Romania I Division

First Division had familiar around Europe finality: 2 outsiders, a bulk of 11 fairly equal teams, largely concerned with escaping relegation during the year, 2 solid teams, which were not strong enough to tackle the title race, and three favourites. FC Constanta was last with 20 points – usually, the club is known as Farul, so the new name was confusing a bit.

Politehnica (Timisoara) was a big disappointment – they had good strong seasons recently, looking like finally stabilized and going to play more significant role in the championship. But suddenly they dropped down and finished 17th with measly 24 points.

The third relegated team was also a bit of a surprise – unlike FC Constanta and Politehnica, they fought for survival, but failed, finishing 16th with 29 points. What was unpleasant surprise was that – FCM Brasov normally was a solid mid-table club. Presently, they had interesting squad, which included sometime national team goalkeeper Dumitru Stingaciu and bright young winger, soon to become world-famous – Marius Lakatus. And such a squad was going to second division, when typical candidates for relegation like Chimia (Ramnigu Vilcea), Politehnica (Iasi), and CS Targoviste (Targoviste) survived.

Not only that, but Politehnica (Iasi) enjoyed may be their best season – they finished 10th. Yes, 32 points was only 3 points more than what relegated FCM Brasov had they got 10th place only because of better goal-difference, but as a rule of thumb Politehnica played rarely in the top league and when they did, they hardly lasted longer than a season.

Petrolul (Ploesti) performed as usual, as most of the league members – nothing extraordinary: 12th with 32 points.

And so it went up to 5th place – Corvinul (Hunedoara) topped the bulk with 34 points, taking 6th place. For them, a club similar to Politehnica (Iasi) that was the strongest and most successful period. Rubbing shoulders with the best – kind of. Kind of, for they just bellow mighty Steaua, but still 4 points behind.

Steaua (Bucharest) was lowly 5th with 38 points, entirely out of the championship race. Understandably so – it was shaky period of changing generations and rebuilding was not finished yet. There were still remains of the old guard – Sames, Iordache, Anghelini – and the new blood was only too young – Belodedici, for instance. Team in transition, hence the results.

Arges (Pitesti) still preserved their leading position established during the 1970s – they finished 4th with 40 points. But it was clear they were slipping down – no longer title contenders and the squad was hardly promising.

Sportul Studentesc (Bucharest) was running strong – this year they were title contenders, but finished 3rd with 44 points. Perhaps the squad was less interesting than their kit – hardly a team compatible to Steaus, Universitatea, and Dinamo, but combative more than enough. As for the kit – depends on individual taste: for some an interesting and rare black-and-white hoops, for others – prison garb.

Universitatea (Craiova), the strongest and most consistent of the provincial clubs, continued to challenge the clubs of Bucharest: they won most games this season – 20. Also scored most goals – 66. Alas, it was not enough and they ended 2nd with 46 points. Three short of a title. Perhaps their international duties were too much… perhaps the team was not deep enough. Perhaps they were too adventurous and, risking, lost too many games – 8. But it was not bad finish – they remained very strong.

Familiar champion, then. Dinamo (Bucharest) repeated their success of the previous year – surely, they were the leading Romanian club in the early 1980s. Seemingly, able to avoid a crisis of generational change – Moraru and Andone were aging, but younger talent was painlessly blended – Rednic. Dinamo also played well in Europe, so, unlike Universitatea, fighting on two fronts was not affecting their form. 11th title.

Romania II Division

After almost Romanian football almost disappeared from sight in the 1970s, it was coming back into focus. Clubs in the European tournaments at first, notably Dinamo (Bucharest). The comeback was not yet fully pronounced, so even some big stars of the decade were already playing, they were unknown yet to the world – too young. Apart from that, it was business as usual and in the lower levels may be nothing really interesting was boiling. Of course, small clubs attract little interest and the three leagues of the Second Division were full of such.

Progresul (Corabia)

Sportul Muncitoresc (Caracal)

Gloria (Focsani) – the typical second division dwellers, which hardly could hope to move up. In general, former First Division members occupied top positions and aimed at promotion. So, the winners of the three leagues, correspondingly promoted to the First Division were familiar names – at least two of three. Dunarea CSU (Galati) looked like newcomer, although they played first division football occasionally.

Rapid (Bucharest) was the most famous of the second division winners – hopefully, the comeback was expected to be permanent, hopefully, restoration of former strength possible. At least the first step was done – return to top flight.

The third winner was a bit confusing: usually it is written FC Baia Mare, not a famous club, but long-time first division member, which, like Rapid, recently experienced some hardship. Now they were coming back, but the name of the promoted team was FC Maramures. Same club, same city, yet it was confusing, for often it was written with the old more familiar name The alternation of the names was a problem – one reads Maramures and can’t fing such club in the league, or the other way around. That aside, good look to the winners in the next season.

Hungary the Cup

Budapest had to compensate with the Cup – the final was traditional derby, contested closely to the end of the match. Ujpesti Dozsa prevailed over Honved 3-2.

Quite a disappointement – arguably, Honved had the best team at the moment, lead by rapidly developing into major star Lajos Detari. That is, the best of Hungarian football of the 1980s was concentrated in the Army team. Yet, there was something mssing – something small, but making a difference between losing and winning. So close to victory, but ending losing both in the championship and in the cup tournament.

Objective strength rarely matters in big derbies and otherwise weak Ujpesti Dozsa was highly motivated and up to the task of beating stronger Honved. Under the circumstances, it was wonderful achievement – this squad would not be compatible to the great one, dominating the 1970s Hungarian football. It was struggling team in a process of hit and miss rebuilding. Andras Toroscik was leaving, there was no visible leader to take after him, no other major star. Objectively, Ujpesti Dozsa was the underdog – not a force in the championship, much weaker than Honved. It was great to see them win the Cup from such standpoint. From a historic perspective… it was banal: one more trophy, nothing new.

Hungary I Division

First Division was divided into one outsider, 9 equal teams, generally fighting to eascape relegation, two stand-alone teams, and three competing for the title.

Békéscsaba gave up early and apart from their nice and unusual kit, there was nothing to be sorry for them: they finished 16th with 17 points.

Debreceni MVSC, or DVSC, as the team appears more often in statistics, lost the battle between 9 clubs – they finished with 25 points, as two other teams, but they ended relegated on worse goal-difference.

Pécsi MSC took the 14th place, safe for one more first division year.

Videoton had strange weak season, also finishing with 25 points – but positive goal-difference. By now , they were considered one of the stronger teams in the league and in fact had their best squad, the one which made waves in Europe just a few years later, so it was unexpected flop.

MTK-VM was 12th with 26 points, the worst of the Budapest clubs, but once-upon-a-time mighty club was struggling for quite some time, so nothing new.

Zalaegerszegi TE, a mouthful of a name, usually abreviated to simple ZTE, took the 11th place also with 26 points – their usual lowly position.

Nyiregyhaza VSSC was likely pleased with their final standing – 10th place was almost significant achievement. They just a point above relegation zone and ended in midtable thanks to better goal-difference, but it was fine.

Diosgyory VTK – 9th with 27 points. Their usual.

Haladas VSE – 8th with 28 points. Like Diosgyor – escaping relegation was just fine, ending above 10th place – a bonus.

Vasas was 7th, but their position was a bit misleading: on the surface, the club appeared to be where it usually was – in the upper half of the table. But they no longer had a team similar to the one of the 1970s and it was relegation, not medals, the real concern this year. Three points above the 15th-placed and ahead of Haladas only on goal-difference.

With 29 points, Tatabanya – or Tatabanya Banyasz SC – topped the group of equal clubs. 6th place was great, even if achieved more by good luck than by actual strong performance. It was amazing that Kiprich, already among the top stars of the country, did not move to bigger and stronger club.

Ujpesti Dozsa – 5th with 32 points. Weak season, but not unexpected one – rebuilding was not going well so far, so there were no chances for another title. Yet, they were stronger than most of the league members and their only concern was building a new team – which surely was not going to be based on the star Torocsik: it was certain he will go to play abroad soon.

Csepel enjoyed a strong spell – their last, in fact. Having a few strong, although hardly first rate stars, kept them going. Good selection, well balanced squad, but not a title contender. 37 points was much more than the rest of the league, including Ujpesti Dozsa, was capable of – it was also far less than what the best three clubs were able of. So, comfortable 4th place – great for a club traditionally the weakest among the big Budapest representatives.

And lastly the strongest – they finished divided by 2 points, so the battle for the title was fierce.

Honved, the most defense-minded of the leaders, finished 3rd with 42 points. Perhaps they should have been more daring.

Ferencvaros finished 2nd with 43 points. They had the leakiest defense of the top trio – in fact, 6 teams had better defensive record than them this season. If Honved dared to attack more, Ferencvaros needed the opposite to win the title. May be so, but the final table is final and they were 2nd. And Tibor Nyilasi was surely going to play abroad – a bad news for the future.

Raba ETO (gyor) prevailed with 44 points and triumphed as the Hungarian new champions. 19 wins, 6 ties, and 5 losses – just a tiny bit better record than their rivals’. Second-best difense in the league – 37 goals allowed, only Honved managed less. Best attack and by far – 82 goals scored; Ferencvaros was distant second with 73. So – joy and happiness.

May be not the most outstanding squad, but well balanced and having a few national team players. May be taking some advantage from the relative shakiness of the traditional leading clubs, but who can blame them? They won a tough race, also sygnifying the end of the dominance of the Budapest clubs – in the 1980s provincial teams became powerful enough to fight the capital. It was second consecutive title, won with more difficulty than the the one in 1981-82, but confirming than Raba ETO was not one-time wonder. A total of 3 titles to date.

Hungary II Division

Hungary reorganized its second level before this season started – instead of 3 groups, now there was one Second Division league, made of 20 teams. Still, very few of its members played top league football before and most clubs were completely unknown outside the country. Was the reformed league better than the previous larger one was doubtful – only three teams competed for the top spots – two teams were promoted.

Kazincbarcikai Vegyész SE finished 12th – small clubs like this one made the league, mostly happy to play at level judged high by their standards. Preserving a place in the Second Division amounted to success.

Not all were lucky – Dorogi AC, which once upon a time played first division football, now was going further down. They finished 18th, in the relegation zone. From left: Goldschmidt, Lukács I., Guzsik, Borsos, Tamas, Domján, Török, Sikesdi, Kollár, Schrómeisz, Csizmazia.

Another occasional first division club fared much better – 4th, but still outside the promotional battle.

The top three teams ended divided by single point. Salgótarjáni TC lost the chance to return to top flight, finishing with 47 points.

Szegedi EOL AK was fine – 48 points gave them 2nd place and return to first division.

The champion of Second Division had never played in the First Division – Volan SC, one of the many small clubs in Budapest bested all with 49 points.

A victory of the underdog is always exciting event, yet, it was hard to believe such a club would really play some meaningful role in the top league. Mind, six well known Budapest clubs played and dominated the top league forever – was there a place for a 7th club was doubtful. Fan base was also an imporatant matter – Volan hardly attracted supporters. Budapest is large city, but not so large to provide full house for every club. Especially when most people supported Ferencvaros, Honved, and Ujpesti Dosza not just in the city, but in the whole country. There was also a bit of name problem too – a few Budapest clubs were related to automotive industry, hence, the name: Volan. But a few years back MTK was amalgamated with Volan and still played under its new name – MTK-VM. Was Volan SC a newly formed club from the ashes of the club which became part of MTK, or was it entirely different club was hard to figure out. Especially when there was 22. sz. Volán SE (Budapest), also playing in the Second Division. Mystery aside, Volan SC seemingly depended on former Ujpesti Dosza stars – Bene, Fekete, and Dunai. The veterans were still good enough to propel the small club to first division: Volan scored 84 goals – the veterans were high scoring strikers by trade. Were they enough to keep Volan in the first division was a question for the next season, but one thing was sure – as every small club in a big city, Volan’s fate depended entirely on veterans discarded from the big clubs. If they were lucky to recruit some in relatively good shape, they would buy a season or two; if they were unlucky – immediate relegation was sure thing.

Bulgaria the Cups

Politics made big mess of Bulgarian cup tournaments – on paper, the old Soviet Army Cup had to be preserved as the number tournament. But nobody was fooled – the new Bulgarian Cup was the real tournament. It gave Cup Winners Cup spot. Levski-Spartak failed to reach the final – ZSK Spartak (Varna) eliminated them in the semi-finals. CSKA was the other finalist, but there was no contest – the final, played in Plovdiv was easily won by CSKA 4-0.

No matter how good ZSK Spartak was, it was clear to anyone that they were no match to CSKA. Very likely the club and its players had no illusions and may be even did not put much of an effort – it was the finest moment for them anyway. Traditionally small club without any success, that was the best season for them, win or lose. They lost, but went to play in the Cup Winners Cup, for CSKA won the championship soon after winning the Cup.

For CSKA, it was the first trophy this year and at the time they won it, it could have been the only one – they lost their chance to win the other cup and the title was quite uncertain possibility yet. The picture is not from the time of victory, but from the early days of the season in the fall of 1982 – Asparoukh Nikodimov was still the coach. His boys finished the season with a double; he – with nothing. The irony of the sport.

However, CSKA lost the semi-final of the Soviet Army Cup – they eliminated the arch-enemy Levski-Spartak in the quarter-finals and the semifinal seemed an easy task after that: they met the second division Lokomotiv (Plovdiv). Not only second-division opponent, but one struggling at the time. The match was played in the small city of Ikhtiman and against the odds CSKA lost 2-3. That was big surprise, for CSKA was expected to bag this cup without any trouble – all other semi-finalists happened to be second division members and Lokomotiv was the strongest among them. Now it was going to be entirely second division final – an unique event without precedent. Also a clear sign that the first division clubs were no longer interested in this tournament, it was rapidly losing its former importance, so why bother? The other semi-final was also a surprise, but of much lesser proportion: Dunav (Rousse) was expected to win, but did not. Tiny Chirpan (Chirpan) confidently won 3-1 and went to the final, played in Sofia. Sympolism was very thin by now: the ‘number one’ Cup was contested in the ‘number one’ city. The ‘number two’ Cup – in the ‘number two’ city. The main result was attendance – neither final was greatly attended and the one in Sofia got largely supporters of the finalist, attracted by the fact that their teams never won anything. The opponents were hardly equal, though – Lokomotiv had 7 seasoned stars, Chirpan had none and class prevailed 3-1.

Getting the Soviet Army Cup – well, it was more than impressive line passing the Cup from one to another from left to right – Christo Bonev, Stefan Staykov, Ayan Sadakov, Eduard Eranosyan – two big stars of the 1970s, who played at the so far last Bulgarian World Cup finals in 1974, then current national team regular Sadakov, then young goalscorer Eranosyan, who also became a member of the national team.

Lokomotiv made the customary round around the stadium cheered by happy fans.

Standing from left: Atanas Dramov – coach, Ivan Bedelev, Stefan Staykov, Christo Sotirov, Georgy Fidanov, Ivan Naydenov, Nikolay Kurbanov, Eduard Eranosyan, Vassil Ankov – assistant coach, Dimitar Zharov.

Crouching: Lyubomir Burnarsky, Petko Stankov, Christo Bonev, Ayan Sadakov, Plamen Nikolov, Fedya Mikov, Iliya Anchev, Angel Tringov, Silatin Khalidov – masseur.

The pattern was already established – in the country, nobody cared who and why won a secondary trophy. But for Lokomotiv and its supporters it was still the real Bulgarian cup. They never won anything before and it was important not just for club and fans, but for individual players too: it was the only trophy with his beloved club for Christo Bonev, the only Bulgarian recognized internationally as world class in the 1970s (he was once Bulgarian champion, but only be default – when he played briefly and without any desire part of a season for CSKA, as a soldier). Nikolay Kurbanov, also national team player in the 1970s, won his only trophy too. As well as Sadakov and Eranosyan – they still had many years to play, but that was their only trophy. Staykov was familiar with trophies, but as players of Levski-Spartak – for him, this was his last. Overall, it was great and important victory, for the team was unable even to win indirect promotion to the top league (the story had a happy end, when Spartak (Pleven) was expelled and Lokomotiv won the hastily made extra-play-off, so it manage to return to first division). It was great historic moment, but the team had big problems – Atanas Dramov was emerging quickly as young talented coach, but the squad was rough. It still suffered from the problem, which brought them to second division – a core of great, but getting very old players, no middle generation, and some young, but inexperienced talent. Bonev actually played his last official match – he retired and replaced Dramov at the coaching position in the next season. Fidanov left the club – it was the old tension between him and Bonev. Kurbanov was over 30 now and no longer exciting striker, but moved back to play libero. Stefan Staykov, also old, was brought here only because Lokomotiv had no reliable goalkeeper – it was clear that he was well beyond his prime and only a temporary solution. Thus, the future depended only on Sadakov, Eranosyan, and possibly Sotirov. The rest… in the whole truth, they belonged to second division. Lokomotiv practically had to build a team from scratch and it is a miracle that Sadakov and Eranosyan did not join some Sofia-based club. But problems or not, the team won the first trophy for the club. Which is lovely.

Bulgaria I Division

The Bulgarian top league had rather strange championship: at a glance, it was the same as ever. The usual suspects dominated the championship, leaving the rest far behind. Then a stand-alone team, much better than most, yet, not quite equal to the leaders. Then 10 fairly equal teams, but the strange thing was the some recently strong clubs, now in relative decline, were at the same level with clubs, having strong and stable squads at the moment. And finally three outsiders at the bottom. To a point, generational change affected the whole league – the 1970s generation was stepping down, the reason some teams were in shambles, and a new talented generation was pushing up, but not yet ready to make true impact.

Pirin (Blagoevgrad), fresh from Second Division spell, was going back down – they were last with 19 points.Seemingly, there was no end the their troubles – relegated in 1981, they came back right away, and with some hopes: the initial problem, leading them to decline – keeping veterans too long, thus finding themselves suddenly without good middle-aged generation taking the reins – was apparently solved. There were still some, but few, veterans, but around them was a team of talented and very promising young players. Vassil Metodiev, arguably the best Bulgarian coach at this time, was hired and at first everything looked good. But then came a visit to ZSK Spartak in Varna, some players partied all night, foreign tourist reported rape the next morning, and half of the regular starters – the father of Dimitar Berbatov among them – were promptly arrested, tried and sentenced to jail. That lead to last place in the championship, but also to two other things: first, Vassil Metodiev could not get out of trouble – he was sacked a few years back for daring to eliminate Soviet club in European tournament , now his players were involved in gang rape. And that was not the last of his misfortunes. The other thing was the retirement of one of the most emblematic players of this period: the veteran goalkeeper Christo Christov, who made his debut in the national team at 36 years of age. Now he was 40, still solid and ready to guard the gate for ever. He had nothing to do with the gang rape, but years later, when it was possible to speak publicly, he said that he felt ashamed, too old for such behavior, no longer in touch with the young generation, and these feelings made him quit.

Rozova dolina (Kazanlik) ended 15th, also with 19 points, but better goal-difference than Pirin. Unlike their companions back to second division, ‘the Roses’ were expected to be relegated – they never played top league football before, came from small town, and had weak squad. Third row, from left: V. Stanchev – masseur, Nikolay Dyakov, Stoykov, Yordan Todorov, Koycho Koev, Dinyo Stoyanov, Emil Lichev, Christo Popov.

Middle row: Christo Minev – team doctor, Zlatko Minchev, Christo Gotzkov, Atanas Yovchev, Ivan Zafirov – coach, Lalyo Radukov – assistant coach, Tenko Nachev, Kolyo Petkov.

Sitting: Zheko Zhelev, Toshko Tanev, Kamen Petkov, Kralyo Orozov, Angel Yanev, Kanev, Ahmed Dormushev.

It was lovely to see such a modest club battling in the top division, but many looked at them in alarm: the whole Bulgarian football was in danger, because instead of traditional centers from big cities, modest clubs from nowhere were invading the top division – Belasitza (Petrich) first, now ‘the Roses’. Nothing good would come out such clubs – they had nothing to either produce, or to offer to good players from elsewhere. They were not competitive enough and that affected the big clubs, making them lazy – no much skill or effort was needed to beat a team like Rozova dolina, which came with very pedestrian squad without any experience. Very few of their players ever played first division before and only the aging midfielder Zheko Zhelev was recognizable name – but his peak was almost 10 years ago, when he was a member of the strong Beroe (Stara Zagora) team and considered national team material. And the city of Kazanlik was too small and modest to be able to get strong players from elsewhere – if going to such town, many felt there was no need to travel too far from home: one can get the same money in some second or third, or even forth division club without having to relocate. Rozova dolina was able to get only one experienced player in the summer – the once-upon-a-time exciting left winger Bogomil Simov. He was going to be 35 and was at its peak at the same time Zhelev was – the first half of the 1970s. As for the rest of the squad… the central-defender and team captian Kralyo Orozov summarizes it: a local legend he already was, but at 31 he played his first game in the top league. He never attracted the interest of bigger clubs when he was at his prime. His teammates were the same. They tried, but were not good enough to compete at top level.

Khaskovo (Khaskov) ended 14th with 22 points. They were expected to finish low, prime candidates for relegation. From a bigger town, but considered similar to Rozova dolina – not having strong local talent and not able to recruit from elsewhere. This was their 3rd season in First Division – the first attempt in the late 70s lasted one year, the second time they managed to finish 9th, but fooled nobody – too modest to keep up. To a point, they depended on help from Levski-Spartak (Sofia): coaches came from there and they brought two or three players, which Levski did not need for one or another reason, with them. Neither coaches, nor players lasted more than a year – it was more like temporary help, just to go through the season. The suspect approach misfired soon enough and perhaps the Pirin disaster helped them to finish just above direct relegation. They still to go to promotion-relegation play off, though… but managed to prevail over second division candidate Osam (Lovech) and buy one more season in the top league.

Chernomoretz (Bourgas) was 13th with 28 points. Hardly an outsider – they were rather a bit unfortunate, finishing at the bottom of the 10-team bulk of fairly equal teams. They were 13th not because of fewer points than others, but just because of worse goal-difference. Yet…

Siting, from left: Ivan Yovchev, Atanas Velikov, Tzvyatko Mutafchiev, Nikolay Kalushev, Ivaylo Kotzev, Todor Raykov, Georgy Iliev.

Middle row: Lyubomir Borissov – coach, Rossen Kavrakov, Stoyan Mavrov, Valentin Deliminkov, Ivan Pritargov, Georgy Madzharov, Pumpalov, Toma Tomov – assistant coach.

Third row: Lyubomir Georgiev, ?, Krassimir Dimitrov, Dimitar Papazov, Todor Russev, Vladimir Stoyanov, Krassimir Nikolov, Georgy Bachvarov.

A few years back Chernomoretz showed great potential with its group of exciting home-grown youngsters. Now it was already clear that Deliminkov, Yovchev, Ilchev, Madzharov, Papazov, Kavrakov either reached their maximum or lost ambition and settled for mediocre careers. Ivan Pritargov was already getting too old way beyond his peak, but the others were becoming a big disappointemt: consider this – Yovchev and Ilchev were only 23 years old with about 150 top-league games already. And looked like their best years were over, they were not going to get better. They were not going to play for the national team. Big clubs were not asking for their services. They were trying to avoid second division instead… Which they did, winning the promotion-relegation play-off with significant difficulty.

Slavia (Sofia) was 12th, escaping the shame of going to promotion-relegation play-off thanks to better goal-difference. ‘Only yesterday’ they were title contenders… but it was inevitable: their lovely team, built in 1974-75, aged. Tchavdar Tzvetkov, Andrey Zhelyazkov, Vanyo Kostov, Atanas Aleksandrov, Georgy Minchev, Andrey Chakarov were no longer around, but playing abroad. The days of Georgy Gugalov, Ivan Iliev, and Iliya Velichkov were numbered. The whole team had to be replaced, thus the crisis – no new team was shaping yet.

Botev (Vratza) was 11th with 28 points and ahead of Slavia and Chernomoretz only on better goal-difference. Well, they actually finished 6th after a strong season and finally stabilizing their team after years of relative decline. But the weird rule… their 3rd Division second team was last and relegated, which meant automatic 2-point deduction from the first team record. It was mockery of the boys’ performance and what possible ambition they could keep when out of the blue they were at the bottom of the table?

Sitting, from left: Valery Grekov, Borislav Borissov, Ventzislav Bozhilov, Tzvetan Danov, Dimitar Efremov, Iliya Voynov.

Middle row: Petar Kamenov – coach, Lyudmil Assenov, Valery Tzvetanov, Todor Mitov, Emil Marinov, Yulian Emilov, Emil Assenov, Georgy Kamenov – assistant coach.

Top row: Danail Marinov, Vassil Terziysky, Valentin Maldzhansky, Valentin Tzenov, Ivan Radoslavov, Iliya Valov.

Perhaps the wonderful central defender and national team player Maldzhansky was getting old, but there was exciting group of youngsters already considered a national team potential: Danov, Valov, Voynov, Emil Marinov. Very likely the administrative robbery this season made their minds – Maldzhansky and the Assenov brothers left after this season, Danov, Valov, and Voynov left in the next few years – yes, the trio went to play for the national team, but as players of CSKA.

Belasitza (Petrich), the Cinderella of the First Division took the 10th place with 29 points. To many, especially from the circles governing football, Belasitza was a big irritation – they represented a small town like Kazanlik, had no tradition and hardly produced anything in their own youth system. They tapped on the regional pool, using largely discarded players from the regional leading club Pirin (Blagoevgrad). A few veterans, a few more players not good enough for Pirin, and depending entirely on home games was the philosophy of success – contrary to any logic, Belasitza stayed in the top league year after year. And once again they survived, thanks to home wins on their incredibly hostile stadium. Hard as rock, with little grass to begin with and deliberately kept this was – every other club hated playing in Petrich. Local supporters with their mean attitudes made matches in Petrich very bad experience for all visitors. But the formula worked and that was particularly annoying, even offensive – the big regional club and one of the largest developers of bright new talent, Pirin, was relegated once again – tiny Belasitza, using those no longer good for Pirin, stayed in the league. The second leg of their direct championship clash was almost a slap in the face: Belasitza won 6-4! Pirin was not able to beat the small neighbor at all – the other match ended in 0-0 tie. Yes, Belasitza was disliked, largely by football officials, but they were also darlings for many – for their fearsome resistance, for their spirited attitude, for surviving against all odds.

And why not preferring Belasitza, when Cherno more (Varna) with its sturdy and competent squad managed only to finish above Cinderella on goal-difference? That was what was really wrong with Bulgarian football: this squad was considered one of the best in the history of Cherno more. Very competent, very experienced, stable, without weak positions, a squad at its prime. Which settled for mid-table existence, showing no ambition whatsoever. Players, just a few years ago considered a national team potential, were now only solid second-raters, satisfied with the fact that they were too strong to be relegated. And since almost the whole team was nearing 30 (7 of the regulars were born in 1954, another 3 in 1956), the future could be only trouble.

Etar (Veliko Tirnovo) took the 8th place – also with 29 points, so goal-difference put them above Cherno more and Belasitza. But bellow ZSK Spartak (Varna), which had better one by a single goal. Etar perhaps was one of the most satisfied clubs this year – they were shaky for years, going and down, unable to reestablish themselves in the top league. It looked like they managed to remain at last, so it was more than good season. Thanks to their former player and rapidly noticeable young coach Georgy Vassilev, who became perhaps the most successful Bulgarian coach in the 1990s. It was just the beginning of his job with Etar, though: for the moment, he managed to keep the team in the top league. But it was still the problematic rag-tag squad, composed mostly from players used -and often discarded – by other clubs before. Real building of a team was just beginning – around a core of good players: Stefan Lakhchiev, Georgy Tzingov, Emil Dimitrov, and new arrival Mitko Argirov. The future was promising, but it was distant future yet.

ZSK Spartak (Varna) finished 7th, but they were the discovery of the season, ending with their most successful year ever – they also reached the Bulgarian Cup final and eventually went to play in the Cup Winners Cup. Sitting from left: Georgy Aleksiev, Todor Popov, Zhivko Gospodinov, Stefan Simeonov, Borislav Gyorev, Roumen Dimov, Krassimir Venkov.

Middle row: Sasho Borissov, Stefan Stefanov, Assen Mikhaylov, Plamen Kazakov, Mustafa Demirov, Niazim Ismailov, Radi Radomirov.

Third row: Svetoslav Marinov, Emil Lichev, Lyudmil Goranov – coach, Stefan Naydenov, Blagoy Kalfov – assistant coach, Vladimir Nikolchev, Krassimir Zafirov.

Essentially, the team was made the previous year, when Ivan Vutzov came to coach the ailing for years club. He used the usual second-division formula, usually producing dubious short-term results, if any: he brought with him some oldish players from Levski-Spartak and Akademik (Sofia), kept just a few local stars, and added some local and imported promising talent. Typically, such a mix worked with difficulties for a year, but Vutzov managed to actually build a team. After winning promotion, he was appointed to coach the national team and his assistant Lyudmil Goranov became the head-coach of ZSK Spartak. He kept the already made team intact and the season was swell. The mixture worked well – aging local heroes Krassimir Zafirov, Ivan Petrov, and Encho Nedev, former Levski-Spartak players Angel Stankov and Vladimir Nikolchev, former Akademik (Sofia) regulars Sasho Borissov and Borislav Gyorev, plus who knows why discarded from Beroe promising midfielder Stefan Naydenov and previously unheard of discoveries Zhivko Gospodinov and Assen Mikhaylov. Only Borissov and Gyorev were new additions – all others won promotion from Second Division the previous season. Very experienced squad with 3 former national team members – Zafirov, still one of the best goalkeepers in the country, Petrov, Stankov. The old helped the young – Assen Mikhaylov and Zhivko Gospodinov soared and were included in the national team – if Mikhaylov only briefly, Gospodinov became a key national team player for the rest of the decade and played at the 1986 World Cup. The only problem of this team was age – it was obvious that Petrov, Nedev, Zafirov, Stankov, Nikolchev, and Borissov were nearing retirement (however, two of them ‘disappointed’ – Zafirov played quite a few more years, as good as ever, and Borissov moved to CSKA when he was almost 30 years old – perhaps the most unusual transfer, for CSKA never took old players). The season was great, but more important was the next step – to a point, it was a test for Lyudmil Goranov: he inherited already made team and his job was not that much to improve it, but to keep it strong. That is, finding good players to replace those going into retirement. No point in looking into the future here – suffice to say Goranov managed to keep the team strong for a brief, but exciting period – and the excitement blinded him.

Sliven (Sliven) fimished 6th with 30 points. Nothing much in terms of points, but from local point of view it was strong season. Well, strong by default, for if Botev was not unjustly penalized, Sliven would have been 7th. Still good, though… Their approach was the same as ever: get players from CSKA and that will be enough. It was – 6 former CSKA players, half the regular srarters: Yordan Filipov, Krassimir Goranov, Ivan Metodiev, Angel Kalburov, Svetlin Mirchev, Metody Tomanov. Add the national team sweeper Nikolay Arabov and few very experienced second-raters – Dancho Yorgov, Ivan Valchev, Tenko Dobrev, Georgy Pavlov, Petko Tenev – and there was a squad like Cherno more: strong and well balanced. With no big ambitions, though – just keeping mid-table strength. Arabov was star on national scale, but Yordan Filipov must be mentioned first of all: at 36, he was voted best goalkeeper in 5 rounds the previous season – more than any other keeper. This season he was ‘only’ second best. And he had more years to play, as it turned out – including a return to CSKA. However, Sliven was not a promising team – their approach was year-by-year, depending on how many former CSKA players departed or arrived.

Spartak (Pleven) finished 5th – arguably, their best season. The points were not much – only 31 – but traditionally they were weak and lowly team, so it was more than great. And it was, because they had a team just approaching its peak. Individually, most of the players were getting old, but as a squad, they were at the verge of their finest. Very experienced, very well oiled together, and having two great young stars – Plamen Getov, already becoming a legend at 23, and rapidly emerging Lachezar Tanev, 20 years old. Both were not only highly entertaining players, scoring lots of goals, but were becoming national team starters virtually by the minute. Spartak was really going to play big role at least in the next two-three years, but it was not going to be – after the season ended, they were expelled from the league. Were they guilty is hard to say – a scape-goat they certainly were. Paying players under the table… as if all clubs were not doing the same. So, instead of going up, Spartak went down – to second division. National team players and all. And the players started to leave immediately…

Lokomotiv (Sofia) was 4th with 32 points. On the surface, it looked great, but club officials and fans were not fooled: for a modest club with limited resources and always in the shadow of CSKA, Levski, and Slavia, Lokomotiv could be only grateful to finish in the upper half of the table. More than that would be rare sensation and this was not the time for sensations: their good old team aged and retired, but the new team was not ready yet. Only Stoykov, Bonev, and Arsov remained from the 1970s team and they were on their way out to play a bit abroad. The skeleton of new team was already at hand – Boycho Velichkov, Nikolay Donev, Nako Doychev, Nasko Zhelev, Vladimir Lalov, Aleksander Markov, Boris Iliev, Aleksander Dudov – but it was only a skeleton, even a potential skeleton, for some of the youngsters were only promising, but yet unknown, players (the member of the excellent 1994 World Cup Bulgarian squad Plamen Nikolov was 21-years old with a single championship appearance so far. And another appearance was quite absent from the future, for slightly older regular goalkeeper Nikolay Donev was already called to the national team). At this undeveloped stage, Lokomotiv had no way to challenge the leaders – just grateful to end a bit ahead of the bulk of equal teams.

With 38 points, Trakia (Plovdiv) finished 3rd. Top row, from left: Ivan Glukhchev – coach, Dimitar Mladenov, Dimitar Vichev, Aleksander Nikolov, Kiril Peychev, Mitko Argirov, Lyuben Vlassov – masseur, Lyubomir Dobrev – team doctor.

Middle row: Krassimir Manolov, Ivaylo Stoynov, Petar Zekhtinsky, Blagoya Blangev, Slavcho Khorozov, Atanas Marinov, Kosta Tanev.

Sitting: Atanas Pashev, Roumen Yurukov, Marin Bakalov, Kostadin Kostadinov, Vassko Simov, Strumen Avkov.

The picture is a bit mysterious – not exactly 1982-83, but not quite any other season… something in between seasons of that time, most likely. Glukhchev was not head-coach in 1982-83 – not before 1984 in fact, but Argirov was not playing for Trakia anymore – he moved to Etar. That apart, Trakia seemingly resigned to take third place and not to be title contender at all – high above the bulk of the league, yet, quite bellow the two traditionally leading clubs. Nowadays member of this team spill the tale how Levski and CSKA feared them and how they routinely demolished the grands, but let take a look at the records: against CSKA 1 tie and one loss this season. Against Levski – one win and one loss. According to tradition, really – as an Army club, Trakia very rarely played seriously against the ‘big brother’. When they did, they managed a tie at home. Again, as an Army team, they applied all their abilities against Levski – which usually resulted in home win and loss away. And in the big picture that resulted with 3rd place at best. It was quite short of the potential of this team, which appeared to be limitless at this time, for Trakia had the best youth system, constantly providing newer and newer highly talented youngsters. So much talent, the youth system rejected Christo Stoichkov – not good enough. And rightly so – 13 national team players at the picture above! Not all at the same time and certainly of very different longivity, but 13! And only the goalkeeper Vichev over 30 at the moment – the next oldest star, Zekhtinsky, was 27. Kostadinov and Pashev, the most regular national teams regulars, were 23-years old. Yet, Trakia settled for permanent third position – there was no longer any doubt, for this squad was expected to run for the title since 1977. They did not so far, so they were not going to do it in the future for sure. Instead, a different and destructive problem emerged: crowding. At almost position there were two players available. Point in case: both goalkeepers already played for the national team. But one had to sit reserve, almost permanently. Argirov left for that very reason – he wanted to play. Soon he was followed by others – Peychev and Manolov, for instance. Meantime some were getting old… Khorozov was rapidly transforming from great promise to unfulfilled promise: he was already 26 years old not only unable to win a title, not only no longer a potential national team star, but a player in great danger of losing his regular place, for there was younger talent and no space for all in the team.

Levski-Spartak (Sofia) finished 2nd – 3 points behind the champions and 4 points ahead of Trakia. It was a season of mixed emotions – on one hand, Levski did not play all that well and lost the battle for the title early. On the other hand, there was a daring change, which was supported enthusiastically by the fans. The coach Dobromir Zhechev made the group of talented youth starters – for the fans, it was a long-waited to tradition, to the true spirit of the club. For Zhechev, it meant looking for a new job. Borislav Mikhaylov, Nasko Sirakov, Bozhidar Iskrenov, Nikolay Iliev, Petar Kurdov, Emil Velev, Krassimir Koev played together in the youth formations and now became the skeleton of a new and eventually successful team. All of them would soon be major stars, defining Bulgarian football of the 1980s and beyond. If not for daring decision of Zhechev, who knows? They may have been lost, like all juniors of the club in the 1970s. Almost all were members of the first team for some time and had some playing time too – but before Zhechev they appeared sparsely, one by one, mostly as substitutes or in the odd unimportant game. Shortly before the end of the championship Levski was a point behind CSKA and won the derby 3-0, thus coming on top. It was very confident victory, but the edvantage was quickly lost in the remaining games – perhaps the main reason Zhechev was sacked. And the main reason for mixed feelings: there was a lot of promise, but seemingly the team was not ready to win yet.

CSKA ‘Septemvriysko zname’ won 4th consecutive title. Sitting from left: Radoslav Zdravkov, Tzvetan Yonchev, Plamen Markov, Georgy Slavkov, Ruzhdy Kerimov, Stoycho Mladenov, Chrsito Zapryanov – masseur.

Middle row: Boris Stankov – coach, Georgy Iliev, Yancho Bogomilov, Spas Dzhevizov, Dinko Dimitrov, Nedyalko Mladenov, Georgy Dimitrov, Christo Marinchev – assistant coach.

Top row: Krassimir Dossev, Krassimir Bezinsky, Valery Kulinov, Nikola Milanov – chief of the team, Vassil Tinchev, Aleksander Aleksandrov, Georgy Velinov.

On the surface, everything was fabulous – CSKA not only won the championship once again, but had a good chance for a triple this year. Looked like permanent dominance – this squad, made of 13 national team players, was finely tuned and at its prime. It was not aging team either, but with enormous experience to its credit. But there were problems and power struggles: the team started the season with its maker in the helm – Asparoukh Nikodimov. Then he was sacked out of the blue and for no visible reason and hardly ever coaching veteran Stefan Bozhkov was installed. He coached the team in the spring, but in the above photo was already out – replaced by Boris Stankov. He was head coach for a very brief period – the next season there was another coach. Why Nikodimov, who elevated CSKA from the shaky uncertainty in the second half of the 1970s and build this excellent squad was sacked was unclear and not made official, but became known: Nikodimov was too strong headed and too independent. It was stupid to sack him, but that was CSKA – no mercy. They kicked out Nikodimov twice already – once, because the club did not want players around 30 years old, no matter how they played, and now as a coach.

Bulgaria II Division

Bulgaria. This championship needs explanatory note, for final tables were concluded after the season ended and penalties distributed. Penalties not exactly and not only for misconduct, but also according to new weird rule. Which, on top of everything, was not exactly followed, just to make a real mess. The rule was introduced the previous year: every first division club had to have a second under-23 team, playing in the Third Division. The idea was based on the magic word ‘improvement’ – about 10 years back the parallel championship of second teams was abolished. It was familiar around Europe practice until the 1970s: second-team championships as a parallel structure served to keep reserve players in shape and give them playing time. Regulars, coming back from injuries, played there too, to get in form . And talented prospects from the youth system. However, such championships attracted little interest and were somewhat unofficial, so they gradually disappeared. This left open the question of developing youngsters – talented juniors, included in the men squads, hardly ever played. In Bulgaria this was combined with the ever present complaint, that there was no strong new generation – the main reasons for decreasing attendance and lack of international competitive edge. And as ever the first coming to mind was administrative reform, as if a new rule automatically will improve the quality of the game and the players. Second teams of the top league members were ordered and automatically included in the third division. This lead to another restructuring: second division was made smaller, decreased from all-time high of 44 teams to 36. The 6 zones of Third Division were reduced to 5 – there was no escape from that, because the city of Sofia suddenly had way too many clubs – but the odd number of zones made the 2 second division groups unequal – two teams were relegated in the North, but three in the South. And something never occurred to the mighty administrators: what if a second team of first division club is too strong and finish first in its Third Division zone? Or too weak and finish at the bottom and has to be relegated? The new rule did not envision such obvious possibilities. It did envision some other things too. The clubs immediately disliked the invention: practically, they had to keep two separate teams. It is safe to say that only CSKA, Levski, and to a point Slavia, could afford to keep about 50 players on payroll, but the others, especially those from smaller towns, could not. There was no real help of the second team – unlike the former unofficial second-team championship, players could not move back and forth the first team and the second during the championship – one squad was registered in one division and the other – in the other and movements were regulated like transfers from club to club, twice an year, between seasons. There was no way around it, for most regular members of Third Division feared that the big clubs would easily make the championship meaningless by fielding their first division players in the lower-division championship. The rule was stupid and entirely useless. From start some clubs discovered a way to go around it, so two clubs did not have their own second teams in Third Division, but amalgamated with other local clubs teams: Marek (Dupnitza) was represented by ZSK Marek, Beroe (Stara Zagora) – by Boruy-Beroe, and Akademik (Sofia) – by VIF-Akademik. But that was in the first season under this rule – now came the second and the problems loomed in earnest. In Stara Zagora there was no longer even a pretense: ‘Beroe’ was dropped from the name of the third division team, now it was just Boruy. Sliven introduced practically separate team too – Dynamo-Sliven. The second-team rule applied only to first division clubs, but what about those relegated and promoted? Akademik solved the problem for itself by separation – there was no VIF-Akademik anymore, VIF played on its own, as they did for years before the rule. The same did Beroe (Stara Zagora). Marek (Dupnitza), however, was forced to keep second teams, although they were now in Second Division. Newcomers to top league were also an anomaly – ZSK Spartak (Varna) had to have a second team, automatically included in Third Division. But not Pirin (Blagoevgrad) – apparently, they claimed the other club from the city, already playing in the Third Division, Pirinski Akademik, as their second team. But Rozova dolina (Kazanlik) did not have any second team, real or fake – they were either unnoticed, or pleaded for mercy, since the town was too small and it was impossible to produce 50 players out of the blue. Whatever it was, nothing was ever mentioned and hardly anybody noticed the infringement. The weird rule was deteriorating and coming to its natural death, but not without stinging here and there. Second Division clubs were not forced to have second-teams, yet 2 had – Minyor (Pernik) and Svetkavitza (Targovishte). It was unknown why – were they forced or did they do it on their own? Neither club was freshly relegated, like Beroe, Akademik, and Marek. The season was played and the last weird chapter came after the end: the second team of CSKA finished first in its zone. The rule did not envision promotion. Apparently, second teams were only to play in Third Division – but winners were promoted, so CSKA went up, and had to change the name of the second team, making it technically another club. It did not sit very well – now the Army financed two clubs. And if their second team earns one more promotion and reaches the top league? In the same time the second teams of Botev (Vratza) and Marek (Dupnitza) finished at the bottom in their zones and had to be relegated to Forth Division. The rule either had original provision for that or one was hastily made to address the problem at hand: in such occasions, the first team was to be penalized with reduction of 2 points. The reason was quite obvious – to prevent the clubs from merely having a second team for formally satisfying the rule. They had to develop players and such development meant, in theory, much higher place in the final table. Fine theory, but Botev played in First Divison – Marek was in the Second, thus not even required to have a second team. Never mind, both clubs were penalized and post-factum Botev finished 11th instead of 6th. Mared dropped only one place – 6th instead of 5th in the Southern Second Group – but the irony was big: Neftohimik (Bourgas), not required to have a second team as a regular Second Division member finished a place above Marek, which, as a former First Division member, dragged with itself the dead wait of a second team to the Second Division and was punished for ‘developing football’.

And that was not all, unfortunately. Two clubs were found guilty of other crimes: Second Division Bdin (Vidin) was penalized with 6-point reduction for trying to fix their match against Dorostol (Silistra). That was because Bdin was running for promotion – once they were penalized, instead of finishing 2nd, they ended 10th. Understandable and traditional crime, so the punishment seemed to be fare. But Spartak (Pleven) was found guilty of ‘severe breach of Socialist morality’ and excluded from First Division. They just finished their arguably best-ever season at 5th place. The formulation was vague, but also it was the usual formulation for despicable crimes, which cannot be named because of this very ‘Socialist morality’ – ‘Socilaist people’ cannot commit crimes, period. As for the crime… most likely it was ‘black payroll’. The team was good and to keep it ambitious and competitive, means of paying the players had to be discovered. It was eternal problem in the Communist countries, for officially players were amateurs. The Army and the Police solved the problem easily – they just made their players ‘officers’ – but most clubs had no such opportunities and had to pay under the table. The smaller the club, the more easily blamed and punished, so Spartak (Pleven) was punished, as others before – no big club was ever found guilty of ‘severe breach of Socialist morality’. Hypocrisy ruled… but it also created new problem.

A promotion-relegation rule was created for this season, well in advance: second-placed teams in the Third Division were to play promotion-relegation play-offs against those immediately above direct relegation zone in the Second Division and second-placed Second Division teams the same against the 13th and the 14th finishers in First Division. Relatively simple, at a glance. Unfortunately, the last in the top league were Southern clubs – thus, directly relegated to the Southern Second Division. None to the Northern. This affected relegation in the second league, complicated by the odd number of Third Division zones: looked like 4 teams were to go directly down, with a possibility of three more after promotion-relegation play-offs in the South – a total of 7 teams, out of 18. In the North only one was to be directly relegated and possibly 2 more after play-offs – a maximum of three. This not only was unfair, but appeared too dangerous – in the South, the league was very likely to be weakened and in the same time the weaker at the time North was to maintain insignificant teams. Nothing to be done, except use the rules ‘creatively’ – no question about direct relegation: the last 4 in South went down (with that every pretense of following the second-team rule went to the drain: Akademik (Sofia) was relegated and joined its ‘second-team’ VIF in the Third Division). One went down in the North – Kaliakra (Kavarna), 18th and last. Now the promotion-relegation play-offs… to keep the number of relegated more or less in parity, three teams from the North and 2 from the South moved to this stage. But their opponents were 3 from the South and 2 from the North, so oddly Metalurg (Pernik), 2nd in Sofia Zone of Third Division (South) was paired with Partizanin (Cherven Bryag), 16th in the Northern Group of Second Division. If Metalurg won, in which group were going to play next year? Seemingly, in the Northern one… against all geography. They won… and joined the Southern Group. Partizanin was relegated from Northern Group, though. Before doing the final calculation, let see the other results: Septemvriiska slava (Mikhailovgrad), 17th in the Northern second division won its play-off against Chumerna (Elena), 2nd in the North-West Zone of Third Division (Chumerna finished 1st, but got 6 points taken away – along with the second team of Etar (Veliko Tirnovo) – ‘administratively’. The mess of it all… most likely match-fixing was the crime, but here the formulation was entirely different from those used for the violations of Bdin and Spartak). Septemvriiska slava kept its place in Second Division. So did Tryavna (Tryavna), 15th in the Northern Group, after winning against Lokomotiv (Rousse), 2nd in the North-East Third Division Zone. Eledzhik (Ikhtiman), 13th in the Southern Group played a single match against Velbazhd (Kyustendil), 2nd in the South-West Zone – they won it 4-0 and Velbazhd either did not show or there was some other infringement, for the second leg was awarded to Eledzhik. Vihren (Sandanski), 14th in the Southern Group won over Dimitrovgrad (Dimitrovgrad), 2nd in the South-East Zone. Thus, the only Third Division club to win promotion-relegation play-off was Metalurg (Pernik), geographically odd and inconvenient.

There was little chance to balance the books by possible outcomes of promotion-relegation play-offs for the highest division: two more Southern clubs were lowly in the First Division, so there was high possibility for even greater disbalance. Luckily, it was avoided – Chernomoretz (Bourgas), Southern club, 13th in First Division prevailed over Lokomotiv (Plovdiv), 2nd in the Southern Second Division Group. Khaskovo (Khaskovo), Southern club, 14th in First Division, overcome Osam (Lovech), 2nd in the Northern Group.

Let do the math: 1 team promoted and 1 directly relegated, and relegated after play-off in the North, 2 directly promoted from Third Division – a total of 17. In the South: 1 promoted to First Division, 4 directly relegated to Third – 5 altogether. Two teams relegated from First Division, 3 promoted from the Third. But the odd Metalurg (Pernik) remains… promoted to where? It went to the Southern Second Division, which makes 19 teams for the next season. Nothing was balanced. Solution came out of the blue and with luck too. Spartak (Pleven) was expulsed from First Division – they were to play in the Northern Second Division the next year, thus the group recovered to 18 teams. But now First Division was reduced to odd 15… and a new play-off was staged to complete the league: between the losing teams of the original promotion-relegation play-offs. Lokomotiv (Plovdiv) against Osam (Lovech). Since this play-off was hastily created, it was different – all others were 2-legged affairs. This was one-leg, played on neutral ground in Sofia. It was entirely improvised – the season was already over, teams were on vacation. To call them back was a bit too much: they were not ready for two more matches. Playing in Sofia was not good at all for the gates – nobody was interested there – but there was no other way. The opponents did what they could under the circumstances, the match went into overtime and only then Lokomotiv clinched 2-1 victory and promotion. A promotion, met with great doubts, for what exactly a team losing all previously set opportunities could contribute to First Division? They did not won Second Division championship and lost the original play-off against weak opponent. And the alternative was not better either – Osam was worse than Lokomotiv, finishing 2nd only because Bdin was penalized. But at last numbers were made right: First Division recovered to 16 teams, Northern Second Division Group added a team, making 18, the Southern Group lost one more team, thus reduced to 18 teams. However, it was weird finish of a season – and long after it was actually finished.

Actual football made a mockery of the epic back-room drama, especially in the lower divisions. The top league clubs made everything possible to avoid the hassle of financing two teams – it is true that some players of the second teams eventually reached first-division football, if not the clubs they dreamed of playing for, but as a whole the top clubs did not look for support from their second teams, feeling them with players they did not plan to use at ell ever. Third Division remained rather the same, even somewhat less competitive than usual – one may expect second teams of top clubs to play significant role, but it was not so even for the one of CSKA. No more than two teams competed for promotion in every Third Division zone. Sportist (General Toshevo) had no opponent in the North-East ern Zone, finishing 6 points ahead of Lokomotiv (Rousse). The same happened in the South-Eastern Zone, where Arda (Kardzhali), just relegated from long spell in Second Division, finished comfortable first, also 6 points ahead of their nearest pursuer Dimitrovgrad (Dimitrovgrad). Chumerna (Elena) and Khemus (Troyan) battled for first place in the North-Western Zone – Chumerna prevailed by a point, but was penalized for match-fixing – even with 6 points taken away, Chumerna finished 2nd. Khemus took the 1st place. Maritza (Plovdiv) and Velbazhd (Kyustendil) fought for the top spot between themselves in the South-Western Zone – Maritza grabbed the 1st place with a point more. And CSKA (Sofia) and Metalurg (Pernik) were the only candidates for promotion in the Sofia Zone – CSKA got the 1st place thanks to better goal-difference. The only second team interested in going higher, but this was not exactly a second team – CSKA simply satisfied the rule: the second team was made of their own former juniors, who normally were send to play in the provincial Army clubs. Now they were kept home, but with no intention of getting them into the first team. Not now, not later – so, the team operated almost as independent club and promotion provided get opportunity for further separation. Apparently, the rules did not allow second teams to play higher than Third Division, which lead to renaming the club after the end of the season – the new name under which they played in the Second Division the next year was Armeetz. The appearance of something seemingly different was used immediately by CSKA to get rid of the dead wait: no more attention had to be paid to the irritating bunch. It was not helped with players by the first team, becoming even weaker now, for there was no reason for young hopefuls to join it – they were not to be seen by the real power, it was dead end. And this concoction of a club did not last long. As for CSKA, the stupid rule forcing them to have a second team was entirely meaningless: they had a few Army clubs in First Division to send talent to get experience and also to get players from at will. The Army also had entirely separate military championship, which provided nothing to the top club, but was costly to maintain. Anyhow, apart from the second CSKA, all other Third Division winners were former Second Division members, some with many years in it. It was the reduction of the Second Division the previous year the whole reason of finding themselves one level lower and they were eager to get back to normal. Among the 10 teams at the top positions in the 5 Third Division Zones, except CSKA, only Sportist (General Toshevo) did not play in the Second Division during the 1981-82 season.

Second Division was smaller now – the reduction by 8 teams was necessary and even over-due – but still 36 teams were too much for a real change. Perhaps the biggest problem of second-division football was wise players – having plenty of choice, many good players preferred to play peacefully in some smaller town. As a rule of thumb, most clubs were able to afford two-three ‘stars’, dropped from First Division for one or another reason, most often lack of ambition, and with their help assured secure mid-table existence for many years. But the good players had no interest to concentrate in few teams, so already for many years no promising and relatively strong squad emerged in the second level. And having 36 teams in it did not provide for concentration either. The championship, therefore, was weak – the year before each group had only one club interested in promotion. This season, although a lure of promotion was extended to the 2nd placed via promotion-relegation play-off, it was still the same.

The Northern Group was particularly worrisome, for it was less competitive than the Southern for years. One can hardly expect improved quality coming from tiny newcomers like Partizanin (Cherven Bryag) – they finished 16th. Expected, but a look at the points fueled great pessimism: Partizanin ended with 30 points. Akademik (Svishtov), no long ago playing in the top league and one of the few second division team having means to lure better players on larger scale, finished 6th with 34 points.

Of course, one cannot put the blame on the shoulders of the weakest: Partizanin never played at this level before, this season was the greatest in their modest history, and even they had a good chance to remain in the league. Sitting from left: Tz. Kamenov, L. Nikolaev, L. Mitov, K. Khristov, P. Malinov, L. Kunovsky.

Middle row:Y. Kutovsky – assistant coach, P. Tomov, D. Anchev, P. Brezoev, Tz. Bossev, B. Momchilov, B. Gaganelov – coach.

Third row: R. Nafuzov, I. Iliev, Tz. Dilov, K. Lulchev, N. Iliev, K. Parvanov, M. Surdzhiysky.

Partizanin did what every other club in their situation did: having very limited pool of local talent, they recruited names. Boris Gaganelov, the big star of CSKA from the 1960s, was hired to coach them – young, promising, and just the previous season assistant-coach of CSKA, ideal for small town with little money. A bunch of former First Division players were also recruited – experienced, but either aging or discarded for limited talent. The most famous – and also the oldest and ready to retire – were Lyuben Kunovsky (Botev Vratza), Nikolay Iliev (Levski-Spartak and Spartak Pleven) and Pavel Malinov (Dunav Rousse). That was the typical picture everywhere and with the help of old feet, Partizanin almost survived. But ‘almost’ does not count – they were relegated and, in the big picture, just as well. For this was not a team improving the game.

But if Partizanin cannot be truly blamed, other clubs could be and must be blamed. For instance, Akademik (Svisthov) – money they had not, but had University in the city (hence, the name of the club) and offered easy degree in economics to interested players. They got good players and should have been candidates for promotion. Perhaps the fluctuation of the squad, having large numbers going out and coming in every new season prevented the building of strong team. They finished 5th. Elsewhere decline and rot ruled, already for years.

Dunav (Rousse) was the most alarming example – they got arguably the best Bulgarian coach at this moment, Asparoukh Nikodimov, who made the strong squad of CSKA beating Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. There were a number of well players, including former national team members – Angel Rangelov, Kiril Lyubomirov, and Christo Topalov (CSKA), Kosta Bosakov (Lokomotiv Plovdiv), Yury Nikolov (Akademik Sofia), to name a few. Impressive on paper, but their best years were back in the 1970s… or they never had really best years. Rangelov contributed little, if anything, for he soon went to play in Greece. A big number ‘mercenaries’ were already looking in other directions . Suffice to say that Lyubomirov, Rangelov, Topalov, Bosakov, Nikolov, and younger Kadir Belaliev, Nikola Spassov, Stoyan Pumpalov were not playing for Dunav the next season. But, looking ahead, this practice to get names for a bit of time was continued and Dunav actually remains rotting to this very day, never able to build a meaningful team after 1975. No wonder they were not a factor in 1982-83 – but theirs and other similar clubs situation opened a chance for relatively weak teams to run ahead. To nobody’s good, at the end, for they had typical second-division make from start. Eventually Bdin (Vidin) finished 2nd with 39 points, a record not exactly competitive and achieved with the help of bribery on top of it – after punishment, they were 10th and Osam (Lovech) of the same insignificant ilk took the 2nd place with 38 points. Like everybody else, they depended on former First Division players, although less significant and memorable than Dunav’s ‘mercenaries’. The only interesting thing about Osam was that Petar Khubchev, the future star, internationally recognized as such and key member of the Bulgarian national team, which finished 4th at the 1994 World Cup was already a starter for Osam. He was 19-years old, yet unknown.

Sluggishly and almost without notice Shumen (Shumen) won the championship with 44 points. At the end, they were 5 points ahead of Osam (Lovech). Sitting, from left: Angel Dimitrov, Aleksander Nikolov, Ivan Evtimov, Ivan Vassilev, Tzonyo Vassilev, Kalin Topuzakov, Neredin Eminov, Dimitar Krumov.

Second row: Todor Velev – coach, Christo Tanev, Stoyan Cheshmedzhiev, Nikolay Vesselinov, Mahmud Ahmedov, Pencho Zahariev – administartor, Iliya Pitzkov, Georgy Minchev, Ivaylo Kirov, Milko Kandilarov, Petar Vassilev – assistant coach.

The new champions of Northern Group won Second Division only once and played a single season in the First Division – it happened 10 years earlier, when they were still named P. Volov. Their sole first division season was especially weak and if there was anything memorable from it, that was the fate of two players: the goalkeeper Kandilarov was suspended for a long time early in the season for some grave offense committed in a match and practically missed the season. The only player who impressed was the aggressive central defender Tzonyo Vassilev, who was taken by CSKA right after this disastrous season and played left-back for them and the national team for a long time, including the 1974 World Cup. Getting old, he was just dismissed from CSKA and returned home. As it happened, he and Kandilarov were the only players of the old team, which played once in the top league remaining. Old and new squad were remarkably similar – both practically had no well players or coaches even by second division standards. The old team had one young talent and the new team -also one, the striker Ivaylo Kirov. And just like Tzonyo Vassilev 10 years back, Kirov eventually moved to play for CSKA. This was not a team going to shake first division – just like once upon a time, observers felt that Shumen needs a whole lot of new stronger players, if wanting to be a bit competitive.

In the South, usually more vigorous championship than the North, nothing good happened either – this season was seemingly similar to the pedestrian Northern affairs. It was easier to count disappointment – number one was Akademik (Sofia). Only the year before they participated in the UEFA Cup. Relegated from First Division, they immediately went further down – finished 16th and relegated quickly from Second Division as well. Marek (Dupnitza, then Stanke Dimitrov) finished 6th, but their decline was noticed some time ago, so they were not exactly unpleasant surprise – they simply were unable preserving their strong, but very short squad for long. Once key members started dropping out, there were no replacements and that was that. Now, with just 7 ‘stars’ remaining, Marek was reduced to the smaller typical second division members.

Minyor (Pernik) was biggest disappointment: they were expected to fight for promotion, but finished 4th and far behind the leaders: 14 points behind the champions and 8 behind the 2nd-placed. Standing from left: Naydenov – coach, A. Slavov, Genadiev, S. Slavov, Staykov, Evgeniev, Tikhanov, Savov, Todorov, Nikolov, Velichkov, Ferdov, Rangelov – team doctor.

Crouching: Dobrev, Sokolov, Boyanov, Stoyanov, Andonov, Vassev, Ganev, Evtimov, Baltov.

The problem of Minyor was not new at all – it was the approach. They constantly dipped into Sofia’s pool – Pernik is so close to Sofia, the players don’t even have to relocate and this was main reason for Sofianites to move eagerly to Minyor. But those were either aging players, nearing the end (Trayko Sokolov, Georgy Tikhanov) or players with limited talent with no chances to play for the big clubs again (Georgy Dobrev, Georgy Ganev) or at all. Ad the last local great players remaining – Vesselin Evgeniev and Angel Slavov – and the mix was peculiar: on paper, the squad appeared strong. In reality it was very unstable – inevitably, the old guard was going to retire sooner than later; behind them were second- or even third-rate players with experience, who already reached their limited peak and were not going to become stars and leaders out of the blue, and behind them – a bunch of younger players of dubious to fill the gaps. It was patch-works, not building a team and the results were correspondingly disappointing.

The rest of the league was quite insignificant – teams like

Assenovetz (Assenovgrad), which lived sedated life year after year. This season they finished 10th – nothing new. And the future was to be the same, for Assenovgrad was similar to Pernik: they were so close to Plovdiv, it was never a problem tapping on unused by Plovdiv clubs talent. Nothing special, but good enough to keep Assenovetz in the middle of the second division.

Neftokhimik (Bourgas) finished 5th, one point behind Minyor, but their good season hardly fooled anybody: as the second and smaller club of Bourgas, they had those not needed by Chernomoretz to make a decent squad – but not great and not very promising either, for whoever impressed was more than likely to move to the bigger neighbor. As almost all second-division clubs, Neftokhimik used the classic formula – keep a few former first division players and that was enough. In a good year, they would finish higher – if the year was not good, still there was no trouble: the better players were able to keep them above relegation zone.

Lokomotiv (Plovdiv) left very mixed feelings: they were favourites, expected to try hard to return to first division. But they greatly disappointed – finished 2nd, but 6 points behind the winners. It was irritating, because the team had a team which should have been a winner: Ayan Sadakov was current national team regular, Christo Bonev was back from his spell in Greece – old, but he was the best and most internationally famous Bulgarian player in the 1970s, his national team teammate of that decade Stefan Staykov was here now, another former national team player – Nikolay Kurbanov – was also back after playing in Svishtov for a while. Aleksander Ivanov, considered one of the best newcomers about 8 years ago, talented strikers Georgy Fidanov and Khristo Sotirov, and two bright youngsters, already considered national team material – Eduard Eranosyan and Christo Kolev. Looked like the worst was over – the years of decline, when Lokomotiv had half of the team made of veterans and the other half of almost teenagers. But, unfortunately, no new team was made yet – it was rather unstable bunch, affected quite a lot of internal scheming – Bonev was in the center of them as ever. As it is now as well. The squad was disbalanced – looked more than OK in every line, but defense. It was weak. Anyhow, Lokomotiv finished 2nd, which was a flop, but had a play-off chance – they lost that too. Then a second play-off was staged because of the expulsion of Spartak (Pleven) – and finally, but not convincingly, Lokomotiv won and got promoted. So, everything ended well… in fact, it was excellent: the weak and troublesome season ended as the most successful season in the history of the club, bested only more than 10 years later. A rollercoster of a season, leaving lots of doubts for the next – it was certain that the team needs better defenders. Perhaps a new goalkeeper, for Staykov played more on reputation by now and was too fat for really solid performance. Pehaps one more good striker. A defensive mid-fielder. And somehow pacifying the change room – Kurbanov and Fidanov had old and justified grudges against Bonev. Eranosyan also was in conflict with the great old star, who had so much clout in the club that whoever tried to fight his whims was going to lose and be kicked out.

Without real opponents, Beroe (Stara Zagora) easily won the Southern Group championship – they had the best record in both groups of the Second Division and were the only team to win more than games. They scored the most goals and had the tightest defense. As a good measure, they also won the Balkan Cup, pictured here on the left. Sitting from left: Iliya Iliev, Tanyo Petrov, Georgy Stoyanov, Petko D. Petkov, Tanko Tanev, Vassil Dragolov, Nikolay Demirev, Stefan Stefanov.

Middle row: Kosta Kostov, Stefan Dinev, G. Belchev – coach, Petko Iv. Petkov, Valentin Peev, Yordan Mitev, Ivan Georgiev, R. Brunekov – assistant coach, Plamen Lipensky, T. Tenev, Valentin Grudev.

Top row: Zh. Pepelov – administrator, Kancho Kasherov, Valentin Valchev, Atanas Batzenkov, Iv. Boyadzhiev – team doctor, Petko Tenev, Nikolay Yankov, Tenyo Minchev, Chr. Doychev – masseur.

Hard to believe this team was relegated in 1981-82 – the same former, current, and future national team players are on the picture. The same boys became champions of the country soon, Vassil Dragolov played at the 1986 World Cup, the mighty striker – who returned from successful spell in Austria during the season – hold unbeaten and very likely unbeatable record: in the Second Division he scored more goals than the games he played. Along the stars (P. D. Petkov, Minchev, Kasherov, Dragolov) played seasoned and reliable players (Kostov, Stoyanov, Dinev, Peev, Iliev) and behind hem were the talented youngsters, pushing for a place in the first team (Grudev, Lipensky, Mitev, Stefanov). Their coach was one of the stars of great team Beroe had in the early 1970s – Georgy Belchev. Back then he supplied balls to the scoring machine Petkov from the the wing. But Beroe was Beroe – just like the earlier team found itself suddenly in the Second Division, so did this one. It was not to be, it was a team able to play significant role in the tope league as it was, but it was Beroe… and temporary down. Only to return immediately – the team, generally made of players from the region of Stara Zagora, was too good for second division. It was well balanced – the only really balanced second division team – deep enough and with sound recruiting policy. It was not to stay the same – surely, Beroe was going to reinforce the squad with few good additions before starting its next season among the best. Then again, they were did not belong to second level, so there was not much reason for optimism – the ywere not newcomers. And they were Beroe… they could just as easily plummet down again. Beroe was not exactly a safe bet, too unpredictable.

So, the end of the saga: Shumen (Shumen), Beroe (Stara Zagora), and Lokomotiv (Plovdiv) were promoted this year.


Czechoslovakia the Cup

The Czechoslovak Cup final evoked the past – Dukla (Prague) vs Slovan (Bratislava). As if the clock turned back to the 1960s. Dukla prevailed 2-1, one more reminder of the old days. But that was all.

Slovan was pail shadow of the old mighty team. Fighting well at the final was almost playing above the current team ability. If they won, that would have been major and unrealistic surprise. But it did not come to that.

Dukla saved the season, yet leaving some bitter taste in the mouth: weak in the championship and barely overcoming Slovan at the Cup final. Since almost the whole current Czechoslovak national team was here, it was rather strange ending of the season. Crouching from left: J. Borovan – masseur, L. Vizek, O. Rott, J. Fiala, P. Rada, J. Novak, J. Brumovsky – assistant coach.

Standing: B. Minar – team doctor, S. Pelc, F. Stambacher, Kludsky (?), L. Urban, T. Kriz, K. Stromsik, L. Novak – coach.

Ladislav Novak had arguably the best squad in the country – 8 members of the national team, plus assistant coach, who was worthy to coach on his own. But something did not click well. Still, Novak was not blamed and kept his job for another year at least. Perhaps the problem was the general set-up of Dukla – they were the army club and thus able to recruit whoever they wanted. After all, everybody had to go through obligatory military service. Recruitment was easy, keeping players in the team was another matter – many did not want to play for Dukla, leaving as soon as their service was over. For years already – pretty much since the end of the 1960s – Dukla was not exactly desirable club. The result was instability, it was almost impossible to build a strong long-lasting team as they had in the 1950s and 1960s. Times have changed for ever. In the new reality, it was just make the best with the players at hand this year – and this year they were good only for a cup. The 6th for Dukla.

Czechoslovakia I Division

First Division had surprising season – both on top and bottom.

That Sigma (Olomouc) was the outsider and last with 16 points was not a surprise. But Zbrojovka (Brno) at 15th place with 23 points was – not long ago they were champions. True, the team was not all that strong and nothing was added to it, but this was not a club usually trying to escape relegation. An unusual slump, ending with relegation.

The likelier candidate for relegation – Plastica (Nitra) – survived this time. 14th place with 26 points. For them – strong season.

Slovan (Bratislava) was clearly in crisis – it was already noticed, but there was no improvement. 13th.

Spartak (Trnava) was also in bad shape, but this season managed to stay in the middle of the table. 8th with 30 points.

On the other hand, modest and even unlikely first division member TJ Vitkovice was gaining strength – they were 7th with 31 points. Hardly noticeable achievement and to a point the rise of Vitkovice remained hidden.

The eternal sufferers Slavia (Prague) continued to suffer – one more unimpressive season, 7th.

Dukla (Prague), however, did no better – having one of the strongest squads at the time, they finished 6th and that only thanks to better goal-difference than the one Slavia had. The other strong team – Sparta (Prague) – was also miserable: they were 3rd, but not in the title race at all. 36 points.

Thus, the league was reduced to a race between two teams – Banik (Ostrava) and Bohemians (Prague). Banik was not a surprise – they were continuously strong, but eventually had to settle with 2nd place. 40 points were just not enough. Bohemians had 2 points more.

A Cinderella story, if you like. Old, respected, but never winning anything. No matter what, Bohemians ranked 4th among the Prague clubs, never having the resources of Dukla and eventually Sparta, never having the popularity of Slavia and Sparta. Modest club with modest stadium, so far having only one claim to fame – Antonin Panenka. But the living legend was no longer with his beloved club – he played in Austria. Thanks largely to him, Bohemians was relatively strong, even climbing up, since, roughly, 1975. When Panenka left, the reasonable expectation was that Bohemians would suffer and quickly drop down. Perhaps the traditional modesty of the club blinded everyone, for the recruit of good players was practically missed. Suddenly Bohemians had a solid group of regulars and out of the blue was run for the title. Some of the new masters were pretty much old hands – Bicovsky, aging, but still a key member of the national team. Dusan Herda was once upon a time big promise, but eventually Slavia gave up and let him go. Sturdy second-rater by now, but finding second breath in Bohemians green and white. But along the veterans flourished younger players – Jakubec, Borovicka, Hruska, Nemec, Cermak, Prokes, Chaloupka, Dolezal. They were somewhat overlooked by the big clubs and suddenly Bohemians had a winning team. They lost major, but lonely star, getting a champion squad. 18 wins, 6 ties, only 6 lost games, 69-31 goal-difference, and 42 points. They outscored all other teams by far – Slavia, the second-best scorers managed only 56 goals – and only Dukla had better defensive record (24 goals received).

Bohemians was in haven – their 1st ever title. Long wait, against the odds, but finally done. Too bad their greatest season was without their greatest ever player, but on the other hand now Bohemians had 2 legends – a legendary player and a legendary squad. Simply great year. And unfortunate too… now the focus was on them and bigger clubs surely wanted some of the players. Bohemians faced a huge problem immediately after sobering from celebration: how to keep competitive team. They had little to offer. Lovely underdogs.