Triumph and Tragedy (Romanian Groundhop 2016)

So after much hard work and promotion by organiser Andrei Otineanu, an ensemble of groundhoppers (11 English, 1 Scottish, 1 German and 1 Dane) flew into Bucharest from all points to gather for this much anticipated event.

After careful planning by our host, the itinerary was to take in seven matches over Friday to Sunday with a decent mix of three top flight games and four lower level matches. Well that was the plan but events would see the schedule torn up and thrown in the bin!

We gathered excitedly at the Ibis hotel adjacent to the preposterously enormous Palatul Parlamentului building. Our welcome packs of English language programmes and pin badges were handed out as we headed of to the first of two Friday evening games.

AS Olimpic Bucharest play at the Energoutilaj Ground in Drumul Bercenarului and currently play in the Fifth League (Bucharest). The ground is located near to Gara Progresul in the southern suburbs of the city. The modest ground lies in the shadow of the huge Statie de Betoane cement factory. The eye-catching stand is the on the right as you enter and is a decent size if a little difficult to ascend into! The pitch is noticeably poor, rutted and grassless in places and patches of mushrooms proliferate on the surface.

As an amateur ground it has everything and we witness a surprisingly skilful game given the awful playing surface. The visitors were 3-2 ahead when, having used all their substitutes at half time, three outfield players had to leave the game with various injuries leaving them reduced to just eight players. Weight of numbers told and Olimpic took full advantage scoring two late goals to seal the victory.

Friday May 6th 2016, 17.00 pm – Bucharest 5th League

AS Olimpic Bucharest 4 (Buscó 40, Cristeo 56, Mihacoche 82, Calin 84)
Benfica Noua Generatie 3 (Smarande 26, 63, Stoianis 54)

Att: 44 (at Energoutilaj Ground)

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After a hasty but excellent kebab from Calif, it is time for the second game of the evening and it’s the 20.30pm kick off for the top division play-off match between FC Dinamo and FC Viitorul Constanta. The match resulted in the tragic death of Dinamo midfielder Patrick Ekeng from a cardiac arrest, more of which can be read here: https://peterrmiles.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/when-football-cries-again-fc-dinamo-bucharest/

The morning saw the party gather in the reception of the hotel as we desperately waited for news of the fate of the weekend’s planned matches. A distraught Andrei continuously punched refresh on his phone internet browser as the very real prospect of a blanket cancellation of all matches loomed. Plans were hatched to, if necessary, dash over the border with Bulgaria to potentially take in matches in the border towns of Ruse and Svishtov. However, the consensus, in the absence of any news, was to head over to the National Stadium for some photos while a decision was made. En route the news came through that the National Leagues matches were cancelled as a mark of respect which meant we would not be visiting Concordia Chiajna and FC Voluntari. A great shame but the good news was that the lower leagues were allowed to make their own decision on cancellations and thankfully the Bucharest FA agreed games should proceed but with a minutes silence as a mark of respect to the fallen player.

While we were not allowed access to the National Stadium despite an open gate we enjoyed catching half an hour or so of a youth team match on the quirky Electroaparataj Ground between CS6 and Automatica.

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We then had time to look at the photogenic stepped street of Strada Xenofon before heading to the first match of the day at Progresul.

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Progresul Bucharest were formed in 1944 as BNR Bucharest a team from the banking industry. This gives rise to one of their nicknames of the “Bankers” but I have to say I prefer “Cavalerii frunzei de platan” which translates as “The Knights of the Sycamore Leaf”! Their history is steeped in success including 32 seasons of top flight football. However in 2009 it all came crashing down as the club went into financial meltdown and were evicted from their Cotroceni Stadium home due to unpaid rent. Worse was to follow as they were forcibly relegated to the fourth level by the Romanian FA.

Normally the club play at spartan Viitorul Ground in the shadow of the National Stadium but as May 10th marks the club formation date they have hired the superior Electromagnetica Ground normally used by the reserve side of Rapid Bucharest. It is a quite magnificent venue with a stylish concrete stand painted in a dusty pink colour. There is an enormous and blue wooden scoreboard, erected in 1939, in one corner, and adjacent to this the venue has its own chicken coop. Well why wouldn’t it! Since their enforced demotion Progresul have become something of hipster club and attract a modest band of ultras who back the team for the whole game and periodically release blue smoke bombs and flares. It’s a great atmosphere for such a modest level and the home team do their bit by easing to a comfortable 2-0 success against AS Termo.

Saturday May 7th 2016, 13.00 pm – Bucharest 4th League

FC Progresul 2 (Sidek pen 45, Nias 61)
AS Termo 0

Att: 132 (at Electromagnetica Ground)

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A hearty late lunch of chicken soup and mititei was enjoyed with some tasty unfiltered local brews at the excellent Nenea Iancu restaurant in Strada Covaci.

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The next stop is at Stadionul Biruinta, home of Venus Bucharest, a 2014 reformation of a famous name in Romanian football. The original club we formed in 1914 and were known as Negrii (The Blacks) because of their distinctive all black kit which featured a white eight pointed star as a badge. Venus were the most successful club in Romania winning eight championships before being dissolved by the Communist government in 1949. They played at the legendary Venus Stadium between 1931 and the clubs dissolution. The stadium was demolished in 1953. A bunch of enthusiasts wanted to bring football back to the district of Venus and the only pitch in the area was the former training ground of Juventus Bucharest. This was spruced up with a new clubhouse which is now festooned with a myriad of scarves and pennants from clubs across the world. The players change in a small building in the far corner of the ground adjacent to an indoor tennis centre. The Biruinta ground has three metal bleacher style stands on one side which unfortunately have no roofs.

The visitors for this Fourth League encounter rejoice in the name ACS Lucky Sport Management, but there it nothing fortunate about their victory as they easily dismantle the hosts on another very suspect pitch.

Saturday May 7th 2016, 18.00 pm – Bucharest 4th League

FC Venus Bucharest 0
ACS Lucky Sports Management 3 (Gheorghe 21, Militaru pen 37, C.Achim 60)

Att: 38 (at Stadionul Biruinta)

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Our evening meal is at a traditional Romanian eatery of Pub Horezu in Bulevardul Pache Protopopescu. The food is just superb, especially the creamy doughnut dessert.

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Sunday has been reduced to just the 17.30pm match at ASF Fratia so there is plenty of free time in the morning and I opt to wander the streets of the old town area with Stephen and Andrew.

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Then the whole group gathers for a quick visit to the incredible Giulest-Valentin Stanescu Stadium, home of Rapid Bucharest.

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Nenea Iancu was the venue for lunch once again before we headed to Fratia.

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Ah Fratia, what can you say about this place? Located behind a disused factory the ground is epically rudimentary. It can really only be accessed by walking across a field of cabbages for around half a mile! The club are welcoming as any I have ever experienced. The concept of the club was to provide a home for players that could not get a game anywhere else. They are coached by a Congolese man, Aime Lema, and famously have a one armed goalkeeper, Tudorel Mihailescu, a life affirming character whose battle to live out his dream to play football has been featured in the New York Times.

Today is Tudorel’s 50th birthday and the venue is in celebratory mood. Herve Phanzu gives the hosts an early lead against Progresul Spartac but it is a close encounter and victory is not secured until skipper Daniel Sebanescu stabs in a second amid joyous scenes of celebration, so much so he actually injures himself and has to limp off!

The Fratia-Vulcan ground is just amazing, plastic bags and assorted underwear are used for corner flags, a massive scoreboard sits unloved in one corner and a multi coloured bleacher style stand creeks alarmingly under the weight of spectators. If you want to see the real Romania it is encapsulated in this one glorious place.

Sunday May 8th 2016, 17.30 pm – Bucharest 5th League

ASF Fratia 2 (Phanzu 23, Sebanescu 85)
Progesul Spartac 0

Att: 70 (at Fratia-Vulcan Ground)

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Another fabulous meal at Pub Horezu completes the day and as dawn breaks it is time to head off to Otopeni airport for the flight home.

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What an epic weekend organised so well by young Andrei who hopes to base his university thesis on this weekend, be sure to follow the Romanian Groudhopper and #BucharestGH across all forms of social media.

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When Football Cries (Again) – (FC Dinamo Bucharest)

(In memory of Patrick Ekeng Ekeng)

FC Dinamo București were formed in May 1948 and have since become one of Romania’s most successful clubs winning 18 national titles and 13 Romanian cups. The formation was the result of a merger between Unirea Tricolor București and Ciocanul București, a merger coerced by the Interior Affairs Ministry.

The club moved to the present stadium in 1951 with the inaugural match taking place against Locomotiva Timișoara. While sporadic renovation has occurred invariably funding issues have seen few projects fully realised. Cosmetic improvements like new floodlights in 2001 and more recently a modern LED scoreboard have given the old ground a fresher feel although the capacity remains a modest 15,000. There are plans to rebuild it into a modern arena style stadium but as the wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly several of the clubs’ bigger matches have been staged at the National Stadium. Since 2015 FC Voluntari have groundshared with Dinamo as they look to replace their ageing Stadionul Anghel Iordansecu in the north east of the city.

The Dinamo Stadium has the unfortunate nickname of Groapa which translates as “the Hole”, not a reflection of the facilities, but due to the fact that the ground was dug out to fit the stands into a bowl rather than raising the stands vertically.

Dinamo’s golden era was undoubtedly the 1970’s and 80’s when they annexed eight of their League titles and enjoyed considerable success in European competition. Their zenith in Europe came in the 1982/83 season when they defeated Kuusysi Lahti of Finland, Hamburg SV and Dinamo Minsk on the way to a semi-final defeat to eventual winners Liverpool.

Tonight’s game is one in a baffling series of play off matches for European places and sees Dinamo draw 3-3 with FC Viitorul Constanța.

The reason for the relatively short mention of the match is the result was very much immaterial because in the 70th minute of the match Dinamo’s Cameroonian international midfielder Patrick Ekeng Ekeng, who had been on the pitch barely seven minutes, keeled over backwards with nobody else near him. While concern was immediate amongst players action from medical staff was appallingly inept. There appeared to be two ambulances at the stadium and these were stationed at the north end of the stadium behind a gate that appeared to be locked. Vital time was lost as a steward battled to open the gate. Once the ambulance headed to the pitch a white suited doctor with a case ran on from the same end like some sort of keystone cop. The prone player was attended to for some minutes but I saw no defribulator engaged and not even heart massage appeared to be performed. Ekeng was rushed to Floreasca hospital which was just minutes away but was tragically pronounced dead some two hours later. Unbelievably the match continued to a conclusion with players from both teams visibly distraught with the severity of what they had seen.

A subsequent police inquest has already revealed inconsistencies in the stories of the ambulance doctor, Dinamo’s club doctor, the hospital spokesman and the official match observer, Vasele Marcel, who has astonishingly already stated he does not even know what a defribulator is. The truth must come out and those found criminally negligent must stand trial for their actions on this fateful night.

The private company contracted to provide ambulance and medical services to Dinamo have been suspended from trading and find them $6,000 after checks revealed their ambulances had defribulators with uncharged batteries and hopelessly out of date medical supplies. Ekeng’s agent Hasan Anil Eken is adamant he knows that none of the ambulances on duty at the stadium was equipped with a defribulator.

With sudden heart defects seemingly increasingly prevalent in young fit athletes there must be action taken. FIFPRO, the world union for professional players has openly criticised Romania for “skimping on medical care” for players in the past. Indeed Dinamo themselves have seen a similar tragedy as recently as 2000 when their captain, Cătălin Hîldan, collapsed and died of a heart attack at the age of 24 during a game against FC Oltenița. Only four years ago 21 year old Nigerian player Henry Chinonso Ihelewere, sufgered a similar fair when he died during a game between his side CS Delta Tulcea and FC Balotesti. The Romanian professional players union, AFAN, tried to get a deal passed where clubs would have state of the art medical resources at every game for as little as €400 per game but clubs evidently decided against the proposal.

In the light of this latest, and I am convinced utterly preventable tragedy, I believe it should be mandatory for the issue of any professional operating licence to a football club for them to prove that they have appropriate medical screening and emergency contingencies in place for all matches. I don’t ever want to witness this happening again and it’s time for football to stop crying about these tragic events and enforce measures to fix it. That’s the least this cash rich sport owes the likes of Patrick Ekeng Ekeng.

Sleep well Indomitable Lion Ekeng.

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Friday May 6th 2016 – Romanian First League Play-Off

Dinamo Bucharest (1) 3 (Gnohere 8, pen 49, Rotariu 55)
FC Viitorul Constanța (2) 3 (Marin 10, Tanese pen 34, Matan pen 84)

Attendance: 2,881 (at Dinamo Stadium)

Gallery

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Dinamo ticket

Tributes to Patrick Ekeng
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