I am not nuts about sport in general, but from 1995 to 2000, I put on a six-a-side amateur football championship in Sofia sponsored by the Sofia Western News magazine, of which I was the chief editor at the time. Just about everyone wanted to be represented and superbly organized by the late Ruman Yiankov, not only did most of the foreign embassies and foreign companies put up a team, but a considerable number of important Bulgarian indigenous companies too.
It took place in the sports hall of the Bulgarian Military Academy, which also put up a team. The Sofia Municipal Police did not supply a team, mainly because they were on duty at the event during the whole weekend it took to knock out the winners, because there were a few controversial moments which needed minding. But, why am I telling you this?
Well, most of the teams were not very amateur at all, in fact, each team seemed to have an ex-professional footballer – allegedly employed in order to comply with the terms of competition – and some teams were even wholly manned by an ex or even currently serving professionals, of which – at the time – I claimed I was totally unaware. The point was to have a cracking good football competition, with tough professional referees and all the thrills and spills of a proper football match. Five years is a long time, so, it must have been popular!
Why am I writing this? Because I got to know the players, their mentality, their risk-taking; and because Bulgarians also like to have a flutter. Ruman my stalwart tournament organizer, as well as being himself an ex-player for the national team, also did a bit of bookmaking on the side. Ignorant of the norms of Bulgarian football culture, this was wisely kept from me at the time. I suppose the logic was that I was making quite enough money from promotions and advertising, that my trusty organizer would take his cut in his own somewhat unorthodox fashion.
My team; of which Ruman was also the captain, often won the tournament, mainly due to his superb football skills and leadership, and I occasionally had to sustain the embarrassment of awarding myself the championship cup and first prize. Which by western standards would have been immediately under question by the local fuzz, but you see, it all took place in Bulgaria.
Bobby Mihaylov – Bulgarian Football Union President Resigns
Bobby Mihaylov, like most Bulgarian businessmen, has a somewhat basic view of his responsibilities and probably saw his position as president of the Bulgarian Football Union, and as Arthur Daley might put it, a nice little earner. To expect more than that is to totally miss the point because – rather like my innocently dishonest football tournament – it is completely true to form.
In their most recent match in Sofia against the English team, the Bulgarians knew they were on a loser from the very beginning, and as usual, were probably still drinking when it was time to get to the match; because this has happened many times before. Their unusual way of showing contempt is also their way of affirming their shortcomings. Once a proud and successful team on the world stage during communism, Bulgarian football – like the country in general – is now corrupt and in the hands of gangsters – or questionable companies – and clearly susceptible to bribery, corruption and match-fixing.
Bobby Mihaylov never made in the west, he was a reserve goalkeeper for the Reading team in the 90s, but never played a match. Like Stoichkov and Letchkov, many of the team members from the UEFA cup have foundered, their popularity diminished and their charisma faded, and now what is needed is a new brush to sweep out the old and to bring in the new.