kroupa (who else?) and after going ahead, Brno sat back and played out for a crucial victory to settle the nerves.
Tatran Prešov 2-2 Zbrojovka Brno (25.05.1978)
The visit to eastern Slovakia was by no means an easy one. The Koňare were formidable opposition at home, seeing off Dukla Prague (4-0), Košice (4-1) and Slavia (2-0) at the Štadión Tatran.
Prešov would go the entire season undefeated on home soil, with the particularly arduous journey wearing many a visiting side out before kick-off. Brno, though, came closest to beating Tatran in their backyard.
The Slovaks started game brightly and took a deserved lead when Andrej Valíček let rip with a thunderous effort from twenty yards out that said straight past Josef Hron and into the net. From then until halftime, Prešov dominated but were unable to capitalise on their territorial advantage and put the tie to bed.
After halftime, Brno responded and began to impose themselves on the opposition. Two rapid-fire goals from the midfield pair of Vítězslav Kotásek and Josef Pešice briefly put Zbrojovka ahead, but a slip in concentration allowed Prešov’s Jozef Bubenko to level the tie.
The point was crucial: The same weekend Dukla beat Inter Bratislava to draw level on points with the south Moravians with just five games left.
Bohemians 1905 0-2 Zbrojovka Brno (05.06.1978)
The day before Brno took on Bohemians, Dukla had somehow let a two-goal lead slip and lost 3-2 to Teplice, and handed Zbrojovka the chance to go four points clear. But walking away from Vršovice with a victory would not be as easy task Bohemians were fourth in the table and were unbeaten at home. Not to mention their star-player was one Antonín Panenka, the hero of Euro 1976.
In front of a bumper crowd of 12,214, Zbrojovka succeeded where everybody else had failed, running out 2-0 victors.
It took over an hour for the deadlock to be broken but this was anything but a cagey game. The majority of the game was characterised by Bohemians’ midfield controlling the game, creating chances for Svatopluk Bouška, the most dangerous member of Bohemka’s front three. Přemysl Bičovský and Antonín Panenka both went close to scoring, but neither could find their way their past Josef Hron in the Brno goal.
After a backs-to-the-walls effort, Zbrojovka’s famed back four began to impose their will on proceedings. Building out from the back after a resolute defensive performance in the face of sustained pressure, the visitors turned the tide and then took the lead through Karel Kroupa.
As the game wore on, Karel Jarůšek, Josef Pešice and Vítězslav Kotásek were the ones who dominated the midfield battle and late on, Petr Janečka made it two to round off a fantastic showing.
‘Zbrojovka krok od titulu!” proclaimed Rudé právo the next mornings. Brno were one step away from a maiden league title. They would take that final step a fortnight later when they made the relatively short trip to Trnava with thousands of the Brnaci in tow.
And not forgetting.....
Dukla Prague 2-3 Teplice (04.06.1978)
Teplice scored just twenty-eight goals all season and ended the campaign with the league’s worst attack. In contrast, Dukla were prolific going forwards, capable of calling up Zdeněk Nehoda, Ladislav Vízek, Miroslav Gajdůšek and Stanislav Pelc. And so, with a handful of games remaining, the visit of Teplice to the Stadion Juliska seemed like a dream fixture for the Army club, who needed to pick up the points to keep tabs on Zbrojovka.
After twenty-seven minutes, Dukla were two-nil up and cruising, with attacking-midfielder Stanislav Pelc scoring his twelfth and thirteenth of what was a prolific campaign. However, after Pelc’s second, Dukla fell to pieces, conceding twice in the space of six minutes.
Things went from bad to worse for Dukla as Jiří Šourek netted a late winner for Teplice. The result enabled Zbrojovka to put one hand on the title, as the south Moravians’ win over Bohemians the following day gave them a four-point lead at the top of the table with just three games left to play.
Header picture: Thomas Griffiths