International football brakes are boring. Although they can be very useful for some of the clubs. More time for the manager to clear his thoughts, work on new tactics, chance for some youngsters and out of favour players to prove themselves as good enough for more playing time. These brakes are also interesting because they unite football fans for the national cause. You see Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea etc. fans cheer the national team together, this is probably the only time you can see Celtic and Rangers fans cheering the same cause. National teams unite the country. It makes the fans proud of their national team. Not if you are Bulgarian and support Bulgarian national team.
We (Bulgarian football fans) are stuck in a vicious circle. I’ll speak on my behalf here. I love my country and I will always support this team, no matter how shit they are. Every international brake is the same. When it comes I get excited. My team will play, I’ll hear the national anthem again. Then after the game is over comes disappointment, we play bad, the players suck, they don’t try enough. The next game comes, I’m excited again: “Let’s beat them, we’re a good team”…Then we lose again and I’m disappointed again. This happens over and over again during the recent years. The last win for our national team was against Czech Republic on 17th November 2019. That was the last game of the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifiers. That was our only win in that campaign in a group with England, Czech Republic, Kosovo and Montenegro.
Bulgarian football has seen much better times. Everybody here in Bulgaria remembers the great American summer in 1994 when the national team reached the semi-final and finished 4th on the World cup, making a remarkable comeback from 0-1 to 2-1 against the reigning champions Germany in the quarter final. Hristo Stoichkov was the top goal scorer of the tournament. He also won the Ballon d’Or the same year. Bulgaria had world class players in the top clubs across Europe. Barcelona, Porto, Sporting CP, Hamburger, Espanyol, these are just part of the teams that had Bulgarian players in.
Years later came “The generation of the three horses” as we call it. A team led by Dimitar Berbatov, Stilyan Petrov and Martin Petrov. The legendary trio let the team to the Euro 2004 in Portugal. Sadly the team’s biggest achievement there was 2:1 to Italy in the last game, the goal we scored fucked Italy’s goal difference up and they missed on the quarters. We weren’t always on the biggest tournaments, but we were always close to qualifying. Good days.
So how did we go from being mid European team to celebrating victories against Gibraltar in friendlies? Failing to win against teams like Kosovo, Montenegro, Malta, Cyprus?
Let’s look at what’s happening to the Bulgarian league and everybody will see the answer
The only light in the darkness of Bulgarian football. The team from Razgrad are 9 times champion. They won all their 9 titles in a row in the last 9 seasons, and they are on the verge of number 10. Because of the lack of competition and because they win the league without bothering too much, their drop of form is visible every season in European competition. In the recent years Ludogorets played in the Champions league, finished 3rd in their group, managed the go through the group stages in the Europa league. Therefore the expectations towards this team are big. But they couldn’t even get a point in this season’s competition. They played against Tottenham, LASK Linz and Antwerp. This was a group in which Ludogorets had to fight for the top 2 spots.
One of the two top most popular teams in Bulgaria. Yes, they qualified for the Europa league group stage this season and did a good job earning 5 points in a group with Roma, Young boys and CFR Cluj. Great success having in mind that this is the 1st European appearance for CSKA in 10 years. And this is a team with great European heritage. Famous victories against Liverpool and Ajax in the 80s, plus many, many more. The 31 time Bulgarian champions bankrupted, were relegated to the lower leagues, and then won the cup while playing in Bulgaria’s 3rd tier. The club was rebranded. There were court battles over the badge and the history of CSKA. Now in the top division we have 2 teams named CSKA, and both of them claim that they are the original… Chaos!
The other most popular team in Bulgaria. 26 time Bulgarian champion. Similarly to CSKA, Levski were close to bankruptcy, they were saved only by donations from their loyal fans. The blues were the 1st Bulgarian team to play in the Champions league group stages in 2006. Once a team with great players and good finances they now play mostly with young Bulgarian players, because they can’t afford expensive selection.
And this is just top of the pile. The biggest Bulgarian clubs.
Botev Plovdiv plays their home games on their training ground. In 2012 the people in charge of Botev promised them a new stadium that had to be ready by 2014. The stadium is going nowhere, every year new promises, new hopes, same old disappointment.
My local club Spartak Varna bankrupted in 2010. The team got disbanded and stopped existing. The stadium was sold to a construction company and there were plan to build a closed complex in it. In the following years Spartak fans resurrected the team. And after long court battles and help from the government they got the stadium back to the club. Now Varna’s newest boulevard goes through 1 of the stands.
These are just some of the problems Bulgarian football is facing nowadays. Sadly the heroes from USA ’94 that I started the article with have been ruling Bulgarian football for more than 15 years. The people that brought the biggest joys in football fans across Bulgaria, are now ruining it. We can only hope for a better future of Bulgarian football. Because Bulgaria always had and will always have great talents, they just need some help from the people in charge. People that work for the prosperity of Bulgarian football, not just for their own welfare.