‘Five young men got together and started a football team‘ could be the founding theme of just about any football club anywhere back at the start of the 1900’s. And, things were no different in Bulgaria where Slavia first emerged in 1913.
The term Slavia is a term in common usage to many football clubs across Eastern Europe. Football teams in the Czech Republic (Slavia Prague), nearby Slovakia and Belarus (Slavia Mozyr) are amongst those who reference Slavism in the club name.
The story goes that those who founded PFC Slavia Sofia (ПФК Славия София) lived near the symbolic Russian monument in central Sofia. This monument plays a central role in the development of the Bulgarian capital both historically, nationalistically and in terms of local urban development.
It is located on the road which Osman Nuri Paşa the Ottoman ruler used to flee from Sofia back to Constantinople in December 1877. In the late 19th and early 20th century meanwhile the monument turned into the centre point of urban planning strategy for urban Sofia.
The first President was a local student called Dimitar Blagoev – Palio, a 21-year-old. A group of others were elected to be an administrative council for the club – Emanuil Geshev, Ferdinand Mihaylov, Tsvyatko Velichkov, Georgi Grigorov and Todor Kalkandzhiev.
The context behind the term Slavia can be traced to the emergence of the pan-Slavism movement which crystalized and emerged in the 19th century.
The Shaping of Bulgaria
By the late 1800’s there were chiefly four Slavic states in the world: the Russian Empire, the Principality of Serbia, the Principality of Montenegro and the Principality of Bulgaria.
For many decades a large amount of the slavic world had been under the rules of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – out of approximately 50 million people some 23 million were Slavs.
The Slavic peoples were, for the most part, denied a voice in the affairs of Austria-Hungary and the growth and calls for national self-determination grew as the 1900’s emerged. Because of the vastness and diversity of the territory occupied by Slavic people, there were several centers of Slavic consolidation with Bulgaria being on of these areas.
In 1878 the Treaty of Berlin led to the setting up of the Principality of Bulgaria. By then Bulgaria would start to have struggles with another wider nearby authority – the Ottoman Empire.
Although it remained under Ottoman sovereignty as a vassel state Bulgaria functioned independently and so further nationalistic aspirations grew. The Tarnovo Constitution arrived in 1879 under which the Bulgarians scripted and lodged its own anthem; national flag and conducted its own foreign policy.
On 5 October 1908 Bulgaria declared its independence as the Kingdom of Bulgaria but by 1913 (the year Slavia were founded) it was enmeshed in the Balkan Wars and saught the help of Russia against the Ottoman Empire.
Pan-Slavism had crystallized long before 1913 but as a loose movement it chiefly concerned itself with the advancement of integrity and unity for the Slavic peoples. Its main impact occurred in the Balkans, where those two non-Slavic empires (Austro-Hungarian Empire and Ottoman Empire) had ruled the Southern Slavs for centuries.
Against this historical background Slavia Sofia emerged and they are the oldest sports club in Bulgaria. Its sporting foundations came thanks also to unification of the Botev Sports Club (1909) and the Razvitie Gymnastics Association (1910).
The communist era in Bulgaria also impacted on the club. During the different years between 1945 and 1975 it was renamed: Slavia’45, Stroitel FC, Udarnik and ZhSK-Slavia.
In the first ten years after Slavia was founded, the club played in a stadium of its founding predecessor SC Razvitie. By 1923, Slavia became the owner of land near the Russian Monument in Sofia and in tandem to the wider urgan development of Sofia the first ground of the club was built.
The original home ground of Slavia was located just to the northwest of Ruski Pametnik near the center of Sofia. It was demolished in the late 1940’s and the club moved around until they moved to southwest Sofia in the 1960’s.
The stadium sits in a residential area called Ovcha Kupel and it presently has a capacity of 25,556. Part of the wider multi-functional sport club complex it includes two football training grounds, one multi-purpose indoor hall (used for Basketball) and an ice-hockey arena with a capacity of 2,000 spectators.
While plans have been afoot to develop the Slavia stadium these should be seen within the wider intention the Bulgarian Association had of attracting Euro 2020 to the capital Sofia. The stadium still sits in its original location with the club often instead playing at the Vasili Levski in central Sofia.
Slavia are the only Bulgarian team to qualify for the semi-finals of a European club tournament. In 1967 they played Glasgow Rangers in Sofia on April 19 and in Glasgow on May 3.
While Slavia sit some way behind CSKA Sofia and Levski as the most successful club in Bulgarian football they remain a traditional force all be it they have fallen in recent years behind the dominant incomers of Ludogorets Razgrad who have flourished since 2011 thanks to financial backing.
Indeed, such are the lengths to which the club has declined the greatest success of the whites in recent years came with the 1995-96 season when the club won both the domestic title and cup (Kupa na Bulgaria). Its greatest traditional rivals Levski were beaten in a contraversial final then just as they were in 2018.
Bulgarian Champions: 8 times – in 1926, 1928, 1930, 1936, 1939, 1941, 1943 and 1996.
Runners Up: 9 times – in 1932, 1934, 1950, 1954, 1955, 1959, 1967, 1980 and 1990.
3rd Place: 13 times – in 1940, 1942, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1970, 1973, 1975, 1982, 1986, 1991, 1997 and 2020.
The Bulgarian Cup winners: 13 times – in 1926, 1928, 1930, 1936, 1943, 1952, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1975, 1980, 1996 and 2018.
The Bulgarian Cup runners-up: 6 times – in 1932, 1934, 1954, 1972, 1981 and 2011.