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)

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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.

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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

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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.

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.