First Division. The new rule – no points for scoreless ties – affected 11 teams: 10 lost a point and Dunav (Rousse) – 2 points. The rule seemingly helped: this season there were very few ties and scoring was quite high all around the league. But the punishment of the Army and the Police teams was perhaps the real reason – now provincial clubs felt free and fearless, there was nobody to ‘influence’ them, a temporary equality. There was something signigying the end of the powerful in the new names – although they were ancient name of Sofia (Sredetz) and the nearby mountian (Vitosha), those names were also a cheap brand of cheese (Vitosha) and awful brand of cigarettes (Sredetz) and jokes never ended. Fans of the most popular clubs did not like any jokes, they felt betrayed. The game was also affected, for many top players were banned. The championship was unusual at the end because three clubs were quick to take advantage of the new situtaion, all of them harboring old grievances. Slavia (Sofia), the most suffering club during Communism, according to its own mythology – but it was true they were somewhat subservient to CSKA, belonging to special branch of the Army. Trakia (Botev) from Plovdiv not onle felt cheated by the big clubs from the capital, but also an Army club, so they had to somewhat follow orders in favour of CSKA. Beroe (Stara Zagora) would not forget how they expelled from First Division in the early 1970s after a home match against Levski – conveniently forgetting the stones and bottles hurled at the visiting team – and also way too often they saw their best players packing and moving to Sofia, chiefly to don CSKA shirts. The rest of the league was seemingly focused on its own troubles to take advantage of the new situation, which as the season was nearing completion was quite clearly only a brief release from old chains. The final whistle was not to everybody’s liking – the new champions were rightfully happy, but the silver medalists felt they robbed, the title should have been theirs, but it was given to weaker team by Vitosha. Getting rid of corruption? No way, it was just the same as before. Slavia was also ready to whine, but they played rather weak spring and had nobody to blame for their own lack of form.
Dunav (Rousse) was the outsider this season and no surprise. During the 1980s Dunav was unable to build relatively strong team and although they managed to get promoted to the top league a few times, usually they were also immediately relegated.
Cherno more (Varna) lost a battle between 3 teams for survival on worse goal-difference. 15th with 20 points and relegated. Looked like Cherno more did not recover from the bribing scandal of few years back, when almost half of their team was suspended.
Spartak (Pleven) barely escaped relegation – 14th with 21 points. They had arguably the best Bulgarian player at the time – Plamen Getov – but the rest of the team aged dangerously, without having good replacements.
Pirin (Blagoevgrad) also survived – 13th with 21 points.
Vratza (Botev) ended 12th with 25 points. They were renamed, thanks to the rule banning clubs from using names of historic persons, which did not made them happy, but in sporting terms they were not very good in recent years.
Akademik (Svishtov) – 11th with 26 points. So far, their second promotion to top flight was going on well.
Etar (Veliko Tirnovo) – 10th with 29 points. Looked like they finally stabilized themselves after years of rag-tag teams and coresponding performance. May be going to climb up – at least judging by some young talent in the squad: Trifon Ivanov was already a regular.
Lokomotiv (Sofia) – 9th with 29 points. They clearly missed the train, so to say: the squad was decent enough for more and the new freedom gave them a chance. On the other hand they were one of the clubs feeeling badly separation from traditional sponsor: the railways never provided them with lots of money, but at least there were ready money. Now… financing the team was a problem. Sitting from left: Nako Doychev, Kiril Metkov, Boris Illiev, Ivan Vassilev, Boycho Velichkov, Nasko Zhelev, Ventzilsav Arssov, Georgy Bonev.
Middle row: Todor Velev – coach, Aleksander Markov, Pavel Dochev, Nikolay Donev, Valery Damyanov, Plamen Nikolov, Dimitar Vassev, Vladimir Lalov.
Top row: Marko Bogdanov, Aleksander Bonchev, Stefan Milev, Vassil Petkov, Aleksander Dudov, Stoycho Stoev.
Frankly, a squad which should have performed way better.
Spartak (Varna) – 8th with 30 points. Mid-table was pretty much what they wanted to be. Now, with Cherno more no longer supported by the Navy, they had good chance to be the number 1 team of Varna. A dream, really.
Lokomotiv (Plovdiv) – 7th with 31 points. Not bad after coming back from Second Division – this time it looked like they were finally on the road of real recovery.
Sliven (Sliven) – 6th with 31 points. Curiously, not affected by their separation from the Army. May be because the team was quite young and without former CSKA players. Yordan Lechkov was getting established in the team, still 19-years old.
Vitosha (Levski) Sofia – 5th with 33 points. Rattled badly by the Cup final scandal and following punishment. This is really a photo from the end of the season – at the beginning, half of the key regulars were suspended, some for life. But eventually the national team coach Vutzov went to the state leader Todor Zhivkov and begged these suspencions to be voided, because the national team was weakened and the World Cup finals were coming. Pardon was granted – and Borislav Mikhailov came back. But so far the team played badly and that was beyond repair at short notice.
Top row from left: G. Illiev – doctor, V. Delchev, E. Velev, G. Yordanov, B. Iskrenov, B. Mikhailov, S. Sofroniev – masseur.
Middle row: P. Panov – assistant coach, N. Sirakov, N. Illiev, V. Shalamanov, Chr. Ayandelev – vice-chairman of the club, A. Asparoukhov, P. Petrov, K. Vangelov, D. Markov, K. Ivkov – coach.
Sitting: M. Baychev, A. Zdravkov, R. Gochev, Kr. Koev, St. Georgiev, S. Nachev.
Sredetz (CSKA) – 4th with 34 points. Sitting from left: Yanchev, Zdravkov, Slavkov, Kerimov, G. Dimitrov, St. Mladenov, N. Mladenov.
Middle row: Trankov – assistant coach, Velinov, Chervenkov, Kirov, Andonov, L. Penev, Shoylevski, Dossev, D. Penev – coach.
Bezinski, D. Dimitrov, Tomanov, Stoyanov, Chavdarov, Paunov.
Slavia (Sofia) – 3rd with 36 points. Crouching from left: Valeri Grekov, Tzvetan Yonchev, Pavlin Dimitrov, Ivan Piskov, Ivan Khaydarliev, Petar Bozhkov, Christo Denchev, Illiyan Aldev (Ilyaz Alliev), Vassil Nenkov – masseur.
Standing: Christo Mladenov – coach, Mikhail Zhelev – doctor, Antonio Ananiev, Plamen Simeonov, Georgi Illiev, Ivaylo Venkov, Mladen Radkov, Yordan Kostov, Zheko Andreev, Slavcho Niklenov, Trendafil Terziyski – trainer.
The scoring machine Petar Aleksandrov is missing – he was with the national team, preparing for the 1986 World Cup finals. Slavia missed its great chance to fil the temporary vacuum and they had nobody to blame this time, but themselves. May be their team was not deep enough, but at least the regulars were good enough for attacking the title. As it turned out, they were not even in the race, trailing the leaders from a distance. At least the crisis of few years earlier was over.
Trakia (Botev Plovdiv) – 2nd with 41 points. Although two national team players are missing here: Dimitar Vichev and Kostadin Kostadinov – this was very familiar squad, playing together for years. Officially, they were the 1984-85 champions, but the title was awarder to them only because Levski and CSKA were pnushed – Trakia finished 3rd then and did not enjoy the surprise and undeserved title. This season everything was different, they really were determined to win, seeing their great chance in the weakening of the big clubs. The end was bitter and a reason for laments to this very day: they felt robbed. The arguments are two: first, they were the strongest team. Why? Well, they destroyed the so-called champions 8-1. There is some truth to that – Trakia had stronger squad than the new champions. But one thing is to have big names, another to perform. And performance was equal to the that of the winners as far as points were concerned. Second point: Trakia focussed its accusations on the match near the end of the season Beroe – Vitosha, played in Stara Zagora. Beroe won by one goal and thus ensured the title. From Trakia’s point of view Vitosha deliberately let Beroe win only to rob Trakia from their righful title. And, of course, Beroe would have to repay the favour later, so there was mor for Trakia to suffer by those villains. Was the match fixed or not is impoosible to prove – Beroe had excellent season and Vitosha not so; Beroe played at home against a team not loved at all in Stara Zagora; the result was minimal and nothing obviously suspicious happened on the field. Yet, Vitosha (Levski) preffered Beroe to win than Trakia (Botev), a team more hated than Beroe. Vitosha had nothing to play for, no motivation anyway, and a giveaway match may put Beroe under some obligation to return the favour in the future. The problem with all that reasoning is that nothing can be ever proved, only a growing myth, increasingly based on great scoring power of Trakia (they scored 82 goals this season – 27 more than the champions) and few big losses Beroe suffered. True, looking at the results, but if Trakia was so superior, they would have been unquestionable leaders – as it happened, they could have been champions only on better goal-difference. Hardly a sign of superiority.
Beroe (Stara Zagora) – brand new champions with 43 points from 20 wins, 4 ties, 6 losses. 55-36 goal-difference. They lost a point on scoreless tie – against Sliven – but Trakia also lost a point, ending 0-0 with Pirin, so the lead was preserved. Here they are: Sitting from left: Yordan Mitev, Stoyan Bonchev, Illia Illiev, Ivko Ganchev, Valentin Grudev, Vassil Dragolov, Petko Marokov.
Middle row: Evgeni Yanchovski – coach, Milan Kashmerov (orginally Myumyun Kashmerov, today – Myumyun Kashmer) Venelin Sivriev, Stefan Dinev, Stoyko Stoykov, Panayot Panayotov – assistant coach.
Top row: Petko Tenev, Kancho Kasherov, Plamen Lipenski, Tenyo Minchev, Christo Belchev.
If Trakia had some ground for accusations, it was on the first place because of ‘suspect’ rise of Beroe – they were insignificant 6th (8th before Levski and CSKA were removed) in the previous season. But Beroe had long history of sudden ups and downs, nothing new or unusual about it. They playe well the whole season, really taking their chance, getting more and more ambitious to win and holding its ground to the end. However, they suffered few huge losses: 1-8 from Trakia, 2-5 from Slavia, 2-4 from Sredetz. Well, such things happen… those were away games against the strongets rivals. Beroe won the home matches against the same teams, though – the direct clashes ended undecided. The suspect, from Trakia’s point of view, match against Levski was not at all supsect from Beroe’s standpoint – they were motivated to win the title, hence played and won against a hated opponent, for in Beroe’s mythology Lesvki orchestrated their expulsuion from First Division at the turn of 1970s. Deals with such enemy? Impossible! Double impossible a bit later, when Vassil Dragolov went to play for Vitosha – see, they robbed as again! Apart from that, Beroe had wonderful season, overachieving a bit, for the team coached by their former great midfielder Evgeni Yanchovski, was weaker than the competition. It was talented squad, but not very deep – apart from Dragolov, no other player was considered for the national team, although their aging captain Tenyo Minchev was ocassional national team player before. Two young and talented goalkeepers, experienced defense – Kasherov, Minchev, and Belchev played together for years, the first two for so long already, they played along their coach at the beginning of their careers in the first half of the 1970s. Two more than decent midfielders in great form – Dinev and Bonchev, and powerful attack – Mitev, Kashmerov, and Dragolov. To a point, the arrival of the high scoring center-forward Kashmerov galvanized the team – Kashmerov was noticed when playing in Second Division, eventually joyning Levski (Sofia), but he did not make it there – in aprt, because of the strong competition. Going to Beroe benefited both him and the team – he fitted in right away, completing a lethal striking line. This season everything clicked right and Beroe, as a club, was sharp enough to use the opportunity created by the destruction of the traditional powers. Beroe deserved to win. It was unlikely they could repeat the success, even less to be able to establish dynasty, but they it was fantastic victory. Their first ever.
Brand new champions deserve a second look, this time from the ceremony of receiving the championship trophy on April 19, 1986. Crouching from left: Plamen Lipenski, Petko Tenev, Christo Belchev, Kancho Kasherov, Illia Illiev, Radko Kalaydzhiev, Stoyan Bonchev, Milan Kashmerov (Myumyun Kashmer), Stoyko Stoykov, Tenyo Minchev.
Standing: Kuzman Kuzmanov – superintendant, Stoyan Kurtev, Stefan Dinev, Bozhidar Dyakov, Tanko Tanev, Petko Marokov, Yordan Mitev, Kolyo Ganev, Panayot Panayotov – assistant coach, Dimo Todorov – team chief, Evgeni Yanchovski – coach, Vassil Karaivanov, Venelin Sivriev, Ivko Ganchev, Valentin Grudev, Zhelyo Pepelov – administrator, Christo Doychev – masseur.
First time champions, a team which did the impossible.