Tuesday, 4 May 2010

PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv (Bulgaria)

As with most great East European teams who share their name, Lokomotiv were formed by railworkers at the main station in Plovdiv - Bulgaria's second city - in 1926. But they didn't immediately take on the historic name. They were initially known by the simple but effective Sportclub, and kept that appellation until as recently as 1949 - some eleven years after they joined the Bulgarian National Football League.

Despite their long history, they were known as one of Bulgaria's under-achievers, grabbing the odd second and third place and occasional minor cup here and there until they stunned the nation with the league title in 2004. They clinched in the penultimate match against Slavia Sofia in a hard-fought 3-2 win in a massively over capacity home match at their homely stadium, knocking their nation's most successful team, Levski Sofia into a grudging runners-up slot.

This period of success corresponded with the club's ownership by the multi-millionaire businessman Georgi Iliev. However, there was more to their benefactor than immediately met the eye. A talented wrestler in his youth, Iliev had to give up the sport after he was imprisoned for his involvment in a brutal gang rape. While inside he became well versed in the way of the mob, and after his release became the boss of a shady crimnal organisation called VIS. Thought to be one of Bulgaria's richest men, he was flung into the headlines after he was shot and killed at a Black Sea holiday resort after Loko's UEFA Cup match against OFK Beograd in 2005.

After his death, the club was plunged into financial difficulties, and had to break up the winning team and sell off all their most prized footballing assets to survive. This didn't stop them finishing a plucky fifth the following season, qualifying them for a short-lived InterToto Cup run.

But Loko would probably prefer to be remembered for the stuff that happened on the pitch. Indeed, they were the home of Bulgarian legend Hristo Bonev. In three stints on the playing staff between 1959 and 1984 he became his nation's biggest footballing star, and went on to score a record 47 goals for his national side in a mammoth 96 appearances. he then went on to manage Loko for a spell, before taking the national team to the 1998 World Cup in France.

Their fans, going under the deceptively cute name of The Smurfs, are considered the most fanatic in all the land, and regularly meet with their sworn rivals Botev Plovdiv in remote locations for old school hoolie dust ups. More sedately, they also have the oldest, and some say largest fan club in Bulgaria, and matchdays are noted for their lively, if not slightly unhinged, atmosphere.

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  1. roy could i post this to my lokomotiv plovdiv group page on facebook? i'll put you as the author

  2. You'd be very welcome, old chap!