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The message on display was very clear. Thirty professional footballers from Bulgaria and Greece unveiled a giant banner in the centre circle before kick-off reading “Solidarity and Equality in Football. I stand with FIFPro for the game that cares for all players, clubs and fans”.

”It was a great message of solidarity, camaraderie and unity,” said Stamatis Sirigos, the Treasurer of the Greek professional footballers’ association PSAP, who together with the Bulgarian players union ABF organised a match for out-of-contract players in Thessaloniki.

There in the centre circle of the Kaftazoglio stadium and in front of many television cameras, journalists and other media, the Greek and Bulgarian footballers showed their commitment to the #GameChangers campaign which aims to create a new, more transparent system that is fairer and meets the modern needs of the football industry.

“We informed the players before the match,” explained Mila Hristova, Deputy Secretary General of the Bulgarian players union. “They wanted to know about the complaint FIFPro lodged at the European Commission and we explained them about the #GameChangers campaign. They were happy to be involved.”

It’s obvious why. Bulgarian and especially Greek footballers know all about the system’s failings. Many players have encountered difficulties themselves, whether it was non-payment, insecure contracts or financial mismanagement of their club.

With their protest before the match, these players called on all professional footballers in Europe and the rest of the world, as well as football’s fans and the clubs to jointly create a new model for the future regulation of the game which will help protect players’ rights, the integrity of football and its sustainable growth.

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The match

Of course, the main reason for the players to gather in Thessaloiniki was a friendly match for out-of-contract players organised by the unions of Bulgaria and Greece. Both countries continued their annual joint initiative to give their members an opportunity to display their skills in front of a crowd of scouts and coaches.

Bulgaria beat Greece 3-0 thanks to goals scored by Dimitar Georgiev, Borislav Kralev and Dimitar Andonov. But this match was not about the result, explained PSAP’s Sirigos and ABF’s Hristova. It is all about getting the players into shape and on their way to a new club.

With that in mind, the match was successful, as all players managed to find a new team. The first ones to join a new club were Greece’s Nikos Argyriou and Kiriakos Dimakakos, who quickly after the match signed with third-tier FC Ionikos.

The most eye-catching deals were made by Bulgaria’s captain Dimitar Vezalov, who went to Polish second division side Zaglebie Sosnowiec, and Kiriakos Stratilatis, who joined Greek’s first division team AEL Kalloni FC.

Most of the players have joined teams from third division in Bulgaria and Greece, which officially are not recognized as professional leagues. “Officially they have not signed professional standard contracts”, explained Sirigos, “However, many players are getting paid more than players in the professional leagues ...”

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