A View from Bulgaria
Of the many interesting ideas and comments we received as part of our recent survey we did find one response particularly fascinating. It was from a Levski Sofia supporter in Bulgaria who adopted Forest during his studies in the city a few years back.
We found it to be a intruguing insight into his views on following Forest for a short period and his part in the Levski Sofia group Sector B. You might not agree with it all and it’s quite blunt about the failings of English atmospheres but we were impressed with the obvious passion with which it was put together. It’s also worth remembering that the first-hand experience is slightly dated now but it’s interesting to hear his views and how the two clubs compare.
There are also several very valid points made. While our intentions are not to become an ultra-group many of the aims are the same and perhaps we should take some of these on board, particularly the culture of defiance and the change of mentality he speaks of. Thankfully we shouldn’t have to contend with drug dealing hooligans with mafia links like Sector B did. Although can they really be any worse than the #NFFC timeline on a bad day?!
We asked whether he would mind if we shared his story and requested he embellish a few details which we have incorporated below. For reasons that will come to light as you read on he did ask to remain anonymous. Other than a couple of areas, we didn’t want to amend any wording or refine it as it felt like such a spirited piece as it was.
Hope you enjoy reading it like we did.
I am a supporter of Levski Sofia in Bulgaria but attended the University of Nottingham. I have many ideas but I am unsure if most of them are legal in the UK. Flares, smokes, banners, scarves and definitely new and catchy songs.
If some of these cannot be done at the stadium I think there is no problem for flares and smokes outside of the ground on a pre-match (Liverpool vs City). It would be beautiful with many smokes in front of the Trent End and with the river and everything.
A lot can be done as Forest is a club with a massive history but during my time at Nottingham (2007-2011) I attended only 15-20 games as the atmosphere was boring and I was asleep (I know it would never be like the Balkans where I come from but even in the UK there are clubs with ok atmosphere – Leeds, Millwall, Leicester, Stoke maybe). But I still have a feeling about the club and the place though as I spent 4 years of my life there and it will be very satisfying to see Forest back in the Premier League and with the best atmosphere there.
And talking from my personal experience – it would be not an easy path to follow but you should keep going and never stop or look back! I know how hard it was when we established Fund Sector B (to fund our ultras section), there was a lot of scepticism but with hard and dedicated work we had a lot of success!
We made unique and limited sets of scarves, t-shirts, hats etc with higher price and all the profit going for displays, flares, smokes, and different campaigns. We had a direct donation button via cards, bank transfers, PayPal. We uploaded photos of receipts and from the working process as well as regular monthly financial reports with how much money we had spent, how much we currently have etc. We earned trust.
For the derby games against the communist side of CSKA Sofia (yeah, the same that dethroned Nottingham Forest after the 2nd European Cup) we set goals, for example, we set a 15,000 levs (7,500 Euro) goal to gather for the derby game after 2 weeks as this is what we need for the planned choreo. And every day we put out a report of how much money had been donated and if they wish we published also the names and the sum of the people donating and when the others see this they also want to donate.
We began to gather 5-10,000 Euros 5-6 times a season and besides this we made more money from the merchandising so you need a really good designer with good ideas and good quality in order to set a high price on purpose.
The apotheosis of all this was 23.05.2014 when we organised alone as fans the 100th Anniversary of our club with a game against Lazio. We began working on this a year before the anniversary. We made contacts with Lazio, paid them, organised the bus, the hotel, the game at the national stadium, the ticketing, the merchandising of special editions to finance the anniversary like limited and numbered (1-100) edition of framed replica of the first kit of Levski for 250 euro each and these 100 kits sold out for less than 2 weeks which was amazing when you know the standard of living in Bulgaria compared to the UK for example. And alot more!
The cost of this was 400,000 Euros but we managed to make it happen through tickets, donations, merchandising, events (like a Christmas donation ball called The Blue Christmas where we sold signed shirts of legendary Levski players) etc. This was the result of over a year of hard work with almost no support from the club – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usaoAk2SICg
We also made big displays at the derby games and the important away games during the season! And all of this in one of the worst seasons in Levski’s history – we got beaten 3-4 times by CSKA and finished 5th. But when you succeed in making euphoria it is like a snowball and nothing can stop it, including bad results. If this is possible in Bulgaria with our standard of living it should be more than possible in England!
Yes, Levski is the people’s club of Bulgaria but we have an average attendance of just 5,000 and it can fluctuate from 2-3,000 for the small games to 30-40,000 for the big ones and Forest average 25,000. You just need passion, dedication and consistency!
The difference in atmosphere between Levski and Forest is big as it is entirely different culture and way of support between England and Bulgaria in this case. On the Balkans it is the Ultras culture that is followed.
In recent years many began to follow the casual culture because of problems with police but they kept the ultras mentality. Ultras is not just if you wear a t-shirt or scarves but rather it is vocal (or flares, smokes, choreographies) support till the end no matter what the result is, to live every day with the club, to be ready to fight if needed etc. It is to go on away games and show domination.
We have one ultra section of the stadium (Sector B in our case) that is singing all the time and making ultra displays etc but the other stands also join in singing most of the time. Maybe the passion is different. Or more exactly the way you show your passion. What I mean is that in England and Forest there is big passion about football, people love football maybe more than anywhere else in the world but is the passion for the club the same? Maybe it is, but maybe there is need of changing the mentality of the way it is shown.
We have shit football and Levski has an average attendance of only around 5,000 (20-30,000 only in derby games or 4,000 at European tournaments) and Forest has an average of 25,000 and still Levski has the better atmosphere. I don’t know where exactly the problem is.
When Levski lose people are devastated, when they win they are over the moon and happy all week long. My opinion as a side observer is that the passion and love for football in England and Forest is enormous but I question the passion about the club as people seem not to care THAT much about results and they are taken lightly. I don’t know, I may be wrong.
I think people in England go to games just to watch football and people at many other countries go for the atmosphere, for the support, for the whole experience of passionate support, not just for the football. And if you succeed in giving them something more than just the football at Forest games you can achieve a big change in mentality and atmosphere at home and away games.
You (Forza Garibaldi) began very nice with these displays, as I can see there was a very positive reaction. And you have alot to exploit and build on as Nottingham Forest is a club with very big history – one of the oldest professional clubs, the European cups and all the great players etc. And with the good season that is coming (based on what I see as transfers made) it can be only of help to your cause and you should ride on top on the wave and use this euphoria to change things for better at Forest games. It is always easier when the team is winning.
We stopped the Fund in 2014 as our biggest hooligan group which are also drug dealers and mafia saw how successful we are and they wanted to take money from the donations so we just dissolved. This is how the things are on the Balkans but for only 4 years of activity we made A LOT of progress.
We have many ultra and hooligan groups but there is a main one (Sofia West) and their leader is also the leader of the whole stand. In the past we had many problems but we became united and everything was going well. But at one point these people decided to do business and make money out of this. They began to racketeer the club as long back as 2006 for Champions League games against Barcelona and Sioni by throwing bombs (homemade with aluminium and bronze – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taqIAFqQ6TE) and displaying swastikas which led to enormous fines for the club. So the club decided that it will be better off paying this group to be the stewards at home games than paying fines.
So this group established a security firm and an agreement was reached with the police that the games will be handled by stewards instead of police. So the biggest hooligans became stewards and there were many fightings between them and the other fans. After 2-3 years the things calmed down, everybody began to work once again together for the 100th anniversary in 2014 but after that all fell apart again as the differences deepened and Sofia West wanted to get their hands on the money from Fund Sector B and there was no other way but to dissolve this Fund as people donated and trusted it.
And this group is also dealing with drugs distribution and there is also political influence etc so it is hard for the other fans (that may be ultras or hooligans but not criminals) to fight with them. So there was no other way but to either stop attending Levski games or switch the stand. And last year we were a group of 200 or so at the main stand at a derby game and formed a small alternative ultra section and Sofia West came and there was once again a fight between us.
So now at small games the attendance at Sector B is 200-300 people with an average age of 16 and at big games it is almost full (as people from all over Bulgaria come who know nothing about these differences and problems) but the level of support is just terrible as most of the people from Sofia who were previously the hardcore just don’t go there anymore.
I don’t know if this story should be published and how it will be interesting or helpful for the people. These things happen on the Balkans or Italy. The conclusion from all of this is to NEVER EVER mix up your hobby and passion with money and business. And people will appreciate this.
You live in the UK and have a lot more comfort from this point of view so you should have success. Begin with changing the mindset of the mass and create euphoria. More and more people will join if they see the results of your work; more people will begin to come to games not only for football but for something more.
I wish you success from the bottom of my heart and hope to see a big improvement next time I visit Nottingham! If you have any questions I will be more than happy to help!