Saturday, February 28, 2009

Alexander Kostov, or simply Sasho, ended his career in 1971. Born in 1938, he played for Levsky (Sofia) from 1955 to 1971, except in the 1960-61 season, when he was called for military service and played for Botev (Plovdiv) as most Levsky’s players of his generation did when soldiering. Sasho played 301 games and scored 78 goals (20 games and 13 goals for Botev; the rest for Levsky). He also played 7 games for the national team and scored 1 goal.
The last greeting to the public.

It is not his goals and trademark moves of the left winger which made him one of the most loved and long remembered players of Levsky, however. Sasho is a legend because of his pranks and jokes – his ability to entertain the fans. For this ability fans forgave him anything and coaches put up with him. A brief selection:
The goalkeeper missed the cross and Sasho got the ball in front of wide open net. The goalie did not bother the get up; both teams started walking to the centre – it was absolutely obvious goal. But Sasho stopped the ball in front of the goal line and addressed the goalie in words and obvious to the crowd gestures: ‘come on, get up, don’t lay in the dust. Stand up, like a man’. The goalie could not believe and did not move at first, so Sasho encouraged him a little more, until the keeper get up and actually rushed for the ball. Only then Sasho gently kicked it in the net, just enough to cross the goal line.
Levsky was playing against Lokomotiv (Sofia) and Kotkov (still a Lokomotiv player) was preparing for a corner kick against Levsky. ‘Kitten, pass me the ball, please’, said Sasho, who was supposed to be defending. ‘I’ll pass it back to you.’ ‘You are going to make fool of me’, answered suspicious Kotkov, who knew Sasho well enough to trust him. ‘I promise you!’, said Sasho sweetly. Kotkov risked it and pass the ball to… an opposition player. Sasho elegantly passed the ball back with a header. On both accasions Sasho was suspended by the Federation for ‘putting the game in disrepute’ and ‘making mockery of the fans’. But the fans even of opposite teams did not feel offended – they loved the pranks and laughed heartily.

Sasho was dangerous left wing and often the other team’s coach dispatched a defender to keep an eye on Kostov through the game personally, doing nothing else. Once a young player was to do this and Sasho felt the guy was too zealous… so when a pass came to him, he just stopped the ball, leaving it motionless a bit away from himself. Sasho stayed motionless too, and so was the defender watching him tensely. Suddenly Sasho dashed ahead and the defender followed him. But the ball remained where it was, Sasho run without it. Then he returned back and did the same one more time, and the defender again run after him and not for the ball. Sasho came back, kicked the ball a little more away from himself and started looking around seemingly absent minded. The defender finally mastered some courage and run for the ball – and in the very last moment Sasho reached for it, tricked the defender and attacked when the defender, kept by his own momentum was still running in the opposite direction.

Two verbal jokes from the legendary 7-2 win against the archenemy CSKA are still well remembered. During the match Sasho approached CSKA’s right winger Tzvetan Atanasov: ‘Tzetzo, they tell me you are the fastest player in CSKA. Is this right?’ ‘Yes’, answered Atanasov, ‘I am.’ ‘Good’, said Sasho innocently. ‘Why don’t you dash to your stadium (CSKA’s stadium is practically next to the National stadium where the derby was played) and bring the score board from there. See, there is no more space on this one for names of goal scorers.’ After the game Sasho commented the fact that CSKA scored the first and last goal in the game: ‘Oh, we let them score first to see how many fans they have. We let them score the last goal to see how many remained.’ At least Levsky’s fans saw double-edged joke: it sounded just innocent comment on the fate of CSKA’s fans in this game, but it also was interpreted to be a comment on the artificial nature of CSKA – a ‘new’ and Communist founded club, they had to built support by hook and crook in the early years – it was a common practice in the early years (and kept later as well) to bring soldiers to CSKA matches. Their officers commanded the soldiers to cheer CSKA, thus presenting ‘fans’ and large crowds. It was felt that CSKA’s fans were somewhat artificial, not real fans, and if the club is not strong, they will move to other clubs.
But it was not only pranks, and jokes entertaining the fans – Sasho did not spare teammates and coaches. Once he emerged for a training session with cigarette in his mouth. Rudolf Vitlacil, the strict disciplinarian Czechoslovakian coach of Levsky and the national team, was ready to explode. But when Sasho came near and Vitlacil was just opening his mouth to shout and punish, the player took the cigarette out from his mouth, unwrapped it, and casually put it back, starting munching. It was a bubble gum, shaped as cigarette.

During the qualification match for the World Cup against Israel, Sasho saw Vitlacil getting a reserve player to warm up. Substitute was coming. ‘Gundy’, casually said Sasho to Asparukhov, ‘Vitlacil is replacing you. He just told me to tell you.’ Asparukhov was disciplined player and took the news to be true. When substitute was signaled, he went to get replaced. ‘Where are you going?’, asked him puzzled Vitlacil. ‘Well, Sasho told me I am to be replaced.’ ‘Who, the hell, is Sasho to tell you what to do?’, exploded the coach, who had in mind entirely different player to be substituted. No wonder Sasho played only times for the national team. But normally a coach had to face destruction of his tactics in very different way: Sasho was not exactly a workaholic, and did not bother to play much against obviously weaker teams. It was a staple – since the roof of Levsky’s stadium shades only half of the pitch, Sasho simply stayed in the cooler shadowy half. When teams changed sides for the second half, Sasho did not go to the sunny part of the pitch, but remained in the shadowy part, thus doubling the right winger. And becoming an extra player on this flank, he did nothing at all – just walked around, cracking jokes with teammates, the opposite team, the referees, and sometime with the fans. There was nothing on earth to move him under the merciless rays of sunshine. The fans normally do not tolerate laziness, but Sasho they did and enjoyed – it was something eagerly waited to happen, and there were bets – was Sasho, by mere mistake, to expose himself to sunshine and break accidental sweat or not? The player never disappointed – from time to time he was coming dangerously close to the sunny place, it looked like he was going to enter sunny zone… but he never did. He was teasing the fans. Yes, tactics went to dust… but the public loved the pranks. When Sasho retired, a big part of old football disappeared – Sasho was fun. He constantly reminded everybody that football is not something severely serious and businesslike – it was a game after all. Something to be enjoyed. Sasho brought laughter to the stadium. For all his pranks, even his victims from other clubs did not hate him. Occasionally, like Kotkov, some players joined his prank to the delight of the fans of both teams. Football is fun. I miss the fun – it was gone when players like Sasho retired. In a way, 1971 marks the end of entertaining football. After this year it was steadily becoming more and more ‘serious’ affair, a business. No laughter… the end of laughter. Sadly, fun was gone.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Today everybody takes Paris Saint-Germain for granted – big European club. It is a new club, though – the name appeared for the first time in 1971. The history is at least confused, if not a football historian’s nightmare. In the old days football clubs were normally established by bunch of schoolboys. The newness of the venture also placed those schoolboys among the founders of national football championships – most old clubs are not only First Division clubs today, but often the most popular and successful ‘grand’ clubs of a given country. By 1970 the pioneer spirit was distant memory and whatever new clubs came into existence, they did not follow the noble tradition. Times changed. So, how to make brand new ‘big’ club? Paris was an obvious, however suspect place for that – large city lacking big football club. It was not that Paris lacked clubs – there were and are quite a few, but they were not successful and not exactly very popular. It could be said that Paris was not really a football city – the example comes from one of the oldest French clubs: Stade Francais. Continental European clubs are rarely only football clubs – more likely they are sports clubs, where football is only one section of the club. Stade Francais is just such a club and still most popular club in France, if we are talking total of supporters. But they are fans of other sports, not football… The football team of Stade Francais was strong name in the 1950s and 1960s, but by 1970 was in decline of which it never recovered. Presently, there is no attempt to ‘boost’ the football section, which kicks ball in the lower French divisions. On the other hand Stade Francais is a mighty power in the rugby universe:

Here is Stade Francais batlling Perpignan in September 2008 and leading the French rugby First Division (below):
In rugby – yes, they are popular, and wisely prefer to develop this sport. Other Parisian clubs just exist… Racing, perhaps the most successful of old clubs, has notoriously checkered history of ups and downs, renames, mergers, and folding ups. The rest are not worth even mentioning. Yet, Paris was supposed to have potential, regardless the evidence of lukewarm fans, if any. A group of ‘financial investors’ founded Paris FC (which appears differently in French statistics – FC Paris, no doubt to make it easier to navigate the confused history) with the objective of playing first division football by 1970. Different time… no more school kids, it was businessmen by late 1960s, and not losing money, if profit is not achievable, was of primary importance. But the different time was also obstacle – no school kids, but no first division either: a new club had to start from the lowest division in already structured football system. Starting from the bottom was not exactly what ‘investors’ have in mind – the bottom spells loss of money. The solution was a merger with another club, all the more urgent, because Paris FC had no players – it existed only as a name. The first attempt was to merge with CS Sedan – but the Paris Mayor’s office refused to accept it. Now, why politicians would interfere in football matters? Simple – the new club was to be financed, at least partially, by the City of Paris. The politicians did not find the idea of financing non-Parisian club attractive. Paris FC merged with Stade Saint-Germain in 1970, a small club, founded in 1904, but achieving nothing during the years. However, they were promoted to the Second Division at the time Paris FC was looking for by-passing the structure. Thus, 1970 is the year of founding Paris Saint-Germain Football Club, as the new name came to be. Alas, there is no Paris SG in the final table of French Second Division in the 1970-71 season – there is Paris FC, finishing in the promotion zone and going up. But Paris SG is the club finishing 16th in the 20-team French First Division in 1971-72. Why the club was Paris FC the year before and Paris SG is unknown to me, but the Paris Mayor’s office was still unhappy and ordered a split. ‘Saint-Germain’ was found not sufficiently Parisian name. In May 1972 there was no more Paris SG… or was it? The professional part of the ‘old’ club joined CA Montreuil and remained in First Division as… Paris FC. The amateur part went to Third Division, named … Paris Saint-Germain. The history is mum as for where the ‘investors’ went, but looks like they stayed with Paris SG, for Paris FC went down and Paris SG – up. Paris SG won promotion to the Second Division in 1972-73 season, however, by default – the champions of Third Division, US Le Petit-Quevilly, were disqualified. The upstarts faired better in the Second Division – they finished second, and after successful play-off against Valenciennes FC, returned to professional status and First Division football. The same season Paris FC ended in the relegation zone of the First Division and with some occasional jerks in upward direction, the club generally remained downward bound after 1973. Paris FC still exists, somewhere in the lower regions, but it does not play at its original stadium – Parc des Princes. Paris SG plays there today. Once getting into First Division, Paris SG never went down, and even won two national titles. But when and where their history started? How much early history is theirs and how much belongs to Paris FC? Why 1970 is given officially as the year of foundation? Was it fair to jump to the top by non-football means? If nothing else, at least example of shrewd business – an early warning of the bitter future, when football clubs are business and nothing else.
1970: ten suits and only one jersey – new type of football club is launched. At the time, red jerseys and white shorts were the kit. Did not last. The suits were no jokers: Jean Djorkaeff is the player introduced here. You are more familiar with his son Youri Djorkaeff, of course, but the ethnic Kalmik ‘Tchouki’ was a French star on his own right in the 1960s. Weird team, though… this group of eleven does not look competitive on the field. Just look at this walking stick… or umbrella… Tchouki was Paris SG player from 1970 to 1972, then he became Paris FC player for the next two seasons… now, was he transferred from one club to another? Of course not – statisticians simply follow the transformations of the club… but Tchouki was signed by the above ‘teammates’… where were they in 1972? Paying Tchouki’s wages in Paris FC, or leaving his contract to somebody else and pulling Paris SG out of Third Division?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Brazil 1971 - first national championshipTo the European eye, it was more than to the Brazilians. Magical Brazil, the best football nation in the world, the great World Champions, finally had their national championship. Legendary clubs, legendary stars… must be the best national league in the world. And the proof was the champion – Atletico Mineiro was not exactly famous club in Europe. Therefore, imagine this new league must be like: hidden treasures, great matches. Yet, who were Atletico Mineiro after all? At home, the reception was somewhat different: the national championship brought more grumbling than anything. The big clubs preferred to play their traditional state championships – less travel, bigger intrigue, more traditional derbies, larger crowds. At the bottom, club politics and fear of the unknown lurked, remained, and tainted the championship – to this day, the championship is uncertain affair. Big clubs boycotted it at least once; big clubs refused to be relegated and the Federation had to accommodate their demands. The very format changes constantly – there were more than 40 clubs participating at one point. From the beginning it was a mixed tournament: the original 20 teams met once with each other, then the top layer played similar to a cup format second leg, ending with final tournament of three teams, playing round-robin. Thus, the final table is strange to European eye: some teams ended with 27 games, others – with 19. It was designed to be attractive and to accommodate big clubs, especially if they made mistakes in the first phase. But it was not easy to pacify the grand clubs: they complained of losing away games, without having a chance to remedy the damage at home. They fielded second teams, preserving the real stars for the old state championships – still, the championship of Rio and Sao Paulo counted more for Flamengo, Fluminense, Vasco da Gama, Sao Paulo, Santos, etc. At the end, the national championship was not well received even by the fans – for a football crazy nation, the crowds at the national championship were small. With the years, even the history is bit muddled: there were four earlier tournaments, which, depending on the statistician, either count, or not count, as national championships. I suspect, big clubs rather prefer to count them, for they were slow to achieve success in the early years of the league. Not good for reputation somehow.
The first final table probably was not to the liking of most clubs – Santos with Pele ended 9th; Flamengo – 14th, and Fluminense – 16th. The legendary clubs of Rio’s ‘Flu-Fla’ derby did not make it even to the second stage… Flamengo winning only 4 games during the season. Perhaps even Sport (Recife) grumbled – small as they were from Rio-Sao Paulo point of view, they were ‘grand’ club in their home state, and it was ‘offensive’ to finish second from last. And the matches were no fun either… curiously, little football magic was displayed on the field. There is little magic now as well, so a new tradition of cautious, boring, and often ugly football was built in the land of football samba.Participants

América FC (Belo Horizonte-MG) Fluminense FC (Rio de Janeiro-GB) América FC (Rio de Janeiro-GB) Grêmio FBPA (Porto Alegre-RS) C Atlético Mineiro (Belo Horizonte-MG) SC Internacional (Porto Alegre-RS) EC Bahia (Salvador-BA) SE Palmeiras (São Paulo-SP) Botafogo FR (Rio de Janeiro-GB) A Portuguesa de Desportos (São Paulo-SP)Ceará SC (Fortaleza-CE) Santa Cruz FC (Recife-PE) SC Corinthians Paulista (São Paulo-SP) Santos FC (SP) Coritiba FC (Curitba-PR) São Paulo FC (SP) Cruzeiro EC (Belo Horizonte-MG) Sport Clube do Recife (PE)CR Flamengo (Rio de Janeiro-GB) CR Vasco da Gama (Rio de Janeiro-GB)


1.Atlético-MG 2 2 0 0 2- 0 4 Champions

2.São Paulo 2 1 0 1 4- 2 2

3.Botafogo 2 0 0 2 1- 5 0

Final Table

1.Atlético-MG 27 12 10 5 39-22 34

2.São Paulo 27 10 10 7 26-23 30

3.Botafogo 27 8 12 7 27-27 28

4.Corinthians 25 12 7 6 33-21 31

5.Internacional 25 10 10 5 28-23 30

6.Grêmio 25 10 9 6 24-18 29

7.Palmeiras 25 9 10 6 27-20 28

8.Cruzeiro 25 8 12 5 28-17 28

9.Santos 25 9 9 7 24-16 27

10.Coritiba 25 11 4 10 23-25 26

11.América-GB 25 8 10 7 27-21 26

12.Vasco da Gama 25 7 9 9 15-22 23

13.Bahia 19 5 8 6 14-16 18

14.Flamengo 19 4 10 5 13-17 18

15.Santa Cruz 19 3 11 5 17-23 17

16.Fluminense 19 5 6 8 12-13 16

17.Portuguesa 19 6 3 10 16-24 15

18.América-MG 19 2 9 8 11-19 13

19.Sport 19 4 4 11 10-27 12

20.Ceará 19 2 5 12 5-25 9

Atletico Mineiro was the surprise champions, at least to the Europeans. A team with no stars really. Only two players of the team donned the famous yellow jersey of the national team – the goalkeeper Renato and the forward Dario.
Renato played a total of two matches for Brazil. He was a reserve in the 1974 squad, and did not play a minute. In 1971 he was not considered a possibility for the national team at all – he played his games for Brazil in later years.
Dario or Dada Maravilha (Dada the Wonder) was much more famous. A prolific goal-scorer, he was a minor legend. He scored the key goal in the last game, thus winning the title for Atletico Mineiro. So far, so good… he had a long career, and in the shaky world of Brazilian statisticians, sometimes he is considered the third all-time goal-scorer after Pele and Romario. But nobody invited the Wonder to the national team… until the Brazilian President Emilio Garrastazu Medici interfered in 1969. The official version is that: Medici called the national coach and asked him to include Dario in the squad. The coach refused… and he was coach no more. Mario Zagallo was appointed and he did not refuse the polite asking of Medici. Dario was a member of the 1970 World Champions. Zagallo obviously played safe: it was no use to refuse a President and a military President at that. In the same time, there was no need to play Dario… as long as the team was winning. Because of such political maneuvers, today is quite difficult to establish how many games Dario played for Brazil – I discovered a total of 11, scattered here and there from 1971 to 1973. All of them friendlies, some against clubs, not against national teams (so I am not even certain those count by FIFA rules), and almost always Dario came as a substitute. Seems to me, he was of this strange breed of players, who play great club football, fans adore them, but never fit into the national squad, and never play well with national jersey. Nevertheless, Atletico Mineiro with Renato and Dario were the first Brazilian champions, leaving behind clubs featuring Pele, Tostao, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Zico, Gerson, etc, etc, etc… Isn’t football great just because of unpredictability?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lastly, the West German bribery scandal in 1971. The shame. The scandal shattered the image of North-West European football, the bastion of fairness. Bribes and corruption were South American, South European, and East European atrocities; they belonged to dark, underdeveloped people. Northern football was sparkling clean… until the shock of Germans bribing Germans, and scheming, and fixing results. The scandal was discussed earlier, no need to repeat it here. Except for one last point: North-Western Europeans are always quick to point accusing finger at the corrupt Southerners: they not only bribe, but when caught nothing happens to the guilty. Well, what exactly happened in fair West Germany? Not much really, when it came to punishment of the guilty.
Manfred Manglitz
Bernd Patzke – two of the big culprits.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

French clubs deviated: they had routinely numbers on the front as well. For a soccer nut, gathering information largely from photos, it was great – seeing the numbers on team picture, one instantly knew who was playing what. This helped with unknown teams; in terms of playing football, there was no significance. There was the odd European club showing front numbers here and there, but only the French had it somewhat uniformly. May be it had been a rule of the French Football Federation, I don’t know. Typically, the numbers were small and unobtrusive. But in 1971 suddenly the numbers were big – as big as the normal numbers on the back. It was strange and funny back then, and still is – European football fan is conservative: he likes traditions and opposes innovations – front giant numbers were silly. Not serious. Not becoming. Ridiculous.
A.S. Nancy-Lorraine 1971-72
Back, left to right: Magiera, Woltrager, Lopez, Lemerre, Formica, Lanini
Front: Wiberg, Druda, Kuszowski, Zenier, Mariot.
Well, now you know that Woltreger was the stopper and Wiberg – the right winger. But look at the size of these numbers! What exactly purpose they serve? Football fans tend to know well their stars, numbers or no numbers. Whoever is not recognized by sight is not worth knowing anyway. But may be I am talking some obscure old stuff: how possibly one can know today who is who without name written on the shirt, personal number, and large-screen introductory close-ups? Squads change too often to be remembered. And new culture in cultivated: one knows Beckam because his name is written on his shirt and countless merchandise. I fear, wthout the written name, the contemporary fan may never be able to discover if Beckam plays or not. Football culture became Americanized – you don’t have to know by heart; you have to be specifically informed. Fans abandoned memory (not big surprise – fans are famous for other things, but not brains.) Big numbers at the late 1960s and early 1970s belonged to the laughable American soccer (and I am not talking of NASL, ‘the graveyard for European footballers’, as Gianni Rivera called it, but the American soccer before NASL): they had big front numbers (borrowed by the American football, no doubt about it) to accommodate the ignorant Americans. Did not help in North America, so why the French introduced the practice in Europe? Since the French were not big enthusiasts of American culture? Anyway, European football experts (fans) laugh and sneer at pathetic and ignorant in football matters Americans. Big numbers were synonymous to exactly that: pathetic ignorance. Something to laugh about. What next? Football on baseball grounds? No wonder French football was weak – copying the Yanks just proved it. On a serious note – if one can find such – it was strange fancy, luckily not lasting long. The horror associations were just too strong:
Here is the prototype: proto-NASL match between Baltimore Bays and Detroit Cougars in 1968. Printed names, big front numbers, and, yes: the baseball pitch. A joke…
Baltimore Bays had 1 (one) US player on their roster that year. Dennis Viollet, from the famed ‘Matt Busby’s babies’ Manchester United, was in the squad – how he felt when running out of the grass and onto the dirt? But never mind, here Baltimore is not attacking, but defending. Lone Detroit striker, Barry Rowan, is prevented from may be hitting the ball by visibly vigorous defense: the Argentine Constantino ‘Gaucho’ Tejada (16), the Israeli David Primo (4, who played at World Cup 1970), and the Spanish goalkeeper Carmelo Cedrun. Meantime, Luis Cesar Menotti was navigating similar field somewhere in the USA, playing for New York Generals – how he managed to lead Argentina to World title after chasing the ball in North America is really a question worth contemplating.
In 1971 the Americans were already getting into their minds to launch NASL and to provide plenty of cash to European and other oldtimers, yet, there was nothing new in that. Many old European stars and young nobodies from Europe, South America, and Africa played for North American clubs before 1970 – Ladislao Kubala managed to play with his son for Toronto, a drastic example of combining ancient stardom with mediocrity. Big frontal numbers? Ridiculous.
Sure, Nancy had the French national Roger Lemerre and the Danish striker Finn Wiberg in 1971, but it was unimaginable a club dressed like that to produce Michel Platini. They had to drop those frontal numbers first, to show some serious attitude… they did, and Platini emerged. Puritanism orders big numbers on the back! ,

Monday, February 16, 2009

Plamen Yankov. I am not alone blaming him for the death of Gundy and Kotkov – to me, and many others especially in 1971, he was the moral murderer. If he did not play brutally against Gundy on June 28, there would not have been tragic accident on June 30.
Yankov (b. 1951) was lowly player – he played for CSKA from 1969 to 1976, and then moved to Sliven, CSKA’s satellite, where many former CSKA’s players ended their careers. Young talent was also dispatched to Sliven first, to see are they any good for the mother club, but Yankov was never good to be send to ripe in Sliven. Instead, he was a substitute in CSKA’s for years, occasionally playing a full game when CSKA had too many injured players, or the opposition was so weak, there was no point to field the stars. The post he played is the bench, but he was one of the very few homegrown CSKA players until 1980. As a rule, none among the home product ever really made it in the first team, but Yankov was bellow most, so it is somewhat strange he was kept in CSKA for 7 years. I guess, CSKA kept Yankov and other eternal benchers just to have some substitutes and full squad. I can hardly imagine another reason: this guy was bellow mediocrity – I fondly remember him in action against Minyor (Pernik). The miners were no contest, and the Army fielded deep reserves from the freezer. Yankov found himself alone about 1 m in front of Minyor’s net. High ball was coming to him and without anybody near, Yankov was to be no less but a goalscorer. That is, if he just stayed where he was, not moving at all, and letting the ball hit him and bounce off into the net. But he was tempted – he kicked the ball. It went vertically… it was impossible to miss from that position, but he missed… when the ball eventually dropped back, there were the goalie and some defense player around Yankov, someone cleared the round object away. I still laugh at the memory. Yankov, however, served another purpose – whenever CSKA needed dirty work, they fielded him. In 1971 it was not so obvious, for he was new and rarely on the field, but he played against Levski, obviously instructed just to kick Asparukhov all the time. If a leg is broken – even better. Yankov was the last bitter drop for Gundy – provocations and brutality by skill-less player, for whom CSKA clearly did not care if he was red carded or not. They did not need him for anything else, except to injure Gundy. For this I blame Yankov as a moral murderer – Gundy was heartbroken and enraged, and dispirited victim of deliberate brutality. Yet, Yankov does not qualify for classic ‘butcher’ of Gentile’s kind. Gentile was a butcher, but he also knew how to play. He was not clumsy player and the ball was not alien object to him. CSKA had – as every team does – a long string of butchers during the years, and there were some in their 1971 squad. Butchers, who also played football – tough and merciless defensemen, or neurotic and short-tempered midfielders. They were perfectly capable of breaking legs, but also of giving passes and scoring. Yankov was hopeless as a player, and generally, when on the pitch, he was a big risk for his own team. Apparently, he was willing to serve otherwise – if instructed so, he was to kill a star of the opposition. Butchering Gundy was not his only achievement – other players of the time mention Yankov with disgust: it is always the same story – he was on the field only for kicking, swearing, and spitting. Yankov was often red carded in international games, but CSKA’s coaches never fretted about that – fielding him for just brutal acts, red card was anticipated in advance; a team with Yankov was 10 men anyway. The clumsy animal ended, apart from Gundy, the career of at least one other player (I remember certainly one – a veteran centre-back of provincial team, having a ‘second wind’ and splendid season until meeting Plamen Yankov. Yankov had simple solution for the annoying defenseman preventing CSKA from scoring and winning – he broke his leg, and the player never played again.) It is revolting that Yankov got some kind of fame because of his involvement in the death of Gundy and Kotkov…
I mourned in 1971 and the tragic year is unforgettable. I still think football became poorer game when Gundy and the Kitten went up in flames.
After the tragic – to the ridiculous. A classic vision of a football player: clean front of the jersey, displaying a small club emblem on the left or right breast. On the back- big number, telling everybody the player’s post. Some teams have numbers on the front of their shorts, but not every team. Socks display no numbers. Of course, I am not speaking of contemporary look – individual numbers, imprinted name of the player, numbers in front as well, numbers on the shorts. Numbers were plain affair ‘classically’, and they were plain because originally they did not exist. If I am not mistaken, numbers became obligatory around 1939. Nobody remembered numberless teams by 1971, numbers were taken for granted, but there was till at least one leftover of the old days: Celtic (Glasgow) played without shirt numbers – they had numbers only on the shorts, but on both sides, probably to satisfy regulations, however minimally, without giving up tradition. On the other hand, Leeds United went into excess – they had numbers on their socks around 1975. Numbers on the front of shorts were mandatory in the World Cup 1974, but, in general, only numbers on the back of the shirts were required for a long time.
Celtic-Ajax 1-0, first leg ¼ finals of European Champions Cup in 1971. No numbers on Celtic jerseys – exotic, stubborn, loveable traditionalism. In sharp contrast, Ajax already played with individual numbers. Guess who won at the end.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The emergency meeting of top Party brass fueled the myth as well: nothing was published at the time, but rumors circulated and Angel Solakov was sacked. His removal was commented in political terms: according to rumor, he was anti-Soviet, and pro-Czechoslovakian, and wanting reforms, and other such nonsense, based largely on one fact – he was Levski fan. As if Levski fan equals reformer. People forgot in a day that Solakov did run the Secret Police and he was not at all mellow man, or reformer – he was running the most sinister Communist institution. So sinsister, that even the big Commie brass feared him (as in USSR KGB was feared) – and the record of the meeting shows a weird combination of ‘troubles’, resulting in something very close to vendetta. One big concern was the massive gathering at the funeral: the funeral was seen as anti-Soviet, partly because the Soviets were not to fail noticing it. So, people go the football players funeral, instead of mourning the Soviet cosmonauts. Soviet conclusion: Bulgarian Communists are drifting away from us – since nothing happens without approval from the Communist Party, the funeral was sponsored by the Bulgarian Communist Party. Heads will fall… whose heads? The Central Committee heads. The Soviet comrades already indicated ‘distress’, one member of the Central Committee disclosed, obviously briefed by the said ‘comrades’.
Out of fear, the funeral was inflated to something outwardly: the number of attendees was inflated to the dangerous sounding 200 000. ‘Provocations can be easily created in gathering of so many people’, said Grisha Filipov, one of the members of the Central Committee. Another quips that ‘the fans are his (Solakov’s) organs’. Something like a private army, which Solakov ‘organized in anti-Soviet meeting’. Did he knew that the funeral was not to coincide with the funeral of the Soviet cosmonauts? He did. Did he knew that funeral processions are reserved only for members of the Central Committee? He did. But he ignored warnings and rules, to stage this ‘anti-Soviet meeting’ of his ‘troops’, to show himself to them and build cheap glory. Conclusion? Solakov is an enemy, most likely aiming at usurping all power by a little coup, and using his ‘army’ for that. So, no mercy to him. The whole Central Committee ganged against Solakov, and he was sacked. The fears of the top brass were their own: Solakov was too powerful, and therefore, dangerous rival in the infightings for power at the top. Traditionally, a rival is ‘unmasked’ as a traitor, a hidden ‘anti-Communist’, and other similar crimes, bulked together. But there was also another fear: the fear of the masses. It was dangerous example – the precedent example of thousands ignoring warnings, orders, ‘common sense’, and going to a funeral. The masses never went to State funerals or parades, or whatever, on their own – they always had to be herded, ordered, and threatened to do so. If not for the lists of attendance kept by Party functionaries, very few would had marched on the grand parades on state holidays. Lists alone were not even enough – absentees faced sanctions. According to the record of the meeting, spontaneous gathering did not happen in Bulgaria since September 9, 1944. Since the day Communists took power. Two members of the Central Committee – Georgy Yordanov and Stoyan Karadzhov – found that very dangerous. Ironically, Karadzhov found the last spontaneous gathering of similar dimension in 1940 – according to him, the organized by the Communist Party massive welcome of the Soviet football club ‘Spartak’ Moscow, visiting Sofia to play some friendlies. Drawing strange parallels from experience, Karadzhov sees nothing but organized political action in the funeral: he cannot imagine people attending something voluntarily… and without political plan behind it. Must be anti-Communist demonstration. However, the Central Committee was right: the funeral of Asparukhov and Kotkov was the only spontaneous mass gathering in Bulgaria between 1944 and 1990. Just for that it became a myth with political overtones and phantasmagoria.
The Central Committee was so scared, they even considered the dead players an active – and guilty – enemies. They were never named in the record – instead, plural ‘those two football players’ is used accusingly and with disgust. As if they died on purpose – to organize anti-Communist meeting and to defy the Communist Party. Tricky traitors too – escaping justified punishment for their provocation, by death. Official punishment followed, however – Gundy and the Kitten were not to be mentioned in press for some time. The above was not known until recently, but because of rumors the myth grew. The myth that there was no accident, but murder. The accident was staged. The myth exists in two variations, but Kotkov is incidental in both: the target was Asparukhov. Kotkov died just because of his bad luck to travel with Gundy that day. According to the first variation, Asparukhov was killed because he became so big star and so popular, he outshined the Communist Party. Out of jealousy, the Party killed him – they couldn’t stand him been adored more than the Party. Jealousy with political overtones, of course. The other version goes a bit further – Gundy was an anti-Communist, playing for Levski, an annoyingly ‘anti-state’ club, at least for the fans. The symbolism of the combination was too much and too dangerous – it could have become a rally cry for anti-Communist movement (and repeat Czechoslovakia). In this version Angel Solakov appears as a hidden reformer, who, if coming to coming to power would have liberalized Bulgaria. Hence, to eliminate the danger, Gundy had to be murdered. Both versions of the myth depend on ‘evidence’ – the rumor, that there was a third man in the car, a hitchhiker, picked up on the road. This man died too, but the state suppressed all information and nobody even knows who he was. Some ‘evidence’… It is true the government suppressed information about the death, but they suppressed information about much bigger ‘unpleasant’ news – earthquakes, industrial accidents, etc. Even Chernobyl was not in the news – the disaster was announced late, and how Bulgaria was affected by its radioactive dust was omitted. As a rule, Communist media never reported disasters at home, only ‘good news’ were domestic news. Bad news were reserved for ‘foreign’ news – that is, reports on Capitalist countries. It was part of the ‘ideological struggle’ and never changed – white opposed to black. There is no evidence for murder plot. Instead, there are more easily supported counter-arguments: murders were the domain of the State Security, the KGB-form of Police. Angel Solakov was the boss of that, and murder plot had to go throw him – actually, he had to be active part in the plot, if such thing was ordered by the Communist Party. Sinister things are more than likely in the realm of secret police, but Solakov was to plot inside and against his own – Levski already was swallowed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Gundy was an officer. And Solakov was big fan…it was he transforming Levski into menacing and all-powerful club at par with CSKA, employing the same methods as the opposition to win games and titles (stealing players from other clubs, fixing games, scheming on Party level, etc.) Probably all that would not have stopped Solakov from killing his own idol, but if so, why was he sacked? And called anti-Communist by his comrades? And potential usurper of state leadership? Besides, Gundy was hardly political power – there was indication he was not particularly happy with Communism, but it was not actively opposed. Gundy refused to play abroad, for instance – if he was big anti-Communist, he had opportunity to defect and to play for big European club, and speak against Communism. The ‘Soviet Pele’ – Eduard Streltzov – was suspected of possible defection and was not included in team USSR when they played in the West. Gundy was not restricted in a similar way – just the opposite: he was often given privileges (his car is often cited as prime example – he owned Alfa-Romeo sports car in a country where East German card-board made ‘Trabant’ was more like an unobtainable dream for the ordinary population). There are signs that Gundy was not happy with the system and rather disliked it, but he was no dissident. And on top of everything, a plot is usually based on knowledge – to stage a murder, one needs to know where and when the victim will be. Gundy decided to go to play in Vratza the same day he died. Normally, he had to travel with the rest of the team by the club’s bus. It was not usual for him to travel separately from the team – it was spontaneous decision. Simply, there was no way anybody to know in advance that he will be on the road that day. No document so far hints of murder plot, and no one reveals secrets to this effect.
I never thought the accident was staged – Gundy was known as bad driver. He drove too fast on winding, dangerous mountain road – Vitinya pass was notoriously bad in 1971: a narrow road, very limited visibility, constant heavy traffic. It was the main road connecting Northern Bulgaria with Sofia, and large commercial tracks traveled on it all the time. Accidents were common, almost daily. Deadly accidents too. It was like that until modern highway was built by the end of the 1970s and the old pass was abandoned. Gundy was going 140 km on road where even without traffic 60 km was the very limit of safety. He was also more than upset by his expulsion and suspension – another reason for reckless driving. That is the most plausible reason for the accident: bad and angry driver, naturally dangerous road, unsafe speed allowed by fast car. Just an accident. But I blamed and still blame Plamen Yankov for the death of Gundy and Kotkov.
Gundy grew a beard in 1970, when injured and not playing. An act of rebellion – beards, long hairs, any hint of Western and hippie influence were forbidden and against the low in Bulgaria. The Police hunted long-haired and short-skirted youth in the streets – Gundy was a Police officer. Nominally, but still… He never played a game bearded, but photos like this one, from his private life irked state officials – as a result, still fueling the myth of ordered by the government murder.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The news of the death immediately spread and the funeral became political problem. First of all, the time was not ‘opportune’: some Soviet cosmonauts just died in their space craft. Bulgaria was supposed to mourn them. The death of Gundy and Kotkov was not announced on radio and TV. Their funeral was to be secret, low key, and strictly family affair. The government thought many things: it was unseemly to display public grief over some football players, when Soviet ‘heroes’, true ‘working class’ heroes, also died. Secondly, spontaneous public action was always dangerous – Bulgaria was called to mourn the Russians, and whatever public grief was to be displayed, it was to be thoroughly organized by the Party – the occasion, however, did not called for massive parades; just well-screened ‘workers collectives’ offering flowers in front of the Soviet Embassy, or Soviet monuments. Suddenly masses of people attended the funeral of Gundy and Kotkov, showing themselves at Levski’s stadium and at the graveyard. The secret news spread very quickly and people went to the funeral, unpleasantly spontaneous. This was interpreted as political act and measures had to be taken quickly – the Communist Party, taken by surprise, was unable to halt and disperse the masses ordinary people, coming from the whole country to Sofia. It had to be the Police taking measures – but the Police was also surprised. Besides, Police intervention most likely would have led to clash with the mourners, and this had to be avoided as a dangerous precedent: a possible clash very likely would have changed grief to anger against the government, an anti-Communist demonstration. Another trouble was the nature of the attendees: they were not only Levski fans. Fans of other clubs and even people indifferent to football attended. Many were not only Party members, but high placed Communist functionaries. The Minister of Interior Affairs attended as well, and since Levski-Spartak was the Police club, he was there in rather official capacity. He was also Levski fan, unfortunately for him. The Police itself was in awkward position – mourning their players and fellow cops, (according to payroll, Asparukhov was Major of the Police. Kotkov also had a rank.), they hardly had reason to stop other mourners. Yet, mostly it was the surprise preventing officials from stopping the massive gathering. The funeral created a myth…
Today regular and football media speaks of 500 000 people attending the funeral. It is presented as somewhat anti-Communist gathering – if not truly political, at least a massive defiance of the regime. Public disobedience, which is supposed to show how unpopular Communism had been in Bulgaria. And also how anti-Soviet Bulgarians were in 1971 – ignoring the Soviet cosmonauts and mourning their own heroes. Communist document concurs: recently an old secret record of emergency meeting of Central Committee of the Communist Party was published. The meeting took place on July 13, 1971, addressing ‘some negative occurrences’ (in the typical lingo of the Communist Party) – namely, the funeral of Aparukhov and Kotkov, and the role of the Minister of Internal Affairs Angel Solakov in it. The number given at this meeting is 150-200 000 people. In his book ‘The Eternal Derby Levski-CSKA’, the sports journalist Roumen Paytashev gives ‘over 100 000’. I think about 100 000 people attended the funeral, more likely on the lower side. The truth is, nobody knows. All estimates are inflated by the myth the funeral became immediately. Only one thing is certain: Gundy and the Kitten were very, very loved and massive number of people went to show respect and grieve.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

June 30, 1971. By all accounts, Gundy was greatly upset – he felt unjustly hurt by the rough play of Yankov, by the indifference of the referee, by receiving red cart, and by the penalty the Disciplinary Commission of the Federation slapped on him. Suspended, he did not feel like training with the first team and accepted an invitation to play in a benefit match. A provincial club, Botev (Vratza), were celebrating their founding 50 years ago, and invited Levski’s reserve team for a friendly. Gundy asked Kotkov to join him. On the road to Vratza, the accident occurred and they died.
Kotkov and Asparukhov training together. This is believed to be their last picture.

Levski-Spartak 1970-71.
Second row, left to right: Yoncho Arsov (coach), Stefan Pavlov, Yanko Kirilov, Milko Gaydarsky, Georgy Kamensky, Roumen Goranov, Biser Mikhailov, Kiril Ivkov, Stefan Aladzhov, Dobromir Zhechev, Dimitar Doychinov (assistant coach).
First row, sitting: Tzvetan Vesselinov, Ivan Stoyanov, Vassil Mitkov, Pavel Panov, Petar Kirilov, Nikola Kotkov, Georgy Asparukhov, Aleksandar Kostov, Georgy Tzvetkov.

The last team photo with Asparukhov and Kotkov. Good friends, Gundy and Kitten trained together, sat together on team pictures, and were together outside the stadium, often drinking. They died together too… They are remembered always together.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

That was the background, but not the whole story. June 28 1971. Levski-Spartak playes with CSKA in the last round of the Championship, lagging 2 points behind. At the time a win is awarded with 2 points, but the there is no possibility Levski to finish first – CSKA has far better goal difference. Levski needs to win by 10 goals to become champion, which is impossible. However, a derby with the arch-enemy has another flavour. Levski wins 1-0, and spoils the Red happiness. The game is tough – there is more than championship at stake. Asparukhov is tackled ruthlessly by CSKA players, particularly by young player named Plamen Yankov. When Yankov kicks Gundy without even a pretence he is playing for the ball, for the ball is not around, Asparukhov retaliates. The so far indifferent to Yankov’s grizzly fouls referee suddenly is outraged – he red-cards both players. For his part, Gundy receives three-game suspension from the Federation. This is the last drop for him: during all of his career he was brutalized by other teams. He was kicked, and pinched, and injured constantly, in a deliberate hunt: every coach in Bulgaria fielded specific player with only one ‘tactical’ instruction – get Gundy out of the field. Terrorize him, injure him, and don’t worry. Most of the time the referees did not react at all to the hunt. Gundy was not rough player – he never retaliated, but he was hurt both physically and psychologically. His legs were ruined by injures, he had many difficult operations, he missed entire seasons because of injures, he had to play with special orthopedic boots. Football is a game, not war, he complained, but nobody heard. He was so disillusioned, he for years contemplated retirement and said so in many interviews. His club did not help either: there was always ‘important match’ coming, always his presence on the field was ‘very important’, he was constantly fielded injured, he never had time for proper healing. On June 28 he was once again coming back after bad injury – and there was this player, a nobody fielded specifically to injure him anew. And the referee was blind as always, doing nothing to stop deliberate brutality, but quick to show red cards as soon as Gundy lost his temper. It was hardly ever good players playing rough against Gundy – it was always some eternal reserves, fielded just to butcher him. It was so obviously bad, there were outraged stars of the opposing teams: Gianni Rivera scolded his own teammates for playing dirty against Gundy in the 1967 Cup Winners Cup confrontation Milan – Levski (Asparukhov was offered $500 000 to move to Milan after the games). After the Milano leg Rivera went to Levski’s dressing room to apologize to Gundy for the incidental foul he committed against him during the match. Dimitar Penev, the CSKA captain and centre-back, usually marking Gundy, to this very day makes the point that he never played dirty against Gundy. (Penev was Bulgarian star in 1960-mid-1970s. He was champion with Lokomotiv in 1964 – teammate of Kotkov – and was taken to CSKA in a particularly nasty way, which Kotkov never forgot. To him, Penev was liar and traitor, and in retaliation he played best against CSKA, almost always scoring in their net. Penev eventually became coach – and played young Hristo Stoichkov. Later he was ‘coach’ of the successful Bulgarian team of 1994 World Cup. Currently, he is coaching CSKA once again.) Unlike Rivera, Penev stopped short from restricting his teammates: since he was refusing to play dirty against Gundy, there was always somebody else – Yankov in the above case, a player fielded only for the purpose of butchering. For many, myself included, Yankov was the murderer of Gundy and the Kitten.
Brutalized Aparukhov was even more common picture than him scoring goals. On one hand, he played only 247 games because of constant injures. On the other hand, it is amazing he played so many games after often missing a whole season because of injures.
Asparukhov and Eusebio

Rivera and Asparukhov. Stars respected Gundy and played football against him. He loved that and greatly preferred to play against foreign teams. For him, football was beautiful game, not war. He never played dirty. Unfortunately, his opponents were generally butchers.

Monday, February 2, 2009

In the beginning of 1969 Bulgarian football was ‘reorganized’ in mid season – the Fall leg was already finished. ‘Reorganizations’ were nothing new in Bulgarian football, but this one was sinister: out of the blue mergers were ordered. Lokomotiv was amalgamated with Slavia (Sofia), becoming ZSK Slavia. Levski was amalgamated with Spartak (Sofia) and lowly Sportist (Kremikovtzi, a village, administratively part of Greater Sofia) under the name Levski-Spartak. CSKA was amalgamated with Second Division club Septemvri (Sofia), changing its full name from CSKA Cherveno Zname (Red Banner) to CSKA Septemvriisko Zname (September Banner – if the name of the month is amusing, there is reason – ‘September’ is short for two Communist events – the September Uprising in 1923 and the ‘Communist Revolution’ in September 1944. Then, in 1944, the Communists came to dictatorial power. There was no ‘revolution’, but invasion of the Soviet Red Army, giving power to Communists – however, the official ‘history’ said ‘revolution’ and massive one at that. Hence, ‘September’ meant that ‘revolution’.) The absurdity was completed by sudden inclusion of Third Division club in the First Division (which was two clubs short after the mergers) – Akademik (Sofia), ‘students’ club, was to continue in the spring half of the season with the points of former Spartak. ZSK Slavia took over the points of Slavia, and no longer existent Lokomotiv was… kept in the final table, finishing last with the points won in the Fall. It was interesting what would have happened, if the points of their 15 Fall games kept no longer existing club above the relegation zone, but eventually other teams won more points thanks to playing 30 seasonal games. The mergers were nasty in many respects: three of the old traditional clubs were practically annihilated. Slavia is the oldest Bulgarian club in existence and had loyal followers. Lokomotiv is also old, having traditional fan base, and if there was a thorough ‘working class’ club, it was Lokomotiv. It was found by railroad workers – its original name was ZSK (Zheleznicharski Sporten Club – Railroad Workers Sports Club). However, Communists were not fond of classic workers club, and not only in Bulgaria – when they came to power in Eastern Europe, they established their own ‘workers clubs’, attached to the Secret Police and the Army (some ‘working class’!), naming them after Soviet clubs of the same breed: Dukla (Prague) – Czechoslovakian army club; Partizan (Belgrade) – the army; Steaua (Bucharest) – the army, and Dynamo (Bucharest) – the Police; Dynamo (Berlin) – the East German ‘Stasi’ Police, and so on. In Bulgaria it was CSKA (Sofia) – the army, named after CSKA (Moscow) and Spartak (Sofia) – the Police. CSKA – founded in 1948 – was the government club, heavily promoted from day one: the best players were invited to the club and they completely dominated the 1950s. Unlike other clubs, CSKA hardly had any player developed in their youth system – they simply took the best players of other clubs, which was not difficult at all: players were taken for their army service, paid better than anywhere else, and occasionally threatened. And just to cover all angles, the army created vast satellite system – at least three other Bulgarian clubs playing in First Division were army clubs (the results of them playing against CSKA were known in advance). However, successful club becomes popular eventually – CSKA had the second largest fan base by 1960. Spartak (Sofia), by contrast, had no fans at all – they were also created by the Communist government, but not so heavily promoted. A new club and Police club at that, Spartak were disliked. But after 1965 they had very strong team – in footballing terms, always a pity: good team playing at empty stadium. (By the way, Akademik were also in this situation in the 1970s and early 1980s. Unlike Spartak, Akademik still exists and still has no fans.) The 1960s were difficult for CSKA – suddenly other clubs were winning championships and it is interesting to look at the ‘mergers’: every champion of 1960s seized to exist in 1969. The first were the provincial clubs – Communist states promoted clubs from the capital city. In 1967 two Plovdiv clubs disappeared – Botev (champions in 1967) and Spartak (champions in 1963) were merged into Trakia (A lowly third club was also part of the merger – Akademik, but nobody even remembers them. Botev’s fans never chanted ‘Trakia’ – always ‘Botev’, to the annoyance of the Communist regime.) Lokomotiv (Sofia) were champions in 1964. They were merged with Slavia, an old rival, and also a club affiliated with the army by 1969. It was a disaster – traditionally, clubs, players, fans disliked each other. Even Communist approved functionaries of both clubs found impossible to work together with the ‘opposition’. Fans massively withdrew their support – and many never returned, moving to support other clubs. Most likely, that was exactly the aim of the government – to destroy traditional fan base. It was successful plot – today both clubs (the merger lasted only two years) have pitiful number of fans. Nikola Kotkov was so disgusted, he moved to play for Levski – at least to play with his good friend Gundy. But it was not exactly moving to Levski – it was moving to Levski-Spartak. Levski were also champions – in 1965 and 1968, thus, for 5 years between 1960 and 1968 CSKA was ‘robbed’ from the title. Levski was the most popular club in Bulgaria and the only club disrupting CSKA’s dominance. It was already the most popular Bulgarian club in 1944, when the Communists became the rulers of the country. At that time Levski was attacked as ‘Fashist’ club – nothing true in that, but popularity had to be curbed. Thus, Levski became the ‘people’s club’, opposing the system and a victim of the system, at least in the minds of the fans. And its popularity grew, creating a classic derby – Levski vs CSKA. People vs Government. Nothing helped… Levski was renamed during the 1950s into Dynamo, but the fans still came to the stadium and chanted ‘Levski’ (the club is named after the most popular and beloved Bulgarian revolutionary of 19th century – Vasil Levski. Even the name meant opposition to the state and freedom.) The club was not attached to powerful state organs or enterprise, to keep it poor and isolated, yet, homegrown players were capable of beating the Army’s stars. For a while the club was attached to the State Post, a humiliation, for postmen are traditionally ridiculed in Bulgaria (the image of a postman is lazy good-for-nothing person munching sunflower seeds). Did not help – fans remained loyal. And… Levski trashed CSKA in November 1968 7-2. The biggest humiliation ever (only after the fall of Communism the record was bettered – 7-1 in 1994.) But it was 1968 – the scary ‘Prague Spring’. Who knows what may had happen – Levski fans were real or possible anti-Communists. And to some degree, the fans of other popular clubs. Crowds at stadiums were considered risky – massive numbers of people, gathered freely, without any government control, so unlike obligatory gatherings for state holidays and parades. Very unpredictable – ‘Down with CSKA’ may change quickly to ‘Down with Communism’, chanted by thousands. The crowd may easily spill on the streets after the game – the ghost of spontaneous anti-Communist demonstration pricked constantly the state. The very chant ‘Down with CSKA’ smelled of anti-Communism… Every Levski match was heavily guarded by mounted Police, aiming at quick dispersal of the fans after the end of the game. Which was difficult too, for many fans came from the provinces, and had to be whipped back to the train station as quickly as possible – the state did not like unaccounted for people lingering in the capital. The trouble was, those provincials had to be somewhat packed for easier control on the their road to the trains – that is, they had to be concentrated in a crowd, just to avoid potentially dangerous ‘crowding’. Football games were big trouble. Merger with the Police made sense – for sure, it was going to alienate fans. I am not talking here for some Traffic Cops – it was the State Security, the Bulgarian equivalent of KGB. The idea of supporting the arch-Communist institution was revolting – large section of old fans quit going to the stadium in disgust. My father was one of this group, and so was I. The new club included half of the Spartak squad – these players were not accepted for years by the fans, they were ‘suspect’ more or less until 1975. Some big favorites of the fans were forced to end their careers. All players had to become Communist Party members in order to be employed as Police officers (every club in Communist country consisted of ‘amateur’ players employed otherwise – a Police club, therefore, consists of Police officers, kicking the ball in their ‘spare time’… but nobody can be employed by the Secret Police, unless he is a well checked Party member… so there.) Unlike Lokomotiv and Slavia, there was no big trouble in Levski-Spartak – rather obvious, since the Secret Police took over: objections were not to be voiced safely. There was one known rebellion, coming from Spartak player – the old great goalkeeper Georgy Naydenov refused to play for the new club. For him, it was unacceptable to play for Levski – he was CSKA player for years, spending his last football seasons in Spartak. Not big deal, though… he simply retired, and good thing too, for it was unlikely Levski fans to cheer him. However, the merger changed the nature of Levski – it became like CSKA: a club robbing other clubs of their players. The Minister of Internal Affairs (the Police, with the Secret Police on top) was Levski fan… which was not flattering for traditional Levski fans – Levski was becoming too close to the state, and therefore, similar to CSKA. The funeral of Gundy and Kotkov became political problem because of the Minister – a problem with nasty results, and a problem fueling myths and speculations. (The third club, merged with Levski, was insignificant affair – the Second Division Sportist belonged to giant and hated metallurgical enterprise, polluting Sofia to this very day, and now CSKA is related to it, in a weird turn of affairs – club and plant have the same owner. But this relation did not bring fruits – the Police was the real trouble. Sportist was quietly removed from Levski-Spartak, preserving remote affiliation in secondary sports for some years. In football – no significance.) Mergers were completed in the provinces too: Cherno More (Varna) was amalgamated with lowly local club, Akademik, but kept the name Cherno More (Black Sea, in translation). Two clubs from the mining city of Pernik were also merged – Minyor (Miner) and Metalurg (Metallurgist) under the name Krakra Pernishki (Krakra of Pernik, a medieval Lord, famous for resisting the Ottomans). The merger did not last. Both cases seemed to be only a camouflage of the real mergers – nothing disruptive came out of them, the Varna club even preserving the old name. In Pernik fans continued to support, shouting ‘Minyor’ (Metalurg never had solid fan base, nor they played higher than Second Division football until mid-1990s) – in a few years the club was once again Minyor and Metalurg reappeared separately too (Pernik is somewhat special case: never really big to challenge the football establishement, they had loyal working class following, which also tended to support Levski. Minyor is the traditional club, belonging to the coal mines. But the city had another big industrial employer – a metallurgical plant, which also run sports club. It was more rivalry between the heads of different industrial enterprises, disguised under the Communist concept of larger industries having sports clubs, ideally – but never in reality – supported by the workers of the corresponding industry. As it was and is, Minyor is the only club Pernik fans support. Yet, the city been relatively small, same fans supported Metalurg in another sport – they were the only ice-hockey club outside Sofia, and it was a matter of Pernik pride to support the hockey team against the big clubs from the capital.) As for CSKA, it was a merger for the sake of appearances. The army had been merged with Septemvri some years ago. By 1969 Septemvri was small club of no imporatance and hardly any fan base, playing in Second Division. It was also a club established after 1944, like CSKA. The name was opportune, changing nothing and signifying nothing sinister for the fans of CSKA. No players were taken in the ‘new’ club – unlike the other mergers, there were no tensions, no rivalries, no superfluous players, no grumblers, no players to be ‘approved’ or ‘disapproved’ were they fit for Party membership and Army ‘employment’. There was no team to be forged from two squads. CSKA ended in perfect condition to win the championship – and it did. The merger was just for face – to hide somewhat the real aim, to pretend some real reorganization of Bulgarian football and not simply destruction of the old clubs. Later Septemvri was quietly removed from CSKA and reestablished (today playing in Bulgarian 4th Division). In footballing terms, the ‘reorganization’ copied those of the late 1940s and 1950s – constant mergers, renaming, new clubs, keeping most clubs in uncertain flux, and peeling away fans, but never really touching the Communist club. Thus, the reorganization appeared to aim at restoring the hegemony of CSKA of the 1950s, by same method employed then. To me, the aim was largely political – to prevent even the slightest possibility for emerging of opposition via football support. Czechoslovakia was too hot in 1968-69. Football aims were secondary, however tempting.