On the grades, 20,000 football fans played their own game while the blue Levski hooligan sector was on fire. Many scarves were burning and the referee was only about to start the match. Blue, white and yellow smoke rose. The field was impossible to see from the stands. The Eternal Derby of Bulgaria, CSKA versus Levski, was about to begin.
The smoked audience screamed and covered their eyes and mouths with black and blues T-shirts, revealing neo-Nazis and skinhead power tattoos. It was Sunday, April 30, and the two biggest football teams of Bulgaria were on the field, almost ready to start, waiting for two impressive troops of supporters to occupy the Sofia National Stadium. A cloud of recycled confetti and balloons with the colors of the teams flew at one time. The match must have started because one muscled man, shaved head, turned his face red to sing on a microphone, for the crowd to follow, but the crowd wasn’t ready yet. Ten thousand Levski fans could barely breathe through the blue smoke.
Blagoevgrad is not a small town in southwest Bulgaria. It’s Capital of its province, with 70,000 inhabitants (at least 100 of them in Sector B, the most extreme fans of PFC Levski Sofia football club).
Everyday, they walk down those valley city streets and sleep inside any of those Soviet-era apartment buildings uptown. But their second home is in Sofia. There, they own the south stand in the Georgi Asparuhov Stadium, home of the blue hooligans, the Sector B, the most violent and respected supporters in the club.
Two hours by bus separates their workplaces, family and responsibilities from their passion. “A guy can change anything,” an Argentinian movie says, “his face, his home, his family, his girlfriend, his religion, his God. But there’s one thing he can’t change. He can’t change his passion.”
The powder smell in the stadium is bitter and it would fill the air for 90 minutes of fanatic football demonstration. “My life without Levski is lost, my life without Levski is a failure,” the Hymn of the Blue Fans, not the referee’s whistle, had started the game. In the north side of the stadium, Sector G, something similar was happening on CSKA’s red colors. It didn’t matter until now that the smoke was blown by the wind, and the fans from both sides put their eyes to each other for the first time, and the time to sing arrives. And just then, the match had started.
The weather was perfect as it was for the whole week. No clouds, only a merciless sun made car’s windshields shine and Levski fans sweat. There were 50 guys standing, waiting in a dead end street. It was Sunday afternoon in Blagoevgrad and some of them wore black T-shirts with hooligan logos and some others different blue gear. Most of them were young, some under 18 years old, and two fathers with their boys. The old guys were drinking beer while they were talking about the Real Madrid versus Seville match, which was being played at that time. A close and dirty terrace showed the Spanish competition on a brand new flat-screen TV. Four boxes of special blue Christmas edition of Shumensko beer appeared from the trunk of one car and four big guys, shaved heads with black sunglasses, unfolded a huge banner.
The bus that would take them to Sofia was coming, but first, group picture. Fifty guys from the Blagoevgrad Sector B crew stood behind an ultra Levski image. Most of them were singing, jumping, and making the Nazi salute. The two fathers carried their two sons on their shoulders to appear on the photograph. The football skills of Mussolini were mentioned in one of the songs. Then, nine police officers appeared at the scene.
“Last time, it didn’t happen like this,” Dimitar Todorov said. He is 20 years old. Even though he was proudly born in Beograd, Serbia, he had organized this trip to Sofia for his fellows. “Fuck the police,” he added in Serbian, while the officers were checking water bottles looking for those refilled with vodka. Even beer was confiscated. The sun was still high and heating.
Todorov’s hands are big and tough, a stark contrast to his short body. Sporting a hooligan black T-shirt, his eyes took quick looks at the officers. Last time, the crew got a car following the bus all the way to Sofia. That car was full of booze, Todorov said. But this time, the solution to the hooligan thirstiness was even more obvious. About 30 minutes after leaving the town, the vehicle stopped for supplies. The Blagoevgrad Sector B bought some sandwiches, a couple bottles of whiskey, vodka, and at least two liters of beer per guy. The two policemen sitting at the front didn’t notice it, or they didn’t want to.
“Wait to see the show that we have been preparing,” Todorov said, almost smiling. The previous day, two Levski fans were arrested carrying 46 smoke grenades, according to Reuters.