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.

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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.

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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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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)

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Dinamo ticket

Tributes to Patrick Ekeng
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