First Division. In a nut shell – CFKA Sredetz, reinforced with 4 national team players, had no rival and entirely dominated the season. There was one pleasant ascend and one accidental good performance. The rest… nothing new, really.
Minyor (Pernik) finished last with 22 points and was relegated. Happened many before… this is rather the squad for season 1989-90, but essentially it was no different from the one in 1988-89. Sitting from left: Emil Serafimov, Roumen Andonov, Aleksandar Aleksandrov, Bogomil Savov, Slavcho Pavlov, Valentin Lazarov, Metody Tomanov.
Middle row: Bogomil Pushev – coach, Ivo Slavchev, Stoyan Petrov, Ivan Aleksiev, Grigor Grigorov, Vercho Mitov, Plamen Petkov, Petar Stefanov – assistant coach.
Top row: Tzetzko Ignatov – doctor, Anton Genadiev, Ivo Stanimirov, Vihar Petrov – organizer, Petar Petrov, Krassimir Dossev, Christo Trifonov – masseur.
Judging by the names, one would wonder why they were relegated – there were experienced well established names (Grigorov, Serafimov, Tomanov, Dossev, Aleksandrov), there was rather bright young talent (Savov, Slavcho Pavlov, Ivo Slavchev). May be that why… disinterest. The established players used to play for the big Sofia clubs before and now, even if not too old, they had no real motivation. The youngsters were looking for bigger club – the close proximity to Sofia was practically the curse for Minyor. And down they went once again.
Spartak (Varna) – 15th with 23 points. Still having Krassimir Zafirov between the goalposts – his longevity was admirable, but also indicated the club’s major problem: no new talent emerged from their youth system for a long time and the club depended on discarded players from Sofia’s clubs. They were beyond their prime and already aging, so at best their presence was temporary remedy. Once their number dwindled to practically none… Spartak plunged down. Zafirov was 38 without a back-up. Dimitar Diev, who came a few years back from Slavia – without making a name for himself there – was already 30.
Lokomotiv (Plovdiv) – 14th with 26 points. Sitting from left: Dantor Damyanov – masseur, Roumen Dimitrov, Georgy Dimitrov, Valentin Valchev, Stefan Draganov, Ivan Marinov, Mikhail Yumerski, Georgy Karushev, Belev – doctor.
Middle row: Tchavdar Muratov – assistant coach, Milushev, Vassil Vassilev, Plamen Krastev, Yordan Gevezov, Roumen Spassov, Petar Pashev, Kostadin Vidolov, Trifonov, M. Minchev, Mikhail Georgiev – coach.
Top row: Yanko Kushev, Yulian Dzhevizov, Vessko Lazarov, Stefan Lulchev, Boby Ivanov, Rady Raykovski, Yavor Illiev, Dimitar Radev, Dimitar Kekhayov.
So far, Lokomotiv was unable to build meaningful and reliable team. Yes, they produced plenty of young talent, but it was a weird combination of cluster of old great players and babies, without middle generation. Now even not enough established older stars remained – only Ivan Marinov in defense, so a veteran was recruited – missing on the photo is Nikolay Arabov. Long time national team central defender, who spent his career with Sliven. At 34 years, he was suddenly recruited to help Lokomotiv – and left after this season. Well, the most such a team could do is escaping relegation and they achieved that.
Vratza (Botev Vratza) – 13th with 26 points. Sitting from left: Nikolay Ivanov, Boris Strashimirov, Boyko Kraev, Yulian Emilov, Ventzislav Bozhilov, Iliya Voynov, Venelin Nikolov. Middle row: A. Tzenov – assistant coach, Iliya Kamenov, Ivan Radoslavov, Todor Garev, Lyudmil Tzvetkov, Tzvetan Petrov, Roumen Vidov, Petar Kamenov – coach. Top row: K. Kostov – rehabilitation, Valery Tzvetanov, Radoslav Petkov,Georgy Bogdanov, Emil Marinov, S. Mironov – doctor.
The painfully slow decline continiud – perhaps the mistake of Vratza was to fill up gaps because of departing or retiring players instead of radically rebuilding their team – the result was experienced, but gradually weaker squad.
Lokomotiv (Gorna Oryakhovitza) – 12th with 26 points. Modest club – just staying in the league was great and they managed that somehow against the odds. The team depended on players discarded by the big Sofia clubs and the club from their regional capital, Etar (Veliko Tirnovo) – so far, the formula worked well. Yes, they lost the rising star Boncho Gentchev, who joined Etar, but the veteran Christo Mikhailov arrived from Etar and also from Sofia – Iliya Velichkov from Slavia and Aleksandar Chavdarov from CFKA Sredetz. So far – so good.
Slavia (Sofia) – 11th with 26 points. Sitting from left: Valery Grekov, Ognyan Radev, Tzvetan Mitev, Petar Aleksandrov, Plamen Simeonov, Petar Bozhkov, Pavlin Dimitrov. Middle row: Andrey Zhelyazkov – playing coach, Aleksandar Markov, Miroslav Mironov, Ivan Khaydarliev, Ivaylo Venkov, Kiril Netzov, Tchavdar Tzvetkov – assistant coach. Top row: Mario Kalpushkov, Plamen Tachev, Petar Karadeliev, Georgy Karamanov, Yordan Kostov, Antonio Ananiev.
Somehow Slavia was unable to make really reliable team and struggled once again – despite having national team players (Aleksandrov, Simeonov, Markov, Ananiev) and a good number of solid and well respected players (Khaydarliev, Mironov, Grekov, Dimitrov, Kostov). Then again – it was Slavia, traditionally moody and predictable team, capable of great highs and lows in the same time.
Sliven (Sliven) – 10th with 27 points. Their usual. They lost the great veteran defender Arabov, but Yordan Letchkov was moving up.
Pirin (Blagoevgrad) – 9th with 27 points. Top row from left: Kiril Stoykov, Petar Mikhtarski, ?, Petar Tzvetkov, Venko Popov, Ivaylo Panchev, Ivo Ivanikov. Middle row: Boris Nikolov – coach, Ventzislav Dinev, Ivan Georgiev, Kostadin Trendafilov, Ivaylo Andonov, Roumen Chakarov, Slavcho Moraliev – assistant coach. Front row: Yordan Bozdanski, Nikolay Petrunov, Ivan Lardev, Roumen Stoychev, Valentin Dartilov, Rossen Pashov.
Mid-table position – looked like finally Pirin managed to stabilize a reliable team. It was local – from coach to players, all were products of the club. The team got the experience the players lacked a few years back and the only problem for the future was traditional one – Pirin was certainly going to lose its rapidly rising stars Mikhtarski, Andonov and Dartilov.
Lokomotiv (Sofia) – 8th with 28 points. Sitting: Pavel Dochev, Plamen Nikolov, Dimitar Vassev, Kiril Metkov, Borislav Manolkov, Georgy Illiev, Vladko Shalamanov, Slavcho Panov, Christo Zlatinov. Middle row: Ivaylo Georgiev – assistant coach, Martin Doychev (?), Stoycho Stoev, Yulian Nakov (?), Atanas Mikhailov – coach, Georgy Christov, Anton Velkov, Aleksandar Dudov, Ventzislav Arssov – assistant coach. Top row: Borimechkov, Nikolay Todorov, Aleksandar Bonchev, Krassimir Nakov, Gosho Petkov, Marin Illiev, Antonio Zdravkov, Plamen Todorov.
The squad coached by the club’s legend Nachko Mikhailov should have been among the 3-4 top teams, judging by the names, but it was Lokomotiv – somewhat mellow team, not bothered by mid-table position. Perhaps the squad was still too young and row for more.
Cherno more (Varna) – 7th with 30 points. Sitting from left: Tinko Vazharov, Boyan Christov, Kalin Topuzakov, Milen Bakardzhiev, Nikola Nikolov, Todor Marev, Y. Ivanov. Middle row: Nayden Naydenov, Todor Atanassov, N. Kapanzirev – doctor, Bozhil Kolev – coach, Trendafil Vassilev – assistant coach, Dimitar Vanikov – masseur, Yulian Christov, Christo Kotev. Third row: Yulian Garev, Valery Karov, Georgy Kostov, Yordan Fillipov, Kostadin Kostadinov, Georgy Stoychev, Krassimir Lechev.
Just returning from Second Division exile, so the season was rather good. But their coach Bozhil Kolve bitterly complained the lack of professionalism – he wanted to introduce modern West German training methods and was practically opposed by both his players and the club as whole. One cannot teach old dog new tricks… the core of the team played together for many years, they were even teammates with Kolev a few years back, and there was no way oldish players were going to change their habits. And Cherno more was not strong enough club to recruit a new team of players suitable to Kolev’s ideas and demands… the goalkeeping was points in case: Kostov was hardly a reliable keeper, so two veterans had to be employed – the ‘eternal’ Yordan Fillipov (now going on 43!), who was playing for CSKA even before Bozhil Kolev joined the club in 1970 and both were teammates in the national team for many years as well, and Kostadin Kostadinov (now 32), who back in mid-1970s was Junior national team player, but never established himself in the First Division, spending most of his career playing for obscure Second Division teams – now he was recruited seemingly out of desperation as a third keeper of Cherno more. The season was satisfying, but there was no future and Bozhil Kolev left after the season to work abroad.
Dunav (Rousse) – 6th with 31 points. Sitting from left: Diyan Angelov, Rossen Sabotinov, Sasho Todorov, Yordan Dimitrov, Valery Kulinov, Krassimir Kolev, Nasko Borissov, Levent Bayraktarov. Standing: Tikhomir Dimitrov, Iliya Kirchev, Mikhail Stoyanov, Dragomir Enchev, Petar Voynov, Nikolay Boyanov – captain, Borislav Bogomilov, Krassimir Nakov, Kiril Kirilov.
The other newcomer did a bit better than Cherno more. Like Cherno more, Dunav was only returning to First Division, but unlike Cherno more they were shaky for a long time and continued to be so. Their earlier attempts to reestablish themselves in the top league during the 1980s failed miserably – they were almost immediately relegated back to Second Division. From this perspective, this time they did exceptionally well. But their position was also misleading – it was largely accidental, the team was still ill-shaped, shaky and, frankly, nothing much. Recruiting good players apparently was impossible. On top of if the team photo presents typical problem with summer team pictures – taken between seasons, they represent neither the old season, nor the new. Some players left and were with Dunav in 1988-89, others did not arrive yet and are missing in the photo. The new recruits were hardly better than those who departed – rather third-rate players without much of a future; rather hastily recruited from whoever was available and only to temporary fill gaps. Dunav ceratinly was weak and without much future.
Beroe (Stara Zagora) – 5th with 33 points. Beroe distinguished itself with a second interesting ‘first’ – almost 10 years back theirs was the first transfer to professional club in the West: one of the best all-time scorers of Bulgaria, Petko Petkov, was transferred to Austria (Wien). Now he was coaching Beroe and exports were not a news at all, but Beroe’s transfer of their long-time captain Tenyo Minchev was also special and first of its kind: he went to Krylya Sovetov (Kyubyshev, today Samara) – the first foreign player imported to play professionally in the USSR.
Trakia (Botev Plovdiv) – 4th with 33 points. Ahead of Beroe on better goal-difference, but the wonderful team aged without actually fulfilling their great potential. Trakia aged as a team and the players were getting tired of season after season without success and were looking for other options – either to go abroad, or to move to a club where they would actually won a trophy. Georgy Georgiev moved CFKA Sredetz before this season and was followed by Bakalov and Mladenov after the end of the season. Kostadinov, Pashev, and Pekhlivanov were going to play abroad. The key stars, all of them national team players, were leaving and the well was drying out – Trakia depended largely on their great youth system, for years new talent was coming from it, all stars were home product – but now there little coming from their own system… no great promising youngster was moved to the first team this year, Boris Khvoynev and Todor Zaytzev were the last homegrown talents, but they were included in the men’s team earlier. Even the days of their goalkeeper Dimitar Vichev were numbered – he was already 37 years old – and his long-time back-up Milan Karatanchev was 30 years old. Trakia was coming to the terrible point of having to start a new team from scratch.
Etar (Veliko Tirnovo) finished 3rd with 34 points. If there was a bright team in Bulgaria this season, it was Etar. First of all – their coach. Georgy Vassilev was noticed already and even was assistant-coach of the national team at the 1986 World Cup, but with time his work was only getting better. Of course, having great local talent helped him, but he built a good team which was going up.
Etar really deserves a second picture – this one after receiving the bronze medals. Now it will be clear why they were ascending. Crouching from left: Nikolay Donev, Savcho Vassilev, Tzanko Tzvetanov, Krassimir Balakov, Georgy Georgiev, Emil Statev – masseur, Illian Kiryakov, Boncho Gentchev, Miroslav Baychev, Mincho Minchev. Standing: Tosho Krastev – vice-chairman of the club, Aleksandar Toshev, Georgy Vassilev – coach, Branimir Mateev, Petyo Rashev, Tzvetomir Parvanov, Sasho Khristov, Preslav Getov, Angel Velev, Georgy Popivanov, Kalin Bankov, Stoyan Petrov – assistant coach, Atanas Katarov – video-operator, Stefan Donev – doctor, Ivan Angelov – administrator. The team captain Emil Dimitrov is missing.
Well.. Balakov, Kiryakov, Tzvetanov, Gentchev – the great heroes of the 1994 World Cup. Balakov and Kiryakov already played for the national team. Gentchev was just recruited from Lokomotiv (Gorna Oryakhovitza). Tzanko Tzvetanov debuted this season. Trifon Ivanov joined CFKA Sredetz before the beginning of the season, but he was replaced by Kalin Bankov, who was somewhat shaky and thus let go by Vitosha (Sofia), but flourished in Etar and was included in the national team. The right fullback and team captain Emil Dimitrov was also included in the national team this season. And the goalkeeper Nikolay Donev, who was national team player when he played for Lokomotiv (Sofia), was still a national team material. A relatively small provincial club like Etar had little muscle, so making a great team depended largely on coach’s vision – Georgy Vassilev excelled in that: his team was a combination homegrown talent (Balakov, Kiryakov, Tzvetanov, Trifon Ivanov before his move to CFKA Sredetz), talent from the region (Gentchev, Mateev), good players discarded by the big Sofia clubs, largely because of too much competion (Donev, Bankov, Baychev), and unknown promissing players from lower leagues (Preslav Getov). The trick was to balance somehow almost inevitable exodus of talent with reliable newcomers: the loss of Trifon Ivanov was compensated by the arrival of Kalin Bankov, for instance. Emil Dimitrov was also going to play for CFKA Sredetz after this season, so the difficult task of Vassilev was to find worthy replacements, for the fate of any smallish provincial club was well known: the big clubs were going to take their stars very quickly. So far, Vassilev showed great ability to get the right players – Nikolay Donev and Kalin Bankov had tough time in the their former clubs, Lokomotiv Sofia and Vitosha (Levski) Sofia, because of too much competition, but they were good and ambitious players, wnating to prove themselves, rather than just going through the motions and satisfied with sitting on the bench – Etar gave them the chance to play regularly and they took the opportunity seriously. No wonder Bankov, who stayed often on the bench during his years with Vitosha, reached the national team with Etar. For Boncho Gentchev on the other hand, moving to Etar was a step up – he played for the smaller club from the same region, Lokomotiv Gorna Oryakhovitza, which was limiting. Etar was bigger and stronger club than Lokomotiv, providing better opportunity for development. Coach and team were rising together – Vassilev became the best Bulgarian coach of the 1990s and no need to say more for Balakov, Tzvetanov, Kiryakov, and Gentchev in the next decade – they became international stars. And Etar was going to achieve more than bronze medals soon.
Vitosha (Levski Sofia) ended 2nd with 39 points. A very disappointing season… Sitting from left: Nikolay Iliev, Krassimir Koev, Sasho Nachev, Plamen Nikolov, Stoil Georgiev, Vassil Dragolov, Dinko Gospodinov. Middle row: Dobromir Zhechev – coach, Bozhidar Iskrenov, Georgy Donkov, Rossen Krumov, Georgy Yordanov, Velko Yotov, Yordan Murlev, Georfy Tzvetkov – assistant coach. Top row: Borislav Mikhailov, Dimitar Markov, Emil Velev, Kiril Vangelov, Petar Petrov, Georgy Slavchev, Vlado Delchev.
What went wrong? Only Nikolay Iliev shined this season, a lone soldier.. and as a lone soldier, who could not do everything, defending, organizing attacks, and finishing them. At moments, he showed his frustration from the indifference of his teammates. What went wrong… well, Levski traditionally had a low season after a great one. Unfortunately, nothing new about having a stinking season after winning a title. Tradition is tradition, but… the great coach Vassil Metodiev was replaced for some reason with Dobromir Zhechev and Nasko Sirakov was sold to Real (Zaragoza). Perhaps Zhechev failed to motivate his players, used to different methods and authority – Metodiev was capable to reach to moody and not very disciplined players like Iskrenov. Zhechev perhaps lacked the magical touch of Metodiev, especially in time when all stars had their minds on going to play in the West. Yet, it was Zhechev year earlier who introduced and believed in young brooms, still teenagers, Mikhailov, Iskrenov, Velev. The ‘golden generation’ had everything to thank to Zhechev and paid him back… Traditionally, the strength of Levski was homegrown talent – Zhechev restored that and in the 1980s Levski introduced new talented youngsters year after year – the team was mostly homegron this season too, the youth system steadily produced talent, so the problem was largely lack of experience, character, and leadership – unlike Mikhailov, Velev, Sirakov, Iskrenov, Iliev, Koev, who showed strong will, even arrogance, from start, Georgiev, Donkov, Krumov, Nachev, Slavchev were rather soft and spineless. New recruits from elsewhere were somehow not the right players – Vassil Dragolov, although a national team for some time, did shine in Levski like he did playing for Beroe. Yordan Murlev was perhaps a big mistake – he came from CFKA Sredetz, where he played a bit in the precious year, did not satisfy anyone and was let go. Exactly the same happened in Vitosha and his first year was also his last. True, he was expected to be a starter, but only a backup for Nikolay Iliev, yet so invisible was his recent presence, that the fans, always very sensitive and hostile to players coming from the camp of the arch-enemy, did not even boo him. So, the newcomers were not the players to get the leading role – and in the same time the old leaders were leaving for certain: Mikhailov, Nikolov, Petrov, Iliev, Iskrenov, Yordanov, Velev – the national team regulars and the key stars of Vitosha were going to the West and soon. The team needed new leaders and there were none… Vitosha was talented enough to leave the rest of the league far behind, but that was all – they were not rival to the leaders and finished 10 points behind the arch-enemy.
CFKA Sredetz (CSKA Sofia) dominated this season and won the title for a record 25th time. 20 wins, 9 ties, and only 1 lost game! 86-24 goal-difference. 49 points. The only team able to beat them this season was not even Vitosha (Levski), but Trakia (Botev) – they managed to prevail 1-0 at home in Plovdiv. And were the only team with positive record against the dominant leaders (1-0 at home and 1-1 in Sofia). So here they are, the champions: sitting from left: Stefan Bachev, Nedyalko Mladenov, Christo Stoichkov, Lachezar Tanev, Emil Kostadinov, Krassimir Bezinski. Middle row: Stoil Trankov – assistant coach, Doncho Donev, Ivaylo Kirov, Trifon Ivanov, Georgy Dimitrov – captain, Kiril Kachamanov, Roumen Stoyanov, Petar Zhekov – assistant coach. Top row: Iliya Valov, Georgy Georgiev, Petar Vitanov, Dimitar Penev – coach, Kostadin Yanchev, Iliya Dyakov, Roumen Apostolov. Injured Lyuboslav Penev is missing. Plamen Getov is also missing in the photo.
Well, with plenty of stars at hand and various youngsters – if anything, Dimitar Penev had a great eye for young talent and also a big – even risky – trust in youth, but the Army club was also back the their old tricks: grabbing stars from elsewhere – it was not Kachamanov, Apostolov, Vitanov, Bachev to play, but the well established newcomers Iliya Valov (from Vratza), Trifon Ivanov (from Etar), Georgy Georgiev (from Trakia), Plamen Getov (from Spartak Pleven). All newcomers were national team players and let say that from the bulk newly recruited national team players only Iliya Dyakov failed to impress and was dismissed after this season – his failure was somewhat predictable: he was young and without much experience, for he never played First Division before. His competition was the veteran Krassimir Bezinsky, himself still a national team material, and there was no way to replace him. Dyakov practically left no memory of himself. The other step back to the old ways was the merciless approach of the club to their respected stars when getting old – Georgy Dimitrov, arguably the best Bulgarian central-defender in the 1980s, a player of great talent and great leadership, still captained CSKA this season, only to see himself looking for a club after receiving the title. Great, but getting old and in the name of future success, he was no longer needed – the same cold practicality was an old tradition and many Army stars got the cold shoulder in quite a disrespectful manner – just discarded as garbage. But in 1988-89 CSKA had a team similar to their best teams in the past: 14 national teams players! Plenty of players to chose from, no problem of filling any gaps, changing tactics, replacing someone out of form or injured with similarly strong player. And the leadership was transformed already – from the ‘old’ Dimitrov, Bezinski, Mladenov, to Stoichkov, Lyuboslav Penev, Kostadinov. Trifon Ivanov also showed his strong will. The transition already happened successfully – unlike in Vitosha (Levski) – and the future was guaranteed: clearly Bezinski, Mladenov, Tanev were going to be sold abroad, but Stoichkov, Penev, Kostadinov, Ivanov were not for sale yet and they were the backbone of the team already. So.. jumping only a month or two ahead of the end of the 1988-89 season Bezinski, Mladenov, Dimitrov, Getov, Tanev were no longer with CFKA Seredetz (except Georgy Dimitrov, all went to play abroad), but Emil Dimtrov (Etar), Marin Bakalov (Trakia), and Dimitar Mladenov (Trakia) arrived – national team players were replaced with national team players. The team remained exceptionally strong – the only problem was unforeseen, unpredictable, coming out of the blue – the sudden collapse of Communism in the second half of 1989. If Communism did not collapse out of the blue, CFKA Sredetz was going to dominate Bulgarian football in the same way they did in the 1950s.