A group of students arriving home from Istanbul are credited with introducing football to Bulgaria and establishing the first official team in 1909.
However, it was not until 1 January 1923 that the game was properly organised with the formation of the Bulgarian National Sports Federation. A year later, Bulgaria became a member of FIFA, and in 1924/25 the first national championship was played involving six clubs.
The country also took part in its first international match that season, a 6-0 defeat by Austria in Vienna which presaged a six-year wait for a win. Eventually, Bulgaria defeated Romania 5-3 in Sofia and went on to claim a maiden piece of silverware in 1932. The national side outplayed Romania, Yugoslavia and Greece to lift the Balkans Cup.
In 1937 a new national league consisting of ten teams was inaugurated, with the winners being determined by a points system for the first time. A national cup competition, the Bulgarian Football Union (BFS) Cup, followed in 1945. Then, in 1954, the BFS joined European football's new governing body UEFA.
Bulgaria was now under communist rule, and many of the leading clubs came to represent state bodies. The most notable examples were PFC CSKA Sofia, the army team, and PFC Levski Sofia, who were linked to the interior ministry. Between them, these two sides have collected more than 70 major honours. This winning tradition is still alive as PFC Litex Lovech, PFC Slavia Sofia, PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv 1936 and PFC Ludogorets Razgrad are the only other clubs to have landed the championship.
International success has proved more elusive. A silver medal at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico is the closest Bulgaria have come to glory. Nonetheless, the national team have qualified for seven FIFA World Cup tournaments, and in the United States in 1994 they finished fourth having eliminated holders Germany in the quarter-finals.
Their record in the UEFA European Championship has been rather less impressive, and prior to UEFA EURO 2004 in Portugal the country's solitary finals appearance had been at EURO '96.
Not that Bulgaria have lacked individual talent. Perhaps the country's greatest player was Georgi Asparuhov, an all-conquering centre-forward with Levski whose star dimmed prematurely when he died in a car crash in 1971. However, it is Hristo Stoitchkov who is the most celebrated, with record goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov the country's most notable export in recent years.
Stoitchkov made his name as a prolific goalscorer with CSKA in the late 1980s. His form brought a move to FC Barcelona, where he catapulted to fame by winning four straight Spanish titles and the European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1991/92. European Footballer of the Year in 1994, he is the example Bulgaria's players must now follow.
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