17 November 1993: The day when God became Bulgarian
Even today, 25 years later, the 1994 World Cup qualifier between France and Bulgaria remains the game that has brought me the greatest footballing pleasure in my life. What’s more – I had the chance to be one of the 150 Bulgarian fans in the Parc des Princes stands on 17 November 1993, the day when, as one late Bulgarian commentator put it when Emil Kostadinov scored his last-minute winner, God became Bulgarian. Well, it’s a totally different story that 10 out of 30-40 people who took a charter flight from Sofia to Paris decided to flee our country and never return to Bulgaria, starting a new life in France…
My name is George and I still remember everything that happened 25 years ago in Paris as if it were yesterday. A friend of mine suggested we go to France, visit the capital, do some sightseeing and then attend the crucial qualifier. Bear in mind in 1993 it was still difficult for most Bulgarians to visit Western Europe. The Communist regime in Bulgaria had fallen just 4 years earlier and attending a game was one of the easiest ways of obtaining a visa. I remember that at the end of 1994 I travelled to Wales for a Euro 1996 qualifier and it was just me and my friend who made our way back home. The other 18 members of our group stayed in the UK in search of a better future.
But let’s go back to that epic November night in Paris. We got some great seats just behind the goal in which Kostadinov scored his last-gasp screamer. Do you know what felt even better? The PSG fans were sitting right next to us, chanting the name of David Ginola right from the kick-off. Later on Ginola came on as a substitute and it was him who was at fault for Kostadinov’s second goal. Fantastic! Be careful what you wish for, France!
It still gives me goosebumps when I think how the Parc des Princes stands fell silent all of a sudden. Needless to say, our small Bulgarian group went wild!
After the game a few local police officers didn’t allow us to leave the stadium for 90 minutes. Somebody set some newspapers on fire and threw them at us but it was nothing serious. Once we caught a taxi, I told the driver to take us to a neighbourhood, where the bars and restaurants were still open. We had to celebrate properly! At some point we entered a 24/7 shop and when the shopman realised we were coming from Bulgaria, he started begging us: ‘Please don’t tell me how tonight’s game ended. I have it recorded and once I get home, I’ll watch the entire match’. Sorry, but I wasn’t paying any attention to his request! I was so happy with Bulgaria qualifying for the World Cup at the expense of France that I started dancing right in the middle of the shop. There was no way I could keep it secret!
The day after the game we went to visit the main tourist attractions Paris had to offer. On our way back to the hotel we got a taxi but the guy was driving us around, trying to pump up our bill by choosing a longer route. He knew that we were from Bulgaria and wanted to get his sweet revenge on us!
You know what – shortly before we beat France Paris had also hosted that year’s Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships. And our Bulgarian girls had stolen the spotlight! That’s why we used to make fun of the French that we were better than them at both football and rhythmic gymnastics.
Twenty-five years later my Parc des Princes ticket is still framed. I’ve told you already – when it comes to football, I’ve never felt happier in my life!