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The Levski, CSKA rivalry echoes red-blue football rivalries around eastern Europe.
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Red Sox and Yankees fans have nothing on the supporters of CSKA and Levski, Bulgaria’s most popular soccer teams.
For while Bostonians and New Yorkers lay claim to the longest-running rivalry in American professional sports, CSKA and Levski devotees enjoy what they call “the everlasting derby,” a bitter red-versus-blue struggle that stretches from Serbia to Russia, mixing politics and history along the way.
“In 1944, they were pigs, with the fascists,” said CSKA fan club president Dimitar Angelov, who wore a bright red windbreaker outside Bulgaria’s national stadium in Sofia, the capital, before a March 27 match against Levski. “They love to speculate that we are communists. They are the team of the police. I avoid talking about them.”
On the other side of the stadium — cops keep the fan groups separated to prevent fights — Levski supporter Stoyan Hristovskov also let fly. “There is hatred between the two,” he said, draped in a blue flag. “We hate them viciously.”
Variations of the same animosity can be found between Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade and Partizan soccer clubs, Moscow’s CSKA and Dynamo, and other rivalries throughout eastern Europe. Drawing parallels between them can be tricky — Partizan players once wore blue but now sport black-and-white uniforms — but they conform to similar patterns.
Founded in 1914 and named after a hero of Bulgaria’s 19th-century independence movement, Levski became linked with the police and intelligence services during the Cold War, when the ruling Communist Party permeated every aspect of life. Now the club’s supporters call Levski the “people’s team,” in part because blue is associated with democracy in Bulgaria.
Bulgaria’s military created the Central Sports Club of the Army, or CSKA, in 1948. The club is now privatized, but CSKA’s logo remains the red star, the symbol of the communist-era armed forces.
Those histories have little connection to CSKA and Levski’s management today. Still, the teams’ origins are crucial to how their fans perceive each other.
Levski backers are disgusted at CSKA supporters rallying around a communist symbol. “A lot of CSKA supporters claim the star has nothing to do with communism,” said Levski fan club president Vladimir Vladimirov. “They feel guilty. Their younger fans don’t know about things we’ve been through, what we experienced in socialist times.”