DDR I Division

The East German First Division was probably the most predictable, and thus boring, championship in Europe – everything was well known in advance, nothing ever changed. Well, almost nothing – occasionally a club of lower rank had a good season; occasionally a high ranking club had weak season, but the status quo was never disturbed. This season was a competitive race for the title, but still the expected in advance champion won, only it was not overwhelming dominance as in the previous two years. One of the traditional leaders unexpectedly dropped down the table, but not for a second was in danger of relegation. At the bottom – the expected outsiders and the only drama was only who will manage to avoid relegation. That was all.

HFC Chemie (Halle) was last with 11 points. They won only once this season: a 2-1 home victory over BSG Chemie (Leipzig), a fellow outsider.

1. FC Union (Berlin) – 13th with 14 points. The whole drama of the championship was related to the fight for escaping relegation: two teams ended the season with absolutely the same record, including goal-difference, so relegation play-off was staged and Union lost it 1-1 and 1-2 and went down.

BSG Chemie (Leipzig) won the relegation play-off and clinched the safe 12th place, but with them it was sure that if not this year, then the next one will be going back to Second Division. Which was exactly the case of Union (Berlin) as well – both clubs were bouncing between first and second division for years.

BSG Stahl (Riesa), a club of the same ilk as the above mentioned two and newcomer to the top league this season ended 11th with 20 points. Never in danger, but nothing much and expected to go down soon.

This was the only surprise this season – FC Carl Zeiss (Jena) suddenly dropped down – 10th with 20 points. An accident, surely, and whatever were the reasons for the lame performance, it was not going to last.

FC Hansa (Rostock) – 9th with 24 points. Well, nothing new about it – their usual location in the table.

Same with BSG Wismut (Aue) – 8th with 24 points.

FC Rot-Weiss (Erfurt) – 7th with 28 points, same thing as before.

FC Karl-Marx-Stadt (Karl-Marx-Stadt) – 6th with 30 points. Well, that was the group of teams always staying in the lower part of the table, without been in danger of relegation: Karl-Marx-Stadt, Rot-Weiss, Wismut, Hansa. This season the division between them and the the traditional group of favourites was not as sharp as it was most of the time, but still there was a gap.

1. FC Magdebourg – 5th with 32 points. A drop, but only in terms of the dynamics inside the group of leading clubs.

FC Vorwaerts (Frankfurt/Oder) – 4th with 33 points. They restored their leading position after a decade of lowly life, including a visit to second division, but now it was quite clear that they were not going to last, it was not real return to glory and at best they would keep place in the leading group, but no more.

Three teams competed for the title, which did no happened in recent years, but at the end everything settled exactly as it was before.

1. FC Lokomotive (Leipzig) run for the title, but ended without it – 3rd with 37 points.

SG Dynamo (Dresden) finished 2nd with 37 points – also normal: whenever they competed with Lokomotive for the top spot, they finished ahead of Lokomotive, if only on better goal-difference.

BFC Dynamo (Berlin) was not used to heavy challenge in the recent years and they did not dominate the league as they were used to, but still finished ahead of everybody with 2 points difference: 17 wins, 5 ties, 4 losses, 66-36 goal-difference, and 39 points. 7th straight title – by now very likely nobody expected anything else and it could safely predicted that the next year Dynamo will be first again.

DDR II Division

DDR. Perhaps the most predictable championship in Europe by now, so the big news for this season could be only that it was the last season of big, divided into 5 groups, Second Division. It was going to be reorganized into 2 groups and reduced by 24 teams in the next year. Little was heard of the East German second level and little important came out of it since 1971, when the strange format was introduced. Generally, only a handful of former top league members won it, only to return back in one or two seasons at the bottom of the upper level. So, in the last season of existence of the large format most clubs were largely concerned with securing a place in the new leagues, having not a thought about promotion. That is, the big problem remained intact: the Second Division contributed next to nothing to the development of East German football. As a rule of thumb, very rarely 2 teams competed for the top spot in any second division group – this season their was competitive race only in Group E – three teams tried to win the championship. BSG Motor (Suhl) eventually prevailed with 31 points, leaving BSG Motor (Nordhausen) 2nd with 30 points and Gluckauf (Sondershausen) 3rd with 29 points.

Motor (Babelsberg) – 2nd in Group B.

Chemie (Premnitz) – 8th in Group B. Well, enough of a glimpse inside the Second Division: clubs with scary industrial names played there. Motor was going to play in the same level the next year, but Premnitz was going down to the third division. They were never to come back to second division football.

BSG Stahl (Henningsdorf) – 9th in Group B. Like Chemie (Premnitz), going down, but unlike Chemie they eventually climbed back.

After the regular season the group winners played a mini-league championship between themselves for the 2 promotional spots. This season distinguished itself of the only season when a group winner either withdrew or was not allowed to play in the promotional tournament. The reasons are unknown, but the winner of Group A,

Vorwaerts (Neubrandenburg) was replaced with second-placed Dynamo (Schwerin). Dynamo was either caught by surprise or was quite weak, for they were outsiders in the ‘league of champions’. Which was supposed to be dominated by BSG Sachsenring (Zwickau), the only former first division member among the candidates for promotion this year and also the most confident Group winner. Alas, it was not to be.

Dynamo (Schwerin) (Group A) finished last with 5 points from 8 games.

BSG Sachsenring (Zwickau) (Group D) was 4th, also with 5 points. Back in the 1970s they were stable first division members and even played in the European tournaments, but now were in big decline. May be it was good Jurgen Croy did not play anymore: arguably the all-time best East German goalkeeper would have been very frustrated if playing second division football.

Vorwaerts (Dessau) (Group C) ended 3rd with 7 points. Not really a candidate for promotion.

BSG Motor (Suhl) (Group E) took the 2nd place with 10 points. Playing cautious game – they tied half of their matches, 4 – they managed to get promoted. It was grand success – they never played top league football before.

BSG Stahl (Brandenburg) were confident winners of the ‘champions league’ just like they were confident winners of Group B. 6 wins, 1 tie, 1 loss, 21-7 goal-difference and 13 points. Standing from left:  Horst Kölsch, Frank Jeske, Rainer Fliegel, Michael Schulz, Christoph Ringk, Winfried Kräuter, Peter Schoknecht, Holger Bahra, Christian Knoop, Co-Trainer Eckhard Düwiger, Siegfried Ziem.

Crouching:  Andreas Lindner, Physiotherapeut Gerd Meißner, Eckart Märzke, Gerhard Kraschina, Hubert Gebhardt, Karsten Heine, Siegfried Malyska, Thomas Arendt, Holger Döbbel.

Just like Motor (Suhl), they never had played top league football, so it was their best season so far. As for the future… hardly anybody expected newcomers to last in the first division, let alone to change the status quo. Stahl was seen only of having better chance for staying longer than a single season among the best than Motor.


Sweden. Well, IFK Goteborg’s time. Nothing really significant otherwise. Clubs like

Degerfors IF and

more illustrious Djurgardens played in the second level, but failed to win. Still, former first division members ended on top:

Trelleborgs FF and

Mjalby AIF. They got promoted to the first division.

The First Division had unusual for Europe format at that time – after standard season the top 8 clubs moved to direct eliminations to determine the champion. Theoretically, the 8th placed team could win the title, although it was unlikely to happen. The last 4 teams ended the season after the first stage – the bottom two were relegated. This year they were Gefle IF, 12th and IF Elfsborg, 11th. Osters IF, 10th and Orgryte IS, 9th were safe.

The top 8 went to the play-offs.

Malmo FF, 3rg in the first stage, lost to IK Brage, 6th, 0-1 and 2-2.

AIK, which came as strong 2nd, losing top spot only by single point in the regular stage, was eliminated by IFK Norrkoping, 5th, on away-goal rule: AIK lost the first leg 0-1, then won the second 2-1, but IFK Norrkoping went ahead.

Kalmar FF, 7th, lost to Hammarby IF, 4th, 3-2 and 0-3.

Halmstads BK, 8th, played brave ¼ final against the winners of the regular season IFK Goteborg, but were unable to create a sensation: 0-0 and 1-2.

In the semi-finals

Hammarby IF was unlucky – they were deadlocked with old rivals IFK Norrkoping 0-0 and 0-0, and the winner was decided by penalty shoot-out – Hammarby missed one and IFK Norrkoping prevailed 5-4.

The season ended for IK Brage at this stage too. All was decided in the first leg, where the visitors were vastly superior and won 5-1. The second leg was mere protocol and at home IFK Goteborg only played the motions and the match ended 2-2.

The final was also decided in the opening leg – IFK Norrkoping was mercilessly destroyed 5-1 in Goteborg. And for good measure IFK Goteborg won the second leg as well – 2-0.

Wonderful season for IFK Goteborg, in which they led from start to finish. The more they played, the stronger they were and at the final left no doubt who was the best Swedish team. No wonder – this IFK Goteborg vintage was at its peak. Standing from left: Thomas Wernerson, Kjell Pettersson, Björn Westerberg, Håkan Sandberg, Ruben Svensson, Stephan Kullberg, Johnny Ekström, Dennis Schiller, Tommy Holmgren, Ove Tobiasson

Sitting: Tord Holmgren, Stig Fredriksson, Glenn Schiller, Mats Gren, Peter Larsson, Roland Nilsson, Steve Gardner, Torbjörn Lundblad, Jerry Carlsson, Peter Andersson.

The Cup final, played in Helsingborg in front of 7800 crowd, opposed Malmo FF to second-division Landskrona BoIS. No doubt who the favourite was, but the the underdog put a good fight. Malmo FF won, but only 1-0.

Landskrona BoIS came close to a miracle, but class prevailed. Too bad.

Malmo FF, although not at its best, was still the most consistent Swedish club. Rather weak championship, but they compensated by winning the Cup, still finishing the year with a trophy.


Hungary the Cup

The Cup final opposed Raba ETO to second-division Siofoki Banyasz. No brainer, on the surface – one the strongest leading teams at the moment against a team struggling to get back to top league football. But these years were also the years of the underdog, especially in cup tournaments, and lowly Siofok prevailed 2-1.

Raba Eto finished this season empty-handed. Not bad, but… second best in both championship and Cup.

What a surprise – Siofoki Banysz won the Cup, their 1st trophy ever. Instantly historic squad to be remembered forever at home. The lowest and highest in one season – failing to win promotion, getting penalized for, most likely, attempted match-fixing, but in the time it was their best season ever, for they won a trophy at last. With Cup in hand, who cares for anything else?

Hungary I Division

First Division’s season was marked by two things: the dominance of Honved and the penalties distributed for what looked like an attempt for fixing games. Small Volan SC (Budapest) was seemingly the culprit, for the two voided games involved them – Volan-Honved and Volan-Diosgyor. No points were given to any team of these matches and further Honved was penalized with 4-point deduction, 2 points were deducted from Volan’s record and 2 points from Diosgyor’s. It did not matter to neither Honved, too far ahead of everybody to be affected, nor Diosgyor, so hopelessly behind everybody. Volan, however, suffered – they were trying to avoid relegation, the very reason they were the likeliest culprit, and after having been stripped from 2 points they ended relegated.

Diosgyor had miserable season, ending last with 13 points. Even without penalties, they were far behind.

NYVSC (Nyiregyhaza) finished 15th with 22 points.

Volan SC failed to survive – maybe because of their scheming, maybe just because they were not very good. Apart from the scandal, one should note their shirts: looks like Volan pioneered shirt-adds in Hungary. If so, not at all surprising, for in the Communist world borrowed from the West ideas were first tried at the fringes. Top row from left: Balogh, Hegedűs, Martos, Hámori, Nyúl, Krómer, Orbán. Middle row: Takács assistant coach, Szeibert, Szabó S., Kovács, Varga, Nacsa, Hatvanger, Földes technical stuff, Kalo assistant coach.

Sitting: Kajdi, Kutasi, Morgós, Kiss coach, Kékesi, Vincze, Forintos.

Pioneers or not; criminals or not, Volan finished 14th and was out of the league for the next season, along with Diosgyor and Nyiregyhaza.

Haladas VSE were perhaps the lucky survivors – 13th with 26 points.

Ferencvaros was the big negative surprise – not only they had miserable season, but sunk so low so to fight for mere survival. They managed to escape relegation, but 12th place with 27 points was very alarming. The squad, as names go, was not all that bad, but it was clear that major rebuilding was needed and fast.

Csepel SC, also with 27 points, but with better goal-difference finished a place above Ferencvaros – 11th.

Pecsi MKS – 10th with 28 points. Standing from left: Vallai, Schultheisz, Kincses, Lutz, Réfi, Bodnár, Mészáros, Nagy Lőrincz, Ránai coach.

Crouching: Lukács, Brezniczky, Torna, Czérna, Ráth, Dárdai, Varga.

SZEOL AK – 9th with 29 points.

MTK-VM – 8th with 29 points. Third row from left: Makay assistant coach, dr. Mohácsi doctor, Brünyi, Lukács, Borsó, Balogh, Kovács, Tóth András, Gáspár, Palicskó Tibor coach, Palovecz assistant coach.

Middle row: Papp, Turner, Sillye, Nagy J., Baranyai gyúró, Sólyom, Valuch, Fülöp.

Front row: Turtóczky, Varga II., Katzenbach, Fodor, Handel, Boda, Bognár.

Zalaegerszeg -7th with 30 points. Third row from left: Gellei Imre coach, Balázs, Soós, Török, Kereki, Gass, Horváth, Péter.

Middle row: Konrád, Fehér, Czigány, Pecsics, Farkas, Molnár.

First row: Csepregi, Galántai, Varga, Takács, Major.

Vasas SC – 6th with 33 points.

Tatabanya – 5th with 35 points.

Ujpesti Dozsa – like their rivals Ferencvaros, not in good shape, but still up in the table. 4th with 35 points. Top row from left: Szebegyinszky, Kardos, Sarlós, Temesvári Miklós coach, Bogdán, Polonyi, Steidl.

Middle row: Szieben, Szűcs, Szabó, Kiss S., Kovács J., Herédi, Kozma, Szendrei.

Sitting: Ambrus, Tóth J., Törőcsik, Fekete, Kisznyér, Horváth, Kovács B.

Videoton – very stable for years already. 3rd with 37 points.

Raba ETO – enjoying great spell, but not really a title contender this year: 2nd with 37 points, ahead of Videoton on better goal-differencce.

Honved (Budapest) – absolutely dominant. Not even nearly close to the legendary team of the 1950s, but at least getting closer to that old years by leading Hungarian football again. 19 wins, 6 ties, 5 losses, 63-24 goal-difference and 40 points. That after 4 points were deducted – and they were still unreachable. Lajos Detari was increasingly becoming the top Hungarian player, perhaps the last great star coming from this country. He was still not universally famous, but his impact on the game was already great and one of the reasons Honved was leading team again.

Hungary II Division

Hungary. The big news this season was the new format of Second Division – instead of two groups, now there was single league of 20 teams. The reasons for reform are obvious: apart from money, the biggest motivation for changes around Europe was the fact that the second level was not doing the job. The class was getting further and further behind the top level, few and mostly former first division clubs aimed for promotion and hardly ever really competitive teams climbed up from second level. Simply, second divisions did not help much for the improvement of most countries football. Reforms, mostly meaning reduction of old leagues, were seen as almost only remedy. Hungary just joined the trend, facing the typical problems. Thus, Second Division was reduced to single league and fewer teams. The top three were promoted, the bottom three – relegated. Still, there was no significant change, for about 7 former first division clubs played here and the rest was mostly hardly heard of small clubs without much means and ambitions. And pretty much as before the reform, the candidates for promotion were expected to be some, if not all, former top league members. Expectations were fulfilled. Almost. Given the make-up of the league, battle for survival involved more teams than the race for promotion. Various infringements – most likely fixing games, or attempts to do so – were getting the upper hand and could not be put under the lid any more, so there were penalties – Siofoki Banyasz had 4 points deducted. At the end, it did not matter much – even with full record, Siofok would be out of the promotional race.

Ganz-MAVAG Vasas SE was the league’s outsider, ending last with 19 points.

Honved Szabo Lajos SE ended 19th with 28 points.

Kecskemeti SC was 18th with 32 points. Just a couple of years back they played in the top league, but now were going down to third division.

Up the table were various survivors – practically unknown outside Hungary small clubs. Like

Bajai SK – 15th with 33 points.

Soproni SK knew better days, but now they 14th with 34 points.

Debreceni Kinizsi was also down – 10th with 37 points.

Hodgep Metripond SE was the best of the ‘unknowns’ – 5th with 43 points. One of their best years ever, but promotion was entirely outside their dreams and abilities.

Siofoki Banysz ended 4th with 43 points. Even with 4 points deducted, they were above the best the rest of the league could offer, but they were not genuine candidate for promotion in the same time. Very likely they tried ‘to help’ themselves to higher place, were caught, punished and gave up. Yet, even they were unable to get back to the top league, this was the best season of the club ever.

Becescsabai Elore Sparatacus accomplished what they desired – 3rd with 51 points. Did not win the championship, but got promoted and that was all that mattered.

Debreceni MVSC also succeeded without much trouble – 2nd with 53 points. Back to first division.

Eger SE was the big news and surprise – a club rarely heard of and unlikely leader, they had fantastic season and won the Second Division championship with 55 points from 23 wins and 9 ties. They lost 6 matches and had 72-40 goal-difference. Bekescsaba outscored them with 92 goals and Debreceni MVSC had better defense, allowing only 37 goals, but who cares? Eger was first and going to play in the top division.

Bulgaria the Cups

Bulgaria kept two cup tournaments and although the Soviet Army Cup was no longer important, it was still featured as the prime one. The Cup of Bulgaria had unsettled format, changing every year – this time it ended with ‘final table’ of 16 teams. There was no meaning to that.

The final of the Soviet Army opposed Levski-Spartak to Dorostol (Silistra). Dorostol, a second division team struggling to keep its place there, was not much of a challenge for the bright squad from the capital – Levski easily won 4-0.

Dorostol (Silistra) – expected to lose the final of no longer important competition, but all depends on standpoint: for Dorostol reaching the final was their highest all-time achievement and matter of big pride. They tried there best, even more – they hired leading coach to prepare them for the final, Petar Argirov, but he was unable to improve the modest squad. Nevertheless, this was the greatest historic moment for Dorostol. Standing from left: Vassil Simeonov – coach, Iliya Kachakov, Dimitar Zhelyazkov, Seyfy Bilyalov, Ivan Valchev, Ivan Tzonev, Kolyu Kolev, Toncho Georgiev, Marin Atanassov, Simeon Kolev – assistant coach.

Crouching: Elshan Mustafov, Grigor Genov, Ivan Stefanov, Rangel Portev, Veliko Yordanov, Alyosha Bayraktarov, Bozhidar Bachvarov, Angel Apostolov, Marin Tzvetkov.

15th Soviet Army Cup for Levski-Spartak – they won this trophy more than anybody else, but now it was only a matter of numbers, for the tournament was no longer the Cup of the country. Standing from left: Vassil Metodiev – coach, Nasko Sirakov, Emil Velev, Borislav Milhailov, Petar Petrov, Mikhail Valchev, Vlado Delchev, Plamen Tzvetkov, Grigor Grigorov, Stoyan Kitov – assistant coach.

First row: Petar Kurdov, Bozhidar Iskrenov, Emil Spassov, Plamen Nikolov, Roussy Gochev, Krassimir Kolev, Krassimir Chavdarov.

Much more was at stake in the final of the other cup – Levski reached it, looking for another trophy. Trakia (Plovdiv) was the other finalist – there was no love between them and Levski, so their motivation was strong. Of course, they wanted to win, especially when having rather weak championship. But Levski prevailed 1-0.

Trakia tried and failed, but it was not all that bad after all – they got the Bulgarian Cup Winners Cup spot as a losing finalist. Sitting in front from left: M. Bakalov, R. Yurukov, A. Pashev, L. Vassev – masseur, K. Kostadinov, V. Simov, K. Tanev.

Middle row: Zh. Machkansky, S. Khorozov, T. Pachev, B. Blangev, A. Pekhlivanov, D. Mladenov.

Standing: D. Dermendzhiev – coach, Tz. Dermendzhiev, D. Vichev, Z. Nikolov (a player of frequently changing name – later Ivanov and finally Rakov), P. Zekhtinsky, A. Marinov, A. Nikolov, T. Arssov, I. Stoynov, I. Glukhchev – assistant coach.

One more cup for Levski. First row from left: Stoyan Georgiev, Krassimir Chavdarov, Emil Velev, Nikolay Iliev, Emil Spassov, Plamen Tzvetkov, Plamen Nikolov – captain, Petar Kurdov, Bozhidar Iskrenov, Krassimir Kolev, Vlado Delchev.

Standing: Vassil Metodiev – coach, Nasko Sirakov, Khristo Denchev, Vesselin Balevsky, Mikhail Valchev, Krastyo Chakarov – chairman of the club, Petar Petrov, Grigor Grigorov, Roussy Gochev, Stoyan Kitov – assistant coach.

Triple winners – this was memorable season, for winning every trophy does not happen everyday. This was excellent vintage of players, coached by arguably the best Bulgarian coach at that time, Vassil Metodiev. Everything clicked just right and for many this is the strongest squad Levsky had ever. But most important for the fans was the fact that the bright young players were homegrown Iskrenov, Mikhailov, Sirakov, Velev, Iliev, Koev, Georgiev, Asparoukhov played together since childhood, moving from one age formation to another until reaching to first team. That was, to the fans, Levsky going back to its roots – depending on its own juniors, on players deeply attached to the club, kids, who were both players and fans, ‘true blue’. That was what made Levsky strong in the past, that was the tradition and the pride. And it was sweet to have controversial Metodiev coaching the talented and wild bunch: since Levsky fans were generally anti-Communist, having the coach, who the system disliked was just wonderful. His coaching abilities were great as well – he quickly find the way to shape the youngsters into winners and had strong rapport with quite an unruly gang. This was a squad to stay and shape Bulgarian football in the coming years, that was sure. One more look at them – sitting form left: Chr. Denchev, E. Spassov, L. Kolev, R. Gochev, Pl. Nikolov, Kr. Koev.

Middle row: V. Metodiev – coach, N. Sirakov, Kr. Chavdarov, P. Kurdov, N. Iliev, V. Balevsky, P. Petrov, A. Asparoukhov, St. Kitov – assistant coach.

Top row: Zh. Fillipov – doctor, V. Delchev, B. Iskrenov, M. Valchev, E. Velev, G. Grigorov, Pl. Tzvetkov, B. Mikhailov, S. Sofroniev – masseur.

Bulgaria I Division

First Division. Scandals aside, purely football evaluation was not very optimistic. The usual suspects were not only battling for the title as ever, but dominated the league by far. The rest… Talented Trakia (Plovdiv) became mid-table team this season. Cherno more (Varna) was unable to overcome the handicap of losing half of their regulars, suspended for taking bribes, and barely avoided relegation. Lokomotiv (Plovdiv), included just before the start of the season to replace expelled Spartak (Pleven) did not have the squad to survive. They made some brave efforts, but lacking quality was a sorry fact. Slavia (Sofia) was the real shock, though. They had weak season before, but never so weak to be in danger of relegation – this season they were bad, they were almost relegated directly. Huge decline. Evident was stagnation and decline: many clubs simply did not get better, contrary to expectation based on talent (Chernomoretz, Beroe, most terribly Trakia). Others were simply in decline, urgently needing radical rebuilding (Lokomotiv Sofia, Cherno more, and most terribly Slavia). No team was really going up, so the league was relatively equal, thus escaping relegation was primary concern for most and those ending in the upper half of the table were more lucky than really good. On the bright side was only Levski-Spartak, which got new coach, perfect for the talented young squad and improving it immediately. CSKA was strong as ever, but not better than the previous seasons and the blame for it can be directed to the stupid firing of Asparoukh Nikodimov, who built the squad. Levski-Spartak aside, the season is remembered mostly for the scandalous finish of it.

Haskovo (Haskovo) was the hopeless outsider – last with 19 points. The former coach of Levski-Spartak, Dobromir Zhechev, was now at the helm, but little he could help a poor selection. The inevitable fate of small clubs… they had no way of recruiting strong players. One heroic season was more or less all – heroics could not help for longer. The only consolation this year was that they won their home match against Levski-Spartak.

With 24 points, Lokomotiv (Plovdiv) finished 15th and was relegated. Crouching, from left: Silatin Salimov, Petar Bumbarov, Fedya Mikov, Radostin Bonev, Ayan Sadakov, Emil Illiev, Plamen Panayotov, Tringov.

Middle row: Vassil Ankov – coach, Christo Sotirov, Ivan Bedelev, Georgy Fidanov, Petko Stankov, Eduard Eranosyan, Nikolay Kurbanov, Lyubomir Burnarsky, Illiya Anchev, Atanas Dramov-coach.

Top row: Zharov, Ivan Naydenov, Christo Bonev, Petar Vassilev, Aleksandar Ivanov, Ivan Marinov, Stefan Staykov.

Lokomotiv tried to survive, but failed. Many things worked against them: the team was unable te rebuild and for years kept unbalanced squad, sharply divided between group of old veterans and another of very young kids. This is what led them to relegation a few years back and the problem was still not fixed. As a relatively small club with little resources and hardly any clout, Lokomotiv was unable to recruit high-profiled players. It was also unable to keep its own talent when big Sofia-based clubs wanted it. To a point, the great Christo Bonev was to blame – he had so much power in the club for years and whoever of his teammates he disliked had to go. His relations with Kurbanov and Fidanov were tense – years ago he made them leave, they returned when he played in Greece, but old feuds were not forgotten. And there was new one, with the wonderful striker Eranosyan. As all this was not enough, Lokomotiv had to play promotion play-off on short notice and after the transfer window was closed, so they were unable to recruit new players better suited for the top league. On the surface, it was not a bad squad – Bonev, Staykov, Kurbanov, Fidanov, Ivanov, Stankov, Sadakov, Sotirov, Eranosyan. But with the exception of current national team players Sadakov and Eranosyan, and the explosive winger Sotirov, the stars were simply too old and already declining. Bonev himself played just a few games in the championship before deciding to retire and concentrate entirely on coaching. Lokomotiv lacked consistency, that was the simple objective fact, resulting from such age-divided squad. They played great football occasionally, but more often struggled, often losing terribly – CSKA trashed them 8-2, for instance. At the end, they just did not have enough points and returned to Second Division immediately after having been promoted.

Slavia was perhaps the biggest disaster this season. Like Lokomotiv, they failed to start rebuilding on time and now suddenly had a weak team made of veterans on their last legs (Tzvetkov, back from Austria, Illiev, Alliev, Malinov, Velichkov) and some undeveloped yet talent (Petar Aleksandrov, Ananiev), and all others (except Khaydarliev) quite middle-of-the-row or less than that. Slavia was in bad shape, but still their performance came as a shock. In here powers behind the scene decided to interfere and save the oldest Bulgarian club from quite possible relegation – according to the rules, the 14th placed had to go to promotion/relegation play-off against one of the second-placed second division teams. This was considered too risky and hastily new rule created: first there to be preliminary play-offs between top league teams which finished between 11th and 14th place. Slavia met Shumen in the preliminary play-off and barely prevailed – 2-1 and 2-2. Saved!

Cherno more (Varna), severely weakened before the season, struggled and ended 13th with 26 points. But they also benefited by the campaign for saving Slavia – they won the preliminary relegation play-off against Belasitza 3-1 and 2-1 and kept their place in the league.

Belasitza (Petrich) – 12th with 27 points. Their usual performance, strongly dependent on home games, would have been enough, but the new rule suddenly placed them in danger. They may not have been prepared for this and lost to Slavia 2-2 and 1-2. Thus, they went to the true promotion/relegation play-off against the 2nd placed team in the Southern Second Division, Minyor (Pernik). The first leg looked fine enough – Belasitza won 4-2 – but the visit to hostile Pernik doomed them – they lost 0-3 and were relegated. Most clubs in the top league were happy: Belasitza was big irritation, capable of beating even the leading big clubs. Now it was gone.

Shumen (Shumen) – 11th with 27 points. Ten years after they debuted in first division, Shumen looked like repeating their first season: the squad was weak even with the new recruits. And Shumen was nothing much, except that they played well at home. If not for the new relegation rule, they were good for another year, but now they went to play-offs. First they lost to Slavia 2-2 and 1-2 and after that – to the 2nd in the Northern Second Division, Dunav (Rousse) 1-1 and 2-3. Minimal losses, but enough to move them back to second level. Unlucky.

Botev (Vratza) – 10th with 27 points. Lucky, one can say looking at the table, goal-difference saved them. But in the original final table Botev was 8th – only later, when 3 points were deducted for using illegal player against Sliven, they dropped to 10th place. Not a great season, to be sure, and the reason was quite obvious: Botev had decent regulars, but the reserves were weak. Short bench handicapped them and something had to done urgently, for some of the starters were getting old and the best players were already eyed by big Sofia clubs.

Etar (Veliko Tirnovo) – 9th with 28 points. The main thing was they managed to stay in the league – the team was shaky, as it has been for years, and keeping a place in the top division was much needed for confidence and breathing space for calm work. It just started – Georgy Vassilev, who already was noticed as the most promising young coach, was at the helm and he was not afraid to introduce talented teenagers, named Trifon Ivanov and Krassimir Balakov. Staying in the league gave him the opportunity to continue the process of building good squad. Top row from left: Stoyanov, Dankov, Arnaudov, Trifon Ivanov, Velkov, Kotzev, Argirov.

Middle row: Vassilev – coach, Mladenov, Em. Dimitrov, B. Dimitrov, Minchev, Lakhchiev, Doychev, Petrov – assistant coach.

Sitting: Gizdev, Mikhailov, Dr. Donev – doctor, Kalchev, Shabarkov – masseur, Balakov, Akhmedov.

Trakia (Plovdiv) – 8th with 29 points. Dropped down to mid-table, but it was already expected, for this talented team did not really develop its potential – year after year they were expected to finally concur the championship, yet bronze medals was their best. Thus, going down was inevitable – the only question was were they going down permanently?

Lokomotiv (Sofia) – 7th with 30 points. Their usual performance.

Chernomoretz (Bourgas) – 6th with 31 points. Perhaps benefiting from rather weak season for most clubs, but still it was wonderful season, perhaps the best of this talented squad, which was already written off as empty promise. Well, the team was mature enough by now.

Beroe (Stara Zagora) – 5th with 31 points. Not bad, but this was not a memorable season for Beroe – they were similar to Chernomoretz: having experienced squad, which, with a bit of luck, ended high in the table.

ZSK Spartak (Varna) had its best season, so the late adjustment of the final table left particularly sour. They finished 3rd with 31 points – true, they were 14 points behind the 2nd placed and 3rd only on better goal-difference, but this was their finest season ever. They got the bronze medals and a spot in the UEFA Cup, their veteran goalkeeper Krassimir Zafirov was awarded best keeper of the season and everything was great until the Federation awarded Sliven with 2 points and thus ZSK Spartak was moved down a place – club and fans never accepted the change, but the adjusted table shows 4th position ever since. What a bitter shift of luck. Third row from left: Marinov, Lichev, Goranov – coach, Naydenov, Kalfov – assistant-coach, Nikolchev, Zafirov.

Middle row: Borisov, Stefanov, Mikhailov, Kazakov, Demirov, Ismailov, Radomirov.

Sitting: Aleksiev, Popov, Gospodinov, Simeonov, Gyorev, Dimov, Venkov.

If ZSK Spartak never accepted 4th place, Sliven (Sliven) omits their 3rd – originally, they finished 7th with 30 points. Quite satisfying. When the match against Botev was awarded to them, they suddenly jumped ahead and were 3rd. But it was too late… ZSK Spartak was already officially awarded with bronze medals and registered to play in the UEFA Cup. It was 3rd place bringing no joy at all.

The season was not much – almost the whole league was mainly preoccupied with escaping relegation. Only 5 teams finished with positive goal-difference. There was no team with less than 10 losses – 1/3 of total matches played – except the leaders. Not only there was no team challenging the perennial leaders CSKA and Levski, but the gap between them and the league was alarming: 14 points originally, reduced to 13 after the final table was readjusted. The general picture was bleak, but on the other hand the race between the eternal enemies was captivating drama, solved in the last round of the championship. At this point, the rivals had equal points, CSKA having superior goal-difference. The derby in the last round was deciding who will be Bulgarian champion. A tie benefited CSKA. Levski needed victory, nothing else would do. There was much at stake – CSKA was aiming at 5th consecutive title. Levski was looking for its first title since 1979. The arch-enemies already met twice in the semi-finals of the two cups and CSKA was eliminated twice, so wounded pride needed revenge. Tensions were high and foreign referee was brought for this match – the West German Dieter Pauli, one of the best referees in the world. It should be said that foreign referees were used for the derby since 1960s and it was the best solution – whenever foreigners refereed there were no troubles and nobody complained of unfair and manipulative refereeing. This match was no exception: Pauli took charge quickly, so the match was actually played instead of becoming bloody battle. CSKA fans had no reason to complain and they did not after the game – Levski, in perfect form, destroyed CSKA 3-1. Interpretations of this match changed a decade later – whenever foreigners refereed the derby, Levski tended to win, but this championship-decisive match was bitter pill to swallow and CSKA-fanatics years later created the myth that Levski bribed Dieter Pauli. CSKA, used to Bulgarian referees whistling in their favour, could not accept fair and impartial refereeing: such thing could be only biased refereeing against them. It did not matter a bit – Levski won and got the title. The only incident happened after the final whistle when the future all-time Bulgarian goalkeeper Borislav Mikhailov ‘celebrated’ CSKA fans with exceptionally rude gesture.

CSKA ‘Septemvriisko zname’ – 2nd with 45 points. Best scorers – 72, best defenders, allowing only 24 goals, but finished the season empty-handed. There was nothing wrong with this squad, it was just that their arch-enemies came with equally talented, but younger team. If there is fault with this team, it is not with the players – CSKA made big mistake sacking Asparoukh Nikodimov in 1991. Experienced coaches followed him, but they were somewhat too old for keeping up with modern tendencies. CSKA started the season with Apostol Chachevsky at the helm, but he was replaced with Manol Manolov, who lost the title in the final round.

Levski-Spartak winning its first title since 1979 with 47 points. 19 wins, 9 ties, and only 2 lost games. 64-29 goal-difference. Just for curiousity: Levski lost to last-placed Khaskovo 1-2 and to Etar 0-1, both away games. Dramatic victory, clinching the title in the last minute against their direct opponent, which makes for memorable season, but there was more to that, much more.

Bulgaria II Division

Bulgaria. The 1983-84 season started with a scandal and ended scandalously. The scandal before the championship started concerned the previous season and, on the surface, was simple enough: bribery and match fixing are classic plagues of the sport everywhere. But in the Bulgarian case, as in every Communist country, there was a specific twist. Underground, there was grumbling and murmuring about the big reason for illegal schemes: the sport had to be made officially professional. Effectively, it was, but since it was officially amateur, many clubs had tremendous difficulties to pay their players. Big clubs, especially CSKA and Levski-Spartak, had an easy way to solve the problem with salaries – they made their players Army and Police officers and paid them by the rank rates. But small provincial clubs had no such options and, as a result, had difficulties making strong teams and keeping good players. Often, they had no other way, but to create ‘black accounts’ and pay under the table. But once they had such a scheme, bribing other teams was obvious next step. For it was not just finding a way to pay players – sport, as everything else, was ideological. Failure was judged differently than mere weakness on pitch: it was ideological failure, bringing criticism and punishments for failing to contribute to the development of Socialist sport, which in turn was almost a sabotage, for, internationally, Socialist sport had to be superior. However, small clubs had no desire to develop largely because whatever talent they discovered and developed would be snatched immediately by the big clubs with the same excuse – to push further the glory of ‘our way of life’. State did not just put a blind eye to such things, but was active participant. There was nobody to complain, so the small clubs were practically doomed always to have weak teams and be blamed for that. Wise officials of smaller clubs, particularly in the Second and Third Divisions, chose safe path: they kept good enough teams to stay in the upper half of the table, not only not aiming higher, but taking measures never to be in danger of getting promoted. Yes, they were criticized for lack of ambition and stagnation, but that was easily countered: officials had to point at the table – not so bad – shrug their shoulders, what can we do with such players as ours, and promise to do better in the future. Really dangerous was relegation and that had to be avoided by any means. But such a situation only encouraged bribes and match fixing and nobody felt guilty, because the state, the Communist Party, the Football Federation, the referees actively helped the big clubs and what a small victim could do? Fix a few games just to survive. And that even without counting local pride and ambitions. The state was aware of course, but generally addressed the problem differently: as a general conclusion, the state pointed its finger at the lack of high class football and made administrative changes as if new rules could improve the game. The newest such rule concerned Third Division: the top league clubs had to have B teams, playing in Third Division. The idea was that such teams would be developing young talent – they were not to have more than a handful players over 23 years old. The rule was general, though – no third level team would have oldish squads. This was, as most invented rules are, short sighted rule, not taking into account many sporting things: the top league clubs obeyed just because they had no other chance, but the brains who invented the rule did not look further than one season… so, with relegation and promotion, some Second Division clubs had to follow the rule, but some of those going up were not affected, since the rule officially did not apply to them. But all B teams had little relation to the first squads from start: they were not made of reserves getting opportunity to play, but were hastily made from scratch full teams, generally of players the A team had no intention to use at all. It was just obeying stupid rule from the point of view of the clubs and the smaller the club was, the bigger hassle: they had neither money, nor players to keep such B teams, it was just a burden. The Federation suspected that many would just make the motions and nothing more, so there was addition to this rule: in case a B team was relegated, points would be deducted from the record of the A team. Effectively, that meant only one thing: a final table of First Division would not be final at the end of the season, but will depend on Third Division final tables and adjusted after the season’s end. If relegation was half-baked, promotion was not considered at all. The age-restriction governing Third Division made if unsuitable for promotion: Forth Division clubs were mostly village clubs and there was no way such clubs can find 20 under-23 players. They had to replace whole squads, if going to play in the Third Division. So, some teams simply refused to go up. The same problem faced promoted Third Division clubs as well – there was no age restriction in the Second Division and it was easy to see that very young squads would be simply trampled over – whoever got promoted practically had to make new team of experineced players just to stay barely competitive and that was the end of the grand aim of development: it was meaningless. But the cherry on the cake was that no B team was envisioned going up – in fact, B teams could not play in Second Division. And the B team of CSKA won its Third Division group… in order to play in the Second Division, this team had to be renamed and further separated from the CSKA. Thus, a new club emerged out of the blue, perhaps to the relieve of CSKA, for they no longer had to be bothered with some useless squad, but still able to use it as an excuse – simultaneously, they had and not had a B team. The new team, named Armeetz, had to take care of itself. Since it was based in Sofia, it had no trouble finding players – some veterans, including the former national team central defender Angel Rangelov, back from his spell in Greece, some discarded former juniors of CSKA and other clubs, nothing much, nothing special, and especially nothing promising exactly in terms of ‘development’. Going in length about this rule has only one purpose: it fostered corruption. The top leagues clubs went only through the motions. It produced no positive results, as originally imagined, and it was quickly realized that nothing good comes out of it. Instead, it made Second Division teams weaker, for thanks to this rule, players who would be playing in second division were kept at home by the first division clubs to make their B teams. This rule may have been the key reason for the decision to rearrange the Second Division at the end of 1983-84 – so far, the Second Division had two groups, Northern and Southern, currently of 18 teams each. For the next season there was to be only one Second Division league of 22 teams. Many had to be relegated to Third Division. But that was in the future – before the season started a bribing scandal was uncovered. A match at the late stages of 1982-83 was fixed: Spartak (Pleven) bribed 6 regulars of Cherno more (Varna) to win the match. They did – 2-0. The reason was that Spartak feared relegation – not because they were low at the table, but the championship developed in a way more than half the league members were in danger of relegation almost to the final round, having quite equal points. At the end, Spartak finished 5th! And, funny enough, they had one of their strongest squads ever! How the bribe was uncovered was never made clear, so from the start to this very day the story is largely rumours and myths. The most persistent and convenient one is that papers laying down the plan and sums involved was discovered during examination of the car which the coach of Spartak (Pleven) crushed and died on the spot. Discovery and investigation came late after the end of the season, when the beginning of the 1983-84 was approaching. The accidental death of the coach was most convenient, for he was made the key culprit. Penalties followed: Spartak (Pleven) was expelled from First Division for fixing the match and having ‘black account’ for that purpose, and the 6 players of Cherno more were banished. In theory, according to the level of their crimes… two were suspended for 2 years (one of them, the centre-forward Rafi Rafiev, debuted for the national team almost at the time when the match-fixing occured). Two other were banished from playing for life (note that they were less important than those suspended for 2 years). And two, presumably the most guilty, were not directly punished by the Football Federation, but were passed to the higher state body governing the whole Bulgarian sport, the Bulgarian Counsel of Physical Culture and Sports, with recommendation to exclude them any sporting activity for life. Technically, that means banishment from any relation with sports, which could be realistically translated into banishment from coaching. That concerned the goalkeeper Boris Manolkov and the team captain Ivan Ivanov – both aging players, near retirement. But their club, Cherno more (Varna), was ‘commended for its strong principled position’. And since such moral club lost half team just before the start of the new season, it was permitted to recruit 6 new players after the end of the transfer period. Those players, the permission stipulated, should be taken from Second Division clubs ‘from which players were not taken illegally during the transfer window’. Very interesting ruling… Practically spelling out that illegal practices are fine, for this ruling actually gives the right to take players without their original club’s agreement: it is just enough that no other club did the same before Cherno more to them. And finally – a play-off was staged for the place Spartak’s expulsion left free in the First Division. Another ill-considered decision… According to original rules, a promotion/relegation play-offs were played between the 13th and the 14th placed in the top league and the 2nd placed teams in the two groups of Second Division. In them the top league teams won against second division Lokomotiv (Plovdid) and Osam (Lovech). Purely from the sporting point of view, the second division teams lost their chance to get promoted. Since the new season was approaching – even the schedule was already made and published – it made sense either to leave the top league with 15 teams or to replace Spartak (Pleven) with the 15th placed team in the previous season. But it was decided that Lokomotiv (Plovdiv) and Osam (Lovech) go to another play-off and the winner take the place of Spartak. It was just swell… both teams had hastily to call back players from vacations to play this game. Neither was prepared for the match and even less so for possible playing in the top league – the transfer period already ended, all teams had their new selections registered. Both Lokomotiv and Osam had selections for second division season and had no way to reinforce their squads, if going to play in the top league. Stupid and meaningless decision, but what can you do? Two squads were pulled back from sea resorts and played something approximating football.

Here they are – just for completion of the circus, the match was played at the National Stadium in Sofia – after the match finished: Osam on the left, Lokomotiv on the right. Lokomotiv extracted victory in the extra-time 2-1. Lokomotiv was the strongest team anyway: it had aging former national team stars – Bonev, Staykov, Kurbanov, and current national players Sadakov and Eranosian. Osam had only one future star – young Petar Hubchev, one of the heroes of the 1994 World Cup, played right full back. Well, Lokomotiv returned to the top division, but they were not ready to play there. Full forward to the end of 1983-84 season: Lokomotiv finished next to last and was relegated. Bribing, match-fixing, and other tricks were not annihilated at all: Botev (Vratza) was found guilty of using illegible player in their away match against Sliven AFTER the end of 1983-84. Their punishment was annulling the result of the game and giving the victory to Sliven. Sliven gained 2 points and suddenly finished 3rd to the great irritation of ZSK Spartak (Varna), which already got the bronze medals. Botev lost 2 points, but that was not all – their B team was relegated from Third Division this season and Botev was penalized for that with deduction of one more point. They slipped down the table after the end of the season, finally taking 10th place. Weakened Cherno more (Varna), which was unable to find classy enough replacements for the half-team they lost after the bribing scandal, finished 13th and had to play promotion/relegation play-off. But Slavia (Sofia) finished 14th! And ‘high principles’ and ‘Socialist morality’ were abandoned entirely – hastily rules were changed: promotion/relegation was made more complicated and two more teams were included: there was first stage in which the 13th and 14th played against the 11th and the 12th . The winners kept their places in the top league. The losers went to play next round against the second-placed Second Division teams. It was not fair, but Slavia was saved – they prevailed against Shumen (11th in the final table) by a single goal. For that matter, Cherno more also survived, beating twice Belasitza (Petrich). Shumen and Belasitza, quite surprised by the new rule, lost spirit and were beaten in the next round as well and relegated. The whole thing had nothing to do with fairplay… but not a word was said. Officially, everything was fine. Not a single journalist dared to criticize – unlike the vitriol unleashed against Spartak (Pleven) affair before the start of the season. Whatever else happened in the Second Division specifically this season one can only imagine, suspect, and speculate: every club was aware of the danger ahead – 36 teams played in 1983-84, but the new amalgamated league had to be of 22 teams. 14 teams had to go down to weird Third Division with its age-restriction rule. Some were directly relegated, but 8 teams had to go to play-offs, winners keeping place in the new league, losers relegated. As for promotion from Third Division… currently, Third Division had 5 groups. The effort of reorganizing the Second Division had its limits: 5 newcomers would be stretching too far – very few current second division clubs could remain, so nobody was taking gladly such dangers: back room pressures certainly were applied, but even pure sporting reasons spoke against relegating so many teams. Newcomers form lower level, having to create new squads at top of everything, were not likely to be at the level of most current second division teams. Thus, it was decided that no direct promotion will be, but the 5 Third Division winners will play promotion play-offs. The odd number automatically made the play-offs unfair – the winner of one pair was directly promoted. The winner of the second pair went to second play-off against a team not playing originally. Lokomotiv (Russe) was the lucky team – they won against Parva Atomna (Kozloduy) and were promoted. They played two-legged play-off – a home and away game. The others, however, played one-leg play-offs on neutral ground. Akademik (Sofia) won against Tundzha (Yambol), but that was nothing… they only moved to the next play-off. And lost to Spartak (Plovdiv).

And just to finish the long saga of idiotism… Spartak (Plovdiv), freshly promoted to Second Division, was recreated back in the summer of 1983. Once upon a time they were Bulgarian champions… then they were amalgamated with Botev (Plovdiv), the new club named Trakia, but nobody considered it some new entity – in everybody’s mind it was Botev. Spartak seized to exist in the mid-60. It was recreated or restored in 1983, but contrary to every rule the new club was included directly in the Third Division. They won their Zone – the Southwestern Zone – more than confidently: 17 points ahead of the nearest pursuer, scoring 106 goals. And they played only a single match in the promotion play-offs, staged in the city of Kazanlik. Which is conveniently closer to Plovdiv than to Sofia. In fact, both neutral grounds for the Southern play-offs were in the vicinity of Plovdiv. Suspiciously near-by… Take it as you like – Spartak (Plovdiv) was promoted to Second Division. With single match played. The other newcomer played 2 matches. Both teams went through 1 stage. Akademik (Sofia) went through 2 stages.

Take it as you like… after the 1982-83 season Botev (Vtatza) had a point deducted, because its B team was relegated from Third Division. In the 1983-84 season the B teams of ZSK Spartak (Varna), Shumen (Shumen), Minyor (Pernik), Spartak (Pleven), Belasitza (Petrich), and possibly Chernomoretz (Burgas) and Pirin (Blagoevgrad) were relegated and no A team was penalized for that. Only First Division clubs had to have B teams, but… Minyor (Pernik), Pirin (Blagoevgrad), and Spartak (Pleven) were Second Division members and had to have B teams. In the same time Sliven (Sliven) had no B team at all – unless Dinamo (Sliven) was considered their B team. No B team could play in higher than Third Division, but the B team of CSKA, renamed Armeetz (Sofia), played in the Southern Second Division this season – they finished next to last. Under this name, they formally could not be CSKA B team… so, they were B team and not at the same time. Which may explain the case of Sliven and Dinamo too, but it was rotten rule only triggering schemes, corruption, and devious ways to accommodate uselessness without big spending. The stupid rule stated only Third Division and nothing else – it looked like that either promotion or relegation of such a team would effectively help getting rid of it. Clearly, the rule did not do anything positive and it was abandoned: for 1984-85 season instead of B teams playing in Third Division the old unofficial championship of reserve teams was restored – a classic practice used in many countries, from England to USSR, involving only current members of First Division. It was abandoned in Bulgaria around 1970, but now it came back with a twist: the Third Division age-restriction was preserved, but it looked possible that older players could be also used. It made most sense in its original form, though: when players recovering from after injury or not quite fit for the regular squad played in it. In its new version it was still dangerously close to ill-fated B teams: the age-cap at 23 meant largely players not to be used at all in the first squad, just teams made from leftovers and juniors to go through the motions. As for scandals… there was more to come, even worse than whatever happened in 1983-84.

But 1983-84… Second Division was rightly ripe for reform. Yes, it was typical season and yes, it was not. The reorganization of Second Division practically forced almost all current members to be concerned only with avoiding relegation. This was no new, for out of scare, this time there were no comfortably leaving mid-table ‘eternal’ members. But it did nothing in terms of quality of the game and race for top positions: as it had been for years, candidates for promotion were very few – in fact, only 4 teams. Two in Northern group and 2 in the Southern. The top team of each group was directly promoted, the second placed went to relegation/promotion play-off against those just above relegation zone in the First Division. And as practically always, the candidates for the top spots were former first division members: the freshly expelled from top flight Spartak (Pleven) and Dunav (Russe). In the South – freshly relegated Pirin (Blagoevgrad) and Lokomotiv (Plovdiv). It must be said right away that only Spartak (Pleven) had really good squad: since players were not involved in the bribing scandal and the said scandal was dealt with after the end of the transfer period, Spartak did not lose anybody of generally strong squad, having one of the brightest Bulgarian stars of the 1980s, Plamen Getov. Dunav, Lokomotiv, and Pirin had troubles for a few years already – in terms of second division football, they had strong enough teams, but not good enough for top league football. Shaky teams, unshaped and unbalanced, depending on core of great players, surrounded by third-raters. And such teams were vastly superior to the rest of second division members, so clearly things were not going as desired by the Federation and the political power – not at all in the direction of elevating the national football. Rather the other way… hence, the reform, leading to preoccupation with survival this season. Anybody bellow 8th place was either directly relegated or going to relegation play-off, which one may not survive. Risky business… Some gave up quickly: Metallurg (Pernik) earned just 8 points. Lokomotiv (Mezdra) – 11 points. Others tried hard to escape possible relegation and one can safely speculate that bribes flourished: teams, which accumulated enough points to be out of danger, but disinterested in promotion, more than likely sold games. Those, who gave up early, very likely sold games too. Goal-difference was decisive factor at the end at mid-table position: Dobrudhza (Tolbukhin, today Dobrich) ended safely 7th with 36 points in the North. Sportist (General Toshevo) also had 36 points, but ended in the danger zone – 9th. That was a sample from the North, but the same happened in the South – with 37 points Pirin (Gotze Delchev) was 7th and remained in Second Division. Their neighbours Vihren (Sandanski) was 9th with 37 points and went to the relegation play-offs.

To shorten the story: in the Northern Second Division Osam (Lovech), 3rd, Svetkavitza (Targovishte), 4th, Akademik (Svishtov), 5th, Septemvriiska slava (Mikhailovgrad, today Montana), 6th, Dobrudhza (Tolbukhin), 7th, and Yantra (Gabrovo), 8th, qualified for the new amalgamated Second Division. All of them were long-time members of second division, traditionally upper-half finishers, some of the kind never to try to get promoted.

Osam (Lovech) – having a chance to debut in First Division just before the season’s start, but no such chance again – 3rd in 1983-84.

In the Southern Second Division the lucky guys were Rozova dolina (Kazanlik), 3rd, Neftohimik (Bourgas), 4th, Balkan (Botevgrad), 5th, Chirpan (Chirpan), 6th, Pirin (Gotze Delchev), 7th, and Marek (Stanke Dimitrov, today Dupnitza), 8th. 12 teams moved to the new Second Division. Direct and play-off relegations from the top league brought 4 more teams. Two teams were promoted from Third Division, making the total so far 18. The last four spots were decided in play-offs involving those who finished between 9th and 12th place in 1983-84. Directly relegated to Third Division were all teams bellow 12th place in both groups. They were: in the North – in the order of final position, starting with with the 13th, Bdin (Vidin), Chernolometz (Popovo), Beloslav (Beloslav), Lokomotiv (Gorna Oryahovitza), Hemous (Troyan), and Lokomotiv (Mezdra). In the South: Zagoretz (Nova Zagora), Hebar (Pazardzhik), Eledzhik (Ikhtiman), Maritza (Plovdiv), Armeetz (Sofia), and Metallurg (Pernik).

Bdin (Vidin) – one of the unlucky teams. Solid long-time member of Northern Second Division, they had relatively weak season, which under normal circumstances would not be trouble, but now they were relegated.

The play-offs for survival were between teams of the same group. In the South, Vihren (Sandanski), 9th, won over Rilski sportist (Samokov), 12th 0-0 and 2-0. Arda (Kardzhali), 11th, won over Assenovetz (Assenovgrad), 10th, 5-0 and 1-3. In the North, Sportist (General Toshevo), 9th, won over Dorostol (Silistra), 12th, 2-4 and 3-0. Ludogoretz (Razgrad), 11th, needed penalty shoot-out to win against Tryavna (Tryavna), 10th, 2-0 and 0-2, eventually 5-4 at the shoot-out. Vihren, Arda, Sportist, and Ludogoretz managed to join the new Second Division. The losers were relegated. Interestingly enough, Dorostol (Silistra) was relegated to the Third Division in their most successful season, a season to be remembered forever.

Lucky Vihren (Sandanski) – good for at least one more season in the second division.

As for the top clubs, Spartak (Pleven) had strong opposition and managed to win the Northern Second Division just by a single point difference, having 49 points. Dunav (Russe) ended 2nd.

Spartak was directly promoted after a year in forced exile.

Dunav went to promotion/relegation play-off and won against Shumen after 1-1 and 3-2 home victory. Promoted as a result, so all finished swell. Also a testimony of another scandal: the coach Asparoukh Nikodimov, on the far left of middle row, made the very successful CSKA team, which eliminated reigning cup holders Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in two consecutive European Champions Cups. For this he was rewarded with having been kicked out of CSKA – and Dunav benefited imediately, although the squad was not all that strong.

In the South Pirin (Blagoevgrad) won the championship with 49 points.

Minyor (Pernik) finished 4 points behind, but, like Dunav, took advantage from disheartened by misfortune Belasitza (Petrich) in the promotion/relegation play-off and prevailed after 2-4 and 3-0. Back to top flight, although they similar to Dunav, having no decent squad to play with the best.

Greece the Cup

The Cup. Panathinaikos reached the final and the other finalist was AE Larissa. Larissa may have been up and coming and Panathinaikos may be have been not at their best in terms of selection, but still it was a squad much superior to whatever Larissa could muster. Panathinaikos, predictably, won 2-0.

Of course, AE Larissa’s dreams were shuttered, but, overall, they finished fine season. For a lowly club, it was great: 6th in the championship and Cup finalists. They were climbing up, they were on the right truck.

Panathinaikos won a double, which is always significant success for any team, but somehow this squad is not particularly memorable. Of course, Panathinaikos was full of Greek stars and national team players, but… not excellent team somehow. Successful – yes, memorable – less so. But who cares when their team wins.