Page update: 01 January 2000

Bulgarian Football

Football in Bulgaria has its deep origins back in the remote past.

About ten Swiss sportsmen were invited to become teachers of gymnastics at the high schools and pedagogical schools in Bulgaria in 1893-94. One of these Swisses was George De Regibeaus, who introduced a game with a big ball to the male high school in Varna, and after that the Bulgarians began referring to it for a short period of time as a 'ritnitop' ( in Bulgarian, 'ritni!' means 'kick!', and 'top' was most probably an abbreviation of 'topka', meaning 'ball' ). Afterwards, the game made a step forward as the Swiss Carl Champeau made the students of the First Sofian High School aware of the game. The teachers from Switzerland, Allois Buhnter and Jacques Fardel, published the rules of the game in 1897 in the 'Uchilishten pregled' magazine ( 'Review of the school' in Bulgarian ).

In the meantime, the first gymnastic societies were established in 1895 and 'Yunak' ( in Bulgarian, 'hero' ) was the result of their union in 1898. In the early years of the 20th century the popularity of the game was growing amongst the Bulgarian adolescents. There were a lot of young Bulgarians, who went to the lycea of 'Galatasaray' and 'Robert College' in Istanbul so as to continue their education there, and the Bulgarian football organiser Blagoi Balakchiev was one of the founders of the football club 'Galatasaray'. On the other hand, Sava Kirov was the originator of the 'Football Club' in the summer of 1909 in Sofia and it is considered that this is when Bulgarian football became official. The societies Botev and Razvitie united on April 10 1913 and the result was the establishment of FC Slavia. One of the most popular football teams, FC Levski, was set up on May 24 1914. The Bulgarian national sport federation, which controlled and headed the football in Bulgaria until September 9 1944, was founded on December 16-17 1923.

The Bulgarian national team made its debut on May 21 1924 at the Olympic Games in Paris, when Bulgaria lost the game against the Austrian Wonderteam by 0-6. However, they were about to make the biggest surprise the following week, because 15 minutes before the end of the match between Bulgaria and Ireland the result was 0-0. Unfortunately, the referee didn't allow this to happen and didn't react as he should have when the Irishmen scored the winner from an obvious off-side. The national team won the Balkan Cup in 1932 in Beograd and again in 1935, this time in Sofia.

At this time, the Bulgarian national team had to experience its biggest defeat: the disastrous 0-13 loss in Madrid against Spain.

After the war, Bulgarian football didn't stop developing and on May 5 1948 the most successful Bulgarian football team was born -FC CSKA Sofia, and when Krum Milev was the coach of the team, they became champions 11 times. CSKA has reached the semi-finals of the European Cup twice, and once the semi-finals of the European Cup Winners Cup trophey.

There were also many spectacular footballers in the 1950s like Ivan Kolev, Krum Yanev, Manol Manolov, Stefan Bozhkov, Georgi Naidenov, Panayot Panayotov - Gatzo, Kiril Rakarov, and most of them were part of the 'Bronze' olympic team, who came third in the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956.

Twenty years later the Bulgarian national team was again very close to the top, but lost 1:4 from Hungary in the final. In the same year (1968) Bulgaria played two quarter-finals for the Euro '68 and although they couldn't manage to do anything against the future European champion, they came 5th in Europe.

One of the greatest Bulgarian footballers, Georgi Asparuhov, played in the 1960s and he became a legend very fast. He died in 1971, and was voted posthumously the Best Bulgarian footballer of the century.

Bulgaria participated in the 1962 World Cup in Chili but they had to leave the competition very fast because they couldn't get to the next stage. The same thing happened in England in 1966, 1970 in Mexico, and at the WC 1974. The Bulgarian national team managed to pass the first stage in Mexico 1986 although they didn't manage to win a game, and they were then beaten in the quarter-finals by the host of the World Cup.

A new star was shining, this time in the late 80s and the early 90s, and it was called Hristo Stoitchkov, the most successful Bulgarian footballer. He won the European Cup with his team FC Barcelona in 1992.

Probably the most important date for Bulgarian football is November 17 1993, when Emil Kostadinov scored two goals against France in Paris and that's how Bulgaria managed to qualify for the World Cup in the USA in 1994. Under the management of Dimitar Penev - Stratega, the Bulgarians made a furore and eliminated the world champion, Germany with a shocking 2-1 win. There were really a lot of people celebrating the win in Sofia, Varna and some other cities in Bulgaria and the people was very happy with their golden boys. Then the Bulgarians played against Italy in the semi-finals, but with the score 2-1 for the Italians the referee from Cameroon stayed perfectly still when there was an obvious foul against the Bulgarians in the Italian penalty area. Hristo Stoichkov became the joint top scorer of this World Cup by scoring 6 goals along with the Russian Oleg Salenko.

In 1996, the team qualified for the Euro '96 for the first time in history, and they beat the future European champion Germany with 3-2 in Sofia on June 7 1995.

The end of this glorious generation of these football magicians came in France `98, when the Bulgarians didn't manage to beat anyone and got back in Bulgaria with a disappointing series of 1 draw and 2 defeats.

Bulgaria misses next two bigest chamionships (Eurocup Belgium & Holland 2000 and Worldcup Korea 2002) and is on Euro 2004 in Portugal where have 3 defeats (0:5 from Sweeden, 0:2 from Danmark, 1:2 from Italy).

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