On Tuesday 10 December 1974, Gyula Lóránt landed at “Makedonia” Airport, where several members of PAOK’s administration and technical staff were waiting, along with quite a few fans of the club. Two days earlier, a referendum on retaining the republic and abolishing the monarchy was held in Greece, with a massive 69,2% voting in favour of the presidential parliamentary democracy. At that time, nobody could imagine that there was a shift of power also happening at PAOK. From the era of Les Shannon, who had led the “Double-Headed Eagle” to their first Greek Cup trophy, the club would enter the Lórant era that would see them get their first taste of a league title.
Upon his arrival, the Hungarian tactician ordered that all PAOK training sessions would be held behind closed doors. He first sat on the bench five days later, on 15 December 1974, for the 2-0 victory over Olympiacos at Toumba. “I am taking over a really big team”, he said after the win. No one could imagine how far he would go with his players…
“We spent all season running with rubber shoes”, was his comment after the final whistle of their win over AEK that secured PAOK’s league title. By that time, the friction between him and the club administration following the match against Apollon Smyrni at Rizoupoli was already a thing of the past. But these events took their toll -adding the expensive contract he was demanding ahead of the new season, he left PAOK as a champion in the summer of 1976. He returned to Thessaloniki in early 1980 for his second spell at PAOK.
In September 1974, he became the first foreign player to put on the shirt of Panserraikos. His first season in Greece’s top-flight league attracted the interest of suitors and he was the only signing that Lóránt requested in the summer of 1975. The Serbian goalkeeper had managed to keep a clean sheet in 13 matches of 12th-placed Panserraikos –the “lions” boasted having the fifth-best defence of the league with 17 goals conceded.
In the Greek Cup encounter against Olympiacos, where PAOK succumbed 7-6 in the penalty shoot-out, Furtula saved Siokos’ spot kick and then went on to score his team’s fifth penalty, making it 4-4. Mladen Furtula remained at PAOK until the summer of 1984, becoming one of longest-serving goalkeepers in the history of the “Double-Headed Eagle”.
He was the leader of PAOK in their maiden league title win and stamped his authority on the achievement. It’s not just the 14 goals scored in 26 matches, but the fact that he scored them in 10 different games, most of them openers, paving the way to victory. He was also awarded three penalties but didn’t take them himself. His haul of 14 goals consisted of 13 shots and one header.
He was pivotal in the 4-0 thrashing of Olympiacos at “Karaiskakis” on 4 January 1976. After Terzanidis’ opener in the 24th minute, Lóránt fielded Koudas as lone striker and the latter duly obliged. Two good passes were enough for him to beat Olympiacos’ defensive systems and make it 3-0 with a six-minute brace (56’, 62’).
Giorgos Koudas was outstanding in all crucial encounters and is also credited with an expert free-kick in the 89th minute of the match against AEK Athens, that enabled Neto Guerino seal victory and at the same time guarantee PAOK’s first ever league title. Koudas also scored a brace against Ethnikos at “Karaiskakis” –the home team found themselves trailing 0-4 by half-time and PAOK took their foot off the throttle after the interval.
He starred in PAOK’s triumphs throughout the ‘70s and became an indispensable star of the 1976 league title, contributing 11 goals in 24 appearances. He scored in 11 different matches –he could have 12 goals to his name, had goalkeeper Sidiropoulos not saved his spot kick in the 24th minute of the match against AEK at Toumba for matchday 27. PAOK’s “Caesar” was decisive in many encounters, scored against almost all high-profile rivals (Panathinaikos, Olympiacos, Aris, Iraklis), was involved in almost all PAOK goals and was awarded a penalty.
He stayed on the sidelines for two months following his injury during the encounter against Aris on 19 October 1975, but returned stronger and Lóránt could count on him again on 21 December 1975 for the Panachaiki match at Toumba. He went on to feature in all encounters of the “Double-Headed Eagle”, not missing a minute until the league was sealed. His coach gave him a breather on matchday 28 against Iraklis (was substituted off) and on the last matchday against Ethnikos in Karaiskakis, when he left the pitch having scored one of PAOK’s four goals of the evening.
He set the tone for PAOK’s 1975-76 season, by scoring their first goals in the league, a brace against Panathinaikos in the 3-1 victory of the opening day at Toumba. Neto Guerino went on to feature in all 30 league matches and sealed the league triumph by netting against AEK in the 89th minute of the encounter. That victory gave PAOK a four-point lead over their rivals on matchday 27 and sparked celebrations for their maiden league win. Even to this day, that trophy is unconsciously associated with the picture of Guerino and Co. celebrating the goal against AEK.
He scored in nine encounters and, apart from the opening day brace against Panathinaikos, he also netted twice against Panetolikos at Toumba Stadium. He was usually the problem solver at home –just three of his 11 goals were scored in away encounters. Along with goalkeeper René Deck, he was the first foreign player to sign for PAOK in the summer of 1974, when Greek clubs were given permission to field foreign footballers. In his first season, he couldn’t make it to the regular line-ups, despite scoring 8 times in 15 encounters.