1981 was a vintage year for English clubs in Europe. The European Cup was heading there again for the 5th year running due to Liverpool’s victory over Real Madrid in Paris thanks to an Alan Kennedy goal while in the UEFA cup a victory for Ipswich Town over Dutch side AZ Alkmaar meant that for the fourth time, English sides were victorious in 2 of the 3 European competitions. If Ipswich were unfancied at the start of the UEFA tournament then the champions of the 3rd prize on offer were even less well-known. The now defunct European Cup Winners Cup may always have been the least prestigious of the European trophies but for Georgian football and Dynamo Tbilisi in particular it provided them with their most magical moment.
Even to the most passionate of footballing supporter, the final of the 1981 European cup-winners cup was hardly a fixture that stirred the blood. Dynamo Tbilisi versus Carl Zeiss Jena was not the final anyone anticipated in a competition that included Roma, Benfica, Feyenoord, and Valencia. Tbilisi though, under the guidance of manager Nodar Akhalkatsi had gained a reputation for their technical, attack minded style of play and contained several players who regularly represented the Soviet national side.
Their defence was built around captain Aleksandr Chivadze who would stay at the club for his entire career, scoring 44 goals in 324 appearances while representing the USSR 46 times. His partner at the heart of the back 4 was Nodar Khizanishvili father of former Dundee, Rangers and Blackburn defender Zurab.
The midfield was built around the gifted and exciting trio of Vitali Daraselia, Vladimir Gustaev and 49 times capped Tengiz Sulakvelidze but it was up front where Tbilisi really excelled. David Kiprani, Soviet player of the year in 1977 scored 7 goals in 19 games for the national side while Ramaz Shengelia, the more talented of the pairing would enjoy his most fruitful season that year, finishing as the league’s top marksman with 23 goals and adding the player of the year award to the one he won in 1978. Under Akhalkatsi the team had blossomed on the domestic front. The Soviet league title was won in 1978 while the Russian cup was won twice in both ’76 and ’79. The team was ready to show their talents on a wider stage.
The side hinted at what was to come with an extraordinary 4-2 aggregate victory over Liverpool the dominant team in Europe at the time in the first round of the 1979/80 European cup where a 2-1 defeat at Anfield was followed by a 3-0 win at the Boris Paichadze stadium. Although defeated by a Kevin Keegan and Felix Magath inspired Hamburg in the next round it was a glimpse of what the Georgian side were capable of.
They traveled to England again in their Cup Winners Cup run, this time for a quarter-final fixture against West Ham United. If the earlier victories over Kastoria from Greece and Irish side Waterford in the first two rounds were fairly perfunctory then the victory over West Ham and especially the 4-1 win at Upton Park in the first leg was more illuminating.
A stunning strike 30 yard strike from the captain Aleksandr Chivadze to put Tbilisi ahead was just the beginning of a performance that showed exactly why the team were held in such high regard at home. Even on a pitch that could best be described as agricultural, West Ham had no answer to the movement, close control, changes of pace and range of passing that the away side demonstrated on a night when the London side were outplayed from start to finish. The home supporters that night were treated to a brand of football that was years ahead of its time and the sporting applause that rang around the Boleyn Ground for the triumphant visitors was richly deserved.
A 1-0 defeat in the 2nd leg was still enough to take them through to a semi final against Dutch side Feyenoord, where again, a large first leg victory, this time a 3-0 home win followed by a 2-0 defeat in Rotterdam was enough to see them through to the final held at the Rheinstadion, the home of Fortuna Düsseldorf.
Their opponents, East German side Carl Zeiss Jena had themselves embarked on an incredible run to reach that years final. A 4-3 aggregate victory in the first round against Roma was achieved after a 3-0 first leg defeat while victories over tournament favourites Valencia and Benfica sandwiched a real struggle against Welsh shock troops Newport County. A 2-2 draw in the DDR was followed by a 1-0 win in Wales which the home side dominated but couldn’t find the net, hampered perhaps by the absence through injury of John Aldridge.
Despite the fact that their results merited their place in the final that year in a sense it is a pity that it was the side from the DDR who lined up against Dynamo Tbilisi on that May evening. The politics of the time meant that with 2 eastern European teams in the final fans of both sides were more or less forbidden from travelling west of the Berlin Wall. As a result the game was only watched by 9,000 people in a stadium that could hold 56,000 (unofficial figures had it as low as 4,500) and all this despite the fact it took place just 280 miles from Carl Zeiss Jena’s stadium.
Perhaps as a consequence of the poor attendance the game wasn’t a classic although the 3 goals that were scored were all good enough to grace any final. The match came to life in the 63rd minute when Gerard Hoppe gracefully guided the ball home after a mistake in the penalty area from Chivadze. Parity was restored just 4 minutes later though when Shengelia picked up the ball and sidestepped 2 wild sliding challenges before slipping the ball to Vladimir Gustaev who needed just one touch to steady himself before beating Grapenthin at his near post.
If anything, the aesthetics of the first goal was overshadowed by the solo brilliance of the winner, scored with just 3 minutes left. Accepting a pass 25 yards from goal, Vitali Daraselia skipped past one defender at the left hand edge of the penalty area, dragging the ball back with his right foot to side step another slide tackle before blasting the ball into the net. It was the goal that crowned the first and so far only Georgian side to win a European trophy and propelled Dynamo Tbilisi into the pantheon of great eastern European teams that would include Slovan Bratislava, Torpedo Moscow, Steau Bucharest, Dynamo Kiev and Red Star Belgrade.
The fate of the 2 goalscorers that day could scarcely have been more different. Vladimir Gustaev would complete his footballing career at Tbilisi before going on to manage in club football at home and in Cyprus before taking over the Georgian national side. He later became a member of the Georgian parliament between 2004 to 2008.
Unfortunately for Daraselia he would play just one more season. After the 1982 world cup, and at the peak of his footballing prowess, he was killed in a car crash. He is survived by his son Vitaly Daraselia Jr, also a professional footballer. The story goes that when Vitaly found out his wife was expecting a son he walked into the changing room before a tie against Lazio and announced he would name his child after the man who scored Tbilisi’s first goal of the night, he scored it himself. The stadium in his home town of Ochamchire was named after him in his honour.
A gala was held last month at the Tbilisi philharmonic hall to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Dynamo’s victory that night and although it’s hard to believe that Georgian football can scale those heights again, it’s unlikely that anyone who witnessed them will ever forget the team known as The Brazil of the Caucasus.
By Shaughan McGuigan
This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona