When I started to pay attention to volleyball, I was almost entirely interested in international volleyball, matches between national teams. As young and idealistic as I was, it seemed like the purest form of volleyball. The first real volleyball that I saw at the World Promotional Championships only reinforced that early opinion.
Later when I played in Germany (it sounds more impressive than it is), I received my first introduction to attractions of club volleyball. After easing into some German Bundesliga matches, I attended a European Champions Cup match between German champion Hamburger SV and Italian champion Panini Modena. It was my first big club match. In the standing room section, amongst 4,500 spectators, almost all of whom were inordinately proud of their counting ability, I learnt about the colour and excitement that comes from cross pollination of a multitude of volleyball schools coming together to represent small communities.
Panini were the top team in western Europe, having won the previous three Italian championships. They were coached by the not yet legendary Julio Velasco, and captained by the Hand of Stone, Franco Bertoli. Their starting lineup was rounded out by Italian legends Cantagalli, Bernardi, Vullo and Lucchetta and US Olympic Gold Medallist Doug Partie. HSV was the champion of Germany with top Germans Voss, Dornheim, Mackerodt, Braack and two Swedish stars in Sääf and Tholse, who were about to inflict USSR’s first European Championships defeat for 17 years. They were coached by Olaf Kortmann, who introduced a level of professionalism to volleyball that made them known throughout the German sports world.
It was a lot of fun and maybe changed my life.
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