The Football Factory

The Football Factory

The recent round of violence during Bulgaria's biggest football derby between Levski Sofia and CSKA Sofia caused ripples that will spread to the rest of Bulgarian football, as measures not too dissimilar from those implemented by the Taylor Report in England are being drafted.

The recommendations for improved safety and security are many – some are already established and proven to be effective in England, so it makes sense to incorporate them rather than attempt to reinvent the wheel all over again. The benefit of other proposed measures, however, is dubious at best, not to mention comical.

An otherwise very entertaining match by Bulgarian standards was marred by violence when CSKA supporters pelted police with slabs, missiles and corrugated iron from the G stand of Gerena stadium, Levski's home ground, before the police charged into the pens and evicted the entire 3000-strong contingent of supporters. The decision to do so has become one of the major talking points after the match and the Sofia police department drew a considerable amount of flak because in the eyes of many supporters (both Red and Blue), police officers displayed their incompetence on two consecutive occasions during the same incident. First, they were unable or unwilling to pinpoint the 150 troublesome supporters who caused all the mayhem and deal with them effectively. Second, they then decided to resolve the problem by evicting everyone indiscriminately, including those who had nothing to do with the violence.

Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov has since staunchly defended his officers saying they responded competently and effectively when presented with a very hostile situation and a very aggressive crowd. Evicting all the fans appeared to be the only logical solution, he said, sidestepping the issue that once the supporters were outside the ground, the problem only spread. Skirmishes between the police and supporters went on across Sofia, with public and private property destroyed in the process.

Authorities have since decided that the Football Factory and The Firm type of weekend warriors need to be stopped. Measures are to be introduced regulating clubs to improve their stadiums, and provide conditions for fans' security. Tsvetanov has proposed for football supporters to go to the grounds earlier than normal so that they can be checked by police and enter the ground "normally".

Alcohol and drug monitoring will be imposed on the turnstiles as well, thus preventing fans who are intoxicated or drugged from entering the ground in the first place. At first glance, those measures seem well-reasoned, but the problem is that football firms, or organised football hooligans who attend matches simply to have a scrap with other like-minded fans, do not necessarily need to be under the influence to clash with their rivals.

Some recommendations have called for the compulsory distribution of identity cards to every football fan attending league and cup matches. The idea is that hooligans would be identified and prevented from entering stadiums, a concept which was born in England. Others have called for fans who are known to the police as hooligans, to be summoned to their nearest respective police station on match day at the time of kickoff and spend the afternoon at the precinct, an effective measure which, again, if implemented, will be borrowed from England.

Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova, who branded the hooligans in Sofia as "football extremists", has called for "coherent, effective and immediate measures" against them, such as to double to 10 000 leva the deposits that football clubs are required to make at the city hall ahead of games to cover for any potential damage caused by their supporters. "The idea is for the clubs to pay for the damage incurred by their own supporters and not for Sofians to cover the bill," Fandukova said, quoted by Dnevnik daily.

She said she was opposed to the marches organised by football supporters in Sofia. "I will no longer allow for such congregations to occur unless they are 500 metres away from the ground. We cannot afford to have regular residents stranded for hours in traffic or in trams, just because football fans, herded by the police, are passing by," she said.

Another idea was put forward by Sofia deputy mayor Ivan Sotirov, namely to play all derby matches at Vassil Levski national stadium instead of club grounds. While bigger and featuring somewhat better security than other grounds in the country, the national stadium's location in central Sofia means even worse traffic jams on derby days, nor would it be an acceptable solution for clubs from outside Sofia. While the Levski-CSKA rivalry gets the most media attention, the animosity between the supporters of the two Plovdiv clubs – Botev and Lokomotiv – is no less heated.

A change in location alone will do little to improve fan behaviour. Nothing would stop supporters, for instance, from tearing up the seats at Vassil Levski, pelting the police with missiles, or generally causing chaos on the same scale as on Gerena stadium on February 26. The national stadium has its own track record of witnessing fan mayhem, only in the past the police never dared charge the terraces and evict everyone – had they done it, the effect would have been exactly the same – evicted fans would then become violent in the centre of Sofia. The problem is not where the game is played, but how adequate and effective the reaction of the police is, and that is one area where proposals for improvement have been severely lacking