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.