Bulgaria III Division

Bulgaria. Ranked 22nd. Observe: the heroes of the 1994 World Cup were not only playing, but were pretty much all of them national team regulars. With all that talent – 22nd! The key for such a mystery was the system… no matter what the Communist Party proclaimed and ordered, the problems originated from its very rule and they were deeply entrenched. So, in 1985 the Party ‘destroyed’ the most powerful clubs, demanded reforms – one of them reorganizing the clubs into professional clubs and the players became officially professionals. So what? By 1987 the ministry of defense and the Police were again running the biggest clubs, reestablishing old practices and dominance. The Army even did not hide its involvement in the its club: it was not CSKA, but CFCA Sredetz – that is Central Football Club of the Army ‘Sredetz’. And everybody knew that the Police was running Levski, that the name ‘Vitosha’ was just empty sham. Both teams were back to their old power and dominance, heavily supported by their ‘sponsors’, which at the end was the Communist Party… what change, then? Old scheming and machinations continued… carefully hiding scandalous practices at the top by punishing the bottom. So, this year two teams were found guilty of using illegible players in the qualifications for promotion to Third Division. They were disqualified immediately… what was interesting, though, was that those rule violators played against each other. Most likely informing on each other and thus caught both. It is easy and even reasonable to think it was wide-spread practice. Second Division provided another scandal, which is well remembered and, with time, mythologized by everyone involved, so no truth could be discovered. Actually, there were two scandals, now weaved into one. In the last round of the Second Division championship Neftohimik (Bourgas) hosted Madara (Shumen). The match ended 6-2 Neftohimik. With this win Neftohimik escaped relegation. However, it was discovered – and the Federation boasted it was ‘proven without any doubt’ – that the match was deliberately started late, both teams in agreement to drag the starting time, so to be able to know the final result of another game early and finish with result benefiting Neftohimik. The decision of the Federation was to not give any points for this match and that way Neftohimik ended relegated. Justice prevailed… really? On one hand there is the myth among the Shumen fans that their ‘strong’ team was constantly wronged by schemes of Dunav (Rousse) and was practically denied promotion to the top division by illegal means approved by the Federation – mostly unjust refereeing of their games, so to be insured that Dunav and not Madara will be promoted. True? False? Who would know, but there was no denying that Madara was caught in giving away the match against Neftohimik. Further, Dunav was involved in another accusations – they were really battling with Arda (Kradzhali) for promotions and the game between them in Kardzhali was decisive. Those, who saw the match – not just Arda supporters, but journalists and neutral fans – tell that the match was obviously ‘doctored’ in favour of Dunav. Nothing could be printed at the time, so only rumors existed, but one reason, going directly to the top of the Communist Party is that Arda and to certain extend Madara were to be kept down for political reasons – the regions Arda and Madara belong are predominantly Turkish populated. To avoid possibility of political protests via football, better keep those teams down, Arda especially, because Kradzhali region is at the Turkish border – the shameful renaming of the Bulgarian Turks created tensions and the Communist Party wanted to avoid possible escalations and protests. So, Dunav, sitting on the Romanian border, was safer choice… nothing could be proven, of course, but at the end Dunav prevailed by 2 goals better goal-difference over Arda. As for Madara, their own myth was largely fueled by the promotion of Dunav – their argument was largely based on the fact that Dunav did not have great team, added by the suspect game against Arda. However, if Dunav did not have strong team, Arda and Madara were similarly pedestrian. Rumors, growing into myths, but the fact is the system was corrupt as ever and the measures against corruptions were only cosmetic – only small clubs were found guilty and punished. It was laughable… and unbelievable, especially after 1985’s Party heavy-handed punishment of the leading clubs – one season the Army and the Police were kept away from football and provincial Praty bosses were too scared to use their own schemes and the champion was a provincial club, never winning a title before, no matter how good team they may have had. Then everything returned to the ‘normal’ and CSKA (CFCA Sredetz) and Levski (Vitosha) dominated again, and corruption continued as ever before. Once the Army and the Police came back, the precarious equality disappeared and the big clubs were back to their old habits to take whoever player they want from any club and there was no way to come even close to them anymore. Back to normal – CSKA and Levski on top, everybody else out of the picture. Meantime, reforms and experiments were seemingly over: no longer a limit of the ties, no more relegation play-offs, no more ‘junior’ teams of the First Division clubs playing in Third Division. What remained was that in Third Division 3 points were given for a win (the top two divisions kept ‘classic’ system – 2 points for a win) and the reduction of Third Division from 6 groups to 4. And a curious Army league was played – curious, because the Army had First Division clubs for years and some other Army teams played in the lower levels previously. Why such separate championship since CSKA never looked for players in the Army system? There was also established for a very long time separate ‘academic’ championship between University teams and yet at least two teams were playing in the normal championships – Akademik (Sofia) and Akademik (Svishtov). The possible reason for such Army and University championships could be that they were the closest to real amateur teams. It is hard to see why such teams were not included in the 4th Division, though.
Anyhow, let’s go ahead: Third Division. Geographically divided into 4 groups of 18 teams each. The champions were promoted to Second Division. Along with decline, reorganizations played a big role in the make of Third Division – since a few years ago the Second Division was larger and divided into groups as well, the amalgamated Second Division relegated a big number of clubs, some not only playing for years Second Division football, but some even playing in the First Division. This, the Third Division now was made largely of former Second Division clubs – in theory, most of them were eager to get back to their familiar league and the battle for promotion will be fierce. To a point, it was, but the expected increased quality of game and players did not materialize. After all, quality is not achieved by order. Some clubs, used to ‘eternal’ comfortable vegetation in Second Division appeared actually stunned finding themselves at third level – Svetkavitza (Targovishte), Septemvriyska Slava (Mikhailovgrad – today Montana), to name but a two. After so many years keeping teams just good enough to ensure mid-table place in Second Division, now they were unable to climb back – mediocrity had a heavy price, they seemed unable to grasp the reality and change their habits. After all, they were not properly relegated because they weak – they were relegated by a fiat. But their players had the habit of ‘mid-table’ – lower league, higher league, they were not winners, they were mid-table guys… That apart, the battles were still between former Second Division teams and only such teams all every group of Third Division.
Southeastern Group: Lokomotiv (Stara Zagora- won the championship with 72 points. They came ahead of another former Second Division club – Asenovetz (Asenovgrad) – by 1 point. Lokomotiv benefited from their big neighbors Beroe – a whole bunch of aging Beroe players were playing for Lokomotiv now. They were the core good enough to propel Lokomotiv back to Second Division.
Southwestern Group: Belasitza (Petrich), Rilski sportist (Samokov), and Akademik (Sofia) fought for first place – two former members of First Division and one former Second Division member. Akademik eventually got the upper hand and finished first with 67 points. Unfortunately, Akademik was unable to build a team even remotely closer to their great squads of the 1970s – times changed. A ‘students’ club was unable to provide enough money for good players in times when players were officially professional – before they were able to compensate with easily given degree, now it was not enough.
Northwestern Group:
Cherveno zname (Pavlikeni) clinched first place, finishing 1 point ahead of Kom (Berkovitza). Both teams used to play in the Second Division before, but nor regularly and to a point it was surprising they were at the top now – it was expected already mentioned Septemvriyska slava (Mikhailovgrad) to win: they, presumably, were the richest club in the group, the only one coming from a regional capital and not from a small town. But, apparently ‘stunned’, they finished 7th and were not a factor at all.
Northeastern Group:
Lokomotiv (Rousse) won the battle with Dorostol (Silistra) by 4 points difference, the biggest difference a winner built this season. Like their rivals, they used to play Second Division before, quite frequently. Sitting from left: P. Kirilov, Il. Minchev, Zl. Zlatev, St. Yordanov, Iv. Ignatov, R. Monev.
Middle row: Iv. Andonov, Sv. Ivanov, D. Atanassov, At. Tzanov – assistant coach, N. Christov – coach, A. Issaev, E. Kolev, Iv. Vetronov.
Top row: D. Christov – administrator, D. Totev. V. Gornachki, T. Filipov, Il. Yankov, B. Popov – medic.
Now, Lokomotiv, the smaller second club in the city of Rousse, had a checkered history of ups and downs, mostly related to financing – on occasion they did not have a team at all, barely existing, if not entirely folding, before reemerging again. More than Second Division was hardly ever their aim, as usually was with second clubs in relatively smaller cities. But as a second club, their fate largely depended on the current situation of the ‘big’ local clubs – usually, team like Lokomotiv had a number of players discarded by the ‘big’ neighbor for getting old or something else. Such players often were good – good enough for Second Division, that is. However, recently Dunav (Rousse), the ‘big’ neighbor, had problem with talent and increasingly depended on out-of-town recruits, who had little desire to stay for long with Dunav, let alone settling in Rousse for good. The result was that Lokomotiv had not even one familiar player right now – the only big name in the team was their young coach Nikola Christov, a legend of Dunav, a prolific scorer, who even played for CSKA in the 1970s and the national team. He promoted Lokomotiv back to Second Division, but the team needed some reinforcements. The case of all Third Division winners this season, actually.