On the evening of November 16, at 19:00 local time, Bulgaria is scheduled to host Hungary in a European qualifying match at the Vasil Levski National Stadium. It is worth noting that this match will be conducted without spectators present. This is the conclusive appearance of the encounter involving the Hungarian national team, following the continuous circulation of discussions and debates over the event throughout our country over the last ten days. The journey concluded in the capital city after passing via Sofia, Plovdiv, and Kardzhali. So many ups and downs, twists and turns, and tragedies, and the Bulgarian Football Union once again demonstrated that they can still surprise the people even after 18 years at the helm of their beloved game.
The "trouble" actually began with the declared intentions for protests against the headquarters of the football administration during the meeting with the Hungarians. The organizers disseminated a visual representation illustrating the spatial arrangement of football enthusiasts from different teams within the spectator areas. This demonstration was intended to be nonviolent, regardless of the circumstances. However, according to BFU, "the match between Bulgaria and Hungary was moved first to Plovdiv, without an audience, and the host of the match would be the second biggest Bulgarian city's "Hristo Botev" Stadium" on November 6, after a recommendation from UEFA.
Three days later, the building company in charge of the "Hristo Botev" Stadium, aka "The College" informed us that arranging games at the stadium from November 13 to 20 is not recommended due to installation of heavy parts on the facility's top. Verbal a ttacks erupted between "Hristo Botev"'s builder Iliyan Filipov and BFU deputy executive director Hristo Zapryanov - Filipov claimed that Plovdiv's football teams Botev and Lokomotiv were threatened with license revocation, while Zapryanov denied this and accused Filipov of obstructing the match in the city "under the hills". Finally, on November 13, the Municipality of Plovdiv declared that the match between Bulgaria and Hungary at the "The College" would not take place.
Meanwhile, BFU President Borislav Mihailov commented in an interview about the prospect of Bulgarian football almost vanishing if the match with the Hungarians is cancelled. "One such refusal to grant a stadium is analogous to a refusal to organize a sporting event, which means that the state has not assisted the federation in organizing the match, which means interference, which means expulsion from UEFA." The discussion at hand encompasses more than just the exclusion of teams from European tournaments; it pertains to the complete cessation of football activities in Bulgaria for an extended duration. It is impossible, there is no reason for this to happen, it would be an unmitigated tragedy," said the former national team's and FC Levski's goalie, who accepted no responsibility for the comments.
After the plan to host the match in Plovdiv fell through, the BFU sought for a venue in Kardzhali. "Arena Arda," the local team's home, was ready to accept the EURO qualifier, according to recently elected mayor Errol Mümün, who claimed to the Bulgarian Darik radio that the match "99% will be played in Kardzhali." A regular person might assume that this means the match will be played in southern Bulgaria, but it won't. And Kardzhali was quickly dropped from the accounts as it became evident that, according to the restrictions, the visiting team cannot travel more than 90 minutes from the airport - and here is where the BFU plan flopped.
After so many twists and turns, we arrived at a definitive solution two days before the match - one, if we consider that the game will be held without an audience today, after the sports lawyer Georgi Gradev's petition to the court in Lausanne was denied. Bulgaria vs. Hungary on November 16 at 19:00 Bulgarian local time in front of empty stands at "Vasil Levski" National Stadium. Except for the timing, which was initially stated as 21:45, but was changed earlier at the request of the Hungarians owing to their early departure after the match, as well as the fact that there will be no attendees in the stands, almost the whole original form of the match remained.
A number of ministers and other political officials, including Sports Minister Dimitar Iliev, Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov, and GERB leader Boyko Borisov, were outraged by the stadium's lack of a crowd. All three opposed the decision to host the match behind closed doors, expressing disappointment with the BFU at the state level after the discontent of fans, resistance of management, and other football figures was already evident to many. A protest against the BFU was planned for Sofia, Plovdiv, and Kardzhali, and it will finally take place before the match against Hungary on Thursday at 5:00 p.m., under a new scheme of fan positioning - fans of Levski will be located in Sector B on "Evlogi and Hristo Georgievi" boulevard, fans of CSKA will be located in Sector G, and supporters of the other teams will be located on "General Gurko" street. Hungarian supporters who want to visit Bulgaria have also been invited. At a special briefing earlier in the day, the Bulgarian Interior Ministry called for a peaceful protest, revealing that the organizer of the protest was a Bulgarian capital football club - this, to some extent, does not matter, given that the idea of the protest actions is to visually demonstrate the unity of the fans and the clubs against the current leadership of the BFU.
Turning to the Hungarians, who, like the stadium location, were literally shuffled from town to town just two days before the match, resentment was most clearly expressed in the local federation's stance, which went to the trouble of announcing where the game would be played. the qualifying before the home headquarters, which issued a brief formal statement blaming the municipality of Plovdiv once more. The Hungarian Federation issued a lengthy statement in which it clearly expressed sadness, indignation, and unhappiness - all of which were justified in light of the scenario that had occurred. The most memorable quote is "you can't even organize a family vacation, let alone an international match." As a result, we were renowned all over the world, and not in a good manner.
Indeed, the outrageous ambiguity around where Bulgarians and Hungarians would play got us into a lot of foreign newspapers, and the clamor was more serious than when reporting our country's recent municipal elections. All of this is to demonstrate that the match will take place in Sofia, but without supporters, since "there are signals of possible disturbances and danger to public order."
Even after 18 years of control, the Bulgarian Football Union continues to amaze us. This plot, these twists of fate, are Hollywood-worthy. Borislav Mihailov highlighted the likelihood of no Plovdiv match as a potential calamity for Bulgarian football - but hasn't our beloved sport already crashed and burned? Survived but injured, battling for recovery but seeing no light at the end of the tunnel? There are many who continue to support Mihailov, Emil Kostadinov, Yordan Lechkov, and the other BFU executives.
However, there are many who are sick of havoc events like the previous ten days. Bad results, constant coaching changes, a lack of ideas and tactics for our football's development, and being stuck in one spot. Bulgaria will not host a major international forum anytime soon, but it has recently suffered a major international embarrassment. There are those who will pay the price sooner or later. In terms of the demonstration, it intends to demonstrate that there is opposition to the existing football governance. Others will judge whether 18 years are enough, but what occurred recently is the only confirmation that our sport needs to change. /BGNES
Stefan Ignatov, BGNES Sports Department