CSKA Sofia: 70 years and counting
The Goal Click photographer from Bulgaria is Lubo Domo, a photographer and CSKA Sofia supporter. Lubo documented the 70th anniversary celebrations of the club during a match against current champions Ludogorets and told us about the ups and downs of life as a CSKA fan, the passionate fanbase, and why the best days of Bulgarian football are in the past.
Who is in the photos?
The photos were taken in Sofia, at the National Stadium Vasil Levski. They show the supporters of CSKA Sofia, Bulgaria's most successful football club. It was the 70th Birthday celebrations of CSKA Sofia at the match between CSKA and Ludogorets for the Bulgarian championship. Football clubs uses the National Stadium on big occasions (European cup matches or derbies), because it is the biggest stadium in Bulgaria (a capacity around 44,000).
The photos show the density of the red fans in the North stand. Here is where you forget about everything else, and you live for the moment, your moment of freedom.
What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?
I wanted to show that despite the difficulties CSKA Sofia has had during the past 10 years, their loyal supporters are still there. CSKA is an institution that lives with the people who support it. The 70th Birthday celebrations were a real joy for the supporters. And it was something special for me, as past players paraded around the pitch before the game. It brought back beautiful memories.
Very poor management and incompetent owners sent the club to bankruptcy, and to the 3rd division of Bulgarian football three years ago. While in the 3rd Division the club won the Bulgarian Cup while playing with youngsters and players from the academy along with a couple of established players. Now they are back in the top division and trying to challenge for the title against a Ludogorets side that is established as a regular in Europe and have won the championship seven years in a row now. Through the photos I wanted to show the world that Bulgaria is still passionate about football. Despite the difficulties and the bad results, there is still hope.
Who does the helicopter belong to?
The helicopter belongs to the Bulgarian Army. CSKA means Central Sports Club of the Army; it still has a strong relationship with the army.
During CSKA's 70th anniversary celebrations just before kick off, the helicopter arrived in the middle of the pitch and three legends of the club came out: Dimitar Penev (CSKA’s legendary player and then coach, and manager of Bulgaria at the 1994 World Cup), Hristo Stoichkov and Dimitar Berbatov.
Are there any good stories connected with CSKA?
During the 2009 Europa League group games, 6000 CSKA fans made the trip to Rome for the game against AS Roma. It was the best away day of my life. The next day I bought the "Gazzetta dello sport" to read the report from the game. Even though AS Roma won the game 2-0, the newspaper had a column about the away supporters named "Lezione di tifare" (“a lesson on how to support your team”). That speaks for itself.
Why is football so important for Bulgaria and Bulgarian people?
Football is the most popular sport in Bulgaria, and we've had some great players in the past (Stoichkov, Balakov, Penev, Petrov, Berbatov...). It plays an important role as it gives people hope and freedom - you forget about everything and feel something special when you are in the stands. Bulgarian football has had some great moments in the 80s and 90s, but it's been going downwards for the past 15 years. It is important for the people to have something to believe in, something to cheer about. That is what football used to do for the people. I hope these days will come back sooner rather than later.
What role does football play in Bulgaria and Bulgarian society?
When I was growing up, in the 90s and early 2000s, you could find kids playing on the local grounds at every hour of the day. Now some of these grounds have been abandoned and there are less people looking to spend their afternoon on the pitch kicking a ball, simply because they prefer hanging out online or playing video games. Football used to gather people together, make them happy when they went to the grounds, and made them forget their everyday struggles. Now there are less people who care about the national team, and plenty have given up on their local teams because of the corruption and the bad management.
What does football mean to you?
For me football is a strong part of my life, I was one of these kids that used to spend hours on the ground playing every single day. Football is an inspiration; it is a unique sport that creates amazing memories. It is a way of life, and I don't see myself ever quitting on it.
What is the future for Bulgarian football?
The future doesn't look bright as corruption is all over Bulgarian football. The governing body doesn't seem to care about progress and development. Bulgarian football needs real reform and people who care to govern it. The academies are left behind and the conditions for young players aren't good enough, so the quality of the players we develop has decreased.