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Spartak Stadium, Varna, Bulgaria – PFC Spartak Varna

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I visited the Spartak Stadium in Varna on a mid-summer day, with skies as blue as the waters of the Black Sea rolling onto the shore a few blocks away. The stadium is a pretty standard Bulgarian affair, although it didn’t seem to have as many amenities as city rival Cherno More’s Ticha Stadium. The 13,000 capacity stadium is home to PFC Spartak Varna, a side whose shirt I was unable to attain at the stadium. Fortunately, I was able to find a match worn example off the internet once I got back home.

I suppose that I might have been a bit of a bad-luck charm for the side, since they ended up suffering some financial problems and ended up being relegated to the third level of Bulgarian football , the amateur V AFG, in 2010–a year after I visited. It’s a tough blow for a side that was the first Bulgarian side to appear in the now defunct UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup and that shares the name “Spartak” with their more illustrious cousins in Moscow.

 

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Id live in one of those apartments, great seats on match day:

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Skies as blue as the Black Sea:

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At least I know where I am:

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The architecture outside the stadium is…interesting:

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But its a different “interesting” than Bulgarian advertising. I actually liked Mastika–they didn’t need to go to such lengths to hook me. I’m not complaining though:

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Ticha Stadium, Varna, Bulgaria – PFC Cherno More Varna

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Varna is one of those historical cities that needs to be visited. Situated on the shores of the Black Sea, or Cherno More (which the team takes its name from, similar to Ukraine’s Chernomorets Odesa), Varna has the relaxing feel of other sea-side towns–provided you can avoid the drunken British tourists searching for cheap booze and beautiful women.

If one goes a little inland from the sea they will soon come upon one of Varna’s stadiums, the 12,500 capacity Ticha. While it is not UEFA approved, and will therefore most likely not be used once a newer stadium is built, it is in much better shape than many other Bulgarian A PFG stadiums–it was renovated in 2008 (a year before my visit) following its opening 40 years ago in 1968. Also, the fact that a shirt can be procured–through the intermediary of a female accountant–provides an added bonus.

 

The badge is pristine…the rest? Not so much:

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The fans have left their mark, albeit mis-spelled. But we all get the point:

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Nothing but blue skies on the sea shore:

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Druzhba Stadium, Kardzhali, Bulgaria – FC Arda

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As someone with an interest in Turkish populations outside of Turkey I had to visit Kardzhali, a Bulgarian town with a large number of Turks. Kircaali in Turkish, the municipality has a majority Turkish population of 55.5 percent. While visiting the city I sampled some Mastika/Menta, a delicious (and devastating) concoction consisting of Mastika–a 94 proof Bulgarian variant of the anise flavored Turkish Raki–and Menta, a mint liqueur. While in a cloud after drinking the eponymous cocktail I visited third division FC Arda‘s derelict Druzhba stadium. While Wikipedia claims the stadium’s capacity as 25.000, I’m inclined to think its more along the lines of 2.500–the photos below will tell you why. Despite its neglected stadium the tree lined boulevards of Kardzhali are a welcome respite from the urban environment of Sofia and definitely award the intrepid traveller with a relaxing provincial vibe. And don’t leave before sampling a Mastika/Menta at a watering hole in the city center.

 

The stadium from afar feels like entering no-man’s land:

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Turkish brands advertise on the stadium facade:

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The graffiti makes me wonder if there is even a groundskeeper:

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“ARDA” spray painted behind the benches:

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Lokomotiv Stadium, Sofia, Bulgaria – PFC Lokomotiv Sofia

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Outside of the city center and off of a busy Sofia Boulevard a little past the main train station lies the Lokomotiv Stadium. Its pretty big with a capacity of 22,000 and is decently well-maintained since it was built in 1985. In addition to hosting games for “The Railwaymen” this ground has also seen many famous musical acts come through, including Iron Maiden and Elton John among others. It was a rainy day in late June when I visited but the rain could hardly dampen my spirits when searching for the elusive Lokomotiv shirt (there was no club shop, just a small cafe).

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The prizes of the past shine like gold:

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Walking under the gaze of legends:

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Besiktas had a tough time on their visit to Sofia:

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There have been brighter days at the Lokomotiv:

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Fans of Lokomotiv’s main city rival, Slavia Sofia, have left their mark:

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The author takes in some Ultra culture:

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Ascending from the depths:

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Just a small peak:

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Welcome to the Lokomotiv Stadium:

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I imagine that the bowels of the Lokomotiv can get very dark during a post-match press conference after a home loss:

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The author posing in front of the gates:

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Stadion Balgarska Armia/Stadium of the Bulgarian Army, Sofia, Bulgaria – PFC CSKA Sofia

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The name of this stadium should come as no surprise since CSKA Sofia–like both CSKA Moscow and the former CSKA Kiev in Eastern Europe–was originally an army team. CSKA stands for “Central Sports Club of the Army”, even though the link died out with the end of the Cold War; the team maintains no such ties today.

Like other Eastern European grounds, the Balgarska Armia is located in the center of the leafy Borisva Gradina (King Boris’ Garden) in Central Sofia. The trees hide the stadium from immediate view, and one can while away more than a few pleasant hours in the shady paths of the park, watching lovers stroll and young men drinking beer on the many benches. Nearer to the stadium is a small sports cafe, where Bulgarians young and old engage in what seems to be one of their favorite leisure activities: Ping Pong. I myself watched them one afternoon munching on some friend sardines and washing it all down with cold Kamenitza beer. It is definitely a nice spot to get away from it all and just suck in the small moments of a day that we all too often tend to take for granted. I’ve found that Eastern European parks–and stadia–might be some of the most pleasant urban areas in the world.

Inside the stadium–at the time that I visited–were the marks of a less relaxed time, as many of the 22,015 seats had been ripped up in what I could only assume to be the result of crowd violence. Still, one cant help but feel sympathy for the old Balgarska Armia–it was built in 1923–due to the trees that encroach on the highest seats from all sides. For some pictures of my CSKA shirt, please see the link in the “Football Shirts” section.

 

You might have to sweet talk the guards for entrance to the ground, as I had to:

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The player’s entrance feels like a Hollywood red carpet. Almost:

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The trees look to reclaim what was once theirs:

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Marks of a less relaxed time:

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Nice shade in the upper decks of the Balgarska Armia:

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Bring your dictionary for translating:

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The author takes a lonely walk:

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Where the old glories lie:

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Stadion Georgi Asparuhov/Gerena, Sofia, Bulgaria – PFC Levski Sofia – PFC Lokomotiv Sofia Matchday (3-0)

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A blast from the past. Below are a few pictures from the first soccer match (and derby) outside of Turkey that I ever attended. It was a good introduction to what would become my passion, a contest between Sofia’s main side Levski and one of the city’s secondary teams, Lokomotiv at the Georgi Asparuhov Stadium. The disparity in stature between the teams played out on the field as well with Levski winning comfortably, 3-0. This stadium is currently undergoing some renovations and has had its capacity reduced to 18,000, but I am fairly certain that at the time of this match its capacity was closer to 30,000. Interestingly enough, this stadium holds the record attendance for a Bulgarian “A” PFG match at 60,000 fans. How that many entered is beyond me, but I’m sure it was a torrid time. While Levski usually tend to play their European home matches at the National Stadium, the Vasil Levski, this stadium is not so obsolete–Sting played a concert here in 2011.

Since this match is over seven years old at this point I don’t have a write up for it, but I do have a short piece I wrote for an undergraduate travel writing course at the University of Colorado regarding the shirt I was able to get, which is also posted in the Football shirts category. The writing is below, followed by a few match day photos.

 

We had tried everything. We had been to the team store before the game, but the lady had shooed us away, without so much as an explanation. We had been to the team store after the game, but this time not even the woman was there. Determined not to give up, I went back into the stadium just as everyone was clearing out. The late autumn sun was setting over Sofia, and it looked like that same sun was going to set on my little adventure to find a Bulgarian soccer shirt. Soon my friend Jill and I were left in the stadium, with only the television crews still cleaning up wiring. We walked down to the gate through which we had entered, but it was locked. We walked up to the stand and continued down the stairs, and out onto the playing surface. No one, it seemed, wanted to acknowledge our presence. It was as if we were foreign ghosts. We drifted onto the field and into the stadium towards the locker rooms, aimlessly. Soon, a man came out and ushered us out.

“No, only team,” He said in accented English.

“But, shirt, shirt!” I pleaded, tugging at my shirt.

“No English, out,” the man said, ushering us back out of the tunnel and he pointed up, towards where we had come, and the television booth. We thanked the man and walked to where he had pointed, to a rickety fire escape that was to be, theoretically, used by the television crews in the event of any unfortunate situations, which were never too far away from any soccer match in Eastern Europe.

We traversed down the fire escape and found ourselves outside, in the parking lot, in the midst of a sea of media. Players were being interviewed, and I was still tugging at my shirt, desperate to find someone who spoke English to whom I might direct my query. A kind old man saw my desperation and, quietly, took my arm leading me to yet another person. Despite not knowing any English, he knew exactly what I was looking for. Was this an example of Balkan bureaucracy I wondered, inherited from the Ottoman and Soviet Empires who were both former overlords of the grand city of Sofia? The old man led me to, what I recognized at least, was the press attaché, and said a few words in Bulgarian to the man.

“So, you want a Levski shirt?” asked the attaché.

“Yes, if that is possible,” I told him, explaining that I had looked all over the city and had been to the store at the stadium twice, both before and after the game.

“Why is it so hard to find a soccer shirt?” I asked him, finally.

“Because,” he paused, “This is Bulgaria”. We both laughed, and he called his brother to open the store. Within five minutes, I had experienced the kindness of the Bulgarian people and succeeded in what had only moments ago seemed impossible.

 

A sparsely attended derby:

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The Levski Ultras:

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The (at that point) newly installed scoreboard, complete with the Levski logo–the Cyrllic “L”:

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The (male) fans nervous for their side:

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The police sense a disturbance:

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Just some Ultras lighting flares, another day at a Eastern European ground:

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The sun sets on another derby day:

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