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.

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Bucharest Days (Romanian Groundhop 2)

It seems impossible that a year ago 14 groundhoppers from the UK, Germany and Denmark headed to Bucharest for Andrei Otineanu’s first Romanian Groundhop. We witnessed so much to celebrate about this amazing hobby and also saw the incredibly sad side of football when Dinamo’s Cameroonian player Patrick Ekeng passed away in front of our eyes. Much has changed in the interim, Andrei’s idea of promoting sport in Bucharest for his thesis has seen him move to Łódź in Poland to continue his studies and the undoubted stars of last years hop, Fratia, have disappeared amid allegations of cooking the books. The Brotherhood of rejected players is no more and those that wanted to carry on playing have found other clubs.

So could Andrei organise a second Groundhop from his new base in a foreign country? Would it be too much work without being present to chase people up and get enough interest for it to happen? Of course he could! His energy and enthusiasm plus the help of his good friend Alexandru Fieraru on the front line in Bucharest meant all the second edition of the Romanian Groundhop needed was hoppers!

Eventually the number of attendees settled at a creditable 21 with 18 from the UK, Juergen Schneider and Carsten Pikulik from Germany and France’s very own Pierre-Julien Pera who runs he excellent Eastern European-centric website Footballski.fr

With the hop due to start at Comprest on Friday afternoon many flew into Bucharest on the Thursday to afford a bit of time for sightseeing. Then, as is the wont of Eastern European football, the Comprest game got moved. As luck would have it another game, the second tier game at CS Balotești got moved as well to Friday morning!

Balotești were hosting Olimpia Satu Mare who endured an arduous ten hour, 352 mile, coach ride from their home close to the Ukrainian border. To the delight of Balotești’s unexpected foreign guests the club issued a small four page programme for the game and these were snapped up in double quick time. With the hosts just one place above the relegation spots and Olimpia in seventh in the table an away win was expected. Maybe it was the ridiculous journey that took its toll on the visitors but they never got their act together and Balotești earned a much needed win with a terrific header from Alexandru Eugen Nica separating the sides.

Liga II – Friday May 5th 2017 (11 am)

CS Balotești 1 (Nica Eugen 22)
Olimpic Satu Mare 0

Att:117 (at Stadion Central Balotești)

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So with the unexpected bonus game out of the way, Andrei duly appeared with the bus at 4pm ready for the first official game of the hop the First Liga game between FC Voluntari and ACS Poli Timișoara. Voluntari were formed as recently as 2010, the short termism of clubs in Romania is frightening!
Voluntari play at the Stadion Anghel Iordănescu, a burly and prolific centre forward for Steaua and Romania, which was built in 2010 for the new club in what appears to be a new town to the north east of the city. The hosts took the lead but were pegged back when visiting centre forward, Pedro Henrique, successfully conned the referee into awarding a penalty. Justice was done, however, when the hosts bagged what proved to be the winner just after the break.

The home team had been backed throughout by a small band of ultras in our sector. What made them special was that their average age must have been well into their 60’s. They banged drums and yelled through megaphones for the whole game with the elderly “capo” resplendent in a sailor’s cap! We had noticed our bus had been well and truly been boxed-in in the car park which made the 35 minute trip to the 8.30pm kick off at Concordia extremely tight with just a 45 minute window between games.

Liga I – Friday May 5th 2017 (6 pm)

FC Voluntari 2 (Balaur 9, Popaduic 49)
ACS Polu Timisoara 1 (Pedro Henrique pen 26)

Att:960 (at Stadion Anghel Iordănescu)

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We arrived in Chiajna with six minutes elapsed into Concordia’s bottom of the table clash with bankruptcy bound ASA Târgu Mureș. With 8 games of the play out series completed both sides had only managed one win and seven goals between them so we hadn’t exactly missed much. The game looked nailed on as a 0-0 until the hosts unexpectedly scored twice in eight minutes mid way through the second half. The Stadionul Concordia was opened in 2007 and luckily had a 3G surface so the massive thunderstorm that broke out did not threaten the game. It’s a traditional English style ground with four rectangular stands and has the Biserica Sfântul Nicolae as an imposing backdrop.

Liga I – Saturday May 5th 2017 (8.30 pm)

CS Concordia Chiajna 2 (Grădinaru 71, Cristescu 79)
ASA Târgu Mureș 0

Att:672 (at Stadion Concordia)

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The Satuday morning game took us to the small town of Snagov. Until 2016 FC Snagov had been plying their trade in the third tier of Romanian football before suffering relegation. Then in the summer of 2016 FC Snagov found themselves taken over lock, stock and barrel by Metalul Reșița.

This season has been tough for Metalul having to field a very young side and today’s opponents where FC Brașov, a club with a decent top flight and European pedigree. After the opponents dominated the first half they held a one goal cushion, and a comfortable away win seemed on the cards until one of Metalul’s more experienced players, Mihai Dina, delighted a modest crowd (despite free entry) with a high quality equaliser on a bobbly surface at the otherwise excellent Stadion Voinţa.

Liga II – Saturday May 6th 2017 (11.30 am)

CSM Metalul Reșița 1 (Dina 63)
FC Brașov 1 (Răchişan 24)

Att:155 (at Stadion Voinţa)

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After lunch we toddled over to the ground of FC Metaloglobus to see the second string of FCSB (the preposterous new name of Steaua, long story) take on Atletic Bradu. As we arrived the adjacent ground, the Sport Complex Ion Tiriac, was hosting a fifth level game between CSM Unirea Dobroești and VK Soccer. It had not long kicked off so the majority opted to sit in the sun and watch a 3-0 win for the home team.

Liga V – Saturday May 6th 2017 (4 pm)

CSM Unirea Dobroești 3 VK Soccer 0

Att:58 (at Complex Sportiv Ion Tiriac)

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Metaloglobus have won promotion to the second tier for next season and its no surprise Steaua opt to use their excellent facilities for their reserve team matches. FCSB dominated the game with a slick passing game, but couldn’t find the net leaving the visitors with a single goal victory.

Liga III – Saturday May 6th 2017 (6 pm)

FC Steaua București II 0
Atletic Bradu 1 (Ruţă 36)

Att:86 (at Stadion Metaloglobus)

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Sunday began with an 12 o’clock kick off at Stadion Spartac, home of Progresul Spartac ’44 who we had seen on the hop last year when their first team played at the excellent Electromagnetica ground. Today is a fifth tier clash between Progresul’s reserves and the optimistically titled Power Team. Progresul’s ultras, who we had so enjoyed their company last year, turned up en masse for this one and blue smoke bombs were let off for the occasion. The home side won easily, 7-3, in a stadium that has been decorated with the ultras cartoon versions of themselves.

Liga V – Sunday May 7th 2017 (12 pm)

Progresul Spartac II 7 (Diț 11,14, Georgescu 36,Cirdeiu 43,53, Calancea 49,60)
Power Team 3 (Burlacu 50,80, Gheorghe 65)

Att:57 (at Stadion Progresul Spartac)

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The hop ended by kind of going full circle with a game at AS Romprim. Much of the disbanded Fratia set up that won our hearts on last years hop have moved here including their coach from the Congo, Aime Lema, and Tudorel Mihailescu, the 51 year old goalkeeper who still plays in the fourth tier despite only having one arm. Sadly today they are no match for AS Tricolor who field a beast of a striker and his hat-trick paved the way for an easy 5-1 win as lightning crackled alarmingly close the ground during a heavy thunderstorm. The Stadion Romprim is excellent with sizeable stands on both sides and, wait for it, a bar that sells beer during the game! It also boasts an old school scoreboard at one end of the ground.

Liga IV – Sunday May 7th 2017 (5 pm)

AS Romprim 1 (Batchabi 83)
AS Tricolor 5 (G.Pristoliam 19,28,62, Ologeahu 70,Parvu 78)

Att:45 (at Stadion Romprim)

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With a great mix of stadiums and games as well as eating and drinking like kings the second Romanian groundhop was a tremendous success and enjoyed by all in attendance. Young Andrei is a knowledgeable and likeable host who puts tremendous effort into these trips. You cannot fault his enthusiasm either as he has announced the date of the third Romanian Groundhop already! It will take place in and around Timișoara with the date being the weekend of September 22nd to 24th 2017.

Andrei left and Alexandru right

An expanded version of this post will appear in a future edition of Football Weekends magazine. To order your copy please visit:
https://www.footballweekends.co.uk/about-our-mag/

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.