Today’s Eastern European Domestic Leagues

Greetings all, and welcome to the first part of a new series in which we ponder what life would be like if our favourite defunct tournaments of yesteryear were still alive and kicking today. To start things off, we’ll be looking at the good old former nations of the Cold War, and seeing what state their domestic leagues would be in today. Yes, I have already spent a copious amount of time looking into the same topic with the national teams and yes, the results of the final tournament will be with you soon. Patience, my young padawans, for you cannot rush art.

In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to have a look and see what the domestic leagues of Czechoslovakia, East and West Germany, the USSR and Yugoslavia would look like if the glories of socialism still reigned supreme in the east. I’ll also be having a hypothetical look as to how the Champions and Europa Leagues would be altered if this world existed, but whether I leave that as a separate article or not is an ongoing debate. If you see it at the end of this article, consider yourselves incredibly privileged.

Anyway, that’s enough out of me, and let’s get this self-explanatory nonsense out of the way.

SOYUUUUUUUUUZ NEEEEEEEEERUSHIIIIIIIIMY

Czechoslovakia

We start in Czechoslovakia, the nation responsible for probably the largest amount of mediocrity in their present-day national squad, and to be honest there’s not a whole lot to get excited about here. The final season of the old Czechoslovak league saw Czech giants Sparta Prague top the division (as they had done for 7 of the previous 10 seasons), 5 points ahead of fellow Czech outfit Slavia Prague and an extra point ahead of Slovan Bratislava. And to be frank with you all, that’s pretty close to the top 3 we’ve got here.

If we go with a 16-team league, as the old Czechoslovak First League was, then those three are pretty much guaranteed a place in the top half of the league. Based on current form, Slavia Prague and Slovan Bratislava are the dominant forces of their respective divisions, but if we’re also to take into consideration the Czech First League’s UEFA coefficient of 14th and the Slovak First League’s coefficient of 30th, the Czechs hold the cards in terms of quality here. But given Slavia’s dominance of the domestic league and solid performances in Europe this season, there’s no shifting them off top spot here. I’d also probably consider putting Viktoria Plzen and Sparta Prague in at 2nd and 3rd before putting in Slovan Bratislava, due to being more consistent on the European stage, although fans of Wolves will probably remember Slovan giving them a decent test in this season’s Europa League.

I’m actually beginning to quite like this team

For European spots, I’d think that 1 place in the Champions League and 2 in the Europa will be what we roll with here to organise our top 3. Challenging for the Europa League will be Jablonec and and Žilina. I’m going to lean towards Jablonec finishing in 4th here, given that they’ve played European football this season. As you can tell, the further down we go, the less and less I know about any of these teams. So I’m again going off of European performance/presence this season to round out the top half of the league, with Mladá Boleslav and DAC Dunajská Streda providing a somewhat decent Czech-Slovak ratio.

The rest of this division is based purely upon league form and position at the time of writing, so my sincere apologies to those who are offended at the sheer lunacy on offer here, I promise it’s just because I don’t know any better. So, from the Czech Republic, please welcome Baník Ostrava, Slovácko, České Budejovice, Slovan Liberec and Sigma Olomouc, and from Slovakia, put your hands together for Spartak Trnava, Ružomberok and Zemplín Michalovce. I’m also going to go out on a whim and say 2 clubs will be getting relegated from this division, and because it’s blindingly obvious to me that Czech domestic football is at a higher standard than Slovak domestic football, it looks as though the Slovak teams will be the ones battling it out at the bottom. But what do I know, I know next to nothing about either of these leagues.

So there’s one league down, and if that’s any indicator as to what we’re in for, it’s only going to get worse from here on out.

East Germany

Moving just above Czechoslovakia, we have probably my favourite former socialist nation, East Germany. Even if they don’t make life easy for those compiling a squad of current players from the former east, they certainly provide some entertainment and interesting stories for us all. It’s taken East German clubs a while to regain recognition, but they can’t help the fact that upon reunification, Dynamo Dresden and FC Hansa Rostock were the only clubs put into a reformed German Bundesliga, with the rest of the East German First Division (the DDR-Oberliga) dispersed into the second and third tiers of German football. 

And yes, there would still be a West German Bundesliga, but you’re just going to have to imagine the current Bundesliga without RB Leipzig and Union Berlin, the only clubs from the former East competing in today’s top division. And to give credit to RB Leipzig, they’ve literally just become the first club from the East to top the Bundesliga at Christmas since re-unification in 1991. So clearly they’re doing something right.

That thing they’re doing right, is of course, money. They’ve spent a lot of it, since they’re owned by wealthy Western capitalists. This does complicate things a little, since it’s near impossible that they’d be competing under the ownership of Red Bull, and would likely not exist at all, since the nature of their existence is based on the willingness of SSV Markranstädt to sell their marketing rights to create an offshoot club in the form of RB Leipzig. For the purposes of this article therefore, I’m going to go out and work under the assumption that another Leipzig club was formed to compete with both Lokomotive and Chemie Leipzig, and we’re going to christen them FC Motor-Leipzig, because socialism honours the workers and, as such, Vorsprung durch Technik. Would they still be any good? I’m going to say yes. 

FC Motor-Leipzig’s new no.11

One final point before we continue; a lot of clubs were known by socialist names due to propaganda and ownership purposes. For example, FC Berliner Dynamo were sponsored by the Stasi, and Dynamo Dresden were formerly sponsored by the East German police. Some have since changed name, some have not, but I’m going to assume that all clubs would still have a socialist label attached to them. Let’s go.

Since the final Oberliga season in 1991-92 finished with 14 teams, that’s how many will compete here, with 1 Champions League and 2 Europa League places up for grabs. As you may have gathered, the top spot is going to be occupied by my new brainchild of Motor-Leipzig, and the other top-flight club here, Union Berlin, can settle for the first Europa League place. Then, it’s into the 2. Bundesliga we go to find our lucky final club who’ll be playing in Europe’s second tier, and it’s Erzgebirge Aue, who currently sit fifth in the second tier and won 3 official DDR-Oberligas competing under the name SC Wismut Karl Marx Stadt, when they played there. The only other former eastern club currently playing in Germany’s second tier is former champions Dynamo Dresden, who, at the time of writing, sit rooted to the bottom of the division. That’s somehow still good enough for them challenge for a place in Europe, and speaks volume about the quality of club we’re dealing with here.

As we head into the 3. Bundesliga, we find a whopping six clubs that make up the bulk of the rest of the division. The current best of these teams would be Hallescher FC (or Chemie Halle as they’d be known in this timeline), who currently occupy sixth spot. Below them are the last team to ever win the DDR-Oberliga, and the only time they ever managed to do so, Hansa Rostock. Despite now languishing in the German third tier, Rostock are actually one of the most successful eastern teams in the post-unification era, spending ten seasons in the Bundesliga in the late 90’s and early 00’s. Just in behind them are 1. FC Magdeburg, relegated to the third tier in 2018-19, but best remembered for their golden era in the 1970’s, winning 3 DDR-Oberligas and becoming the only East German team to win a major European trophy, the 1974 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. Joining them in mid-table obscurity is FSV Zwickau, whose history is so long and convoluted it probably deserves a whole article of it’s own. Comment if you want to see that, I guess.

The GDR’s finest moment, much love for Magdeburg

Now, for those of you wondering about the fate of Karl Marx Stadt, fear not, because Chemnitzer FC is here to save the day. They may be currently floundering in the relegation zone of the 3. Bundesliga at the moment, and have recently made headlines for all the wrong reasons, but that 1967 DDR-Oberliga title win will always live long in the memory (probably). And yes, don’t worry folks, of course they’re still going to be called Karl Marx Stadt here. Our final third division team is Carl Zeiss Jena, who currently sit tragically at the bottom of the 3. Bundesliga, a far cry from their 3 DDR-Oberliga triumphs, 4 East German cups, and an appearance in the 1981 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup Final.

To round off the Oberliga with our final four teams, we’re plummeting our toes into the German fourth tier, also known as the 5 regional leagues, basically a more grandiose equivalent of the National League North and South divisions in England. Fortunately, the Regionalliga Nordost contains all the relevant teams we’re looking for here, so thankfully my research into completing the league won’t be too strenuous.

The current table-toppers, and the side who claim the first spot in this division, are Energie Cottbus. Cottbus are looking for a swift return to the 3. Bundesliga after relegation in 2018-19, and despite spending the Cold War dipping in and out of the first and second division, the club actually spent the early 00’s in and out of the Bundesliga, and can claim to be one of the East’s most successful teams in the unification period. Ensuring we have a Leipzig derby on our hands are Lokomotive Leipzig. 4 East German Cups saw them as regulars in the UEFA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup in the 1970s and 80s, reaching the UEFA Cup last 4 in 1974 and the Cup Winners’ Cup final in 1987. We also have VSG Altglienicke, whom I know absolutely nothing about.

Finally, occupying the one relegation spot in this league (though there’ll most likely be a play-off for a second spot), is the most successful team in DDR-Oberliga history, BFC Dynamo, having won 10 consecutive league titles between 1979 and 1988. Was this down to the fact the team was sponsored by the secret police and had the benefit of several refereeing decisions during this time? The answer is almost certainly yes, and the teams’ success was arguably the catalyst for club football in the East becoming a platform for anti-socialist protests against the government. Well done, guys, you ruined football for everyone. Hang your heads in shame in the relegation zone.

So there’s your exclusive look at a modern-day Oberliga team. When you’re having to make up a team to top the division, you know you’ve hit gold on a subject matter. Blimey. At least this wasn’t as painful to look at as the national team, but who knows how good these teams would be today.

USSR

Oh boy, this is the one I wasn’t looking forward to. Not because the teams are of a woefully average quality, there’s actually some half decent teams to choose from, but because for this 16-team division we have a total of 15 countries to look at. For those of you who need reminding, those 15 nations are; Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

Because of this wealth of teams to pick from, I am hereby going to make an executive decision from the outset. The countries of Armenia, Estonia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan automatically won’t have representation in this division. In the case of the Baltic nations, this is because their clubs have been virtual never-presents on the European stage in recent times. As for the others, well I think it’s pretty obvious why not.

As with the Soviet national team, the Soviet Top Division is also comprised mainly of Russian and Ukrainian club sides, and it’s they who dominate at the top of the league. I think it’s clear that the 3 big hitters would be Zenit St. Petersburg, Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kiev, and they would occupy the 3 Champions League places we’re going for here. I’d be tempted to put Shakhtar as champions, just pipping Zenit to the post and Dynamo falling short in third place. It’ll be a tight race between 3 very well-rounded sides who currently dominate their domestic divisions, but I think Shakhtar are currently the best of them. And on a quick side note, since St. Petersburg would still be known as Leningrad in this timeline, Zenit shall henceforth be known as Zenit Leningrad, just like the good old days.

Zenit Leningrad win the UEFA Cup in a reality that’s the same but also different

We’re also going with 3 places in the Europa League here, and I’m going to go out on a whim and go with 3 Moscow clubs to occupy them. CSKA, Lokomotiv and Spartak all play in the capital, and for my money, they’re the best options we have for representation on the continent here. And to round out the top half of the table, we’ll go with FC Oleksandriya from Ukraine and Krasnodar from Russia.

It’s at this point in the article I realise we need more representation from the ‘lesser’ nations to occupy the rest of the spots in the league and battle it out in a perennial limbo between mid-table obscurity and flirting with relegation. So, due to having some notable European presence in recent years, we’re going to include Qarabag from Azerbaijan, BATE Borisov from Belarus, Astana from Kazakhstan, and Sheriff Tiraspol from Moldova. Dinamo Tbilisi from Georgia also seem a decent outfit, so they can jump in on this too. 

That leaves us with 3 more teams left to pick, so, for inclusion’s sake, I’ll go with 1 Russian club side, 1 Ukrainian, and 1 other. That seems fair to me. From Russia we’ll go with Rostov, and from Ukraine we’ll go with Zorya Luhansk. And seeing as Belarus is pretty high up in the UEFA coefficients, we’ll go with their 2019 league champions, Dynamo Brest.

I know what you’re probably thinking, this division is an absolute shitshow and I should be condemned for slapping such a half-arsed monstrosity together. But there’s a lot of countries to fit into such a small league, and to be honest this looks about as good as it’s going to get. I will give a brief shout-out to Kazakh side Kairat, who are fresh off of finishing a single point behind champions Astana, and I’m sure in a hypothetical Soviet second division they’d easily be promotion candidates. Probably.

Yugoslavia

Wow, we’ve really rattled through those divisions quick, haven’t we? That’s because there’s no time for wasting any time, and we jump into the fourth and final division to formulate, that of a Yugoslav First Division. We’ve got another 18 clubs to pick here, and things won’t be any easier than the nations that came before.

To start with, I think we should all agree that the nations of Montenegro, Kosovo and North Macedonia won’t be seeing any representation here. All 3 sit in the depths of UEFA’s coefficient ranking, and it’ll probably be a good few years before we see either nation represented in the Yugoslav First Division. It’s no coincidence that only teams from Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia have reached the group stages of the Champions League, but we’ll take a look at Bosnia-Herzegovina and see what they have to offer us.

I think we can also agree that this league will be dominated by Serb and Croat teams, as it was when Yugoslavia dissolved in 1991. Fighting it out at the top are the 2 teams who’ll have Champions League football to contend with, Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star Belgrade. Both are the powerhouses of their respective divisions right now, but since Dinamo put up more of a showing in this season’s Champions League group stage, I feel compelled to put them top and Red Star in second. If you disagree, the comments section is below.

We’re also going for 3 places in the Europa League, and 2 of them are comfortably held by Partizan Belgrade and Hajduk Split. For the final place, I’ve decided to turn my attention to Slovenia upon remembering that Maribor were in the Champions League group stages a little while ago, even if they did lose 7-0 at home to Liverpool. However, I have since seen that Olimpija Ljubljana are smashing it in the current Slovene First Division, so it looks as though they’ll be providing Maribor for the coveted title of Slovene top dog. But, due to being more consistent over the last few years, I’m going to give 5th place to Maribor.

I don’t see Maribor lasting in the Champions League either, Roberto

Now, for the rest of the league, this is where we enter tricky territory, because I’m not convinced any other sides from Slovenia would be able to compete with the rest of the teams from Serbia and Croatia, such is the gulf in quality between the divisions. So the rest of this division will be made up of the teams that currently occupy places in the Serb and Croat leagues that have a shred of respectability to them. Definitely in this league from Serbia are; Vojvodina, Čukarički, TSC Bačka Topola, Voždovac and Radnički Niš. Meanwhile, from Croatia we have Rijeka, Osijek, Gorica, Lokomotiva and Slaven Belupo.

Rijeka actually looks lovely, shame about the football team

But one spot is being fought for between Spartak Subotica of Serbia and Inter Zaprešić of Croatia. Do any of these teams seem even remotely good? No, no they don’t. But Subotica seem marginally the better side, so I’m going to be including them here. Please tell me if I’ve made a horrible mistake.

Finally, I said I would have a look and see what Bosnia-Herzegovina has to offer and, to be quite frank, they don’t have a whole lot going for them. But, for the sake of more inclusivity, I’m going to include current Bosnian league leaders Sarajevo, even if it means they’ll be battling it out in the relegation zone. Just be happy you’re here, guys. Shout out to Borac Banja Luka and Velez Mostar as well, I remember you guys coming up in some of my lectures so clearly you have some form of credentials. 

Now, to be completely honest with you all, the more I was writing this article, the more I thought that there’s any point in doing a hypothetical European draw for these teams. None of these teams will be competing for Europe’s top prize, and the Europa League is so big, convoluted and unnecessary I quite honestly don’t think I can be arsed to come up with an alternate Europa League system. I did one for the Champions League, it just about worked, it’ll never see the light of day. I also realised that I was handing out spots in the competitions left, right and centre, and the amount of re-jigging I was causing myself is something I just don’t have the energy for right now.

I guess that brings an abrupt end to today’s content. I hope you’ve all enjoyed learning about these hypothetical modern-day domestic leagues, and I hope you’re all as invested in the fortunes of FC Motor-Leipzig as I am. There’s plenty more nonsense based on hypothetical ifs and buts coming your way soon, so please do subscribe for notifications if this sort of thing for some reason interests you.

Thanks you all for reading, and here’s to a splendid ebening. 

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