Bulgaria

Bulgaria
www.bfunion.bg [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

Despite being a relatively young thing, football is the most popular sport in all of Bulgaria. We say ‘relatively young’ because football took its time to spread around Bulgaria after its introduction to the country in 1893. Unlike most sports it didn’t arrive courtesy of a British worker or expat but was instead brought into Bulgaria by Swiss gymnastics teachers who were invited into the country to teach.

The city enjoyed its first football match in 1894 when a game was played in Varna’s High School for Boys under the somewhat more exciting name of ‘kickball’. The rules of the fame were published in the country for the first time in 1897 and, interestingly, a Bulgarian named Blagoy Balakchiev was one of the founding members of the famous successful Turkish football team Galatasaray.

Introduction to Bulgarian Football

On the international stage the Bulgarian national side have never really been able to make a lasting impression. In fact, one of the most interesting facts about the Bulgaria team is that they turned down an invitation to participate in the 1930 World Cup, six years after the team was formed for its first ever game, because it was being held in Uruguay and the players couldn’t take that much time off work. It may have been just as well that they didn’t travel, given that the country’s first ever match was a 6-0 loss to Austria in Vienna.

From 1930 until 1960 Bulgaria failed to qualify for any international tournament. It was often a case of being a ‘close call’, with the national side reaching the play-off stage but failing to make it to the competition proper. Once they did break their duck, however, they were flying. They qualified for the 1962 tournament in Chile before following that up with qualification in the 1966, 1970 and 1974 tournaments. Sadly they never made it out of the group stage in any of the tournaments during that time.

In this section of the website we’ll tell you all about the types of stadiums that exist in Bulgaria as well as how the country’s league system operates. We’ll also tell you some more information about the national side’s accomplishments and some more about the history of football in Bulgaria. Stop yawning.

Bulgarian Stadiums

There really are an incredibly wide ranging amount of stadiums in Bulgaria, in both size and style. The truth is that football might be the country’s most popular sport but that doesn’t automatically mean that the grounds in play there are in any way similar to the behemoths you’d find in the likes of Spain, Italy and England. The country’s largest stadium, for example, is the Vasil Levski National Stadium, which boasts a capacity of around 43,000.

Most of the grounds are actually about half of that size, with plenty able to host less than 10,000 people. It is not written in stone, of course, but generally speaking most of the stadiums tend to be in the ‘English Style’ of having a stand on each edge of the pitch. There are some that are more ‘European Style’ in their appearance, with a continuous bowl of seating running around the perimeter of the playing surface, but they do tend to be rarer.

Bulgarian Leagues

The Bulgarian football league system operates in a manner than allows the lowliest team in the country to dream of one day becoming champions of Bulgaria. This is because there are a series of inter-connected leagues, linked by a system of promotion from one or demotion to another. There are two professional leagues in operation, somewhat imaginatively called the First Professional Football League and the Second Professional Football League. Immediately below these are four amateur leagues made up of eighteen teams in each and split into their geographical location.

Fourteen teams compete in the First Professional Football League, previously known A Group. The league season is split into two sections. Firstly is the standard league season where each team plays all of the others in the division once at home and once away. After each team has played 26 games the playoffs begin. In this phase the teams from first through to sixth play another two games against each other to decide who will be the champions. The teams from seventh to fourteenth, meanwhile, are split into Group A and Group B. They play against each once to decide which teams will remain in the league and which will be relegated. To be honest, it’s complicated.

Bulgaria National Team

Bulgaria didn’t get off to the best of starts as a national side, losing their first game 6-0 and failing to qualify for a major tournament until 1962. The period from 1930 until 1962 is known colloquially as ‘the wilderness years’. During this time the only tournaments that Bulgaria qualified for were small ones such as the Balkan Cup. Having qualified for the FIFA World Cup in 1962 and managed the same achievement in 1966, the Bulgaria national side qualified for its first UEFA European Championships in 1968. The made it out of the group but lost to the eventual champions Italy in the quarter-final.

1968 was a good year for Bulgaria. Not only did they reach the quarters of the Euros at the first time of asking but they also won a Silver medal in the Summer Olympics. They were beaten by Hungary in an entertaining final. Their best performance in a World Cup came in 1994 when they made it to the semi-final stage. Once again it was Italy who would prove to be their nemesis, beating them 2-1 in New York City. They played Sweden in the third-fourth place play-off, but by then their race was run. Having travelled across the country they lost 4-0 to the Swedes in the Pasadena Rose Bowl. Some small consolation came in the form of Hristo Stoichkov winning the Golden Boot alongside Russia’s Oleg Salenko.

Key Stats

Bulgaria National Team Statistics
Year Formed 1924
Home Stadium Vasil Levski National Stadium
Stadium Capacity 44,000
Major Honours None
Current Manager Ivaylo Petev
Top Scorer Dimitar Berbatov
Most Caps Stiliyan Petrov
Best Performance at World Cup Fourth (1994)
Best Performance at European Championships Quarter-Finals (1968)
Kit Colours Red, White and Green (Home), Red and Green (Away)

History Of Football In Bulgaria

Having been introduced to the country by two Swiss gymnastic teachers in 1893, it took some time for football to really take hold of people’s imaginations in Bulgaria. Futbol Club was the imaginatively named first football club in the country, formed in Sofia in 1909. PFC Botev Plovdiv followed suit in 1912 and PFC Slavia Sofia was formed in 1913.

PFC Levski Sofia was formed in 1914, a full decade before the national team had their debut in that infamous 6-0 loss to Austria in a World Cup qualifying match. The team that is now known as PFC CSKA Sofia, one of Bulgaria’s most successful clubs, was formed on the 5th of May 1948. Modern football has been something of a disappointment in the country, with corruption rife. Between 2003 and 2013 fifteen different club bosses of teams in the top division in Bulgaria were murdered.