Bulgaria II Division

Second Division. The scandalous events of the season were already mentioned, so what else? One team dominated the championship and for the second promotion there was battle between few teams, which, scheming or not, fought to the end. The rest was somewhat restoring the old order after the reduction of the Second Division – 4 long time members came back from third level and performed quite well. The smaller Second Division was to a point predictable: teams from small towns had hard time competing with economically more powerful cities and were going down. Traditional football centers remained quite solid. One of the newly relegated teams from the top league ended at the very bottom of the league. The last 4 teams of the 20-team league were relegated, the top 2 promoted. As a general observation, Second Division appeared somewhat weaker than before – contrary to the intentions of reduction.
Dimitrovgrad (Dimitrovgrad) finished last. The previous season they played in First Division, now they going down to the Third… To a large degree, Dimitrovgrad was paying heavy price for going up – they even surprised themselves, when got promoted to the top league 2 years earlier. Hasty recruitment of better players was done in order of competing with the best, but there was no rhyme or reason to that, it was not real selection, but rather getting whoever was available and willing to join. Such a rag-tag squad failed and was immediately relegated. The new recruits departed right away and Dimitrovgrad slipped further down.
Neftohimik (Bourgas) ended 19th and relegated – their attempt to fix escape by illegal means was justifiably punished.
Balkan (Botevgrad) – 18th and relegated. An example of a club from a small town – they were unable to compete in the smaller Second Division.
Rozova dolina (Kazanlik) – 17th and relegated. The same case as Balkan.
Rila (Stanke Dimitrov – today Dupnitza) survived at 16th place with 33 points. Now, that was well-known Marek, renamed. If Neftohimik’s scheme was not caught, they would have been 16th and relegated. Rila was unable to rebuild after their great squad of the 1970s aged and that was almost fatal – but they were hanging on. Still using the remains of their great squad, now reduced to two players – the goalkeeper Stoyan Stoyanov (38 years old) and midfielder Dimitar Dimitrov (34 years old). Coached by the captain of the great team Sasho Pargov.
Ludogoretz (Razgrad) – 15th with 33 points. Their usual insignificant performance. And their typical mediocrity makes difficult establishing the proper season of the photo: it could be from the previous season, for Nikola Kovachev did not coach them in 1987-88. Then again… who knows when the photo was actually taken. One thing was sure: nobody would imagine this club playing top league football, let alone dominating Bulgarian football for years.
Haskovo (Haskovo) – 14th with 34 points. Depending on some remains of their First Division team, but nothing much.
Spartak (Plovdiv) – 13th with 36 points. It is quite amazing that this club had been Bulgarian champion in the early 1960s, but Spartak cannot be judged harshly: soon after winning the title they were amalgamated with Botev (Plovdiv) into Trakia and seized to exist. Spartak was restored only a few years ago, starting from lower levels and slowly climbing up. Presently, establishing themselves in the Second Division was the main goal, so avoiding relegation was quite fine. It was not easy for them – the building process depended to what players the big clubs in Plovidv (Trakia and Lokomotiv) did not need and such players were great, nor many. Aging Krassimir Manolov (who made his name in the 1970s with Lokomotiv Plovdiv, Akademik Sofia, and Trakia Plovdiv) was their star and that says it all: one well-known player at the end of his career.
Akademik (Svishtov) – 12th with 37 points. Not a factor and suffering in the new officially proffesional football: their main attraction to out-of-town players was academic degree in economics. Not many footballers were interested in that and in times when one can get good money legally, even less would go for small pay and a degree. Akademik still attracted a few well known names, but they were becoming a rag-tag team.
Tundzha (Yambol) – 11th with 37 points. Once upon a time they played in the First Division, but the early 1970s were long gone, even not remembered. The new Second Division had no place for them – Tundzha went down to third level, when the reorganization took place and now was coming back, just promoted. Hence, not bad ending in their first season in the smaller Second Division.
Osam (Lovech) – 10th with 38 points. Well, nothing new… they were generally mid-table Second Division club and adjusted to the very same existence as before. Should be mentioned, however, that Petar Khoubchev was still playing for them (at 24 years, he had 213 games and 23 goals for Osam) – and apparently attracted no interest not only of any big club, but even of smaller top-league teams. Seems unbelievable today – one of the 1994 heroes, internationally well known name, not even playing a single match in the Bulgarian First Division in 1988. Playing for rather mediocre second-division club satisfied with mid-table position.
Dobrudzha (Dobrich) – 9th with 38 points. Well, similar to Osam.
Madara (Shumen) – 8th with 40 points. That was the new name of Shumen (Shumen), a team which played in the top league no long ago. However, the reorganization of the Second Division expelled them to third level from which they were just promoted. Locally, people believe Madara was denied promotion this season, but they were also caught in fixing the game with Neftohimik, so… Whatever the myth, Madara did not have strong team, largely depending on remains of their first-division squad. This was also the last season they played under the name Madara – they became Shumen again for the next season.
Vihren (Sandanski) – 7th with 41 points. Not bad at all, yet, nothing special – some former minor players of Pirin (Blagoevgrad) were the only recognizable names, the father of Dimitar Berbatov among them.
Yantra (Gaborovo) – 6th with 41 points. One more teams returning from Third Division. Not a bad season, but going up was not an aim yet.
Bdin (Vidin) – 5th with 41 points. Like Osam and Dobrudzha, they were quite happy to keep relatively good place in the league and nothing more.
Hebar (Pazardzhik) – 4th with 44 points. The best of the newly promoted teams, but like the others Hebar was essentially second-division member, which suffered from the reduction of the second level. Yet, they not only tried to reestablish themselves, but fought for further promotion. Lost the battle this time, but the team was on ascend – unlike most of the current second-division members.
Arda (Kardhzali) – 3rd with 45 points. Now, that was a great surprise: Arda played in the Second Division for ages, but they were usually at the bottom of the table, concerned with escaping relegation. A club not expected to be at the top at all – but they were and fought for promotion, which was lost, according to the rumors, by biased refereeing. Thanks to that, they ended 3rd only on 2 goals worse goal-difference. Speculations of political scheming or just ordinary corruption against them aside, Arda had quite poor squad for playing in the top league and given the sorry example of Dimitrovgrad, perhaps it was better they were not promoted. Yet, this was memorable season for the club and its fans – their best in history at the time, in fact. From that angle – too bad they were not promoted.
Dunav (Rousse) clinched 2nd place and was promoted. Like Arda, they finished with 45 points and goal-difference decided who goes up and who stays. Minimal advantage for Dunav – 2 goals! Dramatic promotion, but severely tainted by suspect activities in their favour. Anyhow, the squad – sitting from left: V. Kulinov, A. Nankov, L. Bayraktarov, D. Angelov, N. Borissov, R. Sabotinov.
Middle row: I. Ivanov – assistant coach, Iv. Penev, M. Stoyanov, N. Boyanov – captain, B. Bogomilov, Y. Dimitrov, K. Nakov, T. Velev – coach.
Third row: L. Brankov, K. Kolev, Z. Machev, Il. Kirchev, D. Enchev, P. Voynov.
Allarmingly poor squad… practically only Valery Kulinov and Yordan Dimitrov were somewhat familiar names, but both were also regarded as unfulfilled promises, rather quickly dismissed by CSKA. Of course, today one can point at Anatoly Nankov, but he played for the national team years later – in 1987-88 he was just young broom, a promising player and no more than that. The trouble was that for a long time no significant talent emerged in Rousse and Dunav had to recruit players from elsewhere – and every year ‘the mercenaries’ were of lower and lower quality. Suffice to point out Lyuben Brankov, the back-up goalkeeper of the wonderful team Marek had in the second half of the 1970s: he very rarely appeared for Marek and now, already 32 years old, he had less than 100 games combined (in First and Second Division) – 58 in the top league (most of them for Dunav) and 29 in the Second Division. And this was his last season for Dunav (only to be replaced with a similar keeper). Dunav’s situation in the 1980s was meandering between first and second division – very short spells in the top, practically immediate relegation, and longish spells in the second level, eventually ending with difficult and, on this occasion, suspect promotion. The future did not seem bright at all – it was almost sure that Dunav would not stay long in First Division.
Cherno more (Varna) easily won the championship with 50 points. 20 wins, 10 ties, 8 losses, 57-36 goal-difference. Perhaps not very exiting record, but they finished 5 ahead of Dunav and Arda and were practically unchallenged during the season by anybody, so they had the opportunity to relax now and then not caring for a particular match. Sitting from left: T. Atanassov, Iv. Stoyanov, M. Bakardzhiev, Chr. Kotev, T. Vazharov.
Middle row: D. Vankov – masseur, B. Bilyalov – assistant coach, G. Kostov, St. Bachev, Yu. Christov, Iv. Petrov, O. Radev, Y. Filipov, B. Kolev – coach.
Top row: G. Ganchev – steward, T. Marev – captain, N. Nikolov, G. Stoychev, B. Christov, Kr. Lechev, N. Kapandzhiev – doctor.
The best rounded and quite equal to mid-table top league squad, but not without problems. The former star of CSKA Bozhil Kolev obviously did good work at the helm of his original club, where he ended his playing career as well, but it was not easy ride. Cherno more had difficult time recovering from the bribing scandal few years ago, when they lost half of their team to suspensions. With clipped wings, Cherno more suffered and eventually was relegated. Rebuilding was still going on and the squad was still shaky – a backbone of esteemed, but dangerously aging veterans (Todor Marev – 34, Todor Atanassov – 34, Ivan Petrov – 33), practically no solid player at prime age (only Milen Bakardzhiev – 27 – and he was second-rater) and various promising, but inexperienced youngsters, whose future development was yet unknown. Goalkeeping was severe problem, solved for the moment by rather desperate mean: Yordan Filipov was invited. He was 42 years old! About 5 years older than former CSKA teammate and now his coach Bozhil Kolev. Sure, Filipov was more than well-respected name – a part of the winning teams of CSKA for a long, long time (lastly winning the title with them in 1986-87, as a reserve), national team regular for years, champion of Malta, when he played there. Amazingly long career, which unjustly was not celebrated and somewhat kept in obscurity – at the time, he was a record maker: most likely the oldest player ever in the history of the country. By 1988 his daughter was champion of Bulgaria and national team in vollyball – and he was still active player! And winner as well – it may have been only Second Division, but it also one more title for him. Plus a chance to add a Cup, for Cherno more had really successful season. All that was great, but age is age… and for Cherno more to look for a player over 40 meant big problem without solution (a bit ahead: for the next season Filipov remained and one more veteran was added to the team, the new addition really revamped from dusty obscurity – in the early 1970s Kostadin Kostadinov was part of talented and successful Bulgarian under-20 national team. Naturally, a good career was expected of him, but that failed to materialize. Kostadinov was for awhile a reserve keeper of his original club, Spartak Varna, and then disappeared in small Second Division clubs. It was big desperation to call a 32-years old keeper with a total of 38 First Division appearances in hope of replacing a 42-years old. Needless to say Kostadinov did not make a sensation). Of course, looming retirements of the key players were a problem too – personal ambition to end their careers playing in the top league perhaps insured at least one more season depending on the veterans, but longer? If Todor Marev impressed from the very start, currently no young player was showing leadership potential. Todor Marev and Ivan Petrov played for the national team – none of the youngsters now seemed to be potential national team player. They even did not look like becoming sturdy dependable players like Todor Atanassov. Rebuilding was not completed, there were gaps to fill, new leaders to discover somehow and somewhere to create a new strong skeleton of the team. Cherno more deserved to play in the First Division, but the future was not exactly bright.