Fang Tales of Tran Sylvania (Football In Heaven 3)

After two highly successful organised “Football In Heaven” trips to his home province of Bucovina, Romanian journalist Emanuel Roșu decided to branch out a little further into central Romania for his third expedition. The destination captured the imagination of even more attendees this time, as a total of 37 people from serious photographers, to serious groundhoppers to serious beer drinkers all descended on Sibiu for the first ever organised groundhop in Transylvania!

To access the impact the previous trips have had you only have to take a look at the different nationalities turning up for this tour. As well as the usual healthy contingent of Brits, there were seven Norwegians, two Frenchmen, a Dane, a Belgian and a Pole, a united nations of enthusiasts in search of a healthy balance of football, culture and Dracula!

After arriving late the previous night what immediately strikes you about Sibiu, as dawn escapes through shutters and blinds, is that it really is an extremely pleasant city. Straddling the River Cibin, it has an obvious Germanic influence and is still referred to as Hermannstadt on occasion. Originally a Roman settlement, it was refounded in the 13th Century by Saxon settlers. Subsequently Sibiu fell into the hands of the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires. A tempestuous history has given way to a peaceful, clean and architecturally important cultural city.

Sibiu

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Normally there would be no games on a Thursday but with Emi’s negotiating skills the Sibiu County FA president, Traian Marcu, had a game moved to an early evening slot just for us.

AS Bradu play at the named Stadionul Central, a pretty basic venue in a glorious location surrounded by rolling pastures and bounded to the south by the Olt River and the glorious Făgăraș Mountains of the Southern Carpathians with their peaks still sporting their white winter caps. This evenings opponents are Interstar Sibiu primarily an under 21 team but with a veteran utility player, Vasile Armenean, who plays the full 90 minutes in a variety of positions at the incredible age of 59! It’s the younger team who beat the hosts comfortably by four unanswered goals.

Thursday March 21st 2019 – Romania IV Liga (Sibiu County)

AS Bradu 0

FC Interstar Sibiu 4 (Oprișor 33, Standima 65, Dancu 76,90)

Attendance: 48 (at Stadionul Central)

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The schedule for Friday was looking particularly memorable and was to conclude with another early evening game this time in neighbouring Braşov county, again moved for our convenience by the local FA man, Octavian Goga. Emi had already teased the group with pictures of a wonderfully decrepit looking old wooden stand so anticipation for the visit to ASC Olimpic Zărneşti was palpable.

But first we had a morning to fill and when you are in Transylvania it is almost unthinkable not to visit Bran Castle, legendary “home” of Vlad III Dracula, better known as Vlad the Impaler, who was the ruler of Wallachia, and said to be the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s world famous novel Dracula. It is a stunning castle in its own right, overlooking the Bran Gorge. For a few additional Lei you can gain access to Vlad’s torture chamber including replicas of his favoured method of sending a message to invading Ottoman forces, the impaling pole.

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We headed to Zărneşti which was primarily an industrial town with the Celuloza paper manufacturing plant opening in the mid 1850’s and a weapons plant “6 Martie” in 1936. In 1939 the paper factory had a leak of chlorine gas which killed 60 inhabitants. The heavy industry closed down after the downfall of Nicolae Ceaușescu and left mass unemployment until tourism kicked in. However, Celuloza left the town a really magnificent football ground, photogenic from all parts. A bright red dressing room building, the crumbling 80 odd year old wooden stand and rickety bleacher style seating on the opposite side make for a classic ground in a stunning mountain setting. There is a very decent gathering of locals for this game against ACSM Codlea, and there is even merchandise for sale in the form of scarves and pennants. Our Norwegian contingent clear the local bar of bottled beer as we watch the game in early evening sunshine. The home side rise to the occasion and win 4-0, and we all feel a sense of immense privilege of being able to have seen a match in this quite breathtaking place.

Friday March 22nd 2019 – Romanian IV Liga (Braşov County)

ASC Olimpic Zărneşti 4 (Berloiu 26, Dascâlu 39, Mielusolu 51, Simon 56)

ACSM Codlea 0

Attendance: 256 (at Stadionul Celuloza Zărneşti)

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Saturday morning arrived and we have a trip south west of Sibiu to FC Cisnădie. I was aware the stadium in Cisnădie was a lot bigger than the little village grounds we had been to so far but was taken aback by the sheer beauty of their Stadionul Textila. Sited next to a carpet factory, the ground has a large concrete stand with a wooden pitched roof. On the opposite side there is a raised bank of uncovered seating with approximately 2,500 seats. Throw in the obligatory mountain back drop, church spires and a cemetery and we have another photographic bobby dazzler on our hands. Today’s opponents are the army reservists of AS Armata Sibiu. They lack fitness and skill and hold out for barely four minutes before they concede the first of 13 goals to a rampant host team. To their credit Armata score two cracking goals themselves before the referee puts them out of their misery by not playing any additional time at all. Cisnădie are wonderful hosts and supply us all with free half time beer, most welcome on a warm day.

Saturday March 23rd 2019 – Romanian IV Liga (Sibiu County)

FC Cisnădie 13 (Cotofan 4,72, Dragomir 23, Cocos 33, Coman 36,42, Bratima pen 48,87, Andrei 66, Rodean 76,86,89, Anghel 80)

AS Armata Sibiu 2 (Trasca 12, Raulea 45)

Attendance: 84 (at Stadionul Textila)

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We then travelled north west to the incredible mountain ground of AS Cindrelul Gura Râului who were hosting a Romanian Cup third round game against the team from the neighbouring village, AS Silvatex Orlat. Once again the ground itself is nothing special, a caged 3G pitch with one stand of wooden bleacher style seating. Behind the stand was an almost vertical cliff face, which of course didn’t some some scallywags (and Norwegians) climbing up for a loftier vantage point. The rest of the ground is surrounded by a lunar looking mountain landscape. I have never been to a place quite like Gura Râului. On the field the two fifth level sides bludgeon each other and all three goals came in a crazy three minute spell early in the first half. The winner for the hosts coming from a comical own goal, a Silvertex defender completing an fantastic goal line clearance only for the ball to hit a team mate on the backside and cannon into the corner of the net.

Saturday March 23rd 2019 – Cupa Romaniei (Faza 3)

AS Cindrelul Gura Râului 2 (Ruse 16, Damaschin og 19)

AS Silvatex Orlat 1 (Topîrcean 17)

Attendance: 198 (at Stadionul Comunal)

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We had the option of basketball at the Sala Transylvania on Saturday night as local side CSM Sibiu had a game against CSM Oradea, a team from near the Hungarian border. Some of the party are keen to go especially as its only 15 lei (£3) to get in. It turned out to be a really thrilling game with the home side come from a sizeable deficit to almost snatching victory with one second on the clock remaining.

For the Sunday we had two games planned and the first was at Unirea Miercurea-Sibiului with attractive opposition in the shape of LSS Voința Sibiu. This is a fan owned club arisen from the ashes of the bankrupt Liga I side CSU Voința Sibiu. Unirea have decent ground just off the main square, with a stand with uncovered seating and around 30 away fans who sung, waved flags and let off firecrackers throughout the 90 minutes. Unfortunately for Voința, the home side didn’t read the script and eased to a 3-0 win. The away fans were exceedingly friendly and explained that want to perpetuate the legend of Sibiu’s historic club, Șoimii Sibiu, who folded in 2001.

Sunday March 24th 2019 – Romanian IV Liga (Sibiu County)

ACS Unirea Miercurea-Sibiului 3 (Roman 36,71, Albean 62)

AS LSS Voința Sibiu 0

Attendance: 155 (at Stadionul Orăşenesc-Miercurea)

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Our sixth and final game of the tour promised to be really interesting and a total antithesis of the scenic mountain and sleepy village grounds we had visited so far. We were heading to the tragic town of Copșa Mică. Before Chernobyl this town was the most polluted town in all of Europe, thanks to years of unregulated industrial emissions. Most guilty of polluting Copșa Mică were Carbosin, who produced a black powder dye used in the rubber industry and Sometra who processed non-ferrous metals in huge smelters. To this day a nasty black sludge can be seen on the terracotta roof tiles of the towns’ houses. Lead emissions were 1,000 times over agreed international limits, and the factories belched 10 tons of carbon soot into the air on a daily basis.

The ground is surrounded by old industrial chimneys and the pitch is more like straw than grass. The visitors are ACS Păltiniş Raşinari who are riding high in the table but it’s the hosts that take a shock second minute lead. It doesn’t last though and the visitors score four times leaving this sorry, dirty old town with all three points.

Sunday March 24th 2019 – Romanian IV Liga (Sibiu County)

AS Copșa Mică 1 (Getner 2)

ACS Paltinis Răşinari 4 (Nasta 37,45, Chirila 40, Ganea 73)

Att:Attendance: 116 (at Stadionul Orăşenesc)

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We had left our base in Sibiu on Sunday morning with our bags ready to spend the night in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Sighişoara. En route we have a pit stop at the delightful town of Biertan and its famous Lutherian fortified church. It’s dark when we get to the superb Mercure Hotel in Sighişoara but you can see this is a really special place.

Biertan

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We have the morning to mooch about the cobbled streets. The 13th century clock tower is just stunning and the old citadel is dominated by the Church on the Hill. It’s a fitting end to a superb tour and we are whisked off on the fifty mile trip back to Sibiu airport for our flights back to normality. I have said it before and I will say it again, Romania is a vast untouched beauty. Do yourself a favour and visit Romania at least once in your lifetime.

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A greatly expanded version of this review can be found in the June 2019 edition of Football Weekends magazine

 

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Blessed Bucovina (Football In Heaven 2)

Almost a year had elapsed since the inaugural Football In Heaven tour in glorious Bucovina as we touched down in a boiling Suceava Airport. Organisers Emanuel Roșu and Ciprian Anton had once again met us at the airport with the minibus for the Suceava FA being made available to us for the whole weekend.

Zipping through the suburbs of Suceava we dumped our bags at one of our bases from last year, the Continental in Strada Mihai Viteazul. Later we arrived in the city of Paşcani on the Siret river around 15 minutes before the start of a third division match between the local side, CSM Paşcani and SCM Gloria Buzău.

What is remarkable about the CFR Stadium is that in dates from the 1920’s and some thirty years ago a decision was made to rebuild the place and work started on huge main stand supported with an impressive forest of pre-cast concrete buttresses. Not untypical in Romania, ambition outstripped finance and the huge edifice is still largely incomplete with fatiguing iron poles sticking out of unfinished walls and roof tresses. It’s a health and safety nightmare but here no-one bats an eyelid and yes nobody gets hurt. However, its Gloria who dominate proceedings on the pitch this evening as they ease to a 3-0 win.

Friday September 28th 2018 – Romanian III Liga

CSM Paşcani 0

Gloria Buzău 3 (Truta 15,53, Tanase 75)

Att:176 (at Stadionul CFR Paşcani)

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It’s an early start in the morning as we pack up in readiness for the journey west into the Carpathian Mountains and two nights in the pretty ski resort of Vatra Dornei. However, before we take the winding ascent we have two fourth tier matches in the south west of the region.

First up is the fascinating ground of ACS Șomuzul Preuteşti who are entertaining AS Amatorii Rarău Câmpulung. While there is no stand at Șomuzul’s ground it becomes immediately apparent that spectators stand or sit on plastic chairs on a railway line that runs right next to the touchline. The hosts barely break sweat in a 3-1 win and delight their foreign visitors with a full colour programme and a meal after the game of mici (mixed meat parcels) and chips.

Saturday September 29th 2018 – Romanian IV Liga

ACS Șomuzul Preuteşti 3 (Clim 39, Pânzariu 44, Gigicâ 59)

AS Amatorii Rarău Câmpulung 1 (Sâlâgeau 90)

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Before we leave Preuteşti the president of the opposition, Rarău Câmpulung, extends an open invitation to see a game at their ground in the future. We are passing the town of Câmpulung Moldovenesc on the way to our second game of the day so while the bus is refuelled it seems the obvious thing to do an have a look at their ground. It is an absolute belter with a ornate entrance giving way to a large stand set in a forested hillside. The obligatory scoreboard and a cracking press box ensure this ground will be high on the wish list for any future edition of this wonderful tour.

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For four of us who attended the first Football In Heaven tour the second game of the day is a revisit to the stunning stadium of FC Pojorîta. Backdropped by rolling hills, shepherds huts, forested slopes and a huge church it has the first time visitors positively foaming at the mouth at its immense beauty. Pojorîta win 6-1 after their opponents, ACS Viitorul Vereşti, fade badly after a bright start.

Saturday September 29th 2018 -Romanian IV Liga

FC Pojorîta 6 (Prundean 7, Bâlan 31,65, Ilie 45,80, Vicliuc 48)

ACS Viitorul Vereşti 1 (Palaghianu 15)

Att:98

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After a meal in Pojorâta nightfall was rapidly descending as we ascended into the Carpathians. We arrive at Pension di David in Vatra Dornei, a base we had also used last year.

Sunday morning saw us with some free time so we had a little surprise for the unsuspecting group. We had tried to do the Telescaun chairlift on the previous tour, but strong winds had put paid to our plan. 25 Lei (£5) gets you a return ticket and at first it seemed like it might be a fruitless exercise as the route up was engulfed in thick fog. Magically during the 25 minute accent on rickety wooden chairs, the fog lifted and upon reaching the summit of 1,268 metres (almost as lofty as Ben Nevis), we are truly blessed with uninterrupted views of snow capped peaks and Vatra Dornei looking tiny from our elevated perch. The vista is truly breathtaking, no wonder this area is known as “Heaven”.

We then head south west to the small town of Mădei which sees us cross into Neamț County from Suceava County. The local team, ACS Bradu Borca, moved from their own ground in Borca a few years ago.

We catch Bradu on a bad day as they are well and truly humped 6-1 by a decent looking Speranţa Răuceşti side on a pitch where there is gravel in the goal mouth instead of grass. A boisterous crowd of over 200 watch the game in another stunning setting.

Sunday September 30th 2018 – Romanian IV Liga

ACS Bradu Borca 1 (Crengamis 86)

FC Speranţa Răuceşti 6 (Gheorghe 8, Apostol 20,64, Cucos 38,45, Ciccoiu 88)

Att:208

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On the way to the Borca game we had passed the ground of AS Bistriţa Broşteni and while empty it looked nothing special but it is quite wonderful how a patch of grass comes to life when players and supporters gather. There is a small dressing room big enough only for the home team, the officials change in a nearby pub and the visitors, the superbly named Forestierul Frumosu, change in their minibus.

The ground is in a clearing amongst a steep forest and is on the banks of the beautiful and fast flowing Bistriţa river. It is the river that causes the club some real problems. Footballs are lost regularly and the current is too strong and the banks too steep to retrieve them. The river has also clearly burst its banks at some point and deposited rocks onto the pitch many of which still protrude out of the penalty area at the north end of the ground. It takes brave men to play football on a pitch like this.

Broşteni take to the field in vivid pink shirts and only then do you notice the backs are sporting names like “Kelly” and “McDermott”, they are Gaelic football shirts donated by the Aireagal Chiaráin club from County Tyrone. Forestierul Frumosu aren’t without their quirks as well, their No.7 is quite the shortest player we, collectively, had ever seen. The match was very even throughout on a very difficult surface and just as it looked like Frumosu would grab a single goal victory, the hosts lash in an injury time equaliser.

IMG_7055Sunday September 30th 2018 – Romanian V Liga

AS Bistriţa Broşteni 1 (Catea 90)
AS Forestierul Frumosu 1 (Andronicescu 61)

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Monday sees us with just one game and its a 5pm kick off back in Suceava. So after a later breakfast we leave Vatra Dornei and embark on a little sightseeing on the return journey. Firstly we take a winding climb, more than 1,500 metres above sea level, in the Rarău Mountains and alight at a purpose built viewing platform. We have come higher than the clouds with the two rift valleys below shrouded in white. It is a jaw-dropping scene. Up here the air is so pure and rarified, it enlivens the senses and revives the soul.

After retracing our path down the mountain we head for a second surprise for the group. The Bucovina region is renowned for its hand painted monasteries and there cannot me many more beautiful that the medieval monastery at Voroneţ. Built in 1488 and hand painted inside and out to commemorate the Battle of Vaslui. it is quite rightly one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.

We arrive back in Suceava just ahead of kick off for the fourth tier match between Liceul Program Sportiv Suceava and ACS Juniorul Suceava. The ground is a 3G pitch surrounded by steep grass banking. Communist era tenements and an attractive church known as the Biserica Sfinţii Trei Ierarhi. LPS survive some late goalmouth scrambles to win 2-1.

Monday October 1st 2018 – Romanian IV Liga

LPS Suceava 2 (Placintâ pen 32,72)

ACS Juniorul Suceava 1 (Holca 75)

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After a final night in the Continental hotel we wake to find the story of our football tour has made the pages of the regional newspaper, the Bucovina Obiectiv. Our wonderful hosts extend a final act of kindness to us by dropping us back to the airport for our flight back to the UK.

A hugely expanded version of this review will appear in issue 40 of Football Weekends magazine (December 2018)

For more pictures from this tour and news of any future events please follow @Emishor on Twitter, join the Facebook group “Football In Heaven”, or search the hashtag #Bucovina2018 across all forms of social media.