Bulgaria’s most successful club CSKA Sofia will relaunch from the third division following their financial crisis, the domestic football union (BFU) said. The decision marks a spectacular fall from grace for CSKA, who have won 31 league titles and reached three European semi-finals in happier times between 1967 and 1989. Last month, cash-strapped CSKA and three other teams were denied licences to compete in next season’s Bulgarian professional championship and European competitions. There were speculations Bulgarian soccer could be restructured and the domestic second division will accommodate CSKA but local authorities said the licensing procedure is complete and changes in professional divisions cannot be made. “CSKA can only play in the amateur championship,” the BFU said in a statement. CSKA accepted their fate and their new bosses said the club will waste no time to return to the Balkan country’s top divisions. “We don’t even think for a moment that we’ll not return to professional football,” former Bulgaria coach Plamen Markov, who was appointed as CSKA’s sporting director, told a news conference on Tuesday. “It’ll be the end for CSKA if we don’t win a promotion.”
Next season, CSKA, whose matches attract biggest crowds in the Black Sea state, will start life in a championship where the average attendance is only a couple of hundreds. CSKA’s passionate supporters, however, say the attendance will not drop while the Reds’ matches in the third division will be broadcast live on TV. “For me CSKA and the Bulgarska Armiya stadium are like the Bulgarian Patriarch and The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (a Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral in capital Sofia),” Borislav Gerenski, a lifetime CSKA fan, said. It will take CSKA at least two years to return to Bulgarian top flight, which the club or Levski have won 57 times since 1948 when the Reds were founded. And even CSKA’s traditional foes already feel their absence. “I hope that they’ll return to first division soon,” Levski coach Stoycho Stoev said. “The eternal derby, certainly, is something that can not be replaced.” Many Bulgarian clubs face considerable infrastructure difficulties and are struggling to meet administrative, legal and financial conditions laid down by European soccer’s governing body.