Wednesday, August 4, 2010

1973-74 season deserves one last bittersweet note: CSKA introduced new goalkeeper in the spring half of the season – Simeon Simeonov. Arguably the best ever Bulgarian goalkeeper spent his whole career in Slavia (Sofia), but he suffered psychological collapse during the World Cup 1970 – something rather common for goalies – and did not play a single match until 1974. Bad injuries also contributed to his long absence, but the player was neglected, if not abandoned, by everybody, including his club. He was relegated to third goalie in Slavia and was not listed even among reserves. But by the beginning of 1974 CSKA had acute problem: their usual goalkeepers were injured and they claimed they had no keeper at all left when still playing the European Champions Cup. The whole story was murky: for years CSKA used alternatively Stoyan Yordanov and Yordan Filipov, both national players of similar age. Often there was a third keeper who almost never played. Yordanov was injured and Filipov … nowadays it is said that Filipov was injured for a long time, but who knows for sure – I remember that he was banned twice ‘for life’ by his club for some disciplinary infringements. It was never made official and both times he was quietly forgiven. Nobody mentions that today, just like nobody mentions the shameful neglect of Simeonov by Slavia. Anyhow, claiming ‘patriotic duties’ CSKA asked for little bending of transfer rules and acquired Simeonov on loan to the end of the season. It was not fair really – nobody else ever got such permission for irregular transfer and CSKA did have at least one healthy goalkeeper – one Drazho Stoyanov, their reserve goalie at the time, who mostly appeared on team photos and never played. Now he was conveniently omitted from existence… and permission was granted. Simeonov was loyal Slavia player and never wanted to play anywhere else, but took the chance and joined CSKA. The unusual permission was unusual to the end – there were no ‘loans’ in officially amateur football, but it was announced as a loan. Apparently, Simeonov had no desire to play permanently for CSKA and the rules did not permit transfers at that time, so loan it was… ‘Mony’ Simeonov had splendid spring, topped by excellent performance during the spring derby between CSKA and Levsky-Spartak (1-1 tie). In 81st minute Pavel Panov, Levsky’s star, made beautiful header after a dangerous cross and the goal was certain. But Simeonov jumped and made a fantastic save – a moment of rare beauty, which was acknowledged by both players. Panov run to Simeonov, still on the ground, helped him to get up, and both players shook hands with mutual respect and admiration. The whole stadium applauded, probably the only time the mutually hostile fans of Levsky and CSKA acted in unison – it was a magic moment of football followed by great and rare gesture of sportsmanship, perhaps the last in Bulgarian football. It was even stranger, because the derby was often a bitter and ugly clash of brutality, simulations, and complaints, and this match was brutal one as well. But at that moment football won, not the war – two great masters performed splendidly and delighted themselves and the stands. Simeonov played so well he was included in the national squad for the World Cup (his third!) He returned to Slavia after the season ended… and never played again, relegated to 4th goalie this time… It was sad, to say the least… true, Mony had health problems and many injuries, but I don’t think he was incapable of playing – the spring of 1974 showed otherwise. Football is often insane: Mony nailed to the bench again, but Filipov, banished ‘for life’, suddenly back as if nothing happened. It was not the players – it was the politics of running the game providing plenty of insanity. Simeonov was practically forgotten and discarded by everybody – I doubt even Slavia fans know when he officially retired… for he was non-person since 1970. But the delight of seeing – and remembering – this 81st minute is more than winning a derby!
Simeon Simeonov, Bulgarian player of the year in 1968 and entirely forgotten by 1974.
Pavel Panov, Bulgarian player of the year in 1977.
The heroes of both football beauty and sportsmanship. The present is one thing; the past – another. Fans always claim victimization whenever a single point is lost. This match is judged in a funny way after the fact. Levsky supporters usually remember it and consider it fair, adding that Mony, not real CSKA player, saved CSKA. CSKA fans normally don’t remember the match – for the same reason: Mony was not theirs. Talk fairness and gratitude in football… no such. Talk daggers instead.