FM19 League & Club Info: Bulgaria First Division

Welcome back to our Football Manager 2019: League & Club Info A-Z. In the following couple of posts we will be focusing on the Bulgarian First and Second Leagues; the format, rules and clubs associated with them. First up is the First League – or Pŭrva Profesionalna Futbolna Liga (First Professional Football League) as it is technically known.

Pŭrva Profesionalna Futbolna Liga

The Bulgarian First League was devised in 1924 as the Bulgarian State Football Championship and began to be played in a league format form 1948 when the first A group was established. The Bulgarian Champions are awarded a Champions League qualifying spot with an additional two Europa League spots which are allocated to the second placed team in the league and the winner of the European play-offs. There is also the possibility of a fourth spot if the Bulgarian Cup holder finishes in the top three in the league.

Competition Format

Starting from the 2016-17 season, a new league format was approved by the Bulgarian Football Union, in an attempt to improve each participating club’s competitiveness, match attendance and performance in the league. It involves 14 teams playing in two phases, a regular season and playoffs. The first phase includes each club competing against every other team twice in a double round-robin system, on a home-away basis at a total of 26 games per team and played in 26 fixtures. Seven matches are played in every fixture at a total of 182 games played during the first phase. In the second phase, the top six teams form a European qualifying table, while the bottom eight teams participate in a relegation group. The winner of the top group is declared as Champions of Bulgaria and is awarded with the title.

For European qualification the six top teams compete against each other on a home-away basis. Three matches are played in every fixture of the top six, with the results and points after the regular season also included. At the end of the stage, every team will have played a total of 36 games. The winner of the group is declared as Champions of Bulgaria and automatically secures participation in the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League second qualifying round. The team that ranks second is awarded with a place in the UEFA Europa League qualifying rounds. The third team in the final standings would participate in a play-off match against a representative team from the bottom eight. Depending on the winner of the Bulgarian Cup final, a possible fourth team from the first six may compete in a play-off match for an UEFA Europa League spot instead of the third ranked team.

Note: If the Bulgarian Cup winner has secured its qualification for the European tournaments for the next season through results from Parva Liga, then the place in the UEFA Europa League play-off is awarded to the fourth ranked team in the final standings.

The teams in the bottom eight are split in two sub-groups of four teams, Group A and Group B, depending on their final position after the regular season standings. The teams that enter Group A are the 7th, 10th, 11th and the 14th, and the teams that participate in Group B are the 8th, 9th, 12th and the 13th. Every participant plays twice against the other three teams in their group on a home-away basis. The teams from the bottom eight also compete with the results from the regular season. After the group stages, every team will have played a total number of 32 games. Depending on their final position in Group A and Group B, two sections will be formed, one for a play-off spot in next season’s European competitions and one to avoid relegation. The first two teams from each group continue in the semi-finals, and the last two teams of each group continue to the semi-finals for a relegation match. After this phase, one team is directly relegated to the Second League and the remaining two teams will compete in two relegation matches against the second and the third ranked clubs from the Second League.

In case of a tie on points between two or more clubs, league sorting rules are applied in the following order:

  1. Number of wins;
  2. Goal difference;
  3. Goals pro;
  4. Goals away;
  5. Fewer red cards;
  6. Less number of yellow cards;
  7. Draw

League Rules

The league runs from July to March, consisting on 14 teams who play 26 games each. Each match day squad must have no more than 3 non-EU players, must be registered for the competition and can name 7 subs with a maximum of 3 used. Each club can register a maximum of 5 non-EU players, minimum of 15 players trained in the same nation for 3 years between their 15th and 21st birthdays, a maximum squad size of 40 and players can be registered between June-September and January-February. Players signed on free transfers can be registered at any time.

First Division transfer windows run from June-September and January-February with all European Union nations and European Free Trade Association nations treated as EU. In terms of contract renewals, there is a £55 per week minimum wage for full-time players over the age of 16.

The Clubs

Beroe Stara Zagora

Football was played in Stara Zagora as early as 1916, however with no organized championship in Bulgaria until the late 1920s, numerous clubs enjoyed regional success in those early years for the game in both the city and Bulgaria itself. Beroe can trace its roots back to 4 May 1924, when it was founded as Beroya, after the merger of two other clubs – Borislav and Rekord.

The club withstood the almost constant chaos and strife of the times, often caused by numerous shifts in the political regimes of Bulgaria, and despite many mergers and name changes throughout the first four decades of its history, it is constantly among the top 3 clubs in the city. It has also often been the platform for attempts to unite all the clubs in Stara Zagora, which foreshadowed its role and meaning for the city in the years to come.

The establishment of an organized league to determine the champion of Bulgaria in the late 40s coincided with the consolidation of football in Stara Zagora, the city finally seeing a one single strong club emerge to represent it at the highest level of Bulgarian football. That club was Beroe, at first bearing the names of Udarnik and Botev, before finally restoring its old name in 1959.

Club Website:

Botev Plovdiv

Botev Plovdiv was founded in 1912 and is the oldest still existing football club in Bulgaria. Stoyan Puhtev became president, Nenko Penelov was the vice-president, Petar Delev secretary and Tenyo Rusev steward. Rusev named it “Botev” in honor of the Bulgarian national hero Hristo Botev. Since then, the club’s name has been changed for political reasons several times: Botev (1912–1946), DNV(1947–51), DNA (1952–57), SKNA (1957), Botev (1957–1968) and Trakia (1968–1989). The current name is Botev Plovdiv. The club’s colours, yellow and black, were adopted in 1917.

In 1920, the team won the unofficial football championship of Plovdiv. On August 30, 1925, the canaries played their first official international match against the Turkish Fenerbahçe. In the next year, the team led by the coach and captain Nikola Shterev, won the first official trophy, the Cup of Plovdiv.

Botev Plovdiv became National League champions for the first time in 1929, winning the final against Levski Sofia. The canaries won with 1:0 the final game in Sofia. The goal scored Nikola Shterev. Key players during this period included Nikola Shterev, Stancho Prodanov, Vangel Kaundzhiev and Mihail Kostov, who also played for the national team.

Club Website:

POFK Botev Vratsa

Botev Vratsa Football Club was founded in 1921 by Nikola Kunov, Ivan Abuzov, Nako Paunov, Gergo Boytchev, Todor Orozov, Hristo Lighenski and Angel Rachinski. The place of foundation is a playground near the Old market in Vratsa. Between 1921 and 1956 various sport clubs were founded in the city. In 1957 most of the sport clubs in the city are joined together to form FC Botev Vratsa. Between 1957 and 1964 Botev Vratsa is a member of Bulgarian second division. In 1964 the club entered the Bulgarian top division and played there for 26 seasons. The team of Vratsa has 788 games in the top flight of Bulgarian football.

Botev’s most glorious moment came in 1971, when the team finished third in Bulgarian top division, after CSKA Sofia and Levski Sofia. Botev did, however, represent Bulgaria in the 1971–72 UEFA Cup where they lost in the first round to Dinamo Zagreb from Croatia 2–8 on aggregate. The first game in Vratsa, in the presence of 35 000 spectators, ended with a 2–1 loss. The second game in Zagreb finished 6–1.

Among the club’s legendary players is Martin Petrov, considered by most Botev fans as the greatest player to have ever been involved with the club, and one of the greatest Bulgarian players. The list of other famous players to have come from the clubs’ youth system consists of Ilya Valov, Valentin Iliev, and Valentin Stanchev. Nikolay Penkov is the player with most league appearances for the club – 334. The player with most league goals for the club is Georgi Kamenov, with 150 goals for Botev.

Club Website:

Cherno more Varna

Оn March 3, 1913, Galata Sports Association was established in the male first high school in Varna, with association football being one of its departments. Later in 1913, Karel Škorpil, one of the founding members of the sports society and a prominent Czech-Bulgarianarchaeologist, who settled in Varna at that time, suggested the association to be renamed to Reka Ticha, in homage of the old name of the Kamchiya river. On May 24, 1914 Sportist Sports Club, which was formed by Stefan Tonchev and a group of boys in 1909, joined Reka Ticha. Many Cherno More supporters today consider the officially acknowledged founding year 1913 to be historically incorrect, believing that SC Sportist’s year of establishment in 1909 should be acknowledged as the year of establishment of Cherno More. Several years later, the first international friendly in Bulgarian club football history was played in 1915 between Reka Ticha and the 21st Pomeranian Regiment of Prussia, which ended in a 4-4 draw. In 1919, Reka Ticha began playing matches against different teams from the capital Sofia, which ended in a success with scores of 3-0 and 1-0 against Slavia Sofia on a home-away basis and a 4-1 win against Levski Sofia in Varna. The away match with Levski in Sofia however did not take place. The subsequent growth of Bulgarian football required knowledge of the rules, and as such, in 1919, the football department of SC Reka Ticha published the first Bulgarian football rulebook titled “Football – Rules and Admonitions”. It was written by the sports functionary and Reka Ticha’s member Stefan Tonchev.

The fall of socialism in Bulgaria in 1989 and the establishment of democracy brought new hardships for Bulgarian football clubs. The transition from state backed organisations to privately owned entities saw many traditional football clubs disappear entirely, while others were forced to declare bankruptcy, only to return later by obtaining licences from smaller clubs. Cherno More avoided any administrative changes and kept its name and history, but spent 8 out of 9 seasons of the decade in the league’s second tier. Relegated in 1990 and facing immense financial difficulties, at one time during the 1998-99 season, the club came close to relegation to the 3rd division of Bulgarian football. Despite being in the “B”RFG, Cherno More sold their best player and own product Ilian Iliev to Levski Sofia for a then Bulgarian record of 2 million leva (£60 000) in 1991. Things started to get better in 1998 with new chairman Krasen Kralev who turned the club into a joint-stock company.

Club Website:


In October 1923, football clubs Athletic Sofia and Slava Sofia merged to form AS-23, short for Officer’s Sports Club Athletic Slava 1923, under the patronage of the Ministry of War, which provided the equipment. In 1931, AS-23 won their first Bulgarian championship and The Tsar’s Cup, followed by another Tsar’s Cup in 1941. The club’s stadium (completed in 1938) was named Athletic Park and was situated where the Bulgarian Army Stadiumnow resides.

On 9 November 1944, with the support of Mihail Mihaylov, an accountant at the Ministry of War and a patron of Shipka Sofia, a unifying agreement was signed, merging AS-23, Shipka, and Spartak (Poduene) to form Chavdar Sofia. Gen. Vladimir Stoychev from AS-23, who at the time was fighting on the front in World War II, was appointed (by telegram) as the new club’s chairman. Lawyer Ivan Bashev, a future Bulgarian foreign minister, was appointed club secretary and the person in charge of football.

With the help of Mihail Mihaylov again, in February 1948, Chavdar became the departmental club of the Central House of the Troops (“Centralnia Dom na Voiskata”) and took on the name of CDV. Looking for ways to stop the club’s decline, CDV’s administrators sought to merge it with another club. In May 1948, an agreement was reached between CDV and Septemvri Sofia (which had already earned a place in the play-offs) for uniting the clubs under the name “Septemvri pri CDV” (Septemvri at CDV). The contract was signed on 5 May 1948, which is officially considered the club’s date of foundation.

Club Website:

Dunav 2010 Ruse

The 2009–10 season in the B Group was very narrow for the club as the dream of reaching the A Group almost became a reality. Dunav finished the first half of the season in first place, leaving behind the teams of Kaliakra Kavarna and Nesebar. The second half of the season started very well and the team was in a row with a couple of very significant wins, but they won only one game in their last 7 matches and eventually failed to gain promotion to the top flight. In the following years, Dunav again failed to impress and was mostly seen as a middle table club in the final ranking of the B Group. In 2010–11, the club was left by some of its good players, as a result of ongoing financial difficulties in the team. Dunav subsequently withdrew from the B Group in February 2011, after being unable to reduce its financial debts to the municipality and a majority of its squad players. A few days later, the club announced bankruptcy and was dissolved.

In 2011, Dr. Simeon Simeonov established a new entity under the name Dunav 2010, which was approved by the BFU to start from the lowest levels of Bulgarian football. The team obtained license and after several court decisions in the following months, it regained the traditions and history of its predecessor. In 2015, the club won the Bulgarian Amateur Cup and was promoted to the second division. In 2016, Dunav 2010 became champions of the 2015-16 B Group and were promoted to the top flight for the first time since 1991, 25 years after their last participation. They completed in the debut season of the newly renamed Bulgarian First League. Their first year in the BFL was an instant success, as they finished fourth and qualified for Europa League.

Club Website:

Etar Veliko Tarnovo

FC Etar was founded on April 24, 1924 after the unification of the already existing clubs “Slavova”, “Phoenix”, “Victoria” and “Bulgaria” in Veliko Tarnovo. After a lot of heated disputes, the united team gets the Slav name of the Yantra River – “Etar”, which means fast-pouring water. The Baltov trader was the first chairman. This is the beginning of the glorious history of FC “Etar” (Veliko Tarnovo).

The first great success since its creation was achieved only 6 years later, in the 1930s, when it reached the semi-finals in the State Cup tournament. In the period 1946-1956 a team with this name did not exist, as the practice in this period was to create teams on a departmental basis. So in Veliko Tarnovo there appear “Strnadnik”, “Septemvri”, “Spartak”, DNA and “Red flag”. “Etar” resurrected in 1957 when the departmental principle of team building was abolished, the FTT was established and its participation in the B group began.

Club Website:

PFC Levski Sofia

Sport Club Levski was founded in 1911 by a group of students at the Second Male High School in Sofia, with football as the major sport practiced. The club’s name was chosen in honour of the Bulgarian revolutionary Vasil Levski, and the club was officially registered on May 24, 1914. In January 1969 Levski was merged with Spartak Sofia and put under the auspice of the Bulgarian Interior Ministry. The name of the club was once again changed, this time to Levski-Spartak.

The name of the team was changed to Vitosha by the authorities following the disruptions during and after the Bulgarian Cup final in 1985. The game ran on high emotions fueled by the streak of consecutive victories of Levski over CSKA in the 2 years prior to the game (though CSKA won the Bulgarian Cup game 2–1). The controversial decisions of the referee led to confrontations both on the field and on the stands. By decree of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party some of the leading players both of the Blues and the Reds were suspended from the sport for life. The championship title of the club for 1985 was suspended. However, the suspensions were lifted shortly after.

After the 1989–90 season, the club regained its original name. The team composed of the newcomers Plamen Nikolov, Petar Hubchev, Tsanko Tsvetanov, Emil Kremenliev, Zlatko Yankov, Georgi Slavchev, Ilian Iliev, Daniel Borimirov, Stanimir Stoilov and Velko Yotov and the return of the veterans Plamen Getov, Nikolay Todorov and Nasko Sirakov, dictated the game in the domestic championship by winning the title in 1993, 1994 and 1995. Memorable wins by big margins over challengers Lokomotiv Sofia – 8–0, CSKA – 7–1 and Botev Plovdiv – 6–1, clearly demonstrated Levski’s complete superiority. Home games in European Competitions against Rangers and Werder Bremen turned into true holidays for supporters. Levski contributed with 5 first team players (Petar Hubchev, Tsanko Tsvetanov, Emil Kremenliev, Zlatko Yankov and Nasko Sirakov) and three reserve players (Plamen Nikolov, Petar Aleksandrov and Daniel Borimirov) to the Bulgaria national football team that ended on fourth place in the unforgettable American summer of the World Cup 1994.

Club Website:

Lokomotiv 1926 Plovdiv

Description of the club’s history requires attention to the reorganisations that the team has undergone since its creation and how the members and fans of the team have reacted to these changes. It should be noted that the political environment in Bulgaria during the communist period between 1944-1989 has led to some forced changes in the nature of sporting clubs throughout the country as to follow “the Soviet model”. In the case of PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv, these changes have led to the merger of two teams, that are different in nature, leading to misinterpretations of the history of the teams. This said, a special approach is needed towards the history of the early years of the contemporary football club of Lokomotiv Plovdiv. In order to understand the origin of the contemporary team with its official full name, colours, and supporters, the examination of Lokomotiv’s history has to be undertaken in two major “branches” – one defined by its followers and recognisable features, and the other by its functional characteristic and funding as a labour union team. These branches can be defined as that of Sportclub Plovdiv (being the fan-based team), and of club of the railway workers (being the team funded by the union).

In the spring of 1922 the sport club Karadzha is founded administratively by the consolidation of some casual football teams in one of the districts of the city of Plovdiv so that the players can compete in the Championship of Plovdiv. Two years later, in 1924, the sport club Atletik is formed in the same district of Plovdiv as Karadzha. On 26 July 1926 the two sport clubs from the same district, Karadzha and Atletik, unite to form the team of Sportclub. The football club chooses white, black and red as the colours of their kits and their crest, and also the year of establishment 1926 is added several years later the crest. Nowadays, Lokomotiv Plovdiv still uses the same colours for their kits and crest, while the full name of the team (Professional Football Club Lokomotiv 1926 Plovdiv) shows that the year the club assumes itself to be established is the year Sportclub was founded.

Club Website:

Ludogorets 1945 Razgrad

The club was founded in 2001 as Ludogorie Football Club. Its name was adopted from the previous name of the debt-troubled sports club in the town at that time, Razgrad 2000. The latter eventually ceased existence in 2006 after its registered association announced bankruptcy during that same year. After playing for several years in the lower divisions of Bulgarian football, Ludogorets’s successful campaign started in the 2009–10 season, when the team achieved promotion to the Bulgarian B Group. Shortly after, the club was acquired by Bulgarian entrepreneur Kiril Domuschiev. Ivaylo Petev, a former Litex Lovech midfielder, was also designated as head coach of the newly promoted second division outfit.

In September 2010, the club was purchased by Bulgarian entrepreneur Kiril Domuschiev, with the clear intention to bring Ludogorets to the top division. The takeover was followed by a flurry of bids for high-profile players. In May 2011, with Ivaylo Petev as head coach, the team completed this feat in Domuschiev’s first season of ownership by winning promotion to A Group for the first time in club history.

Ludogorets’ main kit colour is forest green and the away kit is white. In addition, a black alternative kit is also used in some of the domestic matches. Ludogorets’s current crest is designed by the supporters and was chosen after a poll in the club’s website. It was introduced to the public before the start of the 2016–17 First Professional League season.

Club Website:

Septemvri Sofia

On November 5, 1944 the clubs Sportclub Sofia, Sokol and Vazrazhdane unite under the name of FC Septemvri Sofia. On March 26, 1945, the additional clubs of Botev (Konyovitsa), Ustrem (Zaharna fabrika), Pobeda (Krasna Polyana), and Svoboda (Tri kladentsi) merge into the club. In May 1948, the club, then playing in the 1st Sofia Division, is briefly merged with second-division CDV/Chavdar (Sofia) and the unified club wins the 1948 Bulgarian Championship by overcoming Levski Sofia in the final.

Septemvri starts the 1948–49 season in the newly formed A Republican Football Group, but only six months later is separated from CDV (Chavdar) and removed from the division, with the current title given to CDNV, Chavdar’s new name, which would ultimately become CSKA Sofia. At the end of the 1948–49 season, Septemvri is allowed to take part in a two-match play-off for entering first division against Marek Dupnitsa. After both matches end with a 2-0 win for each team, a third game is played in which Septemvri falls 1-0 and remains in second division.

During the 2000–01 season, the club finished in 13th place in the B PFG and was relegated to the V AFG, where it remained until 2008. In March 2008, the club was heavily penalized after a scandalous match against FC Bansko, when coach Rumen Stoyanov ordered his players to leave the field, a serious offence according to Bulgarian Football Union regulations. With an executive decision, the BFU removed Septemvri from the V AFG and placed it in the A OFG, the Sofia Regional Football Group. Despite this setback, the club attained 1st place in the division in the 2008–09 season and qualified for a play-off match for entering the V AFG against FC Novi Iskar.[4] After an emotional 0–0 in regular time, penalty kicks were in order to determine the team going forward. Septemvri lost the penalty shootout 5–4.

Club Website:

Slavia 1913 Sofia

On 10 April 1913, a group of young people living near a Russian Monument in Sofia and representatives of the local capital clubs Botev and Razvitie, in a coffee-house – Alabin str. in Sofia, decided to establish an incorporated  ports club, the first organized sport club in Sofia. The new incorporated club has named Slavia. Dimitar Blagoev – Palio, a 21-year-old student, was elected as the first president of the club. As members of the first club administrative council were elected Emanuil Geshev, Ferdinand Mihaylov, Tsvyatko Velichkov, Georgi Grigorov and Todor Kalkandzhiev.

A few days later, was elected the first football team of the club – Stefan Lalov, Ilia Georgiev, Emanuil Geshev, Todor Kalkandzhiev, Stefan Chumpalov, Dimitar Blagoev – Palio (all of them from Botev) and Pavel Grozdanov, Ferdinand Mihaylov, Boris Sharankov, Asen Bramchev, Dimitar Cvetkov (all of them from Razvitie). The first sport dresses of the club were white shirts and black shorts. Since 1924, the team has played with white shirts and white shorts and up to present days it is popular as the “White pride”. On 11 August 1913, Slavia played its first match, against local club Savata, and won 1–0.

After World War I, Slavia began to become more successful. On 5 June 1928, the club won its first champion title, winning 4–0 in the final match against Vladislav Varna. Slavia won the title five more times until 1946, in 1930, 1936, 1938–39, 1941 and 1943.

Club Website:

Vereya Stara Zagora

The club was founded in 2001 by a founding board led by Hristiyan Parvanov, Galin Mihaylov, Slavcho Tanev, Tonko Totev and Dimo Hristov. Until the 2005/06 season it was playing in Regional groups before the promotion to the V AFG under the name FC Vereya-Arsenal after a merger with Arsenal Kazanlak, but after the season 2006/07 Vereya-Arsenal became Arsenal Kazanlak and the 2nd team Vereya Bulsatkom moved to Stara Zagora again and was registered as FC Vereya. They won the A RFG 3 times in the next 5 seasons, getting the promotion during the 2011–12 season.

In 2012, Bulgarian construction company Trace Group started investing in the club and a new stadium project Trace Arena was presented. On May 21, 2014 the club won the Cup of Bulgarian Amateur Football League after defeating Minyor Pernik 2–0 in the final. During the same season Vereya finished 3rd in the V Group and secured promotion to the higher-ranked professional football league, the B Group.

In 2016, the club submitted an application for the newly restructured Bulgarian First League. On June 1, 2016, one of the new signings of the club for the upcoming season, the Brazilian Elias Alves da Silva, announced that he joined the club, as it would compete in the top league of Bulgaria, long before an official statement was given by the BFU officials on the number of the teams competing in the new league, thus sparking controversy.

On June 7, 2016, Vereya, alongside five other B Group outfits, were approved by the Bulgarian Football Union and were promoted to compete in the upcoming 2Bulgarian First League.

Club Website:

Vitosha Bistritsa

The club was founded in 1958 and played in the regional divisions until 2007, when it gained promotion to the third division. In the 1972–73 Bulgarian Cup they entered the preliminary round, but eventually lost to Pirin Blagoevgrad with a 3-0 result.

From 2007 to 2016 the team played regularly in the V Group. In May 2012, Vitosha claimed the Amateur League Cup for the first time in their history, eliminating Dve Mogili 2–1 in the final match. During the 2012-13 V Group, the club ranked second in the South-West V Group and achieved promotion to Bulgaria’s professional B Group for the first time in their history. During the 2013–14 Bulgarian Cup, Vitosha eliminated Bansko with an aggregate score of 3-1 to advance to the Round of 16 of the Bulgarian Cup for the first time ever. Previously, their highest achievement had been reaching the Round of 32 in the 1972 Bulgarian Cup.

Vitosha finished the 2015–16 V Group in second place after CSKA Sofia, but due to the adoption of a new league structure for the Second League, they were promoted again. In the meantime, the club started investing in a youth academy consisting of five youth teams for the 2016–17 season and reconstruction works on the club’s stadium. On May 3, 2017, Vitosha presented an update of their current club crest. A few days later, on May 8, 2017, they also signed a sponsorship agreement with Bulgarian gambling company Efbet for the upcoming two seasons.

On June 3, 2017, Vitosha won the play-off relegation match against Neftochimic Burgas and achieved promotion to the top division for first time in their history. Despite their poor performance during the regular season, finishing last with the worst defense and attack, and gaining only one victory, Vitosha avoided relegation from the 2017–18 First League, winning the play-offs against Pirin Blagoevgrad and Lokomotiv Sofia.

Club Website:

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