Pull the bricks down – CSKA Sofia

Back in 2023 CSKA Sofia and the Bulgarian government ministry for sport established a joint venture to demolish and reconstruct the Bulgarian Army stadium into a UEFA Category IV stadium.

The “New Balgarska Armia” is currently due for completion in 2025.

The last game at the old stadium was held on 10th December, 2023. A game between CSKA and Ludogorets Razgrad that ended in a 0-1 loss for CSKA.

Demolition of the CSKA Sofia Stadion ‘Balgarska Armia’ began in February 2024 and is expected to be completed before the summer. In its place will emerge a new €45 million football stadium and events center.

The new stadium will have a capacity of about 18,000 seats. A place for football but crucially also others – concerts, music festivals – the wider Sofia community.

After the last fixture against Ludogorets CSKA fans were allowed to take a piece of the stadium away as a memory from the venue before demolition began. Not so much “blood antiquities” more an attempt by the club to cradle and remember history.

Blown up, pulled down and sold off. Everything must go.

The reasons why this happens might well be cathartic.

A need to feel in control when something emotively symbolic disappears is a natural human emotion.

Sometimes when a loved one dies the ashes are never let go – people take them to bed simply for comfort and to be near to loved ones. The ashes rest on the home mantle piece or are buried against the backdrop of a monument where we go to remember, talk and feel something that once was real and living.

The demolition of historic monument or the creation of new road through green space is often met with polar emotions. For some its progress but for others its a cause to protest. Members of the community depending on the historical significance of the monument can get involved mobilizing petitions and protest even in some cases putting a stop to redevelopment.

Deliberately destroying creations seen as brutalist or an eyesore can be incredibly satisfying for some because it makes people feel powerful. Multiple residential skyscrapers coming down in the middle of a urban housing estate often sees thousands turn up to watch at a distance.

They cheer as a 18 floor high residential block that was once hundreds of homes is flattened into dust.

Many people get a thrill from watching things being smashed to pieces. Curiosity, awe and aesthetics are at play as something explodes.

By accident or design, great buildings and monuments have always been toppled and its the same for football stadia.

But the question has always been what to do in the aftermath of something disappearing.

Essentially new technology offers a solution to resolve the issue of destruction. We don’t rebuild brick by brick rather we package away the old in a digital form and create something new.

The new stadium at CSKA is effectively a money making scheme NOT to recreate the artefacts lost or destroyed but to put something new and usable in place for the next 100 years of club history. In effect the artefact (CSKA Army Stadium) will come back to life in 2025 albeit in a new form, but the old will live on in digital form probably forever.

Images of the old stadium are being tucked away into the halls of a cyber-museum – the CSKA Sofia club website. Carefully generated images keep the old Army Stadium alive – still instantly accessible at the finger tip will of anyone interested.

So many individual and collective identities are wrapped up in a football stadium.

Social psychologists state that the loss of a building and living places where we have lived our lives and built community can feel like the loss of a personal relationship, one which we expected to last indefinitely.

Our experience of a change in a place can be both a serious environmental issue and a deeply personal one.

It’s spring 2024 – almost 101 years since the CSKA stadium first opened.

Inside there a tractors, industrial machinery and a cherry-picker. Men in hard-hats walk about with facemasks eager to avoid inhaling the dust from materials being torn apart.

Red and white seats are being thrown into a huge pile possibly destined for recycling or many destined to be sold off like other other historic stadium artefacts.

The open terracing is being cleared like a field that has had its crops picked.

Discussions over the rebuilding of this stadium have been taking place for almost two decades.

Only now with the demolition men in the house is the new home starting to become a reality.

The reconstructed stadium will have a modern look benefitting of most new stadia but critically it will meet the aesthetics of the surrounding park environment. The historic Borisova Gradina Park will still have its gardens, benches, walking paths and a lake but it will soon have a new sports facility.

The visual perception of the facility as well as its acoustics will be felt by anyone who ventures in or near this Sofia public space.

All the normal things we associate with new stadia have been mentioned – ‘natural sunlight’, ‘energy efficient’ with ‘high-tech lighting’.

The new stadium will apparently be environmentally friendly and new sound systems and multiple video screens are envisaged.

An innovative heating system on the field will allow matches to be held throughout the year ready to face off to the ravages of a Bulgarian winter.

Sight, sound, emotion, politics, modern culture – everything is being done to sell the concept.

The CSKA new stadium project is for many now one free from conceptual restrictions that were imposed on it seemingly for years.

It is going to happen.

Fans have the opportunity now to fully develop there imaginations and invest in both the past and the future whether via new technologies or simply via having a walk past what once was.