Levski Sofia v Cherno More Varna
Vivacom Arena – Georgi Asparuhov
First Professional Football League
Wednesday 31st May 2017 KO 8 pm (Local time)
Sports Club Levski was founded by a group of football-mad students in Sofia. The club’s name was chosen in honour of the Bulgarian revolutionary Vasil Levski, and the club was officially registered on May 24, 1914.
For many different generations of Bulgarians, Vasil Levski is Bulgaria’s greatest historical figure and thus its appropriate for Bulgaria’s foremost club to be named after such an esteemed figure. An ideologist, revolutionary and national leader Levski ideologised and strategised a revolutionary movement to liberate Bulgaria from Ottoman rule. Born Vasil Ivanov Kunchev on July 18th, 1837 he was a handsome figure and earned the nickname ‘lionlike’. But his life lasted only until 36 years of age when he was hanged by the Turks in Sofia.
If Vasil Levski is Bulgaria’s greatest ever historical figure then its greatest footballer was Georgi Asparuhov. The most prolific Balkan forward of his generation, Asparuhov was known for his finishing, super technique and heading ability. Such was his skill he was tracked by AC Milan and many other European giants only for his life (like Vasil Levski) to be cut short in tragic circumstances via death in a car crash.
Asparuhov was named the greatest Bulgarian footballer ever during the later years of the 20th century ahead of Hristo Stoichkov.
How fitting then that the stadium is now named in his honour and a huge image of the player adorns the side of the stadium. These days the ground is the ‘Vivacom Arena – Georgi Asparuhov’ and is located in the north-east of Sofia some 35 minutes walk from the central ‘Sredets’ metro stop.
Like many clubs in eastern Europe, the stadium is not only a football venue but also a sporting complex for a club that recently celebrated its 100th birthday. The area around the stadium allows scope for gymnastics, boxing, weightlifting and volleyball all sports in which Levski participate.
Recent decades have seen a number of reconstructions with a new scoreboard in the shape of the iconic ‘L’. Older terraces and stand areas have been removed to make way for improved corporate, sky boxes and business facilities.
The evening sun had begun setting as both teams appeared onto the expansive pitch. It was, however, a sparse crowd of less than 1,000 that watched on with the traditional home end empty of the most fanatical supporters. Not four days previously CSKA Sofia, the eternal city rivals of Levski, had won another Eternal Derby 3-1 This result and the midweek kick-off may have impacted the number of supporters that were in attendance.
By 8 pm the floodlights were on and darkness was creeping up on the teams. The pitch was perfect with the grass perfectly cut for the football.
In the southern part of the stadium, about 10 fans of the Varna side stood watching on gaining what was left of the evening sun.
Named after the Black Sea on which the city of Varna sits (in the same way Chernomorets Odessa are named in Crimea) the Bulgarian club is also known by its nickname ‘The Sailors’. PFC Cherno More is one of the largest clubs in Bulgaria outside of the capital sides and this season they have managed to challenge both CSKA, Levski and Ludogorets at the higher end of the Bulgarian league.
Given the end of season nature of this clash, it was unsurprising that it was a rather passionless affair with both teams looking as if they would rather be on a beach. Having said that, the game witnessed some horrendous abusive racial chanting by home fans towards one of its own players. Young Nigerian striker Tunde Adiniji were racially abused each time he touched the ball.
At half time the visitors were ahead. Martin Kostadinov had given the away side a 40th-minute lead and one which was not unexpected given the pressure that the visiting team had on the home goal.
It took until the 74th minute for Levski to find an equaliser from Kabov although that lasted all of three minutes when Kasabov again gave PFC Cherno More the lead.
Fittingly, the equaliser and final goal of the night was the best of the lot. A crashing 30 yard shot from vice-captain – the Serb Prochazka – brought the home team level giving Levski fans some cheer after the painful derby loss the previous weekend.
The Georgi Asparuhov Stadium is an open bowl of a stadium without a roof and it looks likely that a number of improvements will be made over the next 10 years. With the fantastic facilities on offer at the Vasil Levski Stadium in central Sofia (where many of the local derby matches are played) the home of Levski Sofia remains a hot one for visitors bit traditional in terms of supporter access.
The Bulgarian First Professional Football League is not one of Europe’s best but Levski has attained respectable results in the Champions League as have Ludogorets Razgrad. However, it is some time since CSKA made any impression in UEFA competition.
With fourteen teams currently competing each week, the league was previously known as A Group until the Bulgarian Top Tier was fully restructured during the summer of 2016. Club licensing was strengthened as was the format with new playoffs introduced.
While historically CSKA, Levski and Slavia remain Bulgaria’s most successful football clubs in terms of total title success, it might be some time until Ludogorets are toppled from the pinnacle of the league. The club from Razgrad are flush with cash from successive participations in the Champions League and Europa League and have by far the strongest squad of players.
Levski: Krastev, Alexandrov, Minev, Aleksandrov, Pirgov, Prochazka, Borimirov, Navdenov, Kabov, Ivanov, Adeniji Coach: Mitov
Cherno More: Mihaylov, Sukun, Tombak, Baldzhivski, Tsetkov, Hlunik, Kostadinov, Minchev, Kuzma, Voskov, Yanchev Coach: Ivanov