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The Levski, CSKA rivalry echoes red-blue football rivalries around eastern Europe.
CSKA followers say the police and their elite masters, not the army, were the real oppressors under communism. The military was the great leveler in Bulgaria, drafting every able-bodied man in the country. Its team is really the people’s team, Angelov said. “The army had no business with people’s lives, telling people what to write, think, feel,” said Angelov. “The police did.”
But asked why CSKA keeps the red star, Angelov suggested communism often gets a bum rap in Bulgaria, where many remember the Soviet Union as a Slavic cousin and protector. “That thing that was in Bulgaria was not the same as in North Korea or Cuba under Castro,” he said.
CSKA has won more titles in its history and currently holds third place in the Bulgaria league, one spot ahead of Levski. But scandals bedevil the team. Coach Ioan Andone resigned on March 30 after only two months on the job, financial troubles have marred the team’s image and striker Orlin Orlinov was recently arrested for allegedly beating his girlfriend, a model and reality television star.
Levski isn’t doing much better. Team owner Todor Batkov, a lawyer for the team’s previous owner, Russian oligarch Michael Cherney, has come under fire for allegedly mishandling team funds. Coach Georgi Ivanov is unpopular, too. Batkov refused his recent offer to resign after the team lost 3-0 to Bulgarian league frontrunners Litex.
Scandals and concerns over poor management have damaged Bulgarian football in the past decade, said CSKA spokesman Vladimir Roupov. Crumbling facilities have also harmed the game, he said. Municipalities often own the stadiums, but the teams lease them. As a result, no one has an incentive to invest in maintenance.
Only a quarter of the 40,000 seats in the national stadium where Levski and CSKA played on March 27 were full, Roupov said. In the early 1990s, a game in the everlasting derby would have attracted at least twice as many people.
Fans at the March 27 match left disappointed. The game resulted in a goalless draw.