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Bulgaria football fan protest explained: President controversy, violence, injuries, investigation and more

Thousands of Bulgarian football fans protested against Bulgarian Football Union President Borislav Mihaylov ahead of their nation's UEFA EURO 2024 qualifier against Hungary on Thursday night.

Supporters took to the trees of Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, to make clear their dismay at the way football is run in the Balkan country.

What's behind the dispute between Bulgarian football fans and the nation's football union, and what actually happened on Thursday night? Find out everything you need to know below…

What happened at Bulgaria football fan protest?

Thousands of Bulgarian football supporters protested on the streets of Sofia, making clear their animosity towards the management of the Bulgarian Football Union.

Their protests came before Bulgaria's UEFA EURO 2024 qualifier against Hungary at Sofia's Vasil Levski National Stadium.

The demonstration turned violent shortly before kick-off, when makeshift bombs, stones and plastic bottles were thrown at the police, report AP. Water cannons were used in response, which is pretty rare in Bulgaria.

Twenty fans and five policemen suffered injuries, with four fans admitted to hospital with serious injuries.

Forty protestors have been detained, it's reported, with several signficiant police seizures of pyrotechnics, metal pipes and various other objects.

A total of 1,600 riot police were dispatched to protect the Vasil Levski National Stadium, which fans were not permitted to enter for the match. More on that below.

Has there been a Bulgaria football fan protest before?

Yes, absolutely. This is simply the latest in a line of protests, and the most notable, it should be said.

In recent league matches, fans of all clubs have shouting “Resign!” in the 18th minute. This represents the 18 years that Borislav Mihaylov has been President of the Bulgarian Football Union.

Why did the protest turn violent?

Well, we can't answer that specifically without better knowledge of police tactics and fan behaviour. What we can discuss is why the Bulgarian football protests have turned more vitriolic than ever in the last few weeks.

This latest protest was so significant in size because, having heard the recent ‘Resign!' chants at league matches, the Bulgarian Football Union President, Borislav Mihaylov, decided the country's next international game would be played behind-closed-doors. The union has, in essence, decided to try and silence its critics, and in the most extreme manner.

Boris Mihaylov, when playing for Bulgaria | The Bulgaria Football Union President is the reason for the Bulgaria football fan protest
Borislav Mihaylov represented Bulgaria's national team during his playing career | Photo by Eric Renard/Onze/Icon Sport

UEFA, for some reason, agreed to this. Mihaylov asked UEFA to order the game to be played without fans in attendance due to “exceptional circumstances.”

Protests were already planned because of the national team's abject failure in recent years. They suffered poor defeats to Albania and Lithuania in October, and supporters blame the Union management, rather than the players or coaching staff.

This is a completely unique situation. As pointed out by Bulgarian football fans, no football union or association has ever asked to host a match behind-closed-doors itself, to avoid scrutiny from its supporters.

What's happening with the Bulgarian Football Union?

English football fans may have first become aware of problems in Bulgarian football thanks to the outspoken Dimitar Berbatov, former Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur striker.

Berbatov outlined his intention to bring “radical change” to Bulgarian football as he bid to become President, facing off against Mihaylov in a 2021 election. Berbatov was supported in his bid by former national team players Stiliyan Petrov and Martin Petrov, among many others.

Nevertheless, Mihaylov won by 11 votes.

The union President has overseen a series of controversies, including racial abuse towards visiting England players in a EURO 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria.

What has the Bulgarian government said?

The country's Prime Minister, Nikolay Denkov, has been fairly decisive on the matter.

“Yesterday we witnessed ugly scenes of violence. Their main cause is the long-standing management of the Bulgarian Football Union which led to a decline of Bulgarian football, without any prospects for development,” Denkov said.

He did not, however, directly call for Mihaylov to resign, as many have done.

Latest updates on Bulgaria football fan protest

Several key figures in Bulgarian politics have now intervened.

Acting Prosecutor General Borislav Sarafov has instructed the prosecution service to investiagte the leadership of the Bulgarian Football Union and its President.

Kiril Petkov, co-leader of Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria, and Boyko Borissov, leader of GERB, called for Mihaylov's resignation.

Harry Robinson

A freelance writer and broadcaster, Harry has worked for or featured in/on Manchester United, FourFourTwo, The Independent, The Manchester Mill, UEFA, United We Stand and many others. He's the author of The Men Who Made Manchester United and hosts the Manchester United Weekly Podcast and United Through Time. A Stretford End season ticket holder, Harry travels around Europe to watch his team.

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