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.
That winning tradition was alive for several decades as PFC Beroe Stara Zagora, Spartak Plovidv, Botev Plovdiv, PFC Lokomotiv Sofia, PFC Etar Veliko Turnovo, PFC Litex Lovech, PFC SlaviaSofia and PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv 1936 were the only other clubs to have landed the championship.
In 2012, PFC Ludogorets emerged on the domestic football stage and won five league titles in a row. The team also rewrote the history books in reaching the UEFA Champions league group stages twice.
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 and Stiliyan Petrov the country's most notable exports 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.
Former Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Tottenham and Manchester United forward Dimitar Berbatov became the most successful player since the turn of the century, having won the Player of the Year award a record seven times. Berbatov also became the country's all-time top goalscorer (48).
Stiliyan Petrov not only became the most capped international (106 caps), but is now an inspiration for thousands of people following his brave fight with acute leukaemia.
In 2015, Bulgaria and the BFU successfully organised the European UEFA Under-17 Championship finals, the first with 16 participants. Now, the country and the governing body are looking forward to staging the UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship final tournament in 2020.
On November 17 2016, the BFU opened its new House of Football, funded with UEFA's help, at Boyana, on the outskirts of Sofia. The new headquarters include three pitches, a multi-functional hall, a tennis court and a hotel. “This is an exceptional day for us. This is a dream come true for me and many generations of Bulgarian players,” said BFU president Borislav Mihaylov during the official opening ceremony.
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