Just Like Paradise (Football In Heaven 2017)

Well isn’t that just typical you wait ages for someone to organise a groundhop in Romania and then two come along within a few weeks of each other. This one was to be in the stunning Bucovina region in the north east of the country close to the borders of the Ukraine to the north and Moldova to the east. The event was publicised as “Football In Heaven”.

Organising this adventure into the Carpathian mountains and sharing with us his stunning home province was Emanuel Rosu, World Soccer’s Romanian correspondent (@Emishor on Twitter). Emi had combined with the regions Football Association president, Ciprian Anton, to open up the region to groundhoppers. Very kindly this extended to providing a minibus free of charge for the weekend and Emi, Ciprian and the bus were duly waiting to collect 11 hoppers at a slightly chilly Suceava airport, early on the Friday afternoon. We were also joined by local journalist Chidoveţ Dănuţ and film maker Daniel Vatamanu.

We arrived a little late at the Stadionul Vasilica Onofrei home of fifth tier Viitorul Adâncata, but when you have “El Presidente” of the local FA on board your bus the game waits for you and duly kicked off some 25 minutes late! Now ok this wasn’t much of a ground, a few benches to the right hand side and a cabbage patch of a pitch but we witnessed a decent 90 minutes which saw the hosts win 4-2 in an entertaining encounter with local rivals Voinţa Zvoriştea.

Now what happened after the game, as darkness enveloped the ground rapidly, is the sort of heart warming thing you find on these trips to remote and far flung places. Behind one goal was a raised covered platform and this was covered with trestle tables laden with food. A woman laboured over hot pots and pans to produce some delicious sarmale (pork, rice and cabbage parcels), platters of cold meats, bread and drink (including whiskey and brandy) are provided free of charge for everyone in attendance. It wasn’t a one off for the president and some strange foreign guests either, it’s done at every home game, such is the milk of human kindness at a small village club like Adâncata.

Friday October 27th 2017 – Romania Liga V

AS Viitorul Adâncata 4 (Bilţ 15, Ujeniuc 19, Munteanu og 45, Atomei 49)

Voinţa Zvoriştea 2 (Munteanu 20, Bejinariu pen 90)

Att:107 (at Stadionul Vasilica Onofrei)

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After a pretty decent breakfast at the Hotel Continental in Suceava, we ambled down to the Stadionul Areni home of second division Foresta Suceava Friday for an 11am kick off against UTA Arad . The visitors had endured a hellish nine hour 350 mile journey from western Romania to fulfil this fixture. Tickets costing 10 Romanian Lei (£1.90) were purchased from kiosks outside the ground. The ground is a typical 1960’s concrete and breeze block affair with more recent touches of an electronic scoreboard and some plastic seating being the only concessions to modernity. Someone however has taken the time and trouble to liberally paint the concrete in the clubs’ colours of yellow and green the result is a fine looking venue. Foresta have been battling hard with financial woes of late a desperately need a win. The hosts duly go in front of around 700 spectators before UTA fire a double quick salvo before halftime, the second a quite monumental header from the centre back. Foresta work hard in the second half and manage to find an equaliser and it looks like a share of the spoils until UTA, cruelly, score again with virtually the last kick of the match.

Saturday October 28th 2017 – Romanian Liga II (11am kick off)

Foresta Suceava 2 (Renquin 29, Acolatse 84)
UTA Arad 3 (Hlistei 35, Ciucă 37, Păcurar 90)

Att:678 (at Stadionul Areni) Admission 10 Lei (£1.90)

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The bus then whisks us up into the foothills of the Carpathians as we head for a fourth tier match between Victoria Vatra Moldoviței and Foresta’s reserve team. Well what can you say about this ground? Set in a hollow surrounded by tall forest where bear sightings are not uncommon. Behind one goal there are stunning mountain vistas. The pitch is noticeably wet and had standing water on the dressing room side. Of course this not being England, there is no doubt the game will take place and a small crowd gathers in the spectator accommodation. This consists of a long row of bench seating at the top of the bank the seating is just inside the crash barrier of the D17 highway. Cars whizz by and lorries trundle by some slowing down for a sneaky look at the game. It gives you a great vantage point for the game but this is a seriously dangerous place to be a spectator! If the location isn’t memorable enough about fifteen minutes into the game a pick up truck screeches into the small clearing on the other side of the road and a bearded man with leathery skin and welly boots leaps out and marches down the road banging an enormous drum. He certainly livens up what is a poor quality encounter which went the way of the hosts with a solitary goal in the second half.

Saturday October 28th 2017 – Romanian Liga IV (4pm kick off)

Victoria Vatra Moldoviței 1 (Pelinar 59)
ACS Foresta Suceava II 0



Overnighting in the mountain town of Vatra Dornei, we arrive at the ground of fifth division Vânătorul Dorna Candrenilor in rain and morning temperatures of -2 but the welcome is warm and a buffet of food and some scarily strong firewater fortify us for the trek to the stand. It’s an excellent stand for the level and was built two years ago. Vânătorul are top of the league and race into a two goal against Sporting Poieni Solca. There is a flurry of late goals and the result of 3-2 suggests it was closer than it actually was.

Sunday October 29th 2017 – Liga V (11am kick off)

Vânătorul Dorna Candrenilor 3 (Clanetariu 18,30, Iosub 80)
Sporting Poieni Solca 2 (Hamcescu 70, Martolea 85)

Att:76 (at Stadionul Dorna Candrenilor)

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Everyone races back to the bus to warm up and we head back down the mountains to Pojorâta. The local side, Bucovina Pojorita have suffered a couple of bankruptcies in recent seasons and are now in the fourth tier. The main stand sits at the foot of a contoured hill dotted with shepherd’s huts, heavy forestation sweeps up almost as high as the eye can trace. It really is like watching a football match on a “Lord of the Rings” film set. To heighten the state of frenzy of the hoppers further the club have also produced a programme albeit a modest four pager. The hosts win at a canter by two goals to nil.

Sunday October 29th 2017 – Liga IV (3pm kick off)

ACS Bucovina Pojorita 2 (Tomco 23, Timpau 71)
ACS Şomuzul Preuteşti 0

Att:87 (at Stadionul Pojorita)

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Our hosts were magnificent and as for the scenery, well sometimes words just fail to come out when you try to speak. There is already talk of a “Football In Heaven 2” next year, do yourself a favour and move heaven and earth to get yourself on it, you won’t regret it.

Some years ago an ageing long haired American rocker sang “This could be just like living in paradise” spending a few days in this astonishing place he could well have been talking about beautiful Bucovina! The second line of that chorus certainly hit home waiting in the departure lounge as David Lee Roth sings “and I don’t want to go home”.

A much expanded version of this article will appear in a future edition of “Football Weekends” magazine.

Touring Timişoara (Romanian Groundhop 3)

For the third Romanian Groundhop the fixture gods had been unkind in city of Timişoara itself so the ever resourceful Andrei Otineanu had to cast his net for suitable matches to the wider area of Timiş County. It would mean lower level matches but given our experiences in previous organised hops in Bucharest, there had to be some cracking grounds, right? A short list of about ten were identified and once kick off times and distance between grounds had been calculated a more than decent looking itinerary was established.

Saturday morning saw a reasonably early start for a slow winding trundle south west of Timişoara to the small town of Gătaia. Local fourth tier side CS Progresul Gătaia had an 11am kick off against AS Pobeda Dudeştii Vechi. We arrived in good time and after putting a voluntary donation in the wooden box at the entrance gate the band of hoppers were confronted with a decent size ground in a quite delightful state of dilapidation. On one side a sort of scaffold and wooden plank stand took a leap of faith to climb up into and take advantage of its vertiginous rake in a narrow confined area behind the dugouts. On the far side was a big covered stand painted in club colours but certainly had seen better days. An entertaining 1-1 draw was witnessed on a blisteringly warm morning.

Saturday September 23rd 2017 – Romania IV Liga (Timis)

CS Progresul Gătaia 1 (Pelg 71)
AS Pobeda Dudeștii Vechi 1 (Kalapis 35)

Att:119 (at Stadionul Progresul)

I was really looking forward to the afternoon game as I knew the ground of CSM Şcolar Reşiţa was very decent. Upon arrival we were all opened jawed at the Stadionul Mircea Chivu. This is an incredible stadium at the foot of a steep and heavily wooded valley. The near side has a smart open seated stand but opposite is an incredible feat of engineering, the valley slope and trees have been cleared and a stepped plateau of concrete laid out. Hundreds of plastic seats have been bolted on to form a quite unique stand. Both ends of the stadium have uncovered terracing too. It’s a real beauty to behold and many in attendance now had a new entry in their own “Top Ten Best Grounds ever” lists. After the glory of the stadium the third division match felt almost incidental as the hosts, champions of Romania in 1930/31, easily dealt with scant resistance from visitors CS Gloria Lunca Teuz Cermei. Their 2-0 win was watched by around 430 people, again with free entry, this included a small band of enthusiastic ultras.

Saturday September 23rd 2017 – Romania III Liga (Serie 4)

CSM Şcolar Reşiţa 2 (Costin 55,Beloescu 89)
CS Gloria Lunca Teuz Cermei 0

Att:430 (at Stadionul Mircea Chivu)

On the Sunday, Andrei and I played our trump card which we had held back from the rest of the party. In the whittling down the shortlist of matches it became clear that our only option for Sunday morning was watching the sixth tier game at the home of ASO Deta reserves! A quick Google of the ground found photos of a cracking ground however a cross check of the fixtures website found that disappointingly the reserves had their own basic ground in a village outside of Deta. Reluctant to pass up the opportunity of watching a game at their superb first team ground, I suggested Andrei should ring the club and ask if they would consider moving the match to the first team ground. After confirming that ten English people and two Germans were definitely coming and it wasn’t some sort of wind up, the club said they would be only too happy to move the game for us!

The Stadionul Arena Parc is set in a wooded park and is really delightful. The 1953 wooden stand looks far older and the club had already repaired the tiled roof after it had suffered some damage in storms that hit the region the previous weekend. It is clearly their pride and joy and built very much in the English style of grandstands. The little separate booths, like VIP seating, at the front of bench seating are truly magnificent. The hosts put on a great show by besting a hapless opposition, Vointa Ionel, by six goals to one. A smashing club, amazing ground and a morning to remember.

Sunday September 24th 2017 – Romanian VI Liga (Timis,Serie 2)

ASO Deta II 6 (Mihalache 11, Toader 21, Ruyan 52, Minea 59, Radu 68,86)
Vointa Ionel 1 (Valcan 41)

Att:52 (at Stadionul Arena Parc)

The final port of call on our groundhopping extravaganza was at FC Unirea Tomnatic who hold the distinction of being the first village club to make the second tier of Romanian football. Those heady days are long behind them though as they had slumped down to the fifth tier before winning the division last season. The Stadionul Fenşi Petre more than lived up to standard of stadiums set in the weekend so far. An eye catching red and white pitch length stand replete with billowing flags stood regally on the far side. The dressing room side of the ground had two smaller covered stands as well. It really is a very pretty ground indeed.

Sunday September 24th 2017 – Romanian IV Liga (Timiş)

FC Unirea Tomnatic 3 (Antemie 19, Hota 82, Vladuti 84)
AS Seceani 4 (Berar 57, Ramneantu 61, Plopeanu 74, Maranescu 80)

Att:125 (at Stadionul Fenşi Petre)

If you would like to join Andrei Otineanu on his next adventure promoting the weird and wonderful grounds of Romania, please connect with him across all forms of social media and his website RomanianGroundhopper.com and Facebook page.

An extended version of this article will appear in a future edition of “Football Weekends” magazine.