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  • Metodi Shumanov

CSKA 1948 vs CSKA-Sofia: The Battle of the Reds

In 2016 the original CSKA went bankrupt. Four years later its two successors will kick off the new Bulgarian league season

Friday, 7 August 2020 will enter Bulgarian football’s history books as the day two clubs under the name CSKA will have played each other for the very first time. One of them is CSKA 1948, the Bulgarian league newcomers who got promoted to the Bulgarian top flight at the end of a very chaotic 2019-2020 campaign in the second tier. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Bulgarian second league did not get restarted leading to frontrunners CSKA 1948 sealing their place in the top tier without having to play another game. In the top flight they’ll now meet CSKA-Sofia, who have finished as runners-up for four consecutive seasons, trailing only perennial champions Ludogorets who’ve now won nine titles in a row. So – how has it come to the point that the Bulgarian league has two clubs called CSKA? Let’s go back in time for a bit…

From 31 titles to €13m debts and bankruptcy

Both CSKA 1948 and CSKA-Sofia are claiming they’re the only true heirs to the original CSKA which was founded back in 1948 and ceased to exist in September 2016. During those 68 years CSKA managed to win record 31 Bulgarian league titles, twice played in European Cup semi-finals and gave the football world magnificent players such as Hristo Stoichkov, Dimitar Berbatov, Emil Kostadinov, Lubo Penev, Stiliyan Petrov, Martin Petrov and many more. The Reds’ last league title came in 2008 when the club was celebrating its 60th anniversary. After that, though, things started going from bad to worse. Suffering from chronic mismanagement and transfer misery, CSKA’s debts started piling up until they reached €13m, a massive amount of money for the Bulgarian league standards. More than €5m were in the form of unpaid taxes. So it got to the point that one of the two most popular Bulgarian clubs was kicked out of the top flight by the FA and had to play in the third division. Despite its newly acquired amateur status CSKA went on to win that season’s Bulgarian Cup which was considered a true giant-killing act at the time. However, a year later – in the autumn of 2016 – CSKA declared bankruptcy which paved the way for two new clubs to come into life…

Bulgaria has now two CSKAs

Once created, the two new CSKAs decided to take two very different approaches. CSKA-Sofia were founded after lower league side Chavdar Etropole merged with another club, Litex Lovech. The newly formed club was called CSKA-Sofia and was admitted straight into the top flight by the FA. Some CSKA fans and club legends were not happy with that scenario and decided to create a club of their own – CSKA 1948. It started from the amateur leagues and climbed up the football ladder until it got promoted to the top tier at the end of last season. Curiously, up until recently both CSKAs were using the club crest of the bankrupted CSKA which became part of an auction, selling some of the most valuable assets of the original club. Both CSKAs submitted a bid, with CSKA-Sofia’s being significantly higher, priced at €4m. This way CSKA-Sofia got the legal right to use the original crest and later threatened to sue CSKA 1948 for illegally using the club logo. In order to avoid court battles, before the start of this season CSKA 1948, who’re now coached by Bulgaria legend Krassimir Balakov, changed their crest. However their club website still claims they’re the heir to the club that once won 31 league titles...

This Friday the two clubs will meet for the first time in history kicking off the new Bulgarian league season with a bang! CSKA-Sofia are supported by the vast majority of CSKA fans and will definitely outnumber the CSKA 1948 fans in the stands (there will be fans after the Health Ministry allowed 50% of the venues’ capacity to be filled). Who’ll win on the pitch? It remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure – sparks will fly in the Battle of the Reds!

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