In 1978 Bulgarian side Marek Dimitrov were winners of the Bulgarian Cup competition (then called the Soviet Army cup). In defeating the overwhelming favourites CSKA Sofia to the trophy the fans of Marek witnessed the clubs 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 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 the skills of 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 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 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 and during the 1950’s.
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 communist.
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. Such was the esteem he was held the town of Dupnitsa was named after Stanke Dimitrov in 1950 a name it held until the reemergence of democratic rule when the title historical Dupnitsa was restored.
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 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 being 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 a squad that was notoriously always full of players from the larger Sofia clubs.
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 in 1978. 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 first leg goals from then Bayern skipper and prolific Gerd Muller and a double from Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
The post communist years since 1989 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 foreign coaches have come and gone.
In 2010 the Bulgarian Football Federation denied Marek a license to compete in the second tier (B 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 league of Zona Rila.
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. Marek won only 6 games in the entire season and at the conclusion of that season 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. The new Marek will compete in the 3rd division, the Southwestern Group, during the forthcoming 2016-2017 season.
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 local economy and politics. A local airport rather than the town 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 and it is emerging as an industrial strong 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 evolutionary progression, despite the clubs name, rather than revolutionary.