First Professional Football League (Bulgaria)
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The First Professional Football League (Bulgarian: Първа професионална футболна лига) is a Bulgarian professional league for men's association football clubs. Standing 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 is 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. Known by its previous name A Group, the Bulgarian top-tier was fully restructured during the summer of 2016, when new licensing criteria were introduced.
|Founded||1924 (as BSFC)|
1948 (as A Group)
2016 (as Parva Liga)
|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 (8th title) |
|Most championships||CSKA Sofia (31 titles)|
|TV partners||Nova Broadcasting Group|
The Bulgarian football championship was inaugurated in 1924 as the Bulgarian State Football Championship and has been played in a league format since 1948, when the A Group was established. The champions of the First League have the right to participate in the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Champions League based on the league's European coefficient. Additionally, two UEFA Europa League spots are allocated to the second team in the final standings and the winner of the European playoffs. A further fourth spot may also be granted to the fourth placed team in the final league ranking, given that the Bulgarian Cup holder has finished among the top three teams at the end of the season.
A total of 67 clubs have competed in the Bulgarian top-tier since its establishment. In the last decade, many teams such as the current champions Ludogorets were introduced for the first time in the league. In 2016–17, Vereya Stara Zagora became the 67th club to participate in the competition. Since 1948, eleven different 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 respectively. The current champions Ludogorets Razgrad won their seventh consecutive title in their seventh First League season in 2017–18.
The first football championship of Bulgaria started in 1924 in 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. (needs direct citations)
A Republican Football GroupEdit
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 LeagueEdit
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.
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 two 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 was 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.
First Professional Football LeagueEdit
On June 7, 2016 the league's name was changed to First Professional Football League, following approval of new licensing criteria for the clubs.
Starting from the 2016-17 season, a new league format was approved by the Bulgarian Football Union, in an attempt to improve each participating club's competitiveness, match attendance and performance in the league. It involves 14 teams playing in two phases, a regular season and playoffs. The first phase includes each club competing against every other team twice in a double round-robin system, on a home-away basis at a total of 26 games per team and played in 26 fixtures. Seven matches are played in every fixture at a total of 182 games played during the first phase. In the second phase, the top six teams form a European qualifying table, while the bottom eight teams participate in a relegation group. The winner of the top group is declared as Champions of Bulgaria and is awarded with the title.
The six top teams compete against each other on a home-away basis. Three matches are played in every fixture of the top six, with the results and points after the regular season also included. At the end of the stage, every team will have played a total of 36 games. The winner of the group is declared as Champions of Bulgaria and automatically secures participation in the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League second qualifying round. The team that ranks second is awarded with a place in the UEFA Europa League qualifying rounds. The third team in the final standings would participate in a play-off match against a representative team from the bottom eight. Depending on the winner of the Bulgarian Cup final, a possible fourth team from the first six may compete in a play-off match for an UEFA Europa League spot instead of the third ranked team.
Note: If the Bulgarian Cup winner has secured its qualification for the European tournaments for the next season through results from Parva Liga, then the place in the UEFA Europa League play-off is awarded to the fourth ranked team in the final standings.
The teams in the bottom eight are split in two sub-groups of four teams, Group A and Group B, depending on their final position after the regular season standings. The teams that enter Group A are the 7th, 10th, 11th and the 14th, and the teams that participate in Group B are the 8th, 9th, 12th and the 13th. Every participant plays twice against the other three teams in their group on a home-away basis. The teams from the bottom eight also compete with the results from the regular season. After the group stages, every team will have played a total number of 32 games. Depending on their final position in Group A and Group B, two sections will be formed, one for a play-off spot in next season's European competitions and one to avoid relegation. The first two teams from each group continue in the semi-finals, and the last two teams of each group continue to the semi-finals for a relegation match. After this phase, one team is directly relegated to the Second League and the remaining two teams will compete in two relegation matches against the second and the third ranked clubs from the Second League.
In case of a tie on points between two or more clubs, tiebreakers are applied in the following order:
- Number of wins;
- Goal difference;
- Goals pro;
- Goals away;
- Fewer red cards;
- Less number of yellow cards;
The following clubs are competing in First Professional Football League during the 2019–20 season.
|Botev||Plovdiv||Botev 1912 Football Complex||4,000|
|Levski||Sofia||Vivacom Arena - Georgi Asparuhov||25,000|
|Tsarsko Selo||Sofia||Vasil Levski National Stadium||43,230|
List of championsEdit
Performance by clubEdit
- Bold indicates clubs currently playing in the top division.
- Italics indicates clubs which no longer exist.
|CSKA Sofia||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|
|Levski Sofia||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|
|Ludogorets Razgrad||2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019|
|Slavia Sofia||1928, 1930, 1936, 1939, 1941, 1943, 1996|
|Lokomotiv Sofia||1940, 1945, 1964, 1978|
|Cherno More Varna||1925, 1926, 1934, 1938|
|Litex Lovech||1998, 1999, 2010, 2011|
|Botev Plovdiv||1929, 1967|
|Beroe Stara Zagora||1986|
|Etar Veliko Tarnovo||1991|
|Athletic Slava 1923||1931|
- 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 the 1984/85 title.
All-time league table (1948-present)Edit
|1||Levski||Sofia||70||2017||1192||465||360||3915||1793||+2122||3329||1st (21 titles)||Never relegated.|
|2||CSKA||Sofia||69||1984||1208||452||324||4086||1725||+2361||3307||1st (31 titles)|
|3||Slavia||Sofia||69||1991||865||473||653||2988||2335||+653||2522||1st (7 titles)||Never relegated. Expelled with political decision for 1 season.|
|4||Lokomotiv||Sofia||64||1835||770||460||605||2644||2215||+429||2279||1st (2 titles)|
|5||Botev||Plovdiv||63||1827||705||426||696||2649||2536||+113||2052||1st (1 title)|
|6||Lokomotiv||Plovdiv||57||1696||660||388||648||2302||2332||-30||1977||1st (1 title)|
|8||Beroe||Stara Zagora||51||1523||520||356||647||1854||2199||-345||1578||1st (1 title)|
|9||Litex||Lovech||20||608||354||123||131||1113||552||+561||1149||1st (4 titles)|
|13||Chernomorets [a]||Burgas||29||866||277||188||401||1057||1410||-353||775||5th||Dissolved in 2006.|
|17||Etar [b]||Veliko Tarnovo||24||726||264||161||301||951||1043||-92||731||1st (1 title)||Dissolved in 2003.|
|21||Ludogorets||Razgrad||7||234||144||54||36||473||168||+305||530||1st (7 titles)||Finished 1st each of their seasons in First League.|
|22||Akademik||Sofia||18||505||163||136||206||589||676||-87||467||3rd||Dissolved in 2012.|
|23||Spartak||Plovdiv||17||441||158||121||162||562||581||-19||455||1st (1 title)||Dissolved in 2016.|
|25||Spartak||Sofia||15||377||135||124||118||456||416||+40||394||2nd||Dissolved in 2007.|
|32||Pirin Blagoevgrad [e]||Blagoevgrad||6||178||53||41||84||189||254||-65||200||8th||Merged to form Pirin in 2008.|
|46||Lokomotiv [f]||Mezdra||2||60||17||13||30||69||89||-20||64||8th||Dissolved in 2012.|
|48||VVS||Sofia||2||54||13||21||20||60||63||-3||47||8th||Merged into CDNA in 1956.|
|49||Stroitel||Sofia||2||50||13||18||19||47||53||-6||44||8th||Disbanded in 1954.|
|51||SFC Etar||Veliko Tarnovo||1||36||10||10||16||38||54||-16||40||11th|
|52||Cherveno Zname||Sofia||2||40||13||13||14||46||50||-4||39||6th||Merged with CSKA in 1962.|
|56||Torpedo||Pleven||3||66||9||14||43||48||137||-89||32||8th||Merged with Spartak in 1957.|
|57||Akademik||Varna||1||28||9||7||12||26||43||-17||25||10th||Merged with Cherno More in 1969.|
|60||Himik||Dimitrovgrad||1||30||7||6||17||36||60||-24||20||16th||Merged to form Dimitrovgrad in 1967.|
|67||Etar 1924||Veliko Tarnovo||1||30||4||4||22||20||75||-55||13||16th||Dissolved in 2013.|
|70||Conegliano||German||1||30||0||1||29||8||131||-123||−2||16th||Dissolved in 2007.|
|Competing in First League|
|Competing in Second League|
|Competing below Second League|
|Not competing (See Notes)|
- 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 it is not an official representer of the original club.
- Team was dissolved in 2014 and refounded again in 2018. FC Shumen 1929 was recognized by the fans during its existence from 2013 to 2016, but was not an official representative of the original club.
- Team was dissolved in 2008. OFC Pirin Blagoevgrad is recognized by the fans, but it is not an 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.
Several football matches have been dubbed as derbies in the Bulgarian First League. The football rivalry, which has attracted the most domestic and international attention over the years has been played between the two most successful clubs in the history of Bulgarian football, CSKA Sofia and Levski Sofia, otherwise known as the Eternal derby of Bulgarian football. The second largest Bulgarian city Plovdiv also has its own derby match, known as the Plovdiv derby, and is contested between the two historic clubs in the city, Botev and Lokomotiv.
Other notable rivalries include matches contested between Cherno More and Spartak in the city of Varna and cross-city rivals Chernomorets and Neftochimic in Burgas. In recent years, a regional derby between Beroe Stara Zagora and Botev Plovdiv, dubbed alternatively as "The Battle of Thrace", has also ignited significant domestic attention.
The Eternal DerbyEdit
The two teams are the most supported ones in Plovdiv and the games between them are well known to the Bulgarian football community. 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's fanbase was formed from 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 two years at a 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 (formerly as 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. The league matches in this period were also broadcast in Romania. During the 2008–09 season, the Romanian sports channel Sport.ro broadcast the Friday game, and in the following 2009-10 season, only the league 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 to broadcast the most interesting match in the fixture. The rest of the games were broadcast online live on the websites Topsport.bg, Livesport.bg, Bookmakers.bg, and Sportline.bg.
For the start of the new 2012-13 season, the football clubs rejected requests from four TV stations due to the low payments being 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 however due to financial problems, TV7 opted-out of its league contract for the championship and the rights were transferred to Nova Broadcasting Group. The 2014–15 and 2015–16 seasons will be broadcast by Nova, Diema, Nova Sport and Diema Sport.
The next seasons will also be broadcast on the Nova Broadcasting Group channels Diema, Diema Sport and Diema Sport 2, part of the Diema Extra paid pack, as their contract with the league was additionally extended.
Until 2011 the official sponsor of the championship was TBI Credit and the league was officially known as TBI A Football Group.
In early 2013, for a short period of time the naming rights of A Group were bought from the news television network News7, eventually renaming the competition's name to NEWS7 Football Championship.
UEFA League Ranking as of 15 March 2019:
UEFA 5-year Club Ranking as of 15 March 2019:
All-time top appearancesEdit
|Bold displays footballers currently playing in First League|
As of 24 May 2019[update]
All-time top scorersEdit
|Bold displays footballers currently playing in First League|
As of 24 May 2019[update]
- As of December 16, 2018
- Youngest player to appear in the league - Yanko Kirilov (aged 15 years and 72 days)
- Foreign player with the most appearances in the league - Vančo Trajanov (328)
- Foreign player with the most goals in the league - Claudiu Keșerü (82)
- Fastest goal scored in the league - Miroslav Manolov (7 seconds)
- Player with most appearances for a Bulgarian team in European club tournaments - Svetoslav Dyakov (70 - 69 for Ludogorets Razgrad and 1 for Lokomotiv Sofia)
Top scorers by seasonEdit
Bold indicates all-time highest.
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