Greece Overview

Greece- slowly rising, very slowly and not all that smoothly. Most of the league was not strong, scandals were frequent, but improvement was noticeable. It was still the time of heroes – long lasting veterans, who more or less elevated Greek football. They were around since the early 1960s and made astonishing records: 4 players had over 400 league appearances after this season. Mimis Domazos was with 490 and Mimis Papaioannou – 458. Neither was quitting yet. The bright side had its counterpart as well – there was mid-season players strike. The clubs fielded their foreigners – for some reason excluded from the strike of the Greek players – and ‘amateurs’. The definition is foggy – Greek football became officially professional in 1978-79, if some sources are to be trusted. But players were paid for long time already and the strike was never called anything but strike of professional player. The clubs fielded largely junior team players, luckily for only one championship round. Records of the season specifically separate the group of ‘amateurs’ used by the clubs and let leave it at that. Corruption was also present – Veria was caught trying to fix matches and 10 points were deducted from their record as a punishment. One may wonder what would have happened if one of the big clubs was found guilty… may be an meaningless question. Apart from that, there were some good news too – the Yugoslavian striker Dusan Bajevic joined AEK (Athens).

Bajevic, 28-years old, was one of the best Yugoslavian centre-forwards of the 1970s. National team regular for years, the star of the very strong Velez (Mostar), prolific scorer, and part of the good Yugoslavian team at the 1974 World Cup finals. The second real star after the Argentinian ‘La Bruja’ Veron to come play in Greece. It was even a bit strange – a player of his caliber was expected to join stronger West European league, but a shift was slowly happening – the Greek clubs started buying more Europeans than anonymous South Americans: Yugoslavians, Danes, the odd West German. Foreign coaches were continuously hired too. The top clubs at least were getting stronger.

The positive changes did not yet spread to lower echelons of Greek football.

AS Rodos won the Southern Second Division, and

AE Larisa won the Northern Second Division. Happy to be promoted, but neither club was strong addition to First league.

The newcomers were replacing the unlucky outsiders of First Division:

Veria was last with 18 points – their efforts of fixing matches were transparent enough: to escape relegation. But even if 10 points were not deducted from their record, Veria was still to be relegated.

AO Pierikos (Katerini) finished 17th with 26 points. A little unlucky, for there was large group of clubs concerned only with survival – up to the 9th placed. The luckiest ended with 30 points. However, the relegated were not to be missed.

Only one club of the bulk was obviously improving: OFI Crete.

Only two years earlier the islanders were playing in second division. Historically, OFI were nobodies – they had short first division spell in the 1960s and that was all. Now they had ambition, perhaps money, and may be good organization. Fans turning historians boast that OFI was the club to be… young players from all Greece were eager to join the club. Fancy imagination – no future stars of Greek football are founded in their 1977-78 roster. Even their two Yugoslavians are anonymous – Voukman and Ivanta (the name is clearly changed, may be to make it easier for Greek pronouncing). The only relatively known name is Kostas Liolios, acquired from Olympiakos for this season. But the team was going up – they finished 8th, becoming one of the stable clubs.

The bulk of the league was topped by PAS Giannina at 5th place.

They were running strong thanks to their large group of South Americans and the great mystery around them: players with frequently changing names, one year with their original ones, the next with Greek names, called in the same time ‘Argentine-Italians’, something not giving them even Greek roots, but never mind. They were for his club and even more. Good, but not good enough to challenge the big clubs.


DDR The Cup



The Cup final was a replay of the duel for the title – Dynamo (Dresden) vs 1. FC Magdeburg. Much at stake: Magdeburg needed to prove their worth, to win a trophy. Dynamo was ambitious to get a double. They won the Cup three times so far – Magdeburg had one more. Trophies, records, pride… the best East German clubs of the season proved their dominance.

Doubles happened rarely in DDR – the top clubs were of fairly equal strength. Dynamo had a chance, although in April, when the final was played in Berlin, double would not be yet on the minds of stuff and players of Dynamo – the championship was still in progress. Rather, a double could have been on the minds of both finalists, for both had a chance to win the championship too. Magdeburg scored early – the veteran defender Zapf netted the ball in the 8th minute. Nothing decided yet…. plenty of time. It turned out it was decided – no other goal was scored and Magdeburg triumphed.

The round of victory. May be the effort entirely exhausted the winners – hardly anybody smiled when posing for a picture for posterity.

Difficult victory, but Magdeburg won their 5th Cup. It was also their first trophy since 1975.

DDR I Division


Slowly climbing to the real stuff – but there was one more division: the best 6 clubs were really two separate groups, if not three. Chemie (Halle) was 6th with 30 points. The 7th had 24 points, but Chemie was not a favourite either.

A team without stars, Chemie was sturdy, experienced, and well rounded at best. Quite enough to propel them into the top group, but not making them really able to truly compete. Their final position tells about real strength – Chemie was only better than most in the league.

Carl Zeiss (Jena), with 31 points was 5th. Their position is a bit misguiding: one of the traditionally strongest clubs in DDR was among the best as ever. To be 5th was not surprising really, for normally it was a shuffle between familiar names. But this season Carl Zeiss was entirely out of the championship race, despite their final place. But it did not look like a beginning of decline either – the team was strong and Carl Zeiss had good European performance. It was just a temporary slippage, no matter how strange it appeared to see Carl Zeiss not as a contender.

This season Carl Zeiss introduced their new kit design – hoops were almost unseen in East German football. Traditionally, the designs were different and the jerseys of the technical stuff represent the typical ones. Even stripes were relatively rare, but hoops were radical departure. Carl Zeiss was to use this design for about 5 years and during that time hoops became popular with other clubs.

Lokomotive (Leipzig) was 4th with 32 points, rounding the mini-division of the strongest. Normal place for them. Perhaps they got a bit fewer points than usual, but Lokomotive was peculiar club: one of the consistently strong clubs, yet, never a contender.

The squad gives the reason why Lokomotive were not potential champions- they always had a group of very players, but never as many as the other favourites. The limited pool of East German talent did not permit them any better.

Third was the only really rising club in the recent years – Dynamo (Berlin).

The Stasi club was getting stronger, unlike the Army club Vorwaerts. The key players were – Terletzki, Lauck, Trieloff, Riediger, Rudwaleit – already with plenty of experience and the number of stars was slowly increasing. But the squad still needed some additions, fine tuning, maturity. Their hour was coming, but did not come yet. 35 points this year – clearly better than the three clubs bellow them, but also not in the championship race – Dynamo was separated by three points from that.

At the end, it was a race between two very familiar opponents: 1. FC Magdeburg and SG Dynamo (Dresden). Magdeburg outpaced the rest of the league, but was no match for Dynamo – they had the best defensive record in the league (-17), but as usually happens, it was at the expense of their attack (fifth in the league – all clubs of the top tier, save Chemie, scored more goals. Magdeburg ended 3 points behind the champions.

The squad was still full of players vividly remembering the day they won the Cup Winners Cup – Sparwasser, Zapf, Hoffmann, Pommerenke, Tyll, Seguin, Raugust. Joachim Streich, the best East German left winger of the 1970s, joined them recently. Magdeburg were running strong, but there was only one title… 38 points were not enough for winning it.

41 points were. Dynamo (Dresden) lost 3 matches, tied 5, and won 18. They scored 70 goals – 13 more than second best attack (Lokomotive Leipzig). They won confidently their 6th title and third consecutive.

Dynamo were the most successful East German club during the 1970s, no doubt about it. Top row, from left: Gert Heidler, Reinhard Hafner, Frank Richter, Hans-Jurgen Dorner, Matthias Muller, Klaus Muller, Dieter Riedel, Rainer Sachse.

Middle row: Gerhard Prautzsch – coach, Karsten Petersohn, Udo Schmuck, Gerd Weber, Hartmut Schade, Andreas Trautmann, Matthias Doschner.

Front row: Peter Kotte, Jorg Klimpel, Claus Boden, Bernd Jakubowski, Christian Helm.

The team had enough class, but something was already visible: Dynamo, Magdeburg, and Carl Zeiss largely depended on the great players of the 1970s, arguably the best East German generation, still quite young and influential. But no new stars emerged to challenge the established ones. Potential trouble – but still far away.


DDR II Division and the bottom of I Division

DDR – rather alarming season, because of sharp divisions. Second division – 5 groups of 12 clubs each – was never strong supplier for the top tier, but now appeared as entirely separated entity. The winners, going to the final promotional mini-league, were:

Hansa (Rostock) from Group A,

Vorwaerts (Neubrandenburg) from Group B,

BSG Chemie (Leipzig) from Group C,

FSV Lokomotive (Dresden) from Group D, and

BSG Stahl (Riesa) from group E.

Only Hansa and Stahl really dominated their groups, but still the final round-robin tournament was supposed to be tougher. It was not – Stahl and Hansa walked over. Hansa lost matches, but still ended 4 points ahead of the 3rd placed BSG Chemie (Leipzig), finishing with 11 points. Stahl was 4 points ahead, after winning 7 of the total 8 matches and losing none. They scored 27 goals and received only 4. Well, nothing wrong at first glance – the best proved there strength… except that the winners of promotions were the relegated from first division the previous year. They were measly just an year ago and there not a single to believe that they were really stronger now. Hansa was an interesting measuring stick – they still had one or two real stars and were, on paper, more impressive than Stahl. Yet, they finished well behind the modest club from Riesa. Returning to first division was good, but was it really making the top league more competitive? Unlikely.

Unlikely, because top flight was severely divided: two hopeless outsiders, then a group of 6 clubs far bellow the upper half, yet, feeling secure, for they were also much better than the outsiders, and only relatively strong clubs – far stronger than the lower half of the league, but… there were internal divide even there: one club was seemingly stronger than half of this group, yet, not a title contender. More or less only two clubs really competed for the title.

At the bottom was Vorwaerts (Frankfurt/Oder).

The Army club suffered during the 1970, slowly sinking further and further down the table. Yet, it was hard to imagine them relegated – in the tradition of Communist Eastern Europe, the Army clubs were kept strong and heavily supported by the state. That was the case in DDR too – until 1970. Quiet, but significant change of emphasis apparently happened – first the club was moved from East Berlin to Frankfurt/Oder. The change appeared as relaxing of the state grip on football at first – so far, the Police was not powerful and no longer the Army. But by this season the Police club was gradually getting stronger – not yet dominant, though. As for the Army – the relegation meant that the state did not want this club anymore. Perhaps. Anyhow, Vorwaerts was really weak – they accumulated only 15 points, winning only 3 matches. Thirteenth at the final table and going to taste second division football next year.

Bellow them was a hopeless team even when compared to Vorwaerts – BSG Wismut (Gera). Nothing surprising at a glance – newly promoted clubs were relegated just as quickly as a rule. But Wismut finished with the worst record in the whole history of the East German top league to date: 6 points! They won a single match – Wismut (Aue) distinguished themselves as the only team losing against Gera: 1-2. Only one club had it worse than Gera: SC Fortschritt (Weissenfels) ended without any wins in 1960, but still with more points – 8, from the corresponding number of ties – than Wismut (Gera).

All-time worst… the freshly relegated get ready for their familiar second division habitat in July 1977: Standing from left: Irmscher, Markfeld, Kraft, Korn, Hoppe, Posselt, Neubert.

First row: Schirrmeister, Zubeck, Struppert, Winkler, Kaiser, Kliemang.

Yes, Wismut (Gera) was not strong club – their best years were far back in the early 1950s, then they made a single first division appearance in 1966-67, when they finished last (but with double the points and 4 victories). It was not that much their sorry fate, but rather what the general message was: the second division was not able to promote even slightly competitive club. Looked like the only role of the newcomers was to provide comfortable security for the rest of the league and no wonder it was getting weaker league as a whole, for half of it had no fear and no ambitions, slowly sinking too, but still not in danger of relegation.

The second debutant – and in their case real debutantes, for they never played in first division before – had heroic season: they finished 12th in the 14-team league. BSG Chemie (Bohlen) had no players to speak of, but they were brave and may be helped by the incredible weakness of Vorwaerts (Frankfurt/Oder).

Absolute beginners – and no longer after this season. Chemie ended with 20 points, so they were out of danger long before the end of the season. Yet, they were the worst of the weak lower half of the league – the team immediately above them, Wismut (Aue), had 22 points. True, the best placed of the weaklings – FC Karl-Marx-Stadt – was 7th with measly 24 points, but even among the rabble Chemie was seemingly of lower class. However, they scored a lot: 34 goals – the same number FC Karl-Marx-Stadt scored – the best by far in the lower half of the league. Well, they may have been happy in Bohlen, but it was clear that Chemie was not a great addition to the league – it was sure that the next year they will be trying only to survive again and their chances were small.

Nothing distinguished half of the league:

Clubs like Union (Berlin), having one or two good players, but no ambitions and clearly no class. Not even fancy kits… it looks like Puma, but DDR did not bye from West Germany – the point practically to the end of this state was to use home-made gear, desperately trying to look ‘better’ than the one made by the ideological enemy. 1. FC Union finished at 8th place with 24 points – FC Karl-Marx-Stadt had better goal-difference – which was 6 points behind the lowest of the upper-half clubs. Vast divide. And quite permanent – the league stayed sharply divided until 1985-86.


Bulgaria the Cup

If the championship was surprizing, the Cup tournament was sensational. In the ¼ finals lowly second division club, Chepinetz (Velingrad) faced Levski-Spartak. Nobody even cared for this fixture – at their worst, Levski were to win easily. Chepinetz were just nobodies… they were simply lucky to play against Levski and photograph themselves with the stars for posterity. The match ended in 1-1 tie and went into penalty shoot-out. Which Chepinetz won 4:2. It was unbelievable, but true. Then the draw for the semi-finals: Chepinetz vs CSKA. Miracles happen rarely and are never repeated… the match was in Sofia on top of everything. No chance for Chepinetz whatsoever. Yet, this match also ended 1-1 and went to shoot-out. Miracles are not repeated, but CSKA extracted victory by only 4:3! A tiny club, insignificant even by second division measures eliminated Levski-spartak and almost eliminated CSKA. Fantastic. But that was the end of Cinderella story… CSKA went to the final. There they were meeting Marek (Stanke Dimitrov), who eliminated Lokomotiv (Sofia) in the quarter-finals 2-1, and then had it a bit easier at the semi-finals against the worst first division team, Akademik (Svishtov). Marek won 2-0, but considering their weak season… there was no doubt who the Cup winner will be. CSKA did not have a great year, but they were always ambitious, still had strong chances for a double, and simply had classier squad. And just in case, non-CSKA fans were sure that Marek will be ordered not to put any resistance. It was a final not worth watching at all – the victory of CSKA was sure, the match was to be a mere formality, if not outrageous farce.

The farce ended after half an hour – the right full back of Marek Lyuben Sevdin scored. So far, Marek was fighting well and did not give signs of giving up, but still pessimism dominated: may be putting a resistance in the first half, so the whole affair to be covered. If the second half they will give up and the journalists will write that the team was not match for great CSKA, they got tired, and… what could you expect? The best wins. Marek still have to work a lot to improve their football. Such wisdom vanished when the underdog was suddenly leading. And they bravely fought to the end, preserving the result and winning their first trophy ever. Now, this was sensational. It was minimal victory – only 1-0 – but what a victory!

CSKA finishing empty-handed the season. They were expected to win a double – this they did in a way: twice second-best. 18 national team players (of different years, but still…) losing to mere tiny provincials. May be CSKA got consolation from the fact that in the fall of 1977 Bayern lost a UEFA match to Marek? The mighty Germans lost 0-2 – CSKA did better. May be not… second place equals disaster and shame for a club counting only trophies won.

Marek – the sensational winners. Sitting from left: Emil Kyuchukov, Dimitar Dimitrov, Ventzislav Petrov, Ivan Petrov, Aleksandar Raynov, Sasho Pargov.

Middle row: Dimitar Kukov – assistant coach, Roman Karakolev, Lyuben Kolev, Stoyan Stoyanov, Ivan Palev, Lyuben Sevdin, Yanko Dinkov – coach.

Third row: Stanke Bozhurin, Slavcho Lazov, Lyuben Brankov, Nikolay Vukov, Aleksandar Kyuchukov.

It was precisely the same squad under the same coach which surprised everybody the previous season by finishing third right after winning promotion. Yes, they played very well, but given the limitations of the squad and the vanishing of the surprise element, they were not expected to repeat their great year, let alone win a trophy. And predictions were so far right: Marek still played well, but now everybody knew them and they were at the bottom of the table, trying to avoid relegation. Reaching the Cup final was a bit surprising, but perhaps Lokomotiv (Sofia) chose to concentrate on the fight for the championship and did not care for the cup. Then Marek had been lucky, drawing a weak opponent. Luck is luck, but they won the final against CSKA. They really proved themselves. Yet, it was hard to believe, given their limited squad. Marek practically used only 14 players the previous season and it was absolutely certain that there was nobody behind the regulars. The team badly needed additions… yet, they did not recruit anybody in summer of 1977 and lost their sweeper Nikolay Krastev. Technically, he was still in the squad, but after his leg was broken in the previous season it was clear he was not going to play again. Now they had not more, but fewer good players – the photo of the Cup winning squad perfectly shows the very extend of Marek: the whole third row are reserves, with very few appearances. The back-up goalie Brankov still had to debut in official match. The field players probably had less than 15 appearances in two years each , and hardly anybody played a full match yet: the only play they got was a few minutes of occasional replacement of some regular. The reserves were clearly local boys included because there was nobody else. None of them not only was never a known player, but nobody became a starter for Marek. Marek had bigger squad on paper, but the others were not even good enough for reserves. There is one player missing, the midfielder Assen Tomov – his absence only amplifies the team’s limitations: 12 players total to depend on. Tomov was practically the regular replacement, coming every match in the second half. Without him… only 11 left. Imagine one of them injured? Imagine two out of form? And something already a reality, not imagination: already three players were included in the national team. A few more were soon to be called – the regulars were suddenly taxed with too many important games: the championship, the Cup, the European torunaments, the national team matches. It was already a miracle they survived so far. But a heroic team too – despite the objective difficulties, they bested their best year. They won the first trophy for Marek! And, so far, their last… this team will stay heroic and legendary not just for the club and its fans. They truly deserved their success.

It was the season of small clubs and minimal teams – they won everything against expectations and logic. Strange similarity – both Lokomotiv and Marek depended on tiny groups of players, almost all of them home-grown. Their modest, if not entirely unknown coaches, were also closely related to the clubs – more local boys becoming famous out of the blue. An unique season, but also sad… the way they were, both winners were unlikely to stay on top. The most they were to hope for was the big teams to stay away of their players – so far, Levski and CSKA were disinterested… the winners were somewhat not the type of players needed by the big clubs. Levski did not even try to get back its former juniors, the Petrov twins. Even when they were called to the national team and even when Levski badly precisely centre-forward – the very position the twins played. At the end, only two players were taken by the mighty: CSKA took Zdravkov from Lokomotiv and two years later Levski took Lyuben Kolev from Marek. Lucky winners… they could have been robbed entirely. How pleasant it was to see modest clubs win everything, and such minimalistic teams on top of it. Pleasant and amazing, and not to be repeated…

Just because of the uniqueness of the seasonal winners, one more photo of Marek – made right after the Cup final ended and they received the Cup. Because of colour clash, Marek had to play with their second kit. White jerseys, blue shorts, red socks. Or,well… it was not to be their day: CSKA playing in their second kit against some provincial dwarfs? But it is even sweeter to win over heavily favoured opposition, in their home town, and after it is taken for granted that if anybody had to change kits, it is the small, insignificant provincial guys. In a way, Marek’s victory was even a kind of symbolic revenge for the harsh and unfair suspension of Kiril Milanov – his troubles started when he was young and playing for Marek and related to CSKA and their powerful supporter in the top of the Communist Party and state leadership.

Bulgaria I Division

Climbing slowly up to the real thing – the race for the title. A bit unusual one this year – the eternal candidates CSKA and Levski were here of course, but the real battle was not between them. Rather, it was, but not directly. Depending on opinion, it was either a great triumph of the underdog, or sneaky scheming of Levski against CSKA handing the title to a third party. Backroom scheming is never absent in football, but the season can be called crooked – the champions were the most consistent during the season and Levski and CSKA were both shaky. In fact, Levski was out of the race entirely – they finished 4th in the fall, 4 points behind the leaders and the best they were able to do in the spring was to climb one place higher. They were never able to really aim at the title – a disappointing season for the champions of 1976-77. Strange season too, affecting performance – Levski was in very promising form at the beginning of the championship, but not for long. Not everything was in their own hands, though – something disturbed their plans. Not a great excuse, but the event is interesting in itself and also affected the championship to some degree.

Levski-Spartak 1977-78: sitting from left: Ivan Tishansky, Todor Barzov, Voyn Voynov, Krassimir Borisov, Stefan Aladzhov, Stefan Pavlov.

Middle row: Aleksandar Kostov – assistant coach, Tomas Lafchis, Georgy Todorov, Vladimir Nikolchev, Ivan Vutzov – coach, Georgy Krastev, Dimitar Enchev, Stefan Staykov, Lyudmil Goranov – assistant coach.

Third row: Kiril Ivkov, Plamen Nikolov, Nikolay Grancharov, Emil Spassov, Angel Stankov, Pavel Panov.

Strange things started in the summer between seasons – the coach Vassil Spassov, who just made Levski-Spartak champions, was replaced by Ivan Vutzov. The possible explanation was the need of rebuilding: the squad aged both as a squad and as individual players. Spassov, an old coach, was perhaps considered too old-fashioned for the delicate exercise. Vutzov was in his mid-30s and representing modern vision, at least in theory. His qualities were doubted among the fans – he already coached Levski in 1974-75, when he was established at the helm in mid-season practically without any coaching experience. He kind of saved the season, but did not last. Nothing really distinguished him so far – his age was more or less the only quality to speak of. He had more experience by now, but nothing remarkable. Vutzov kept his former teammate Aleksandar Kostov as an assistant coach – the same position he had the year before – and for many he was the real coach: Kostov, one of the all-time heroes of Levski’s fans, was fondly remembered for his cunning. The fans believed him to be the same cunning coach as he was a player, and the one really discovering winning strategies. Vutzov was thought head coach on paper only. But he added another assistant coach – the former Akademik Sofia goalkeeper Lyudmil Goranov. He just finished his playing career, so lacked coaching experience yet, but he was also very young and perhaps well versed in modern football. In general, the coaching staff had to prove themselves worthy for the club – which meant winning the title. The first step was a bit shaky, but deemed in the right direction: six players were released – the veterans Milko Gaydarsky, Ivan Soyanov, and Georgy Tzvetkov; the good, but often injured goalkeeper Nikolay Iliev; and the reserves Blagoy Krastanov and Valentin Chaushev. It appeared right – perhaps there were some reservations about Stoyanov, who lost his regular place, but was always dependable player. He was not all that old and may be should have been kept for a back-up of Todor Barzov, but at the end – no really big deal. The new recruits were met with mixed feelings: Tomas Lafchis (19) came from the club’s youth system – he was already known to the fans and considered great talent. Actually, he was kept in the junior team a bit longer because he needed to play and there was no chance in the men’s team so far. Fans liked his inclusion partly because traditionally Levski’s strength was based on home-grown players, ‘true blue’ since childhood. The fans resented the change introduced after the forced merger with the Police club Spartak – juniors were no longer the primary source. Levski-Spartak employed the practice of CSKA – recruit by hook or crook talent from elsewhere. Lafchis was the only third home-made talent to become a starter since 1970 (and may be only the second, for Voyn Voynov had a brief spell with second division club before called back to Levski-Spartak). Dimitar Enchev (22) from ZhSK Spartak (Varna) and Plamen Nikolov (20) from Spartak (Pleven) were also greeted with enthusiasm – both were more than promising players – actually, they already were solid regulars in their former clubs and given their age, more than promising players – they were becoming quickly sure stars. It was also clear who they came to replace – the aging Kiril Ivkov and Stefan Aladzhov. Not right away, but to be solid and competitive reserves, becoming under the guidance of the veterans excellent regulars in the next year. The last newcomer was unknown, considered at first just a reserve player – the name Angel Stankov meant nothing. He came from the second-division Bdin (Vidin), but actually he was with Akademik (Sofia) before playing for Bdin. Few even noticed Stankov when he was in Akademik – he played a grand total of one match. His contribution was largely on paper – on team photos. True, he had tough competition, for those were the strongest years of Akademik, but it was also source for grave doubts: what kind of player this Stankov could be, if at 24 years he had a single appearance in first division and not considered even among the list of game reserves in Akademik? They still had another like this one (look back to Akademik for Gyorev) – useful only to photographers. Stankov was seen like few others before him – Blagoy Krastanov, Ognyan Bochev, Tchavdar Trifonov – strikers, coming from nowhere, impressing no one, and let go the next year. The newcomers seemingly strengthened the defense, but there were no such additions to the other lines – true, the defense needed badly fresh players, but there was also need of good midfielders and strikers, if a new team was to be built. A bit strange recruits, but the team was looking strong enough – at least for the new season. There was a dark spot, but considered only a temporary problem – the ban of Kiril Milanov. This proved to be the biggest problem at the end, for new strikers were not actively searched for in the summer precisely because Levski had Milanov. When it became clear that actually they don’t have him, it was way too late… the season was practically lost.

The problem started in the spring of 1977, at the Cup final between Levski-Spartak and Lokomotiv (Sofia). Since Levski was trying to win the championship, a backroom deal was made – the suits running Levski-Spartak proposed a little deal to their brothers running Lokomotiv: take it easy in our championship match, thus, helping us to win the title and we will make you no difficulty at the Cup final. The title for us and the Cup for you. Done deal. It was not even looking suspicious, for normally Levski won their matches with Lokomotiv. When the Cup final came, the championship match was already played as agreed and suddenly the blue brass developed new ideas… but they did not share them with neither Lokomotiv, nor their own players. Levski’s team learned that they must win the Cup too just before the game started. The team captain Kiril Ivkov was charged to deliver the news to Lokomotiv – and this happened when both teams were walking together to the pitch. Ivkov, a polite and mellow man, embarrassed and trying to apologize told Lokomotiv’s captain Atanas Mikhailov that Levski was ordered to play the final for real. Sorry, mate, but the deal is off and we have to win. Naturally, Lokomotiv’s players were enraged – and the final was marred by hostility and violence. Levski won, but the fracas were noticed by eyes hostile to Levski and especially hating their centre-forward Milanov. The match provided good reason – one of the most enraged players of Lokomotiv was their central defender Yordan ‘Bumbo’ Stoykov, a fiery character, often playing rough, and great collector of yellow and red cards for both brutal fouls and misbehaving. His direct opponent was Kiril Milanov, not a lamb either. Short-tempered, rough with defenders, no stranger to scandals and often penalized. The collision between the two was perhaps unavoidable even if the original aggreement was honored, but now there was not even a slightest possibility for peaceful co-existence. Technically, Stoykov started the problems and Milanov retaliated. Both were yellow-carted, but their conduct was unsportsmenship by any definition. The Communist system added its own addition to that: it was a behaviour unbecoming to ‘socialist sportsmen’ and disgrace to such esteemed final for the trophy donated by the Soviet Army. The players were to be penalized for tainting the final… but only Milanov was penalized: he was banished for life! There was no mystery who was behind the verdict – Milko Balev, one of the most powerful figures in the Bulgarian Communist Party and government. He was a big CSKA fan and hated Levki with equal passion. And he also hated Kiril Milanov for years – since the time when Milanov was young striker of Marek who refused to follow orders and played seriously against CSKA when the team was to take it easy and save their strength for other teams. Balev never forgot those old troubles, but more was added when Milanov joined Levski and became a menace for the Army defense. Now great opportunity to eliminate him emerged and Balev used it – he used his clout and the football federation banned Milanov for life. Levski were not very concerned at first – such bans were handed often, but later reversed. No player ever was really banned for good – after awhile they were back on the pitch. Milanov was frequently suspended anyway, so now it was a bit more serious penalty given, but soon the emotion will cool down and everything will go back to normal. Levski too had powerful supporters in the highest party echelons and the Police itself was strong enough force. Levski were seemingly so sure that the ban was no more than a joke that they even did not protest the fact that Stoykov was not penalized at all. Levksi were so certain the ban cannot be anything but temporary that Milanov not only trained with the team, but was fielded against Ajax (Amsterdam) in the 1/8 finals of the European Champions Cur – he was banned in Bulgaria, but not in Europe. Nobody even consider that Milanov was playing his very last match in Amsterdam on November 2, 1977.

Milanov, number 9, fighting for the high ball with Dutch defender in the home game against Ajax on October 19,1977. Two weeks later he played his last match in Amsterdam, scoring his last goal. Levski lost both legs and was eliminated – may this also contributed to Milanov’s undoing. If Levski qualified, the ¼ finals were in the spring of 1978, giving more time for maneuvers and using the importance of international success for further elevating the authority of the ‘socialist way of life’ as a possible lever for lifting the ban. Unfortunately, there was no time… Perhaps Milko Balev was too strong an enemy and he was not alone – the powerful Army lobby, led by the Minister of Defense himself, was certainly helping him. May be Levski’s lobby was not equally strong. May be they did not took the threat seriously and did not make a big effort to save the player. May be they decided Milanov was too old anyway to be worth the effort – he was 30 at the time and in the big scheming his age was taken into consideration. But since his permanent absence was not counted on in the summer, Levski faced a big problem – the club traditionally depend on strong classic centre-forward. Two of them were released in the summer – Tzvetkov and Krastanov. The reasons were plausible, but the decision was also based on the fact that Milanov was to play soon. The illusion lasted until the summer of 1978, if not even longer, but Levski was without centre-forward. The young former junior of the club Georgy Todorov was clearly not a starter – a reserve at best, and even as a reserve he did not last long. The unknown Angel Stankov was clearly brought with the same idea – as a reserve of Milanov. He was not a typical centre-forward on top of everything. The team suffered surely, but there was ironic benefit too – this very Stankov suddenly became a starter and he used his lucky opportunity very well: he was one of the most exciting players of Levski this season and was included in the national team . What a surprise he was, but not a full remedy… Levski had to improvise for the most of the season, using him, Todorov, and the attacking midfielder Yordan Yordanov as centre-forwards. None was really convincing at the role… and the situation was gravely aggravated by string of injuires, the most important one was the broken leg of Pavel Panov, the star attacking midfielder of the team, who was able to maintain the quality of the weakened attack. But he was injured in the first leg with Ajax and was out for six months – that is, to the end of the season. Things were really bad at the last ever match Milanov played – Levski travelled with only 12 available players to Amsterdam. Two goalies and ten field players… the great joker Aleksandar Kostov was not joking when he proposed to Vutzov both dress for the match and list themselves as reserves. At least Milnaov’s career ended with a goal against Ajax on their home turf, but Levski lost the season. As the rumor goes since then, they did one thing – Levski supposedly gave important points to Lokomotiv Sofia in the spring. A late compensation for the treachery the previous year? Or the usual revenge on CSKA, self-serving at the bottom – whoever else a champion, as long as it is not the arch-enemy.

CSKA ‘Septemvriisko zname” finished second. They had high hopes for winning the title for the most of the season, although the team struggled often and seemingly the efforts of building a new team, started in 1975 were still not satisfying. CSKA was second in the fall, trailing two points behind the leaders. However, they lost 5 matches – a high number for CSKA, suggesting that the team was not so great. They were stronger in the spring, losing only 2 matches – but the competition lost only one! To a point, Levski contributed to CSKA’a misery: in the fall, Levski destroyed CSKA 4-1. In the spring the second leg ended 2-2. And most of all, Levski did not play seriously against Lokomotiv, helping them with easy, but very needed point. CSKA fans cry foul ever since, but more on principle than with real indignation – truly, CSKA had not a great team and lost the title mostly because of its own weakness. It was still a time of trying and erring, mostly erring… players were recruited one after another, but no solid new team emerged. Risks were taken, some experiments were disappointing, there were permanent problems with no easy solutions. Nikola Kovachev was once again coaching CSKA, but he was fired quickly the first time he did in 1974. Another former CSKA player was tried too – Sergy Yotzov, very successful with Sliven, but not in CSKA. Kovachev replaced him, but it was clear that he was a temporary solution until the needed man is discovered. There was no suitable man… Kovachev stayed. Some of the players stayed too in similar situation and the team was a bit uncertain of their future, a little misshaped, desperately searching for players and right chemistry.

On paper – strong names… but not on the field. Crouching from left: Tzonyo Vassilev, Borislav Sredkov, Plamen Markov, Dimitar Dimitrov, Stefan Stefanov, Tzvetan Yonchev.

Middle row: Svetlin Mirchev, Valery Peychev, Spas Dzhevizov, Bozhil Kolev, Milen Goranov, Ivan Zafirov.

Third row: Boris Manolkov, Nikola Christov, Georgy Denev, Georgy Dimitrov, Todor Atanassov, Ivan Metodiev, Angel Rangelov, Yordan Filipov.

Well, almost a whole squad of national team players… only Stefanov, Atanassov, and Peychev never played for Bulgaria. However, these guys did not play at the same time in the national team – some were getting old by now, others were still too young, and a third group were getting a bit downhill for one or another reason. The first problem was the goalkeeper – CSKA depended since mid-1960s on two national team players: Stoyan Yordanov and Yordan Filipov. The duo served its purpose well – both players were given to certain collapses of form, so it was easy to change the one with other who as a rule would be in great form. Filipov had disciplinary problems and was often penalized by the club, but every time he came back determined to prove his worth, so generally the club benefited by his misbehaving. But the goalies were of the same generation and getting dangerously old. Two young talents were recruited in the hope of replacing the veterans – Boris Manolkov from Lokomotiv Sofia and Ivan Kamarashev from Yantra Gabrovo. Both arrived in 1975 and so far made only one thing clear: that they were not going to be great. Thus, Yordanov and Filipov were also kept – and played. Yordanov was finally released in the summer of 1977 – he went to Sliven. Filipov remained, a forth keeper was also included – Vlado Delchev, 19-years old debutant. He did not play a single minute this season and had to move elsewhere, but his bad luck was somewhat sealed this very year: in the beginning of the 1980s he went to Levksi and was great between the posts. But… even better keeper started the very year he arrived and Delchev spent almost the whole of his career as a back-up goalie, sitting year after year on the bench. CSKA never even tried him in 1977-78. But that time Kamarashev was also deemed hopeless and rarely listed even among the reserves. Manolkov and Filipov rotated – Manolkov was tried again and again in the hope that he will finally satisfy, but soon had to be replaced by the old Filipov. Once a starter, Filipov was almost called back to the national team, but he was a starter for long… Manolkov was tried stubbornly again, and so the rotation went on and on. Rather perplexing, but clearly CSKA needed younger keeper. Old players are not forever – wise idea? Well, Filipov was still only 31 years old. Yes, he retired… at 40 and although he played elsewhere for awhile, at the end he retired as CSKA player. But goalkeeping was a big headache between 1975 and 1979. No solution in this department. Defense was aging too – the full backs, although strong, needed back ups with strong potential. So far – nobody. Ivan Zafirov, 30 years old and no longer called to the national team was still solid and reliable, but getting a bit slower, so the advantage of him doubling as a surprise right winger was lost. Tzonyo Vassilev was a national team regular and only 25 years old – unfortunately, he was too much related to the previous squad, which was still to be completely replaced . There was another problem – finding him a place: when he joined CSKA he was converted from a sweeper to left full back. There he stayed, but CSKA had no sweeper or libero left by 1977 – so, there was a temptation to move him to his original position, but no clear decision was made – if moved, then there was no left full back and also Bozhil Kolev, himself converted into a libero, had to be moved ahead. Who was more useful at what position was a question to which Kovachev did not find an answer – the result was uncertain and frequently changed defense in front of frequently changed and uncertain goalkeeper. The instability was further fueled by the abundance of stoppers – Angel Rangelov was solid, a national team player, and only 25 years old. But there were two others… Georgy Dimitrov – the future captain of both CSKA and Bulgaria was only 18, but eager to be a starter. The 22-years old Georgy Iliev was also in the team after impressive spell with Sliven (like Rangelov, he was a product of CSKA youth system, sent to Sliven at first. Actually, he replaced Rangelov there when he was called back to CSKA.) Three players competing for one position… hard to choose because they were young. Strangely similar players too – all three were fiery and ill-tempered, played dirty more often than necessary, argued with referees, went into fights on the first occasion and, as a result, were suspended and penalized with astonishing regularity. Thiswas perhaps the biggest problem for a coach – to chose one of them as a regular and dismiss the others meant to be without solid central defender often because of suspensions. But to keep so talented players as mere reserves was not a solution either… Iliev was the least gifted of the trio and he was eventually returned to Sliven (and later called back to CSKA again). He was also tried at other positions – in midfield and as a full back – but he was not so good there. The midfield was getting old too – Dimitar Dimitrov was 28, Georgy Denev – 27, Bozhil Kolev – 28. Dimitrov and Denev were no longer improving, they reached their limits some time ago, and it was clear that their main role was to help with experience and inspire the youngsters. For now… they were to be dismissed soon, it was obvious, but it was also obvious that as long as Denev was in the squad, it will be impossible to bench him no matter how he played – he was prone to scandals, had old supporters in the team, and the fans generally liked him. Unfortunately, his egoistic play was becoming increasingly counter-productive to the team. Bozhil Kolev was at his best on the other hand – it could be said that he was the key player, the engine of CSKA since 1974. Originally a defensive midfielder, he expanded, covering the whole field, conducting the game, and scoring goals. To make him a playmaker was not really a solution because it would immediately crowd the central zone – other players operated there too – and it looked like the best was to convert him into a libero. But no conclusive decision was made, so Kolev also appeared in different positions, thus, preventing the building of both strong defensive and midfield lines. The worst was that CSKA had no other defensive midfielder in the squad – Iliev was tried, sometimes Peychev, ultimately, there was no one, so Kolev was often used at his original position to everybody’s regret, for the creative strength of the team was immediately weakened. The havoc in midfield was still great – Dimitar Dimitrov, Plamen Markov, and Milen Goranov were constantly rotated because they were rather similar attacking midfielders, but the left side position was reserved for Denev and they were tried as playmakers and even as centre-forwards. None was matching the vision and the creativity of Bozhil Kolev, but if some of them was placed in the centre of midfield, Kolev automatically had to be moved back. Constant changes were more confusing than positive, and there was no end to them – Dzhevizov was still a bit shaky, but he was just a classic centre-forward and useless anywhere else. So, if he played – and Kovachev was constantly tempted to filed him, for he was the only pure centre-forward, big, difficult to press, perhaps the only player in the team really strong (although not very efficient) in the air, only 22 years old with great coring potential – then the whole team had to be reshaped (Milen Goranov moved back to midfield, immediately affecting the positions and reducing the effectiveness of Markov and Kolev). Perhaps in hope of establishing some stability at last the 26-years old centre-forward Nikola Christov was brought in the winter break from Dunav (Rousse). Like Dzhevizov, he was useless at any other position, so his presence only increased the confusion. Finally, there was no right-winger… the unknown Stefanov showed some promising flashes, but it became quickly clear he was not to be a star. The squad was misbalanced – questionable players at some posts, crowding at others, none for yet other positions. CSKA struggled never finding the right formation or any stability. May be finishing second was just too good for this confused squad – but given the weaknesses of others, particularly Levski-Spartak and Slavia, they were still candidates for the title and missed it by very little.

The most consistent team won the title – Lokomotiv (Sofia). They were first at the end of the fall and maintained the place to the end. In the spring half they lost only one match. In total, they lost only 4 matches – CSKA and Levski-Spartak, sharing the next best record lost almost twice as many games – 7 each. Even the help provided by Levski did not really taint the champions – they were deserving champions. Their kind of game was perhaps not everybody’s liking, but it was interesting tactic for it was designed to get the best of rather limited potential of the squad. Lokomotiv was the poorest of the big clubs of Sofia, ranking forth for years. They had no chance of competing for players with CSKA and Levski-Spartak and their ‘sponsors’ – the Army and the Police. Since 1970 Lokomotiv was not able to compete even with Slavia – they had good players, but not the best and generally had to take whoever the other clubs were not interested of. Winning the title was fantastic – Lokomotiv did not win a championship since 1964. At least they were more successful than Slavia – since the beginning of Communist rule in 1944 Lokomotiv won the championship twice – Slavia had nothing. The number was small, but that is why mentioning Communism is important: the system did not tolerate independence and equality. The ‘official’ clubs dominated all sports, including football. It was the Army and the Police. Period. Only three other clubs managed to win championships so far – Spartak (Plovdiv), Botev (Plovdiv), and Lokomotiv (Sofia). All paid dearly for disturbing the status quo – Spartak and Botev were merged and the names obliterated: there was Trakia (Plovidiv) since 1967. Lokomotiv was merged with Slavia in 1968 (since everybody involved with the original clubs hated the merger tremendously, they managed to break it and restore the original clubs). After the forced merging ending the ‘rebellious’ 1960s Lokomotiv was the first and so far the only club breaking the duopoly of Army and Police – CSKA and Levski-Spartak. It was great not only for the fans of ‘railroad workers’ club. To a point, it was a surprise victory – Lokomotiv, with their limited resources, pretty much settled as a mid-table club. Sometimes better, sometimes worse, but when having strong season it translated into 3rd or 4th place, not contesting the title. So even fans did not expect Lokomotiv’s victory.

The squad winning the third title in the history of Lokomotiv: sitting from left: Borislav Dimitrov, Valentin Svilenov, Roumen Manolov, Georgy Bonev, Atanas Mikhailov, Radoslav Zdravkov, Lyuben Traykov, Boycho Velichkov, Ventzislav Arsov, Traycho Sokolov.

Standing: Vassil Metodiev – coach, Georgy Ivanov, Nasko Zhelev, Nikola Spassov, Georgy Stefanov, Nikolay Donev, Roumyancho Goranov, Angel Kolev, Yordan Stoykov, Sasho Kostov, Petar Milanov, Dimitar Donkov – assistant coach.

Well, the previous title was so long most players were too young even to remember it. Nowadays Atanas Mikhailov is considered as part of the 1964 champion team, but this is suspect – he was merely 15 years old at the time. The only sure 1964 champion on the photo is the coach Vassil Metodiev – back then he was tough right full back and member of the national team. As a coach, he was so far relatively unknown – he was just installed as head coach and almost immediately won the title. Since most of the players were familiar names for years and Lokomotiv traditionally played peculiar style, the real contribution of Metodiev was rather fine tuning, not a radical change. Traditionally, Lokomotiv played slightly defensive game, allowing the opposition into their own half, thus looking for counter-attacking opportunities. The ball was quickly given to Atanas ‘Nachko’ Mikhailov and it was up to his great technical skills from there. The players were well prepared for defensive game, so Metodiev only refined the style. It was not exactly a catenaccio, but something without a proper name – most of time the ball stayed in Lokomotiv’s half, if possessed by the opposition, the defenders just tried to kill the attack, but without pressing the other team out of the their half. If the ball was possessed by Lokomotiv, it was just passed around in their own half, inviting the other team to move ahead and press . Once the other half of the field was almost empty, the ball was passed to Mikhailov and he would start his great slalom towards the net. A 1-0 lead of Lokomotiv was almost as if leading by 3 or 4 goals – it practically spelled the end of the match, for their defense was very difficult to beat. The defenders were very cool and never panicked, they were also skilful, so once the ball was theirs the chances of mistaken pass was next to nothing – other teams were often afraid to pass leisurely the ball in front of their own net, but not the guys in red and black. Most of the time the ball was just given to Nachko Mikhailov – he alone was capable to keep it between his legs for long, long time, not necessarily attacking, but rather gathering almost the whole opposite team around himself in an effort of taking the ball from him. But time was ticking in Lokomotiv’s favour during such entertaining for the public performances. There was little wisdom in fouling Nachko – first of all, his stocky body was heavy and tough. It was very difficult to take him down. It was difficult to injure him too. Second and most importantly, he was a fantastic free-kicker. The distance and the angle were not important at all – every free-kick taken by him was extremely dangerous, most often the ball ended in the net. He scored directly from corner-kicks as well. That was the usual style of Lokomotiv – Metodiev simply perfected it. Nachko Mikhailov was left to decide for himself, as ever, the rest of the team was moved as back as possible and let to dance slowly with the ball. Practically one change was made in the starting eleven – the experinced, but middle-of-the-road full back Sasho Kostov was used as a reserve. A new and unknown player was introduced as right full back – Georgy Stefanov, 25 years old with just 2 previous first division matches. He blended well with the rest of the defense: Borislav ‘Boko’ Dimitrov (26) and Yordan ‘Bumbo” Stoykov (26), the pair of central defenders, and Georgy Bonev (23), the left full back.

The trio was at the best age of players, with already plenty of experience with both Lokomotiv and the national team. Behind them was Rumyancho Goranov (27), fully recovered from his psychological collapse at the 1974 World Cup, and not only in great form, but in the national team again. His first name is a bit confusing, for nowadays he is usually written Roumen. Looks like he changed his first name sometime in the 1980s – ‘Rumyancho’ is actually a diminutive of Roumen, the way small kids are called. Very likely his given name, but it did not sound serious for an adult – the reason he changed it, but to the end of the 1970s he was usually listed ‘Rumyancho’. He already had very gifted back-up – Nikolay Donev, 20-years old product of Lokomotiv’s youth system. It was fine for now, but became a problem after a few years – one had to sit on the bench… by then Donev was also national team material, so it was irresolvable problem. The defenders also had back-up – the already mentioned Kostov (28), experienced and capable to cover either full back side, and two home-grown youngsters Nasko Zhelev (17) and Vassil Elenkov (18). The midfield was the same for many years already – Ventzislav Arsov (24), Trayko Sokolov (26), and, nominally, Nachko Mikhailov (28). The trio was very smooth and coordination between them and the defenders was flawless. The nominal strikers were perhaps the least experienced – Angel Kolev (24) was, on paper, the right wing and the mots experienced. Boycho Velichkov (19) was real centre-forward and the newest great talent of the club – he was in his second season and was a regular from the start. He scored a lot, was extremely skilful, and already seen as the new Nachko Mikhailov. The star was also very keen of the youngster and helped him in every possible way – rarely an young broom is given freedom to do whatever he liked on the pitch, but Velichkov enjoyed such a privilege. Like the star, he disliked helping the defense and almost never did – but Lokomotiv style permitted such laziness: their own half was thickly populated and once the ball reached Velichkov a score was more than likely. Radoslav Zdrvakov (21), another Lokomotiv-made youngster was on the left. He already was grizzled regular and scored a lot. With time, he moved back first to midfield and at last as libero, but he was not pure winger even at the beginning – he and Angel Kolev were more like midfielders. Kolev also often moved to play as centre -forward, his original position. The real left winger was the other great discovery of the season – Lyuben Traykov (26), playing already his third season with Lokomotiv, but really blossoming this year. A bit limited, but very fast winger, his major contribution was variety – all clubs were used to a game centered on Nachko Mikhailov, almost inevitably slow, even the couter-attacks, for Mikhailov was slow and he never passed the ball when attacking. Traykov provided surprising speed and different angle of attack – to the opposition’s surprize, the danger was suddenly coming from the left. Concentration on the winger was immediately opening empty space in front of the net, where Velichkov was suddenly free. Or Mikhailov, if the ball was passed a bit back. Small squad really, but Metodiev used it in the full: tactical variety was added in attack, and although the dominant approach was defensive, careful play, looking for mistakes to be used immediately, Lokomotiv was able to change tactics and thus surprize the opposition with the unexpected – their dominant scheme was something like 4-5-1, but they were able to switch quickly to 4-4-2 and 4-4-3. Surprise was what Metodiev added to this team – same players suddenly moving to different positions, then going back to their usual and expected play. It worked – Lokomotiv did not score lots of goals: only 40 in 30 games, but they won 16 and tied 10 matches. Their defense was not brutal, yet, extremely effective – they allowed only 16 goals in the championship: one goal in two games! Luck had its role too – for a small squad injuries are very dangerous. Levski-Spartak in part suffered this year because of injuries, particularly the broken leg of their star player Panov – Lokomotiv were lucky to escape injuries. The next big danger was players leaving – it was clear that to stay on top they not only needed to keep their regular players, but also to add a few strong additions. But this was only a dream… Lokomotiv was not a club able to get whoever they want. They were also not in a position to keep their talent… Zdravkov was soon tempted by CSKA and left the club. Lokomotiv did not permit the move and the player was suspended for awhile, but he did not return. So Lokomotiv had no chance to become a permanent force – which made their victory even more precious: they won with tiny squad and very limited resources. Luckily, it was a talented bunch – 11 players played for the national team at one or another time. Small is beautiful.

And a bit of trivia: ‘Bumbo’ Stoykov, whose rage led to the fracas with Kiril Milanov at the 1976 Cup final enjoyed a fine 1977-78 season. Milanov, as already mentioned, was banned for life – Bumbo was not. Strange this, since the backroom agreement between Levski and Lokomotiv was not made public, nor the treachery of Levski’s bosses. Thus, what happened on the pitch was provoked by Stoykov – technically, he was the culprit and main villain. Milanov was only guilty of retaliation. Stoykov had to be suspended more severely than Milanov – why he was not is obvious: Milanov was a victim of personal vendetta in which Stoykov did not figure. Fine. But he was notorious troublemaker – rough, perhaps the only dirty (on occasion) player of Lokomotiv, ready to fight both physically and verbally. Frequently suspended as a result – along with Nachko Mikhailov, he was not a dirty player, but always argued with referees. In 1977-78 Stoykov was for a long time one of the prime candidates for the individual sportsmanship award – there was such strange prize during Communist years and all players got points for their conduct in every game. Out of the blue, Bumbo scored high and this was both ironic (given the fate of Milanov) and amusing – the defender did not change a tiny bit of his habits. It may had been weird to Stoykov himself and may be he took care to correct the situation – a yellow card here, a little kick there, a bit of swearing at the referee, and he was out of the list of exemplary players. But even if he won the prize, it would not have been a precedent – a brutal player already won it in 1969. Stoykov was not even close to the animal on the pitch Sapinev was.

Bulgaria I Division


Ups and downs around the league. Marek (Stanke Dimitrov, today – Dupnitza) was inevitably down. With the whole league on guard, they had predictably rough season no matter how they played. They were 13th in the fall and dropped down a place in the spring, finishing 14th with 26 points – 13 from the fall and 13 in the spring.

There was no crisis, but the club did not get any new players, depending on very short squad. They came close to relegation, but curiously this season was the most successful one in the history of the club.

Botev (Vratza) was in inevitable decline – the signs were obvious perhaps since 1975. Familiar signs… the strong generation of the first half of the 1970s aged, the rebuilding did not start on time, and the replacements were not really strong. The team still depended on the veterans, but they were no longer in great shape and retired one after another. Currently 6 remained, all 30 years old – behind them were run of the mill players.

Botev was 14th in the fall and 13th at the end of the season. They were the team with the leakiest defense in the league. Survival was the everything on their minds, but it was clear that the future would be worse.

The next club in crisis – or on the verge of one – was Akademik (Sofia). They were 15th in the fall, but pulled themselves together in the spring and finished 8th. Not bad, but the standing was deceptive: Akademik was past their great years and new squad had to be made quickly. There was new coach already, but the trouble was old and well known: the limited resources of the club made recruiting of talented players difficult. Especially for a club which by their very design depended only on outside players – a ‘students club’ meant only ‘students’ can play for it. However, students graduate and leave… so far Akademik was able to recruit good players. Not great stars, but strong enough and most importantly – compatible to each other, so a strong team was made. But replacement was questionable. The newcomers were not bad, but somehow there was no chemistry and team looked more impressive on paper than on the pitch.

Somehow Akademik had the wrong players and most importantly no new leaders emerged to build a team around them. Ironically, players from this squad were to play big role in Bulgarian football in the early 1980s – Alyosha Dimitrov, Sasho Borissov, Plamen Tzvetkov, Krassimir Goranov – but for other clubs, not Akademik. There were also peculiar for Akademik players: Borislav Gyorev was in the squad since 1975 and so far played a single match! He was to stay quite long without playing – when he finally did, people had no idea he was in the team for years already. He was not the only player in such anonymous situation in Akademik and hard to figure out why. But Akademik was going down, that much was clear, unless they made fundamental changes and entirely different team.

The biggest decline happened to Lokomotiv (Plovdiv). It was similar to the case of Botev (Vratza) both in timing and circumstance: aging, noticeable since 1975. But Lokomotiv, one of the brightest Bulgarian clubs in the early 1970s, faced peculiar problem: a group of veterans and a group of very talented youngsters without anybody in between. No good players in the range of 24-27 years old. The youngsters lacked experience and were still shaky. They also were tempted to leave… already three very good strikers left: Krassimir Manolov (Akademik Sofia), Georgy Fidanov and Nikolay Kurbanov (both Akademik Svishtov). Thus, Lokomotiv was perhaps reluctant to unload veterans – the great Christo Bonev was still great, perhaps the goalkeeper Stancho Bonchev and the right winger Georgy Vassilev were still useful and inspirational, but Gancho Peev, Todor Ivanov, Nedyalko Stamboliev, Yordan Yankov, and Assen Balabanov were clearly over the hill. Unfortunately, without middle aged players of some quality, the veterans were kept in hope of helping with experience and influence. The youngsters were not so many for complete change of team – Vesselin Balevsky, Ruzhdy Kerimov, and Krassimir Chavdarov were the brightest, but experience suggested caution… Manolov, Kurbanov, and Fidanov left and there was no guarantee the others were to be different. And they were not… soon the trio was gone, joining CSKA and Levsky. Lokomotiv was in impossible situation – they had to keep veterans as long as they could, a desperate choice further weakening the club. There was no remedy for years – Lokomotiv was shaped this way until the end of the 1980s: a few great players, the rest rabble and promising but row youngsters. And the club lost permanently its leading position in Bulgarian football, reduced to erratic performance.

A shadow of the former great team – few venerable veterans, few talented youngsters, and bunch of nobodies. Lokomotiv took very rough path, going largely down.

Another two clubs were in similar situation: Sliven and Pirin (Blagoevgrad). Pirin was a replica of Lokomotiv (Plovdiv) – the key players, who propelled the club to the first division four years ago were still the key players – all of them over 30 or at least near the that: Christo Christov, Nikolay Radlev, Popmikhailov, Christo Bakalov, Georgy Luleysky, Yordan Samokovliisky, Metody Stoyanov, Petar Petrov, Borislav Hadzhiev, Boris Nikolov. A whole regular team, when the newcomer Ivan Petrov (from Etar) was added. Practically nobody was in the middle range of 25-28, but there was a group of promising youngsters: Kabranov, Dagalov, Mularov, Branimir Kochev, Spassov, and Petar Tzvetkov. The team was obviously aging, yet, it was curiously different than Lokomotiv (Plovdiv): the veterans seemingly were getting better with age and the fate of the team depending largely on them. This was more pronounced in later years, so, in this season the team simply appeared in grave danger: too many veterans. Decline was clearly envisioned and so far Pirin made only one significant change: they got the masterbuilder of the strong Akademik (Sofia) team of few years back – the coach Danko Roev. Alas, no miracle happened.

Pirin finished high in the table – 7th – but this is misleading: with 29 points, they were only 4 points better than the relegated ZhSK Spartak. The team played evenly – 14 points in the fall and 15 in the spring. For the moment, the old feet kept Pirin out of real trouble. Only for the moment… Yet, this season perhaps marks the beginning of permanent phenomenon: the bunch of youngsters was just the first crop of the talent developed in the youth system of Pirin, using also careful selection through the belonging region, South-Western corner of Bulgaria. Since then and still going strong today, the area is arguably the top developer of young talent (Dimitar Berbatov is from there, for instance). And it was also the undoing of Pirin… the club was unable to keep their talent and is constantly robbed by the big clubs from Sofia.

Sliven is hard to really described – as an Army club, they were closely related to CSKA (Sofia), and their fate largely depended on what kind of players the ‘mother club’ took or gave. Thus, Sliven fluctuated widely, but by 1977 something worse was developing: normally, CSKA sent young talent to Sliven to see how they developed. Then took them back. Sliven was hardly able to build strong team on its own. They had to play regularly those sent by CSKA too. But by 1977 CSKA was not sending only young talent – various reserves and veterans started coming. Depending on their form, Sliven played better or worse, there was no telling in advance. The trouble was a relative decline, hard to see and even harder to fix – the dependency was too big. Sliven was slowly sinking, but since they were never a very strong club, even this was not very visible – they finished 12th, thanks to better goal-difference than Botev (Vratza).

Sergy Yotzov, a former CSKA player, and a former CSKA coach, was at the helm. He worked well with Sliven, but… here is the list of former CSKA player in the squad this year: Stoyan Yordanov (captain, 33 years old, still a national team player at the beginning of the year, when he was still with CSKA. Deemed too old and sent to Sliven), Kiril Lyubomirov (25 years old defender, who never really satisfied CSKA and not exactly a starter when he was with them), Todor Simov (28), Plamen Yankov (26), and Yordan Christov (24) – the ‘eternal reserves’ of CSKA in the first half of the 1970s. The club eventually did not need them anymore and moved them at first to Trakia (Plovdiv). They did not excel there either… now they were in Sliven. Christov was a pleasant surprise in the 1976-77 season, when he finished as the second league goal-scorer with 17 goals, but nobody was fooled – he and the rest of the former CSKA players were not going to improve – they reached their limits and long ago. Hardly a core of players to build a team around them. Hardly players trying to impress anybody – they knew there was no going back to CSKA. But they were taking half of the starting team… and Yordanov became captain as soon as he arrived, despite that the fine sweeper of Sliven and national team regular for years, Nikolay Arabov, was already captaining the team for few years. Dependency was not looking good – rather, guaranteeing trouble.

Those were the declining clubs, but others went the opposite way. None really went high, but they very promising season. Two of them were the newcomers. Since Chernomoretz (Bourgas) and Cherno More (Varna) were not confident winners – both won thanks to better goal-difference – neither was expected to suddenly shine. Rather, both teams were expected to struggle – Cherno More had almost the same squad which was relegated in 1976 and Chernomoretz spent about 5 years in the Second Division unable to win promotion. By now Chernomoretz hardly interested anyone outside their hometown – some bunch of unknown players. Even their new recruits were suspect: Ivan Pritargov was released from CSKA, where he already lost his place in the starting team. No longer the bright young candidate for the national team. The central defender Vasko Nedelchev was never a star and with age he slipped down – his best years were with Akademik (Sofia), then he moved to Lokomotiv (Sofia) and had shaky spell there until let go. Experience was the obvious value of both and Chernomoretz badly lacked that. Cherno More practically did not take any new players. Both teams played surprisingly well in the fall and maintained steady performance in the spring.

Chernomoretz finished 10th at the end – on the surface, nothing special since they had 27 points : three more than the last in the table. But they were the only club bellow 5th place with positive goal-difference: 44-43. And they played entertaining football. Of course, Chernomoretz seemingly depended on the form of their only two true stars – Totko Dremsizov and Ivan Pritargov.

Pritargov and Dremsizov – the legends of Chernomoretz.

Both were centre-forwards, which looked like a problem before the start of the season. But here was the first surprize: Dremsizov, arguably the best ever player of the club, suddenly appeared as the last defender, a sweeper more than libero, but still going ahead on occasion. Pritargov was in front of attack. Yet, the real good news were the unknown youngsters, all of them coming from Cernomoretz’s youth system and debuting in the top division. They had little experience with second division too – so young, they hardly played real men’s football. They were also everywhere: Papazov (24) between the goalposts, Ilchev (18) and Deliminkov (20) in defense, Yovchev (18) in midfield, Gochev (19) in attack, the Madzharov brothers – Georgy (24) and Nikolay (20) – in midfield and attack. Experienced veterans between 27 and 30 completed the starting eleven – Peyu Nikolov on the left wing, Pazachev and the newcomer Nedelchev in defense, and the never great starter, but reliable back-up goalie Drazho Stoyanov (24). Complete unknown midfielder found in a small second division club suddenly fitted well as a playmaker – Mutafchiev (24). The youngsters invigorated the veterans, the blend was good and there were enough reliable players on the bench. Chernomoretz was still too row, but the future was bright: the youngsters just needed little time ti adapt to first division and add experience. One of them was soon to become one of the best Bulgarian players: Roussy Gochev. A speedy, technical, and great scoring pocket-size centre-forward, Gochev rarely played his original position in Chernomoretz, Lavski-Spartak, and the national team – he had always tough competition of bigger or just limited to this very post players and played mostly as right-winger. The ‘curse’ started at home… Dremsizov, Pritargov, and even one more player – the little known Parvan Donchev, a Lokomotiv (Sofia) hopefull few years back – were all centre-forwards quite useless at the wings. But Gochev made strong impression in his very first season despite the competition.

Cherno More went shoulder to shoulder with Chernomoretz: both teams were next to each other during the whole season, Cherno more was just a place above Chernomoretz both in fall and spring. They finished 9th and were the specialists of the tie this year: 12 matches, the most ties in the league. Looked like careful and calculating strategy, but it was a different story – Cherno More made the best of a team which may not have been great, but had experience and was at the best age.

The squad was familiar in Bulgaria for years – but before most of the boys were young, shaky, often reserves. Cherno More depended largely on veterans a few years back – now there was none of the impressive old names. The change of generation was difficult: it led the club down to second division – but it was done and there was new leader: the excellent sweeper Todor Marev (24-years old and occasional national team player – he deserved to play more, but was neglected because of strong competition). At least before the start of the season the rest of the squad was considered rather pedestrian – not very great players, but at the best age. Cherno More did not have a single player over 30 – the oldest one was 28. Most were of one generation, aging between 24 and 26. Damyan Georgiev, once upon a time a big hopeful, was a leftover veteran at 27! And these players were together for few years already, they knew each other inside and out. Well balanced, if not starry squad, they not only had a good season, but actually improved as players, were noticed and considered for various national teams – actually, the youngest ones, relatively unknown so far: Georgy Velinov (20, soon to rise to real stardom and to become one of the top 10 all-time Bulgarian goalkeepers), Yancho Bogomilov (22, the younger brother of perhaps the all-time best Cherno More players and one the major stars in the second half of the 1960s, Stefan Bogomilov. Unlike his goal-scoring brother, Yancho was a stopper), Ivan Voychev (20, right full back, who burst this year and expected to develop into a star – but this never happened), and Rafi Rafiev (22, centre-forward so far unheard of, but soon to be included in the Bulgarian Olympic team). This squad surely had may be three strong years ahead of it – the boys were just reaching their peak.

The third team was the most promising: Trakia (Plovdiv) was on the verge of collapse just the previous season. Familiar trouble – generational change. One team getting too old and the club – late to start rebuilding. The signs of crisis were visible since 1974. The problem was aggravated by something else: Trakia had traditionally strong youth system and talented teenagers were popping up regularly. But they were snatched quickly by CSKA – after all, Trakia was army club and subservient to ‘big mamma’. They lost Ivan Pritargov as soon as he became the top league scorer. They lost Spas Dzhevizov the next year. The future Golden Shoe winner Georgy Slavkov was taken even before becoming regular in his home club (and returned back just as quickly, for the youngster was too weak for CSKA yet). Other talents faded away very quickly – Iliya Barashky, a regular at 18 and seen as sure national player in short time, was now playing in second division for Arda (Kardzhaly) – at 23 he already was lost. He was not the only ‘lost one’ and the future of Trakia was suddenly very problematic – the veterans were retiring, or, if still playing, fading away. Yet, in a nick of time the danger was avoided – it did not look like that before the1977-78 started: it looked like the club desperately decided to play with their junior team. Too many too young – certain disaster. But the teenagers finished 4th – with small, yet clearly visible difference from the rest of the league – Trakia was positioned separately, 2 points from tight pack of 12 clubs. They were far behind the battle for medals – 6 points behind the third placed team – but given their youth and inexperience, it was great. A year or two was needed for the boys to get experience, to mature. The future was clearly theirs.

Only two veterans were left – the great Dinko Dermendzhiev, who played his last season, and full back Vangel Delev, also at the end of his career. The rest were very young and pushing ahead: the best example if the case of Atanas Garabsky: he was 22 years old national team player, rapidly becoming a reserve in Trakia! The competition was younger still… the ‘veterans’ were Kosta Bosakov (a sweeper formerly of Lokomotiv Plovdiv, 27), Dimitar Vichev (former reserve goalkeeper of Beroe, 26), the ‘late bloomer’ Kosta Tanev, debutant at 24… the rest of the squad was to shape most of the 1980s: Georgy Slavkov (19), Slavcho Horozov (21), Kostadin Kostadinov (18), Angel Kalburov (22), Anton Milkov (24), Kiril Peychev (21), Aleksandar Ivanov (21), Petar Zekhtinsky (22), Atanas Marinov (19). It is difficult even to say who was the greatest of them – all played for the national team, but how to measure them? Slavkov got the Golden Shoe indeed, but in 1977-78 he was still playing second fiddle to the ‘true big talent’ – Aleksandar Ivanov. Zekhtinsky probably ranked lower than Milkov, Kalburov, and Horozov . K. Kostadinov was just a hopeful, rapidly taking the place of another recent hopeful – his brother Petar Kostadinov, dangerously old at 22. So much talent, some had to sit on the bench (unfortunately, some for years – Peychev was the biggest looser). Trakia was coming back with massive talent.

Here they are at this point of time. If they stayed… but it was difficult to keep exactly this team: Dermendzhiev and Delev retired, Milkov went to Levski-Spartak; Kalburov and Slavkov to CSKA, Aleksandar Ivanov also left (to Lokomotiv Plovdiv) when he lost his place to Slavkov. The rest remained, more juniors were added. Some were national team regulars for years, others had no luck and played little, but still they did. Enormously talented bunch, establishing itself at once. Since these players are to stay for many years, no need to point them out on the photo. Instead, a curiosity: 4 different kits are used in the photo above. Different variations of stripes, but hard to tell were they really different kits or just clumsy made two varieties. Such discrepancies were used often before 1970 – even by the biggest clubs in the world! For 1977-78 it was an unique look, which may be ascribed only to one thing: Trakia was still using old-fashioned ‘no-name’ kit. As soon as they dressed in Adidas uniformity prevailed. Which happened during this very season.

Lastly, two teams performed according to expectations – Slavia (Sofia) and Beroe (Stara Zagora). They finished 5th and 6th , dropping slightly from their 3rd and 5th positions in the fall. Certain similarity between these clubs: they were both moody and unpredictable for years, capable of gret ups and downs. Beroe lost their wonderful striker Petko Petkov between seasons, when he was lured by Akademik (Svishtov), but they had new talent – Stoycho Mladenov – in his place. Twenty years old, but he already played remarkable season, scored a lot, and now had a chance to do better, for in the absence of Petkov, he was not only the key striker, but moved to his original position – centre-forward. To a point, Mladenov was unlucky like Roussy Gochev of Chernomoretz – because of competition, he played almost his entire career at the left wing.

Beroe was able to change generations rather smoothly – only three players of their great earlier squad remained – the goalkeeper Todor Krastev (32), the midfielder Zhelyu Zhelev (25), and the right winger Boris Kirov (32) and the skeleton of new leaders was already shaped: Kancho Kasherov (21) and Tenyo Minchev (23) in defense, Stefan Naydenov (20) and Georgy Stoyanov (22) in midfield, and Stoycho Mladenov (20) in attack. Beroe had to deal with specific problem – they were regular donors of CSKA and their strength depended largely on the ability to replace quickly players taken from CSKA. Stoycho Mladenov eventually went to CSKA, becoming a legend of that club, not Beroe.

Slavia had its ‘golden team’, the most promising one in Bulgaria a few years back. By 1977-78 it was at its best age and supposed to be among the title contenders. But Slavia was Slavia… moody, inconsistent, playing fantastic football one match only to collapse in the next. Nothing new this year – for instance, two Slavia players led (jointly with Stoycho Mladenov) the scoring chart in the fall – Andrey Zhelyazkov and Georgy Minchev with 12 goals. The team was 3rd, 4 points behind the 1st placed. They had a chance for the title… but they finished the season with insignificant record: 12 wins, 6 ties, and 12 losses. Fifth. Typical Slavia.

Sitting, from left: Emil Mikhailov, Stoycho Berberov, Georgy Minchev, Vanyo Kostov, Tchavdar Tzvetkov, Atanas Aleksandrov, Milcho Evtimov.

Middle row: Kiril Angelov – coach, Petar Miladinov, Georgy Dermendzhiev, Bozhidar Grigorov – playing assistant coach, Andrey Zhelyazkov, Ivan Iliev, Trendafil Terziisky – assistant coach.

Third row: Stoycho Stefanov, Ilyaz Aliev, Georgy Gugalov, Botyo Malinov, Valentin Modev, Ivan Chakarov, Georgy Tikhanov.

At the time much was said about this team – in the summer of 1977 they won one of the groups in the old format of the Intertotto tournament. The first Bulgarian club to do so and it looked like big success because Hamburger SV played in the same group. The Germans did not try hard, fielding mostly reserves, but Slavia prevailed. Because of that it was thought they will be the major force in Bulgarian football at last. Apart from their notorious moodiness, the reason Slavia was not a big factor can be easily seen in the squad: it is very thin. About 15 players, three of them goalkeepers,were practically the team. Some were nearing retiring (Grigorov and Evtimov), others reached their potential and no longer developed (Chakarov, Tikhanov, Gugalov). None of the young reserves was really promising and none made a name for himself – actually, they disappeared quickly without a trace (Mikhailov, Berberov, Stefanov, and the 4th goalkeeper on the picture Modev, who was the juniors national team regular at the time). The regular starters played together for many years already and it was becoming clear that somebody new had to be added to them and shake up settled patterns. But no such player appeared – their best addition was former Levski-Spartak junior, who did not make any impression in his first club, Botyo Malinov. He fitted well in Slavia, but he was no star and no leader. Strange was the coach too – Kiril Angelov was virtually unknown and soon sunk back into anonymity. So, the most interesting things about this Slavia photo was trivia: one more example of the innocent 1970s – players dressed with Adidas kit, but the coaches sporting Puma gear. The second interesting thing is something practically unheard of in Bulgaria so far – a playing coach. Bozhidar Grigorov was both active player and assistant coach – one has to look really hard for another precedent from 1945 to the end of the 1980s! Grigorov was 32 and perhaps able to play 3-4 more years, but his new position settled it… he was to retire soon and… to make no impression as a coach.

Bulgaria I Division

The 1977-78 First Division season was quite interesting, yet not classy. Some clubs were declining, but few were improving. In the fall four clubs were clearly in trouble – Marek, Botev (Vratza), Akademik (Sofia), and Akademik (Svishtov). Botev was declining for some time, so their lowly place was not a surprise. Akademik (Sofia) also showed signs of decline the previous season and now it looked like the trouble was real – they finished 15th in the fall, two points behind Marek and Botev. Marek, the big surprise in the previous season, when they finished 3rd, was expected to be quite low this year – as good as the team was, the strong performance was also due to the surprise factor – nobody took Marek seriously, but hat was the previous year. Now it was the opposite – all clubs played their best against Marek. The drop was expected also because of the peculiar squad of Marek -they depended on 12-13 players, so injuries and even slightly bad form of any starter was a big liability. On top of everything Marek played in the UEFA Cup and bunch of players were invited to various national teams – it was just too much for so short a squad. Marek played pretty much as before, but the points were not coming… Akademik (Svishtov) barely survived in the previous season and before the new season started they seriously reinforced their pleasant, but limited squad. Akademik recruited serious names and looked like they were going to have confident year, climbing up. Instead, they dropped down. After half season it was sure thing that two of the above clubs would be relegated. The spring was different… Akademik (Sofia) suddenly went up, Marek and Botev fought for survival, Akademik (Svishtov) made some effort to escape, and suddenly ZhSK Spartak (Varna), comfortly in mid-table after the first half of the season (7th place with 15 points) plummeted down to the very bottom. They finished 15th after earning only 10 points in the spring.

ZhSK Spartak (Varna) – from confidence to disgrace in half a year. It was hard to figure out why – ZhSK Spartak were no strangers to the bottom of the table, but this year the they did not look so bad. True, their best defender Dimitar Enchev went to Levski-Spartak, but ZhSK Spartak was compencated with three players for him. Dimitar Doychinov was coaching them – a former coach of Levski-Spartak and one of the best in the business at that time. The squad was based on seasoned players like Kiryakov, Fazhev, Nedev, Takhmisyan (formerly of Cherno More and CSKA), Plamen Khristov (formerly of CSKA and Cherno More), and Krassimir Zafirov was one of the best goalkeepers of the country and often included in the national team. A promising centre-forward was getting known – Ivan Petrov – soon to be included in national team formations. Plamen Getov, one of the biggest Bulgarian stars of the 1980s, was in the squad. And the three former Levski-Spartak players seemed like solid addition – the young defender Valentin Chaushev and the slightly older midfielder Georgy Dobrev were unable to impress their former club, but were good help for a weaker team. Georgy Tzvetkov was released from Levski-Spartak for getting too old – he was 30 and already well behind his peak. But the former national team centre-forward was experienced and still able to score – perfect for a modest team . ZhSK Spartak actually looked better than a few years ago and in the fall performance matched expectations. In the spring they collapsed and ended relegated. May be too many players were over the hill and did not really care, but those were not great years for Varna’s football – Cherno More was relegated and just came back to first division, now ZhSK Spartak, playing hide and seek with relegation anyway, went down.

Akademik (Svishtov) still finished last, although they played better in the spring – or at least won more points than their poor 11 earned in the fall. But it was not enough… 24 points total left them bellow ZhSK Spartak – both teams were to keep company in the Northern B Group the next year. Dubious comfort, that. Akademik debuted in the First Division with rather anonymous squad and managed to survive in 1976-77 – the team was enthusiastic and their stopper Petar Stankov was even included in the national team. Yet, the club decided they need re-enforcement – it was done on surprisingly large scale for a modest club. The lure was most likely easy education promised – the club belonged to the University of Economics in Svishtov. The new recruits were more than impressive: the CSKA junior defender Tzvetan Bichovsky, the experienced Georgy Pavlov and Sasho Momchilov, the bright Junior national team goalkkeper Stanimir Parchanov from Spartak (Plaven) – not bad, but there was much more. Two strikers from Lokomotiv (Plovdiv) – Nikolay Kurbanov and Georgy Fidanov, both regulars in their former club and Kurbanov a national team player not long ago; the former national team stopper Vesselin Evgeniev from Minyor (Pernik), and one of the all-time top scorers of Bulgarian football and national player Petko Petkov from Beroe (Stara Zagora). Only Petkov and Pavlov were over 30 years old, but most of the newcomers had plenty of experience. Suddenly Akademik looked like a force… the scoring power of Petkov alone was something to reckon with.

This squad had enough power for at least comfortable mid-table position – instead they were relegated.

The illusion of names… strong on paper, nothing on the grass. It was a lesson of bad decisions: strong individual names do not equal strong team. Perhaps tensions grew from the moment the stars arrived – the players who carried Akademik to first division and managed to survive there were suddenly relegated to the bench. The newcomers had no attachment to the club and very likely were not evn interested in playing. The team was badly stitched together. Ill-fated transfers and not a team-building at all – as soon as the season ended the stars left. What a mistake… with their old squad Akademik actually had better chances, but it needed to finish last to realize that.


Bulgaria Second Division Southern Group

The Southern B Group was judged weaker than the Northern one – few former First Division members played there and all of them were in decline for years, not a factor at all. Thus, Minyor (Pernik), just relegated from the top league, was seen as sure winner. The rest of the league appeared very similar – the better teams had between one and three known former first division players, generally aging ones – enough for ‘solid’ performance, but not for aiming at promotion. Minyor was struggling in the fall, when finished 4th – 4 points behind the leader – but there was no fear: better than the rest, they were surely to end on top.

No matter what they did, Minyor were to be champions: sitting from left: G. Ganev, I. Todorov, B. Evtimov, G. Yordanov, V. Bankov.

Middle row: D. Kontev – coach, F. Filipov, A. Divyachky, S. Nikolov, B. Dushkov, V. Naydenov, S. Malinov, Y. Ikonomov – masseur.

Third row: V. Boyanov, A. Slavov, E. Banchev, G. Manolov, Y. Christov, Y. Katrankov.

Minyor was a mirror image of the better clubs of the Northern B group: a core of solid players carried it on so far since 1970. They were dangerously aging – Evlogy Banchev (31), Georgy Yordanov (30), Slavy Malinov (31) – or already reached their peak – Angel Slavov. The team leaders were pretty much alone, though – the other experienced players were rejected by their former clubs – Ganev, Evtimov, Naydenov. They were no leaders, but run of the mill players. And no great talent completed the squad – Boyanov was perhaps the best of the rest, but it was already clear he was not to be a star. Experienced, but rather ordinary team, depending on few old stars. The only exception was a boy not on the photo: the 17-years old winger Mario Valkov. He debuted with a bang and was the only one seemingly capable of replacing the old leaders. But… he was not to last in Pernik. Minyor was clearly unable to even start meaningful rebuilding, but the squad was experienced enough and obviously better than the rest of the league. On paper – yes. In reality Minyor was unable to win – they did not improve much in the spring, adding 24 points to the 22 earned in the fall. With that Minyor finished second. They were not contenders even for a second – the winners left them 9 points behind. So much for surety of predictions.

The winners were one of those clubs never expected to win – veterans of Second Division football, a staple really there, normally found in the upper half of the table. A typical second league club – just happy to play there and never aiming higher. The club did not recruit for more than second league stability, so it was a typical squad – a bunch of vastly experienced club veterans, some youngsters with exactly second-league potential, and two or three former first division players with fading names. The very making of the squad did not suggest any ambition old or new. But this very squad finished first in the fall with 26 points. It still did not look not serious… rather, in the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed was king. Behind were one similar club – Dimitrovgrad – and one surprise – Trakia (Novy Krichim) was third, a club more often playing Third Division football. The top three clubs were expected to drop down in the spring and Minyor to take the first place. But… only Trakia, a tiny club even by second division measures, dropped. The league was quite weak and no big changes happened in the spring: Dimitrovgrad finished third. May be the fall leaders were just caught by the inability of others to gather points, may be they developed some appetite for success – at the end, the fall leaders finished 9 points ahead of everybody: 22 wins, 11 ties, and 5 losses. 55 points, the best attack – 67 goals, the best defense – 27 allowed, most wins in the league and especially impressive number of losses – the next best were Minyor, losing 10 games – twice as many! The champions were overwhelming on paper. The name is Haskovo, a club named after their home city in South-Eastern Bulgaria.

Sitting, from left: Valchan Vassilev, Zhivko Gospodinov, Dimitar Dimitrov, Yordan Kichekov, Lyudmil Mikhalkov, Kostadin Latinov, Ivan Slavov.

Middle row: Petar Aleksiev -coach, Ivan Grudev, Dimitar Zarev, Krassimir Yakimov, Roussy Delchunkov, Pavel Pavlov, Svetlin Cholakov, Atanas Atanassov – assistant coach.

Third row: Dimitar Tekhov, Rossen Stratiev, Toshko Yanev, Valentin Marinov, Nikola Kordov, Saly Shakirov, Lyuben Lyubenov, Nikola Kostov.

This was the biggest success of the club founded in 1957 under the name ‘Dimitar Kanev’ so far – champions of Southern Second Division and confidently so. Not exactly a Cinderella story, but… the squad was hardly good for top league football. Relatively young team, depending mostly on typical second division players and following the pattern of most second-leaguers: two or three well known names, getting old. The left winger Latinov was the local star and one of the best strikers in the second division for years, already 30 years old. Nikola Kordov was the key figure in defense – at 32, his best years were gone. He was part of the strong Beroe (Stara Zagora) team circa 1967-1973 and was even included in the national team a few times, but injuries and age moved him to Haskovo. Yordan Kichekov was similar – although younger, 27 years old, his best years were already behind him. Five years back he was considered one of the most promising young players in the first division. Then he played for Trakia (Plovdiv), but the promise was not fulfilled – he lost his starting place, moved to Lokomotiv (Plovdiv) and eventually moved again – and down – to Haskovo. The trio shined in Haskovo and made a difference, but it was in the second division. For top flight new players were urgently needed, if Haskovo wanted to survive. As they were, they were not going to last, therefore, the best was just to enjoy their victory and promotion.

Bulgaria Second Division Northern Group


The Bulgarian Second Division was perhaps very large at this time period – 40 clubs divided in two groups of twenty each. The possible advantage was the number the games played per season, theoretically strengthening the players. The other advantage, more realistic, was the opportunity for stronger teams to correct mistakes, sluggish start, and generally to succeed at the expense of smaller and weaker clubs. The biggest disadvantages was in building of truly competitive teams – the better players tended to be dispersed through the league – roughly 2 per team on average. Smaller league provided for concentration and ultimately leading to stronger teams, especially those aiming at the top level. The current format more or less reduced ambitions – a relatively good player would join small club which surely had no money for strong squad, but was able to pay generously one or two players, who were classy enough to keep the club in the second level without even playing at the top of their abilities. Laziness was practically encouraged – three clubs were relegated in each group, so the bulk of the league felt secure. As for ambitions… only few clubs, generally former members of the top league from big cities had them.

The Northern B group was considered tougher – four teams were expected to fight for the first place and promotion: Dunav (Rousse), Etar (Veliko Tirnovo), Spartak (Pleven), and possibly Yantra (Gabrovo). All were quite recently members of first division, Etar and Dunav played at the UEFA Cup tournament just a few years back. At half-season the prediction rung through – only Yantra was out of the race at 7th place and 8 points less than the leaders. Etar was 4th with 25 points; Spartak – 3rd with 26, and Dunav was 1st with 28. Second was Bdin (Vidin),also with 28 points and a relative suprise – they were not considered potential champions, yet, they had strong 1976-77 season, when they finished 3rd. However, not a single club was overwhelming – rather, all had big problems. Dunav, just relegated from First Division, was getting weaker, not stronger – in the winter break they lost their star player, the well known and occasionally included in the national team centre-forward Nikola Christov, who scored 20 goals in the fall. He moved to CSKA (Sofia). The rest of the Dunav was similar to Etar and Spartak… a core of few aging well known players, supported by younger group lacking quality. It was a case of clear need of rebuilding, but it was neither radical, nor well thought. Spartak appeared a better recruiter, but still the team underperformed. The exception was Bdin – they had aging, very experienced team. No stars – only two players were relatively known: the midfielder Mumdzhiev, who about 5 years back was even called to the national team. Since then he was going downhill and after leaving Lokomotiv (Sofia) settled in Second Division. The goalkeeper Topchev was the other relatively known player – he achieved even less than Mumdzhiev: once upon a time he was recruted by CSKA, but was never a starter. His spell with CSKA was not long and similar short and insignificant spells followed, until he settled in Bdin. The core of local stars was completed by veterans, who were constant feature for ‘ages’. Great they were not, but had enormous experince, knew second division football in and out, and eventually popped up at the top of the league at last.

In their home city Vidin, Bdin may have been seen as a possible cnadidates for promotion, but not elsewhere – the team benefited largely by its experience, but had no first division potential. The grizzled veterans knew how to overcome most of the small second division clubs and to maintain consistency in such a league, but nothing more. In the spring they were no longer strong – Bdin finished second, but 5 points behind the winners. They lost the same number of matches as the champions – 9, but won significantly less games – 21 to 26. To a point, the even performance of Bdin kept them at top – the other favourites had either fall or spring weak half-season.

Dunav (Rousse) was very weak in the spring – they added only 17 points to their 28 at the end of the fall. Without Christov their attack was suddenly toothless – Dunav scored 47 goals in the fall and measly 18 in the spring. And they finished 4th… just a point above Yantra, which improved somewhat in the spring, but was unable to compensate for their weak fall and finished 5th.

Third ended Etar, a team which on the surface appeared to be doing better rebuilding than the others. By now only two of the old strong team remained – the goal-keeper Petar Petrov and the sweeper Stefan Chakarov. As many second-division club, some players with first division experience, but unable to establish themselves in their former clubs, were recruited more or less as a starting point for a new team – Rabchev (Botev Vratza), Nenchev (Slavia), Tabakov (Sliven). Young talent completed the team – some coming from Etar’s youth system, some from other second division clubs. In theory, the new team was largely ‘promising’ – may be unfinished yet, but deemed strong enough for winning second division.

The 1977-78 vintage: standing, from left: Semko Goranov- coach, Ruzhdy Ahmedov, Kadir Belaliev, Nikolay Kotzev, Ilia Marinov, Miroslav Gospodinov, Boyko Dimitrov, Krassimir Yakimov, Kiril Rabchev, Stefan Chakarov, Petar Petrov, Ivan Nenchev, Ilia Tabakov, Georgy Velinov-assistant coach.

Sitting: Stefan Donev – team doctor, Vassil Daskalov, Petko Tzanev, Krassimir Traykov, Georgy Iliev, Krassimir Kalchev, Nikola Velkov, Ivan Angelov, Vladimir Daskalov, Petar Shabakov – masseur.

Compared to what have been lost, the newcomers clearly lacked quality lacked – since 1974 Etar lost Georgy Vassilev (retired), Stefan Velichkov (CSKA and later – Spartak Plaven), Ivan Petrov (Pirin Blagoevgrad), Stoyan Kotzev and Stefan Grozdanov (Balkan Botevgrad), Sasho Kostov (Lokomotiv Sofia). The lost veterans were included in national team formations, Velichkov was regular at the 1974 World Cup finals. All, except Kostov, but he was Bulgarian champion this very season with Lokomotiv. Chakarov was soon to depart as well… Of the new team only Rabchev had significant long-term contribution and only Boyko Dimitrov made a respectable career. The team appeared strong on paper, but in reality… third place. However, the year was significant in retrospect: two names very well known around the world debuted:

Krassimir Balakov, on the left, and Trifon Ivanov, circled on the right. Well, they debuted for the boys team of Etar… so nothing to change the fate of the first team. The small boys so far established themselves in the boys team – nothing to suggest yet they would be world famous: most talented kids hardly even reach junior teams…

At the end Spartak (Pleven) outsmarted the competition: the team was sluggish in the fall, but maintained a place among the best – they were 3rd, 2 points behind the leaders. In the spring Spartak improved slightly when the competition stumbled. Spartak added 29 points to their 26 from the fall, but the teams found its rhythm and scored a lot: 40 goals. Gradually they took the first place and build their lead, finishing 5 points ahead of the next pursuer, Bdin. Spartak was rather even in both half-seasons and this was the right approach – the big, and therefore, forgiving league benefited those with stable, if not very exciting, form. The rest paid a heavy price for slowing down in the spring, or – in the case of Bdin – having experience, but lacking vigor because of oldish squad.

Happy champions, returning to First Division: sitting, from left: Tzvetan Kamenov, Krassimir Lazarov, Roumen Christov, Petko Todorov, Blagoy Krastanov, Aleksandar Benchev, Nikolay Romanov.

Middle row: Ivan Pankov, Tzvetan Krastev, Tony Dzhefersky, Lyudmil Tanchev, Dimitar Vladimirov, Nazim Mehmedov, Vassil Minkov.

Third row: Mircho Urukov, Ivo Bratanov, Dimo Dimov, Stefan Velichkov, Stoyan Georgiev, Harry Kazakov.

Spartak was the same as the other favourites: a cluster of old, experienced players, who have been regulars for years, aided by mixed bunch – some home-grown youngsters, some good second division players, recruited from elsewhere, and few former first division players, who were unable to establish themselves in their previous clubs. The core consisted of Todorov, Dimov, Urukov, Mehmedov, Minkov, Lazarov, Bratanov – aging all, except Lazarov and Bratanov. Those two were bright promising players a few years back, but obviously already reached the limit of their potential. The big difference came from three players recruited in the last two years – Stefan Velichkov, the 28-years old full back, who came from CSKA and who was national team regular not long ago. The second was the central defender Dzhefersky – he was a big promise as a junior, but partly because of injuries he never established himself in his original club, Levski-Spartak. Now, 24 years old, he was entirely forgotten and had to make a second start. The third one came in the summer of 1977 also from Levski-Spartak – the 27-years old centre-forward Krastanov. He was clearly not the striker Levski-Spartak needed, played rarely and impressed no one. Krastanov was well known in the second division, where he played before moving to Levski, but at first he was not considered great addition to Spartak. Yet, the three newcomers fitted well and gradually became the leading players of the team – which was exactly what was needed: new leaders to replace old and over the hill ones. The club still needed stronger midfielders, but this was for the future. The ‘now’ was sunny: return to First Division.