In 1978 Bulgarian side Marek Dimitrov were winners of the Bulgarian Cup competition (then called the Soviet Army cup).  In defeating the overwhelming favorites CSKA Sofia to the trophy fans of Marek witnessed the club’s greatest ever football achievement. 

A great number had travelled the 50km to the final tie in Sofia; a game played in front of 75,000 spectators at the National Vasil Levski Stadium.

Later that autumn one solitary supporter by the name of Ian Taylor travelled via Istanbul to see his team Aberdeen play Marek in the now defunct UEFA European Cup Winners Cup competition.  Aberdeen, by then under the management of Alex Ferguson, lost that first leg by 2-3 in Bulgaria.

The second leg, alas for Marek, was lost 3-0 thanks to a flurry of late goals and Dons players like Gordon Strachan and Steve Archibald.

Apart from a selection of short lived excursions into the UEFA Intertoto cup during the 1980’s that tie against Aberdeen was the last they would play in Europe under the Marek Dimitrov team name. 

By the time they started to participate in the UEFA Intertoto cup the club were known as Marek Dupnitsa.

Today Marek Dimitrov are known as FC Marek 1915 and will play as part of the Bulgarian (South West) Third division for the 2016/17 season. 

The recent story of the club has been traumatic with financial irregularities and match fixing allegations culminating in name changes aplenty. But still the tale of ‘Marek’ remains intact and the club dreams once again of playing at the top of the Bulgarian game.

Dupnitsa is a town surrounded by a number of flowing rivers. 

Sitting in a valley it lies in western Bulgaria at the foot of the highest mountain in the Balkan Peninsula – the Rila Mountain.  Some 55km south of the sprawling capital Sofia, Dupnitsa is often referred to as the ‘Green and Shady Town’ thanks to an abundance of trees.

By 1946 the abolition of the Bulgarian monarchy had led to Bulgaria becoming a one party communist state chiefly under the leadership of Georgi Dimitrov.  The immediate post war years would see a pathway being being laid for a rapidly industrialized Stalinist state; one which was highly repressive particularly towards the end of the decade.

In 1948 the town of Dupnitsa was renamed after another Dimitrov – Stanke Dimitrov; a communist and notorious anti fascist who had been born in the city.  For a short period in 1949 Dupnitsa the town was called solely Marek a knickname used for Stanke Dimitrov – it stood for Marxist, antifascist, revolutionary, emigrant and kommunist.

Stanke Dimitrov had been born in Dupnitsa in 1899 and died during the Second World War in 1944.  He was regarded by the communist hierarchy as local hero of the communist party; a party that had been outlawed and persecuted between the wars when social problems and political instability were rife in Bulgaria. 

Sporting wise, football had been played in Dupnitsa since early 20th century with four clubs Slavia, Levski, ZHSK and Athletic playing in local football leagues until 1947.  In 1947 the four clubs were merged into one club; one that was named ‘Marek’. And the club like so many in eastern Europe at that time became a vehicle for communist ideology.

By 1948 a new football league was created, the Bulgarian A PFG or the Republican football group.  Ten football clubs participated in the original league amongst them Levski, CSKA, Botev Varna and Marek Dimitrov.

The club became known for its loyal supporters and the bowl like Bonchuk Stadium which saw regular crowds of over 15,000 squeeze into watch league fixtures.  Many famous players would play for the club and go on to represent the Bulgarian national team.

Marek’s heyday was the 1970’s and 1980’s era when the club finished 3rd in the domestic league and won the Bulgarian cup. 

However, Marek’s most memorable victories came in 1977 when Ferencvaros and then Bayern Munich (2-0) were defeated in the UEFA Cup.   The club were eventually knocked out by the German giants thanks to goals from the prolific Gerd Muller and a double from Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

The post communist years have been especially tough for Marek. 

Participation in the UEFA Intertoto cup aside numerous relegations and promotions have been encountered with the club moving back and forth between the top three Bulgarian divisions.  Meanwhile the best players have inevitably been transferred to Levski or CSKA and countless coaches have come and gone.

In 2010 the Bulgarian Football Federation denied Marek a license to compete in the second tier (Bulgarian PFG) for the 2010–11 season due to huge financial debts. The club were forced to start over and compete at the lowest level of Bulgarian football in the regional amateur leagues.

But by 2014 the club were back in the top division securing promotion with 4 games to go.

The return to the top tier proved difficult for a poor squad as Marek finished the 2014-2015 season in 11th place out of 12 teams and the team were relegated again.  Marek won only 6 games in the entire season and at the conclusion of that season still worse was to come.

The club were unsuccessful in receiving a professional license from the Bulgarian Football Federation due to unpaid financial obligations to government institutions and once again the team was relegated to the Bulgarian amateur divisions.  Soon after the club was dissolved with allegations of match fixing being the final nail in the coffin.

The club hierarchy club with the help of fans soon managed to register a new club – FC Marek 1915 – so titled as it was the year football was said to have been first played organisationally in the town.

This new Marek club started competing in the lowest level of football in Bulgaria again – the 4th division – during the 2015-2016 season and successfully navigated through 2 rounds of playoffs earning promotion.

Today Dupnitsa is a fast-developing town starkly different to the grim industrial outpost it was during communist times.  It combines new buildings with modern architecture although local crime and corruption are a trait that has crept into the economy and politics. 

A local airport is now named after Stanke Dimitrov.

A selection of historical monuments including the Bonchuk Stadium remain and it is here where the club still plays its football just as it did against some of the big names of European football in the 1970’s.

Because of its beautiful location at the foot of the Rila mountain the town is holiday destination due to its spa hotels. It is emerging as an industrial stop thanks to the local pharmaceutical companies based nearby.

FC Marek 1915 are once again seeking a pathway back to the top table of Bulgarian football this time perhaps its evolutionary progression, despite the clubs name, rather than revolutionary.

*Article first appeared in 2016