The Macedonian First Football League is the top football division in Macedonia, founded in 1992. It is professional league competition for Macedonian football clubs and it is organized by the Football Federation of Macedonia (FFM).
The football league in Macedonia started in 1923 when the first edition of leagues in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was organized. Beside the top level national Yugoslav Football Championship there were also regional championships. The clubs of the Vardarska Banovina, territorially similar to present day Macedonia, played in Belgrade Football Subassociation League until 1927 when a separate Skoplje Football Subassociation League was formed. The champions of this Subassociation were granted a place in the qualifiers for the Yugoslav Championship, which was a top national level. The only club from Macedonia who qualified for the Yugoslav Championship was Gragjanski Skopje. In 1939 the Yugoslav League system was changed with the creation of separate Serbian and Croato-Slovenian Leagues and with Macedonian clubs playing in Serbian Leagues. Again just Gragjanski Skopje qualified from Serbian League for the Yugoslav Championship.
After 1945 the regime in Yugoslavia changed and Yugoslavia became a socialist federative republic, but there were not any major changes in The Yugoslav First League that was held until 1991 – when the breakup of Yugoslavia happened. There were not many Macedonian clubs playing in The Yugoslav First League. As a matter of fact the only notable Macedonian club was Vardar. The club from Macedonian capital Skopje played 33 years among the elite, never winning the championship. Vardar had very good players throughout the history, the best was without a doubt Darko Pančev who is the second best scorer (the best is Slobodan Santrač) in the history of The Yugoslav First League.
Pančev played for Vardar from 1983 to 1988 when he signed for Crvena Zvezda (Red Star Belgrade). In Belgrade he gained respect from the whole football world. He was the best scorer of Red Star when they won the Champions League (1991) and the Intercontinental Cup, predecessor of FIFA Club World Cup (1991).
Football Federation of Macedonia founded Macedonian First Football League in 1992 after the breakup of Yugoslavia. In the first season (1992/93) there were 18 clubs playing in the league (Vardar won) but throughout the Macedonian First Football League history the number of clubs competing at the top level has been gradually decreasing. Between 1993 and 1995 there were 16 clubs, then for one season 15 clubs, from 1996 to 2001 14 clubs, from 2001 to 2014 12 clubs and for last two seasons 10 clubs.
As mentioned, now the league has 10 teams and each team plays the other side four times for a total of 36 matches each. The season of Macedonian First Football League begins in second week of August and ends at the end of May with two months break between December and February. The Champions qualify for UEFA Champions League Second Qualifying Round while the second and third placed teams qualify for Uefa Europa League First Qualifying Round.
Number of teams: 10
Level on the pyramid: 1
Domestic cup: Macedonian Cup
International Cup: UEFA Champions League (2nd qualifying round), UEFA Europa League (1st qualifying round)
Current champions: Vardar
Uefa Ranking: 40
Transfer window: 1st January – 31st January and 15th June – 31st August
Number of players: 243
Foreign players: 30
Average age: 24.9 years
Mladost Carev Dvor
Vardar is the current Macedonian champion and the club with most wins in Macedonian First Football League (8). It is also the most popular and renowned Macedonian football club both domestically and abroad. Beside 8 national championships Vardar has also won 5 national cups. The club owner is a Russian millionaire Sergey Samsonenko and Vardar is one of the few Macedonian clubs without financial problems, so their superiority is not a surprise.
After 18 rounds in this season Vardar is in the first place in the league with 5 points advantage over Skhendija. Vardar has also by far the most expensive team in the league; the team is worth approximately 9.2 million euros. They have the most foreign players in the league (8), which is a lot if we take into account that there are just 30 foreign players in the whole league. 7 players come from Serbia, 4 from Brazil, 4 from Montenegro, 3 from Croatia, 2 from Armenia, 2 from Kosovo, 1 from Albania, Bulgaria, Germany, Ecuador, Japan, Colombia, Switzerland and Ukraine. There are no players in Macedonian First Football League worth more than 1 million euros. The most expensive player is an Armenian national team player Hovhannes Hambardzumyan who plays for Vardar and is worth approximately 750 thousand euros.
Macedonian First Football League is not very respected in European football due to lack of European success. Macedonian clubs usually end their European route at the beginning. Lack of respect for Macedonian clubs dates from the time in Yugoslavia when Macedonian clubs were not successful in the First League. As mentioned, Vardar was the most respectful club and still is until this day , even though the best UEFA club coefficient right now belongs to their city rival Rabotnički.
Rabotnički played very well in this year’s qualifications for UEFA Europa League. The club from Skopje which, like Vardar, plays in the Philip II Arena (home ground of the Macedonia national football team as well) was relegated in the last stage. They won in the first qualifying round against Flora Talinn, in the second qualifying round they defeated Jelgava, in the third qualifying round they surprised Trabzonspor and in the last qualifying round they lost against Rubin Kazan (1:1, 0:1). Because of these performances in Europe they are the best Macedonian club at this time according to UEFA rankings for club competitions. They are in 254th place, Vardar is 297th, the third club from Skopje Metalurg is 324th, Shkëndija is 349th, Renova 377th, Turnovo 394th, Teteks 442nd etc.
The eternal derby in Macedonia is a game between Vardar and Pelister Bitola. This is the biggest and most violent match in Macedonia even though in this year these 2 clubs will not play against each other because Pelister Bitola was relegated from Macedonian First League last season. An important aspect of this match-up is the intense rivalry in the Macedonian Tifo scene between the clubs supporters Komiti Skopje and Čkembari Bitola. The rivalry began in the season 1989/1990 at a match in Skopje, between Vardar and Red Star Belgrade. A conflict occurred between the “Skopje fans” and a few Bitola fans that went to cheer for Vardar (at that time Vardar was the most popular Macedonian football). On 8 March 1991 in Bitola, Pelister and Vardar met in the Yugoslav second league and the first incident occurred. From that day forward, the big rivalry between Komiti and Čkembari started, along with the Vardar-Pelister match becoming the Eternal derby of Macedonia. At the moment the Bitola club is not very successful and therefore the biggest match has now become the Skopje city derby between FK Vardar Skopje and Rabotnički. This is only a football rivalry on the pitch because Rabotnički does not have organized supporters.
Shkëndija rivalry with most clubs
Being a club with a strong Albanian nationalist background, Shkëndija has rivalry with most of the Macedonian football clubs. However, the biggest rivalries are with FK Vardar and FK Teteks. The Shkëndija-Teteks rivalry is one of the biggest and most heated in Macedonia. When Shkëndija plays against Teteks, majority of the Tetovo police are stationed at Gradski Stadium and ban Shkendija supporters from attending Vardar-Shkendija matches in Skopje.
The brotherhood derby is between FK Vardar Skopje and Teteks Tetovo (the fans of these two clubs have been dubbed as “Orthodox Brothers”).
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