First Professional Football League (Bulgaria)
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|Founded||1924 (as BSFC)
1948 (as A Group)
2016 (reformed as First League)
|Number of teams||14|
|Level on pyramid||1|
|Relegation to||Second League|
|Domestic cup(s)||Bulgarian Cup
|International cup(s)||Champions League
|Current champions||Ludogorets Razgrad (5th title)
|Most championships||CSKA Sofia (31 titles)|
|TV partners||Nova Broadcasting Group|
The First Professional Football League (Bulgarian: Първа професионална футболна лига) is a Bulgarian professional league for association football clubs. At the top of the Bulgarian football league system, it serves as the country's primary football competition. The league determines the champion of Bulgaria and contested by fourteen teams it operates on a system of promotion and relegation with the second tier of the Bulgarian football league pyramid, the Second League. First League was formed during the summer of 2016 with the restructure and rebranding the name of the top division of the bulgarian football.
First Professional Football League is formed by a regular season and playoffs. Each of the fourteen teams participating in the league must play at least two times against every other team on a home-away basis before starting the playoffs stages. Seasons run from late July to May in the following year with a winter break, which usually lasts two months. Most games are played on Saturdays and Sundays, with some played during weekday evenings, mainly on Friday and Monday. The TV rights for the league matches are owned by the media company "Football Pro Media" and the games are broadcast live on the channels Diema, Diema Sport and Diema Sport 2, part of the Diema Extra paid pack.
The Bulgarian football championship was inaugurated in 1924 as BSFC and it has been playing as a league format since 1948 when A Group was created as the top tier of the Bulgarian football league pyramid. The top division of Bulgarian football has been restructured for season 2016–17 with the participating teams taking ownership stake in the tournament and rebranding the name to First League while it is still being administered by the Bulgarian Professional Football League and the Bulgarian Football Union. The champion of First League has the right to take part in the UEFA Champions League from the stage allowed by the league's coefficient. The two UEFA Europa League spots are allocated to the second team in the final standings and the winner of the playoffs. All teams qualify for the Bulgarian Cup which also offers UEFA Europa League spot. In every season, the teams in First League start participating in the competition from Round 2 (Round of 32) in the middle of November.
A total of 66 clubs have competed in the top tier of Bulgarian football. In the last several seasons, many teams such as the current champions Ludogorets made their debuts in the top division of Bulgarian football. In the 2013–14 season, Lyubimets became the 66th club to ever participate in the top division competition. Since season 1948, eleven teams have been crowned champions of Bulgaria. The three most successful clubs are CSKA Sofia with 31 titles, Levski Sofia with 26 titles and Slavia Sofia with 7 titles. The current champions Ludogorets Razgrad won their fifth consecutive and overall championship title in their fifth A Group season of 2015–16.
- 1 History
- 2 Competition format
- 3 Clubs
- 4 Current clubs
- 5 List of champions
- 6 Performance by club
- 7 All-time table (1948-present)
- 8 The Derbies
- 9 Broadcasting rights
- 10 Sponsorship
- 11 UEFA Ranking
- 12 Records
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 External links
Bulgarian State Football Championship
The first football championship of Bulgaria started in 1924 with a knockout format. An attempt to form a league as the top division of the Bulgarian football league system was made in 1937–1940, when the National Football Division was created. There were 10 teams, each playing twice against all the others, once home and once away. The team that finished first in the table became champions.
A Republican Football Group
The first season of the A Republican Football Group started in the autumn of 1948. In that season, ten teams participated in the league: Levski, Septemvri, Lokomotiv, Slavia and Spartak from the capital city Sofia, and Botev (Varna), Slavia (Plovdiv), Marek (Stanke Dimitrov), Benkovski (Vidin) and Luybislav (Burgas). The first football champion of the A Republican Football Group was Levski in 1948–49.
The 1949/50 season in the A Group was not completed. The league was stopped after the first fixture. It was then decided that the championship of Bulgaria would be played in a spring-autumn cycle as in the Soviet Union. In the autumn of 1949, qualification tournaments were played to determine the teams that would play in the next 1950 season. In the next two seasons the number of teams in the league was increased to 12, and for the 1953 season there were 15 teams (the 16th team was the Bulgarian National Football Team). In seasons 1954 and 1955 there were 14 teams in the league, and in seasons 1956 and 1957 there were 10.
In 1958, the championship was again stopped after the spring half-season, as had happened in 1948. New re-organizations were accepted and the league was again going to be played in the autumn-spring format. Despite the fact that the teams had played just 1 match, CDNA was crowned as the champion of Bulgaria.
The frequent changes in the number of teams in A Group continued in the 1960s. In the first two seasons after the reforms in 1958, the number of teams in the league was 12, in the period 1960–1962 – 14, until season 1967/68, when the teams were 16.
There were new reforms at the end of the 1960s. There were many mergers between Bulgarian clubs. The most-famous are between CSKA Red Flag and Septemvri Sofia in CSKA September Flag, the capital teams Levski and Spartak in Levski-Spartak, Lokomotiv and Slavia in Slavia, the Plovdiv teams Botev, Spartak and Academic in Trakiya. Mergers happened between other Bulgarian clubs too. These mergers between clubs and reforms in A Group where made at the winter break of the 1968/69 season.
Premier Professional Football League
The Bulgarian Football Union decided to make reforms. The Premier Professional Football League, created in the autumn of 2000, had 14 teams participating in it. At the end of the 2000/01 season, the last two teams were directly relegated to the lower division and the team that finished 12th had the chance to compete in the promotion/relegation play-off for the remaining place in the league. Levski Sofia became champions in the first season of the Premier League.
In the 2001/02 season there was experimentation with the regulations. The championship was divided into two phases. In the first phase the teams played a regular season, each team playing twice against all the others, once home and once away. The second phase was a play-off phase.
In the following season, 2002/03, the championship returned to the regulations of 2000/01 – 14 teams playing in a home and away format. For the first time in 6 years, CSKA Sofia became champions.
Bulgarian A Professional Football Group
The Bulgarian A Professional Football Group was created in 2003. The group was formed by 16 teams, each playing twice against all the others, once home and once away. In the first season of the newly created A Group, the 2003/04 season, for the first time in history, Lokomotiv Plovdiv became champions, finishing with 75 points. In 2004/05, CSKA Sofia won A Group for the 30th time. For the next two seasons, Levski Sofia were champions under manager Stanimir Stoilov. From 2005/2006 the league's name has been A Football Group. In 2007/08, CSKA became champions of A Group for a record-breaking 31st time without a loss out of 30 matches. But in the summer, UEFA didn't give a license for the club to play in the UEFA Champions League qualifying rounds and Levski Sofia entered to play in the tournament instead of CSKA. In the following season Levski Sofia won their last A Group title, finishing one point ahead of CSKA. Later on, two years in a row Litex Lovech won another 2 titles like in 1997/98 and 1998/99. In 2011/12, after winning promotion from B Group, Ludogorets Razgrad became the second team after Litex to win the A Group in their first season.
First for season 2013–14, the number of teams competing in A Group has been reduced from sixteen to fourteen. The championship was divided into two stages. In the first stage, the regular season, each team must play two times against the other thirteen teams on a home-away basis until each team has played with each of the other teams twice, for a subtotal of 26 matches per team. In the second stage, the playoffs, the top seven teams and the bottom seven were divided into two subgroups, which were to play twice with each of their respective group rivals, again on a home-away basis, for a subtotal of 12 games per team. The top seven teams determined the champion of Bulgaria as well as the teams eligible to play in the European tournaments because of their position at the end of the season. The bottom seven determined the four teams that are to be relegated to B Group for season 2014–15 and two teams promoted in their place from the lower level division.
For the next 2014–15 A Group season the teams that have taken part were 12, with Ludogorets winning their fourth consecutive championship. Again like in the previous season the championship was divided again into two stages - regular season and playoffs. In the second stage, the playoffs, this time the top six teams and the bottom six were divided into two subgroups, which were to play twice with each of their respective group rivals, again on a home-away basis, for a subtotal of 10 games per team. The top six teams determined the champion and the teams that were going to play in next season's European tournaments, and the bottom six determined the two teams that were going to be relageted to B Group.
Before the beginning of season 2015–16, the Sofia teams, including title record-holder CSKA and Lokomotiv were excluded from the league due not receiving license to play in A Group. However the new season started with 10 teams with the format saying that, there will be a regular season and no playoffs, with each club must play four times against every opponent in the league. Later in the season, in an A Group match played on Georgi Asparuhov Stadium in Sofia between Levski and Litex Lovech, after a referee decision for giving a penalty for the home team, the away team from Lovech decided to abandon the pitch and the match. After this big scandal, the team of Levski was awarded with a 3:0 win and the team of Litex Lovech been automatically excluded from A Group. The remaining teams in A Group, now just 9 finished the season, with the results of the matches played between them and the relegated Litex Lovech team were nullified. For fifth consecutive season Ludogorets from Razgrad won the A Group title.
First Professional Football League
On June 7, 2016 the league's name was changed to First Professional Football League following an approval of new licensing criteria for the clubs.
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There are fourteen teams that participate in First Professional Football League. The season is formed by two phases – Regular season and Playoffs. In the Regular season, each club play each other twice in a double round-robin format, one match at home and one away, for a total of twenty-six matches. In the second phase the league are split, with the first six teams playing a so called Championship round to determine champions of Bulgaria, while the bottom eight teams play in the Relegation round to avoid relegation.
In the Championship round the top six teams play a second round-robin tournament for an additional 10 matches, including the record in the first twenty-six matches. The winners of the Championship round are the Bulgarian champions and automatically qualifies for the next season's UEFA Champions League qualifying rounds. The runners-up are awarded with a place in the UEFA Europa League qualifying rounds, while the third-placed team play a match against one of the teams from the Relegation round (one of the teams that finished from seventh to fourteenth place after the Regular season) for the final Europa League spot. Depending on the winner of the Bulgarian Cup final, it is possible that the fourth-placed team from the Championship round play this match instead of the third-placed team.
The teams in the Relegation round (from seventh to fourteenth) are split in two sub-groups of four teams depending on their final position after the regular season. The teams that enter in Group A are the 7th, 10th, 11th and the 14th, and the teams that enter Group B are the 8th, 9th, 12th and the 13th. Every team play a second round-robin tournament against the teams in their own group for an additional 6 matches. The top two teams in each group qualify for the European play-offs to determine who will meet the third-placed or fourth-placed team from the Championship round and a chance to qualify for the UEFA Europa League. The bottom two teams qualifies for the Relegation play-offs.
Three points are awarded for a win, one point for a draw, and no points for a loss. A club's place in the league table is determined by the number of points it has earned during the season. If two or more teams have equal points in the standings of A Group, the team with the better aggregate result form the head-to-head matches is placed higher. If some of the teams are tied in the aggregate result, the number of head-to-head away goals between those teams are considered. If tied again, the team with the better goal difference in the season is placed higher. If those teams have the same goal difference, the one with more goals scored during the season concerned is placed higher. If tied again, teams are positioned by "sportsmanship" – the one with fewer red cards (and if equal – fewer yellow cards) is placed higher. In the case where teams are tied again, their position is determined by a draw.
From the creation of A Group (current First League) in 1948, 66 clubs have competed in the top level of the Bulgarian football league system. In the last couple of seasons many of them, just like the current champions Ludogorets made their debut in the league. In season 2011-12 Svetkavitsa competed for the first time but relegated in the same season after finishing at the bottom of the table. In 2012-13 Pirin from Gotse Delchev also made debut in the league and remained place after finishing 11th. In 2013-14 Lyubimets became the 66th club that have been part of the top division, however the team relegated in the same season.
Levski and Slavia from Sofia are the only two teams to have never been relegated from First League. They played in all 67 seasons of A Group, with a dispute for the latter. Slavia Sofia, as runners-up, in 1950 was separated in two teams - Udarnik Sofia sent in B Group and Stroitel Sofia in A Group, both members of same DFS organization. Slavia inherited the accounts of Stroitel in A Group for 1951 and the accounts of Udarnik for the next seasons until the unification of the team in 1953. Thus, it is very unclear and disputed on whether Slavia Sofia collects maximum number of seasons in First League or not. Most of statistics display 1 season outside First League for Slavia Sofia, despite the club never been relegated from the top level of Bulgarian football.
List of champions
Performance by club
A list of the most successful clubs in the championship is listed below.
||1948, 1951, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1966, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1997, 2003, 2005, 2008|
||1933, 1937, 1942, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1953, 1965, 1968, 1970, 1974, 1977, 1979, 1984, 1985, 1988, 1993, 1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2009|
||1928, 1930, 1936, 1939, 1941, 1943, 1996|
||2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016|
||1940, 1945, 1964, 1978|
||1925, 1926, 1934, 1938|
||1998, 1999, 2010, 2011|
|Beroe Stara Zagora||
|Etar Veliko Tarnovo||
- Bold indicates clubs currently playing in the top division.
- Italics indicates clubs no longer exist.
- Cherno More was created after Vladislav (Varna) and Ticha (Varna) merged. The titles include those won by both teams.
- CSKA Sofia titles include those won as Septemvri pri CDNV, CDNA, and CFKA-Sredets.
- Levski Sofia titles include those won as Levski-Spartak and Vitosha, as well as the re-awarded 1984/85 title.
- Botev Plovdiv total does not include the Trakia originally awarded 1984/85 title.
All-time table (1948-present)
- Clubs marked in Bold were participating in the 2015–16 A Group.
|7||Cherno More Varna||1st||51||1473||521||378||572||1760||1869||1599||–||–||2|
|8||Beroe Stara Zagora||1st||48||1421||477||326||618||1732||2092||1419||1||1||1|
|10||Spartak Varna [a]||N.E.||43||1202||378||270||554||1385||1829||1144||–||–||2|
|15||Etar Veliko Tarnovo [c]||Y.A.||24||726||264||161||301||951||1043||731||1||–||2|
|20||Neftochimic Burgas [d]||N.E.||13||394||161||76||157||560||512||538||–||1||–|
|29||Lokomotiv Gorna Oryahovitsa||2nd||9||268||95||48||125||280||390||259||–||–||–|
|31||Shumen 2010 [e]||N.E.||7||212||61||38||113||219||368||201||–||–||–|
|32||Pirin Blagoevgrad [f]||N.E.||6||178||53||41||84||189||254||200||–||–||–|
|41||Zavod 12 Sofia||N.E.||3||74||23||27||24||72||80||73||–||–||–|
|44||Lokomotiv Mezdra [g]||N.E.||2||60||17||13||30||69||89||64||–||–||–|
|45||Pirin Gotse Delchev||3rd||2||68||16||8||44||62||148||56||–||–||–|
|50||Cherveno Zname Sofia||N.E.||2||40||13||13||14||46||50||39||–||–||–|
|67||Chernomorets Burgas Sofia||N.E.||1||30||0||1||29||8||131||−2||–||–||–|
- N.E. – Club currently doesn't exist.
- Y.A. – Club currently have only youth academy.
- Team was dissolved in 2015. FC Spartak Varna is recognized by the fans, but its not official representer of the original club.
- Team was dissolved in 2006. PSFC Chernomorets Burgas and FC Chernomorets 1919 Burgas are recognized by the fans, but they are not official representers of the original club.
- Team was dissolved in 2003. FC Etar 1924 Veliko Tarnovo and later OFC Etar Veliko Tarnovo are recognized by the fans, but they are not official representers of the original club.
- Team was dissolved in 2014. Neftochimic Burgas is recognized by the fans, but its not official representer of the original club.
- Team was dissolved in 2014. FC Shumen 1929 is recognized by the fans, but its not official representer of the original club.
- Team was dissolved in 2008. OFC Pirin Blagoevgrad is recognized by the fans, but its not official representer of the original club.
- Team was dissolved in 2012. FC Lokomotiv 2012 Mezdra and FC Lokomotiv 1929 Mezdra are recognized by the fans, but they are not official representers of the original club.
There are some matches that can be called derby matches. Of course the clashes between the two most successful clubs in the history of Bulgarian football, CSKA Sofia and Levski Sofia are called as the Eternal Derby. The second largest city in Bulgaria Plovdiv has it's own derby match that is called The Plovdiv Derby between the two historic clubs of the city, Botev and Lokomotiv. Other derby matches with teams from one city are the derby of the third largest city Varna between Spartak and Cherno More and the derby of the fourth largest city Burgas between Chernomorets and Neftochimic. The oldest Sofia derby is between Levski (1914) and Slavia (1913).
The Eternal Derby
The Eternal Derby of Bulgarian football is contested by the two most successful football clubs in Bulgaria – CSKA Sofia and Levski Sofia. On every match between the two teams, no matter if it is a First League or Bulgarian Cup match, there is a fantastic atmosphere with thousands of fans supporting their favourite team.
Over 130 matches have been played between the two teams at the top level of Bulgarian football league system, with Levski Sofia having the upper hand. The biggest derby wins have been 7:2 (on 17 November 1968) and 7:1 (on 23 September 1994) for Levski. The biggest wins for CSKA Sofia were 5:0 (on 23 September 1953 and on 1 October 1989) and 4:0 (on 14 April 1957).
The highest attendance was on 11 March 1967, at the Vasil Levski National Stadium – 70,000 spectators (the final result Levski Sofia 1:1 CSKA Sofia). The lowest attendance is 8,000 spectators, on 18 November 1995, at the Vasil Levski National Stadium (Levski Sofia 3:1 CSKA Sofia).
The Plovdiv Derby
The first match between the two teams in A Group was in 1951 when Lokomotiv Plovdiv won 3–0. The biggest win for Lokomotiv was 7:3 (on 8 September 1974), and the biggest win for Botev is 5:0 twice, in seasons 1988/89 and 1995/96.
The two teams are the most supported ones in Plovdiv and the games between them are well known to the Bulgarian football community. This is maybe one of the fiercest rivalries in the world. Botev is the country's oldest team created in 1912, whereas Lokomotiv grew popular in the 1970s. Traditionally, Lokomotiv drew support from the lower working classes of society, whereas Botev drew support form the middle and upper classes, although that no longer applies.
In 2008, the broadcasting rights were purchased by the private channels TV2 and Ring TV for three plus 2 years for the price of $33 million. BNT had the first pick for each fixture and broadcast the most interesting match for the weekend. For seasons 2009/10 and 2010/11, PRO.BG (the former TV2) and RING.BG (the former Ring TV) bought the rights to broadcast the full pack of six matches from each fixture. At the end of season 2010/11, after bTV bought PRO.BG, the channel was re-branded to bTV Action and got on broadcasting only on cable networks. The new owners didn't want to fully pay to every club in the league, because of the unmet stadium requirements for journalists and cameramen places at some stadiums. The clubs weren't happy and they threatened to ban cameras at their matches. Matches in that period were broadcast also in Romania. In the 2008–09 season, the Romanian sports channel Sport.ro broadcast the Friday game, and in the next 2009/10 season, only the matches of CSKA Sofia.
Days before the start of the 2011/12 season, the private terrestrial channel TV7 bought the rights to broadcast two matches per fixture. As before, the national television BNT1 got the first pick and broadcast the most interesting match for the fixture. The rest of the matches were broadcast live online on the websites Topsport.bg, Livesport.bg, Bookmakers.bg and Sportline.bg.
For the start of the new 2012/2013 season, the clubs refused the rights requests from four TV stations because of low payments offered – Bulgarian National Television, Nova Television, TV7 and TV+. Finally after the first set of fixtures, the satellite broadcaster Bulsatcom with its channel TV+ bought the rights, along with BNT. Before the start of the spring half-season the rights were bought by TV7 and News7, who had rights for the first, third and fourth pick, and BNT 1 along with the international channel BNT World broadcasting the second pick of a match.
For the 2013–14 season, 7 Media Group bought the full rights for another three seasons prior to 2016 and will broadcast six matches per fixture on their channels – TV7 and News7. In 2014 because of financial problems TV7 lost the rights for the championship and they were transferred to Nova Broadcasting Group. The 2014–15 and 2015–16 seasons will be broadcast by Nova, Diema, Nova Sport and Diema Sport.
Until 2011 the official sponsor of A Group was TBI Credit and the league was officially known as TBI A Football Group.
For 2011–12, A Group had new sponsor – the Victoria FATA Insurance and therefore the league name in that season was Victoria A Football Championship.
In early 2013, for a short period of time the naming rights of A Group were bought from the news television network News7 and therefore the league's name was NEWS7 Football Championship.
The national league rankings for the 2013/14 season of UEFA competitions is based upon results in UEFA competitions from the 2008/09 through 2012/13 seasons.
Current Bulgarian A Group ranking (2013)
- 22 (19) Czech Gambrinus Liga
- 23 (25) Slovak First League
- 24 (24) Swedish Allsvenskan
- 25 (27) Serbian SuperLiga
- 26 (28) Bulgarian First League
- 27 (26) Norwegian Tippeligaen
- 28 (18) Scottish Premier League
- 29 (29) Hungarian Nemzeti Bajnokság I
- 30 (31) Georgian Umaglesi Liga
- Full List
- Most times champion — CSKA Sofia — 31 times.
- Most seasons played in the division from 1924 to 2015/16 — Levski Sofia (78).
- Most seasons played in A Group from 1948 to 2015/16 – Levski Sofia (67).
- Fewest seasons played in the division — Benkovski Vidin, Cherveno Zname Pavlikeni, Rozova Dolina Kazanlak, Akademik Varna, Olimpik Teteven, Nesebar and Chernomorets Burgas Sofia each have played only a single season in the division.
- Most wins in a single season — CSKA Sofia 25 of 30 games (2004/2005) and Ludogorets Razgrad 25 of 36 games (2013/2014).
- Fewest wins in a single season — Torpedo Ruse (out of 22 matches during 1951) and Rakovski Ruse (out of 30 matches during 1996/97) and Chernomorets Burgas Sofia (out of 30 matches during 2006/07) each did not win a game in a single season.
- Most defeats in a single season — Rakovski Ruse (out of 30 matches during 1996/97) and Chernomorets Burgas Sofia — 29 (out of 30 matches during 2006/2007).
- Fewest defeats in a single season — Spartak Sofia (out of 22 matches during 1951), Levski Sofia (out of 18 matches during 1948/49), CSKA Sofia (then CDNA; out of 11 matches in 1958) and CSKA Sofia (out of 30 matches during 2007/2008) each did not lose a game in a single season.
- Most goals scored in a single season — Levski Sofia — 96 goals in 30 matches during 2006/07.
- Fewest goals scored in a single season — Rakovski Ruse (out of 30 matches during 1996/97), Chernomorets Burgas Sofia (out of 30 matches during 2006/07), Torpedo Ruse (out of 22 matches during 1951) and Cherno More Varna (out of 11 matches during 1968) each scored only 8 goals in a single season.
- Most goals conceded in a single season — Chernomorets Burgas Sofia — 131 (out of 30 matches during 2006/07).
- Least goals conceded in a single season — Levski Sofia – 6 goals.
- Most consecutive matches without scoring a goal — Rakovski Ruse – 19 matches (during 1996/97 season)
- Biggest win — CSKA Sofia 12:0 Torpedo Ruse in 1951.
- Most times champion — Manol Manolov with CSKA Sofia — 12 times
- Most matches played in the division — Marin Bakalov — 454 matches for Botev Plovdiv, CSKA Sofia, Spartak Plovdiv, Maritsa Plovdiv and Olimpik Teteven
- Most goals in the division — Petar Zhekov — 253 goals; 8 for Dimitrovgrad, 101 for Beroe Stara Zagora and 144 for CSKA Sofia
- Most goals in a single season — Hristo Stoichkov — 38 goals for CSKA Sofia during 1989/90
- Most goals in a single match — Petar Mihaylov (for CSKA Sofia against Torpedo Ruse in 1951), Ivo Georgiev (for Spartak Varna against Spartak Plovdiv in 1995/96), Todor Pramatarov (for Slavia Sofia against Rakovski Ruse in 1996/97) and Tsvetan Genkov (for Lokomotiv Sofia against Chernomorets Burgas Sofia in 2006/2007) each scored 6 goals in a single match
All-time top scorers
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