PFC Slavia Sofia turn 100 years old today, a proud moment for the Bulgarian capital's oldest club.
There have been plenty of honours in that century, with seven Bulgarian League and cup wins, though they have drawn a blank since their first double in 1995/96. Slavia were the first Bulgarian side to reach a UEFA semi-final, losing in the last four of the 1966/67 European Cup Winners' Cup to Rangers FC.
Many of the nation's finest players wore the club's white shirt including goalkeeper Simeon Simeonov, Alexander Shalamanov, Bozhidar Grigorov, Chavdar Tsvetkov, Alexander 'Choko' Vasilev and maybe the most famous of all, Andrey Zhelyazkov. "I want to say a big thank you to this great club," the 61-year-old Zhelyazkov told UEFA.com. "I owe everything to Slavia. My heart will always beat for Slavia."
Zhelyazkov joined Slavia from small-town club PFC Minyor Radnevo in 1971 and in three spells scored 134 goals in 338 league appearances – both Slavia records. "It was a great honour for me to go to Slavia as a youngster," Zhelayzkov continued. "I was privileged to play alongside some of the greatest names in Bulgarian football like Bozhidar Grigiorov, Chavdar Tsvetkov, Alexander Shalamanov, and Moni Simeonov.
"We played with style. We wanted to display our skills and entertain the fans. The coaches just kept saying to us to go out and play genuine football. We did not go on pitch to play ugly and commit fouls. We wanted to play beautiful football and I think we managed to do it."
Unlike his great predecessors, Zhelyazkov had a chance to move abroad at the age of 29, when in 1981 he joined Dutch giants Feyenoord, aiding them to the 1983/84 double and playing alongside Johan Cruyff and a young Ruud Gullit.
"I signed for Feyenoord because of Slavia," said Zhelyazkov, who went on to play in France and Belgium as well as twice returning to Slavia. "When I was at Slavia, my dream was to play some day alongside Europe's finest players. I used to go and watch Ajax train and play when the Dutch club played in Sofia. Thanks to Slavia my dream came true and later I played alongside Cruyff, Wim van Hanegem, Gullit and other great players."
The best 100th birthday present for Slavia would be an eighth Bulgarian Cup triumph, with the Whites facing PFC Beroe Stara Zagora in the semi-finals later this month. Zhelyazkov believes the current team could lift the trophy if they remain true to the club's traditions. "We always played with our hearts," he said. "We gave our best in every game. If the current side give their best, then anything is possible."
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