Wednesday, October 21, 2009

CSKA ‘Septemvriisko zname’ made a double, winning both championship and cup. Little surprise in that: CSKA had their ‘silver team’ – after the terrible 1960s, they had a squad evoking the glorious 50s, when nobody else was a match for the Army boys. How good this team was is hard to really tell – it was strong and well balanced, carefully built and maintained. Yet, the core players came from the disastrous 60s, when they were not dominant. True, the team came into maturity, but maturity was helped by outside factors – when other teams were forced into mergers and chaos disrupted their selections and performance, CSKA enjoyed tranquility. It should be mentioned that none of the 1960s Bulgarian champions remained in 1970, save for CSKA – both Plovdiv’s champions were destroyed in 1967: Spartak and Botev were merged into Trakia. Local fans hated the new creation. Levsky was merged with Spartak, becoming Levsky-Spartak (Sofia) to the displeasure of the fans. Lokomotiv was merged, however briefly, with Slavia into a disaster called ZhSK Slavia. CSKA was also merged, but only for the sake of appearances: the lowly Septemvry (Sofia) provided only slight change of name – CSKA ‘Cherveno zname’ (Red Banner) became CSKA ‘Septemvriisko zname’ (September’s Banner), replacing one Communist symbol with pretty much the same – the meaning of September in this case is September 9th, 1944, when the Communists took the political power in their hands thanks to the Soviet Army occupation and the secret deal between Stalin and Churchill. Official Communist history doctored that into ‘Communist Revolution’. Anyway, name is one thing, but squad is something else – no player at all was taken from old Septemvri. Unlike any other ‘merged’ club, CSKA kept their original squad intact – no superfluous players, no frictions between players forming mutually exclusive groups, no trouble of making a new team. CSKA simply shaped and tuned its squad, carefully replacing aging players with whatever talent emerged in the country. No wonder they ended up with very good team, but there was one more factor: CSKA were traditionally ruthless in their policy and this time they went to the extent which their own fans found unpleasant at least. CSKA retired one of their biggest ever stars, Dimitar Yakimov, very hastily – he was barely 30 years old. No testimony match for him – actually, his ‘retirement’ was not even announced. Yakimov surely was able to play a few more years – if not for CSKA, for some other club then, but no: CSKA both blamed him for the bad years and feared that another club with Yakimov would be ‘unreasonably’ strong. Yakimov was practically ordered not to play anymore and that was that.

Dominant team, CSKA, but tainted dominance. Yet, the squad itself was good and well balanced – it was practically 12 players, who were the team. The rest were full time bench players… some temporary inlcuded, some warming the bench for years. Stability brought results though: CSKA finished 8 points (2 points for a win in those days) clear from the second placed Levsky-Spartak and 16 points ahead of the 3rd finisher Beroe (Stara Zagora). They also scored 95 goals – the all time record in Bulgarian football.

CSKA posing after collecting the Cup: bottom, left to right: Plamen Yankov, Borislav Sredkov, Todor Simov, Kiril Stankov, Christo Zapranyov (physiotherapist) Georgy Denev, Petar Zhekov, Dimitar Penev – captain, Dimitar Gevrenov (doctor), Boris Gaganelov.Top: Tzvetan Atanasov, Drazho Stoyanov, Asparukh Nikodimov, Ivan Zafirov, Manol Manolov (coach), Stefan Bozhkov (head of the CSKA’s football section), Colonel Givi Ordzhonikidze (USSR’s Military Atache in Bulgaria), Nikola Kovachev (assistant coach), Bozhil Kolev, Dimitar Marashliev, Stoyan Yordanov. If the Soviet representative surprises you, there was a reason: Bulgaria had no national cup as usually understood – it had the Soviet Army Cup instead, donated by the Soviets. Eventually UEFA forced Bulgaria to organize normal tournament and a new trophy in the early 1980s (The Soviet Army Cup remained until the fall of Communism, but no longer recognized by UEFA, it became unimportant and rapidly declining competition.) Until the new cup was established Soviet representative attended the final and awarded the Soviet Cup to the winners.

Yes, this squad was good… by Bulgarian standards. However, I can’t master much enthusiasm for the archenemy.