Romania

Capital: Bucharest
Population: 22.2 million
Currency: Leu
Official Language: Romanian
Borders: Hungary and Serbia (West), Ukraine and Moldova (North East) and Bulgaria (South)
GNP per Capita: $12,600 (65th in world)
Main Airport: Henri Coandǎ Airport – Bucharest

Located in Southeastern and Central Europe, North of the Balkan Peninsula, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea.[3] Almost all of the Danube Delta is located within its territory. Romania shares a border with Hungary and Serbia to the west, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova to the northeast, and Bulgaria to the south.

Romania emerged as a personal union of the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia under prince Alexander John Cuza in 1859 and as the Kingdom of Romania under the Hohenzollern monarchy, it gained recognition of independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878. In 1918, at the end of the World War I, Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia united with the Kingdom of Romania. At the end of World War II, parts of its territories (roughly the present day Republic of Moldova) were occupied by the USSR and Romania became a socialist republic, member of the Warsaw Pact.

With the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, Romania started a series of political and economic reforms. After a decade of post-revolution economic problems, Romania made economic reforms such as low flat tax rates in 2005 and joined the European Union on January 1, 2007. While Romania’s income level remains one of the lowest in the European Union, reforms have increased the growth speed. Romania is now an upper-middle income country economy.

Liga I is the name of the top division of the Romanian football league system. It was established in 1909 and commenced play for the 1909-10 campaign. Until 1932 it had various play-off types. Liga I is part of Romanian Professional Footbal League (LPF). Before the 2006/2007 season, it was called Divizia A, but the name had to be changed following the discovery that someone else had registered the trade mark “Divizia A”.  It was reported that during the season 2006-’07 1,657,602 tickets were sold for the 306 games played, giving an average attendance of 5,417 spectators per match.

The first football club’s organization formula was “A Divisional College” (“Colegiul Divizionar A”) founded on October 5, 1970 and led by Mircea Angelescu. Until 1990, the “A Divisional College” was formal without remarkable decisions. During the 90’s a lot of changes were implemented, reflected in the new names of the organization, e.g. “A Divisional Team’s League”, ” National Football League”, “Professional Club’s League”, etc. On October 10, 1992, the organization’s name became “Professional Football A Division League”, led by Mircea Angelescu – president, Dumitru Dragomir – vice-president and Daniel Lăzărescu – general secretary. On 22 January 1993, the name of the organization became “Professional Football League of Romania”, an A-Division professional football clubs representation. On October 13, 1993, the B Division clubs members were included. On September 30, 1996, Dumitru Dragomir has been elected president of the “Professional Football League of Romania”. The headquarters is located on 47 Mihai Eminescu Street (since February 1997). In December the same year it was decided that the league will organize the A-Division Championship starting with 1997-1998 edition.

In October 2000, Dumitru Dragomir has been re-elected president of the “Professional Football League of Romania”.  There are currently 18 teams at this level, of which the bottom four are relegated at the season’s end. These teams are replaced by the champions of the two divisions that make up Liga 2, the second level of the Romanian football league system.

Starting in 2005-06, the champions and runners-up of Divizia A are eligible to compete in the UEFA Champions League during the following season. The 3rd-placed team is eligible to compete in the UEFA Cup.  The most successful teams over the years have been Steaua Bucureşti and Dinamo Bucureşti, other notable teams being: Universitatea Craiova, Rapid Bucureşti, and UTA. Universitatea Craiova was the last non-Bucharest team to win the championship (in 1990-91) until the amazing performance of the small team of CFR Cluj last season. The title also gave them direct access to the Champions League Group Stages where they met Chelsea, Bordeaux and AS Roma.  Steaua Bucharest also made it through qualifying and took their place in a group featuring Bayern Munich, Lyon and Fiorentina.

List of Champions since 1990 – The Liga 1 Gamebookers.com
2008/09 Unirea Urziceni
2007/08 CFR Cluj
2006/07 Dinamo Bucureşti
2005/06 Steaua Bucureşti
2004/05 Steaua Bucureşti
2003/04 Dinamo Bucureşti
2002/03 Rapid Bucureşti
2001/02 Dinamo Bucureşti FC
2000/01 Steaua Bucureşti
1999/00 Dinamo Bucureşti
1998/99 Rapid Bucureşti
1997/98 Steaua Bucureşti
1996/97 Steaua Bucureşti
1995/96 Steaua Bucureşti
1994/95 Steaua Bucureşti
1993/94 Steaua Bucureşti
1992/93 Steaua Bucureşti
1991/92 Dinamo Bucureşti
1990/91 Universitatea Craiova
1989/90 Dinamo Bucureşti

Our last visit – November 2014

Premier League (and Championship games) are a pain in the arse, getting in the way of these International breaks.  Whoever came up with the idea of 6 consecutive days of top class football should be given a knighthood, or at least a gold card at The Harvester.  The opportunity to visit a few new places, sample a few new beers and of course take in some new culture.  Last month it was Lithuania and Latvia, both new ticks in the box for me. So where would I end up this time around?  The options included Moldova (the poorest country by GDP in Europe and the main sport being wrestling), Luxembourg (currently being hammered by the G14 for their lax tax rules) and Cyprus (foam parties…mmmm).  All relatively good choices but who could resist 20 pence beers, the world’s second biggest building and a table topping clash all washed down on an airmiles return flight and a free hotel room? Bucharest here I come.

15791879632_0be24a2e8b_kThe European Union’s six biggest city spreads its tentacles far and wide.  The former Soviet Bloc influences are clear to see by just picking up a map.  The areas of the city are divided into Sektors, reminding you immediately of 1984 or more recently The Hunger Games.  Whilst the city sits near the top in terms of size in the European Union, according to the annual study carried out by Mercer International on the quality of life, Bucharest is in a lowly 107th place.  I can tell I have already sold you on a visit haven’t I?

What better way to immerse myself in the city than to experience their national side play football? Who would have thought that this game would be a top of the table clash?  In fact what odds would you have got of Northern Ireland qualifying for their first European Championships when the draw was made for France 2016? A positive result here in Bucharest result would keep them top of Group F, a group that few saw them progressing from when the draw was made earlier this year.  Greece and Romania both have recent major tournament pedigree, whilst Hungary and Finland could always upset the odds.  Northern Ireland’s only hope was to pick up points against the Faroe Islands if you believed some “experts”. Two months into qualifying and the Irish arrived in Bucharest top of the group with a 100% record thanks to wins in Hungary and Greece, as well as the predictable home win versus the Faroe Islands. Football is a predictable game right – I mean it wasn’t as if the bottom of the table Faroe Islanders were going to get a win in Greece was it?

The bus from the airport took me on a tour of the suburbs.  Ikea, Homebase, car showrooms, McDonalds.  You could be anywhere on earth.  That’s what global commercialisation has given us.  Finally I arrived at the InterContinental hotel, the tallest building in Romania no less, and temporary home to the Irish squad.  A work colleague offered some vital advice before I left London, shouting it across the office in front of at least one of our Senior Executives. “Stu – don’t ring up from your hotel room for a prostitute. Not only is it illegal, but you may find 19 year old 42 inch chested Inga doesn’t arrive in school uniform at all but as a 55 year old matron whose breasts touch her knees. Just head up to the Club Lounge, they will come and find you.” Well that’s next year’s pay rise scuppered then.

The Europa Royale Hotel, a ten minute stroll down away in Piati Unirii, was the beating heart of the city centre.  Bordered by the biggest shopping centre in the Bucharest, wide Soviet- inspired dead straight boulevards and the heaving nightlife of The Old Town, it was here that the Northern Ireland fans had set up camp. And they were in fine voice when I arrived.  Free buses had been laid on to take the fans to the stadium although the riot police had a stern warning for the Irish fans. “No bottles on board” was the stern instruction from Bucharest’s top Robocop.  “Singing is good. Drinking now is bad. You will want to pee-pee and we will not stop the bus.” Fair point.

15170374174_33ebcbeb20_kWe set off on a tour of the city centre with a police escort, meaning our bus driver had the opportunity to pretend to be Keanu Reeves in Speed and drive at 50mph, ignoring all road signals.  As if the fans cared as they (well, OK, we) launched into verse. “Sweet Caroline”, “All you need is love” a David Healy inspired version of “Away in a Manger” and of course, “We aren’t Brazil, we’re Northern Ireland”.

The buses arrived at the relatively deserted stadium.  It seemed that the locals weren’t exactly excited by the visit of the Irish.  Last month there had been significant trouble both in the city centre and in the stadium when Hungary had been the visitors.  For a brief while it looked as if this game may have had to be played behind closed doors as part of a UEFA sanction.  Fortunately, with nearly a thousand Northern Ireland fans already booked up for Bucharest, UEFA saw sense and imposed a £25,000 fine and a partial stadium closure, though I’m not sure where, penalty on the Romanians.

Prior to 2011, Romania didn’t have a national stadium. The old 60,000 seater open air stadium located on the same site had been demolished in 2009, with games played at the Ghencea, home of Steaua Bucharest, where the two sides last met back in 2006.  The new 55,000 all seater stadium was completed in 2011 and is certainly impressive, already hosting its first major game when the 2012 Europa League Final between Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao was held here.  The stadium will also host matches during the ridiculous Europe-wide 2020 European Championships.

The stadium is sat upon a large mound, like a castle, with Neo-Gothic arches around the outside and almost Santiago Calatrava-style interior ones (Spanish chap who loves straight lined, white columns and elegant curves in his building design, dummy).  Without sounding too arty, it’s basically a beauty to behold, especially when lit up at night.

Our way was being blocked by two riot police, both young females who you would object to using their handcuffs on you.  “If I am going to end the night being battered black and blue then can it please be by them two?” A very un-Irish sounding chap had starry eyes for our protectorate.  He soon realised I was also from England when I chirped in my agreement. “You’re not one of them?” He said quietly, looking at the Irish fans behind us. “Please help us. We’ve been kidnapped.  We only came to Bucharest for a cheap weekend away. We got caught up in the wrong crowd and then before we knew it we were on the buses.  We don’t have tickets – heck we don’t even particularly like football.” Before I could answer, the girls had stepped aside and my fellow countrymen were swept along with the tide of green, never to be seen again.

15791900352_7c3f4075f6_kThe view inside the stadium was certainly impressive.  The canopy roof, similar to the one in Frankfurt’s Commerzbank Arena which famous ripped under the weight of water ten years ago in the Confederations Cup Final between Brazil and Argentina, was closed although it hadn’t done anything to make the stadium any warmer.  In fact it was bloody freezing.

The Romanians, despite sitting behind the Irish coming into the game, were firm favourites.  Whilst today’s team doesn’t have the same world-class players as they’ve had in the past, they are still a dangerous side and should be odds on to qualify for the 2016 tournament.

For one brief moment in time back in 2004, Romanian football was catapulted into the global stage thanks to the performance of the side at the World Cup in America. The team arrived with little few people giving them a chance in a group featuring the highly fancied Colombians, Switzerland and the host nation.  In their opening gave, they blew apart the South Americans with goals from a blonde-haired centre-forward, Florin Răducioiu and a diminutive creative midfielder in the mould of Diego Maradona, Gheorghe Hagi.  Whilst the wheels came off the bus in their next match, a solitary goal by dashing full-back Dan Petrescu against the USA saw them reach the next round and a game that changed Romanian football forever.

The new generation of Romanian players came at a time when domestic football was going through a massive change, off the back of the social and political changes in the country.  Steaua, traditionally the side of the Romanian Army and Dinamo, the “Interior Ministry’s side, are the most successful teams in Romania and up until the fall of Ceausescu, had won nine consecutive titles plus Steaua became the first Romanian side to win the European Cup in 1986, beating Barcelona and were runners up to AC Milan three years later.

That golden generation went on to impress in two of the next three major tournaments with the next generation of players being given a chance. Adrian Mutu, Cosmin Contra and Cristian Chivu all enjoyed success overseas whilst performing for the national side. But success has been thin on the ground in recent years. Coach Anghel Iordănescu is in the role for the third time, hoping to recreate the magic that he cast during the Golden Age of Romanian football in the mid-1990s.

Romania 2 Northern Ireland 0 – Arena National – Friday 14th November 2014
“We are top of the league, I say we are top of the league” National anthems done and dusted and for a few brief seconds the Irish fans have a chance to make their presence known.  Their chorus lasts but 10 seconds before the Romanians burst into song, amplified tenfold by the closed roof.  With the stadium just over half full it’s deafening. I cannot imagine what it’s like when full.  Northern Ireland line up 4-5-1, with Kyle Lafferty deployed as the nuisance up front. Out of the 22 players starting the game just one, Fleetwood Town’s Connor McLaughlin sports black boots. Playing opposite to him is the Romanian captain and West Ham flop, Răzvan Rat.

15604928938_565cc6ad8e_kIt took 16 minutes for the Irish to venture into the Romanian penalty area when Chris Brunt fired narrowly wide.  It was going to be a long evening for them, firmly under the cosh.  Romania nearly took the lead two minutes later when the lively Chipciu hit the underside of the bar from close range.  Chipciu wasn’t having the best of nights, following up this miss by falling over in the six yard box with the goal at his mercy after a brilliant run by Sanmartean. Northern Ireland finished the half with Lafferty nearly getting the reward for his tireless running and physical treatment from the Romanian centre-backs when he broke free and forced the keeper into. Smart save at his near post.

With three quarters of the game gone the score was still goal less.  The strength of the Northern Ireland team is their work rate, spirit and discipline.  Everyone knows their position and what is expected of them.  No stars but sheer talent.  With tensions boiling over in the South stand, the riot police were brought into action to quell a disagreement between the Ultras (‘cos that’s what their flag said) and the surrounding fans.  It appeared from the reaction of some fans that tear gas was used which was a real shame as just a few yards away, Romania finally found a way past Roy Carroll, when Paul Papp smashed the ball into the roof of the net after McAuley had failed to clear.

With their tails up, one became two soon after when full-back Papp scored again, heading home at the far post after a long cross from Sanmartean. There was no way back now for the Irish. Time to sing until the final whistle instead.

The performance had been spirited, and whilst many Irish fans may look at the two first half chances from Brunt and Lafferty, they had been beaten by the better side.  The inevitable lock-in after the game saw the riot police happy to pose pictures with the away fans and join in the odd song or two.  Thirty minutes after the game finished I was back on the bar at the hotel, finally thawing out, and ready to bat away the advances of the professional ladies of the night.  Around 1am the Irish squad arrived back, tired but proud of their performance.  There was no shame in defeat tonight.

Saturday morning dawned. From my balcony the grey cloud blended in with the grey buildings. Time to see the city in daylight.  I had made a plan to maximise my last few hours in the city which of course meant a visit to Dinamo and Steaeu’s respective grounds (thanking the God of open magic doors), a purchase of some football socks and a drink or two in the best-named bar in these parts, Beer O’ Clock.  Cheers Bucharest, you’d delivered a top 24 hours.  Until the next International break I wish you well.

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The following teams are playing  in the 2009/10 Liga 1 Gamebookers.com:-

FC Brasov – Stadionul Silviu Ploiesteanu although officially it is called Stadionul Tineretului which means Stadium of Youth – Capacity 12,670.  Promted at the end of the 2007/08 season after a three season absence from the top division. They hail from the city of Brasov, the 7th largest city of Romania.  The club started the 2009/10 season fairly well, ranking 7th in the championship at the end of the firsh half, just 7 points behind the 1st placed team. In the Romanian Cup, they managed to reach the semi-finals, after eliminating one by one, CS Otopeni, Unirea Urziceni and Gloria Bistriţa. By doing this, they managed to equalise their all time best performance in this competition, after the ones achieved in the 1951, 1957–58, 1961–62, 1969–70, 1978–79 and the 1986–87 seasons. They were drawn against FC Vaslui. Neither team has ever reached the final.

CFR Cluj – Dr Constantin Radulescu Stadion – Capacity 14,000.  Champions in 2007/08, overcoming all of the odds to finish top of the pile.  They have had a remarkable recent history, having played in the third tier for most of their history.  They come from Cluj-Napoca in the north of the country.  By winning the league, CFR Cluj qualified for the group stage of the 2008–09 UEFA Champions League season. They were drawn in Group A against Chelsea of England, AS Roma of Italy, and Bordeaux of France and given little chance of progressing, with odds of 300–1 being given on them winning the competition. In their opening game, Cluj caused a shock by beating Roma in the Italian capital, 2–1, and further exceeded expectations by holding the previous season’s finalists Chelsea to a 0–0 draw. The end of the 2008–09) season saw CFR finish fourth, the team had two coaching staff changes in the second part of the competition and did not manage to secure a second title. The Romanian Cup was kept for a consecutive year at Cluj, and achievement through which CFR ended the year in high spirits.

FC Univsitatea Craiova – Stadion Ion Oblemenco – Capacity 27,915.  After a disappointing 9th place finish last season Craiova will be hoping to break into the top six again.  They actually reached the 1984 UEFA Cup semi-finals.  Craiova is located in the south west of the country and one of the biggest university cities.  They became the first Romanian football team to reach the semi-finals of a European tournament, during the UEFA Cup in 1982-83. In 1991 Universitatea Craiova won for the last time the Championship and the Romanian Cup, under Sorin Cartu as coach. In the last years Craiova became a middle-table team, with rather poor performances. At the end of the season 2004-2005 they had been relegated in the second football division for the first time in history. However, Craiova promoted the next year in Liga I.

FC Dinamo Bucharest – Dinamo Stadium – Capacity 15,300. 4th place last season was a disappointing return for the club despite some serious investment in the team.  They became the first Romanian team to reach the UEFA Champions League semi-finals in 1983-84. In the summer of 2008, Mircea Rednic returned as coach having the mission to win the title and bring Dinamo to the UEFA Champions League Group Stage. The first half of the season saw modest games against the other title contenders like Rapid Bucharest, CFR Cluj or Unirea Urziceni but in the same time they managed to beat direct rivals for the title, FC Timisoara 3-0 away. Dinamo ended the first half of the season in first place after Unirea Urziceni lost the last game against Steaua Bucharest. The second half of the season started in a promising way for the Red Dogs. Dinamo managed to beat Rapid with 3-0 at home even though Rapid was considered to be in top form and later eliminated them from the Cup with a similar 4-2 victory in Pitesti. The last 3 games of the season were against Unirea Urziceni away, FC Brasov home and FC Arges away and were 3 defeats in a row, ending in third position. Dinamo played in the playoff for Europa League against Czech football club FC Slovan Liberec. In the first leg the supporters invaded the pitch causing the match to abandoned in the 87th minute when the score was 2-0 for Slovan. The game was lost 3-0 by Dinamo. One week later in Liberec Dinamo managed a memorable comeback and qualified in the Europa League 2009-10 Group Stage after winning 3-0 in Liberec after 90 and 120 minutes and winning 9-8 at penalties after 10 series. Andrei Cristea scored once and Marius Niculae twice. Dinamo was drawn in group F along Panathinaikos Athens, Galatasaray Istanbul and Sturm Graz. The first game was played against the Austrian team in Graz on 17 September and won 1-0 by the Red Dogs.

FC Gaz Metan Medias – Stadionul Municipal Gaz Metan – Capacity 5,000.  One of the smallest clubs to play in the top flight of Romanian football.  They are favourites for relegation for the 2008/09 season after promotion in 2007/08 as runners up of league 2.  Medias is located in the heart of Romania, and is the biggest city in the province of Transylvania.  They are currently playing in the Romanian second division, after relegating at the end of Liga I 2008–09, although they play quality football, appreciated by many, but not enough to avoid relegation. However, they were spared relegation after FC Argeş Piteşti’s demotion upon a decision of the Romanian FA on 8 July 2009 after their owner, Cornel Penescu, was found guilty of corruption. They hold home games at the Municipal Gaz Metan. Their former name was Karres Mediaş.

FC Gloria Bistrita – Stadionul Gloria – Capacity 8,100.  A mid table finish last season was a good return for this club from Bistrit located in the north of the country in the Transylvania region.  They have been a regular in the Intertoto Cup since it commenced in the 1990’s.  The club was founded on July 6, 1922 and among the founding staff members there were: Simion Sbârcea as the club’s president, Teofil Moldovan as the club’s secretary, Ion Bota, Dumitru Hara, Simion Pop, Ioan Archiudean and others as the club’s administration committee members.  Throughout the years the club had several other names: Ceramica Bistriţa (before World War II), CS Bistriţa (after World War II) and Progresul Bistriţa until 1956, when the old name, Gloria, was readopted. The team earned it’s promotion to the Romanian first league, Divizia A (now Liga I), in 1990 under coach Remus Vlad.

FC Otelul Galati – Otelul Stadium – Capacity 13, 932.  A 5th place finish in 2007 was followed by 8th pace last season – a good return for a small club who did not reach the top league until 1986.  They have the honour of once beating Juventus in the UEFA Cup.  Galati is located in the north east of the country close to the border with Moldovia.  Playing in Galaţi. Oţelul has yet to win a Romanian league or cup title, but it can boast of having reached the cup final as recently as 2004. The club is currently playing in the top Romanian division Liga I, and finished 5th in the 2006-2007 season. The club first promoted in Divizia A in 1986 and in 1988 made its debut in the UEFA Cup with a 1-0 victory against the Italian side Juventus. The best performance so far obtained in the Romanian first division has been the fourth place, in 1988, 1997 and 1998.

Pandurii Targu Jiu – Tudor Vladimierescu Stadionul – Capacity 9,200.  12th place last season was on par with expectations.  The town of Targu Jiu is located in the heart of Romania and is well known for its coal mining.  The stadium is named after Tudor Vladimirescu, the Wallachian Romanian revolutionary hero.  Târgu Jiu, Gorj county. Its colours are blue and white. Its home is the Tudor Vladimirescu Stadium in Târgu Jiu.  Liga I: Winners (0):, Best finnish: 11th 2006–07, 2008–09

FC Politenhnica Iasi –Emil Alexandrescu – Capacity 12,500.  An 11th place finish last season was amazing considering the huge financial problems they experienced which at times made fielding a team difficult.  They hail from the 2nd largest city in Romania, Iasi, which is on the border of Moldova.  Politehnica was established in 27 April 1945, and has its current name since 1967. Politehnica alternated between Romania’s second and first leagues; they were present in the Divizia A in 1960/61, 1962-1967, 1968-1972, 1973-1981, 1982-1990, 1995/96, and also from 2004 onwards. In 2001, after relegating for the first time in Divizia C (Romanian third Division), Politehnica merged with another local club, Unirea 2000, and got the official, though less known, name Poli Unirea. In 2004, the first season in Divizia A after nine years of absence, the team switched back to its old name, FC Politehnica Iaşi. Politehnica Iaşi started the season with the same financial problems, resulting in only four players joining the team in the pre-season break and many salaries and debts paid late. In addition, the conflict between Gheorghe Nichita and Iaşi prefect Radu Prisăcaru concerning public funding of the club and interference by the press spiced up the atmosphere. Despite all odds, Politehnica kept itself between the top six teams after the first 12 matches and was unbeaten for eight consecutive matches (seven in Liga I and one cup match), drawing at home with Steaua (1-1), Rapid and FCU Politehnica Timişoara (0-0). A negative run followed with one point in seven league matches and was followed by a 4-0 away victory against local rivals Ceahlăul Piatra Neamţ. Politehnica finally finished 13th with 40 points. The team qualified for the second time in a row in the quarter-finals of the Romanian Cup, disposing of Universitatea Cluj (2-1) and Farul Constanţa (1-0), however, they were eliminated by Poli Timişoara, score 1-2.

FC Rapid Bucharest – Stadionul Valetinin Stanescu – Capacity 19,100.  One of the most successful clubs in Romaian football, and also one of the richest.  They have been national champions on four occasions, the last time in 2003.  It was founded in 1923 by a group of workers of the Grivița workshops under the name of “Cultural and Sporting Association CFR” (in Romanian: Asociația culturală și sportivă C.F.R.). Rapid has won the Romanian championship 4 times (1942, 1967, 1999 and 2003) and the Romanian Cup on thirteen occasions. In 2006, Rapid became an incorporated company, its largest share-holder being George Copos, a wealthy businessman. Rapid’s supporters are creating some of the most impressive shows in Romanian sport singing most of the time during matches and sometimes before the matches start. The most impressive moment in the Giulești Stadium is when Rapid’s anthem is being played at the beginning of each match and every supporter is standing on their feet, waving a flag in the colors of the club or displaying a white and crimson scarf and singing along.

FC Steaua Bucharest –Stadionul Steaua in the Ghencea district of the city – Capacity 28,000.  Romania’s most successful club, and the only team from the country to have won the European Cup.  As Steaua is, judging by performances, the most successful Romanian football team, they enjoy the biggest support among Romanian football fans. A survey conducted in June 2007 suggested that the Ghencea-based team accounts for approximately 42% of all Romanian football lovers, as opposed to the following two ranked teams, Dinamo, with 12%, and Rapid, with 9%. The largest concentration of fans are in Bucharest, notably in areas adjacent to the arena, covering the whole southern half of Bucharest, a city geographically divided by the Dâmboviţa River. Also, the club has an important fan base inside the country, where several towns are renowned for counting vast majorities of Steaua supporters, and outside the borders, among Romanian emigrants.

FC Timosoara – Dan Paitinisanu Stadionul – Capacity 32,109.  6th Place last season from the club from one of the biggest cities, located in the west of the country.  The history of the club has been thrown into doubt after a ruling by the Abritration court for sport over who actually owns the name.  Established in 2002 and is currently playing in Romania’s top league, Liga I. The club was born when Anton Doboş, owner of AEK Bucureşti, moved the team to Timişoara after obtaining promotion to Liga I, finishing 1st in the 2001-02 season of Liga II, Seria 1. However, there is an issue regarding the club’s rights to the history of FC Politehnica Timişoara, as former owner Claudio Zambon has been claiming he is the rightful holder of the club records. The investigations are at present ongoing in civil law. Despite all this controversy, FC Timişoara remains one of the most popular football clubs in the country. Since joining the first league in the 2002/2003 season, it has always had the highest average attendance at home matches. The club also has a 2nd team, FC Timişoara II, which currently plays in the Romanian Liga III. It aims to train and promote talented youth for the first team.

FC Unirea Valahorum Urziceni – Stadium Tineretului – Capacity 7,000.  A very impressive 5th place in 2007/08 was followed up by a Championship performance last season for the team known as “Chelsea de Ialomita” because they are managed by ex-Chelsea star Dan Petrescu.  They have only been playing in the top division for two seasons.  The city of Urziceni is located in the south east of the country.  The first sporting club in Urziceni was a basketball club called “Ialomiţa”. On the improvised pitch from Obor, the football team “Ialomiţa” played against teams from Ploieşti, Buzău, and Slobozia. They also played many games against Germans settled around the local lake, from which they took the name “La Nemţi” (“At the Germans’”).  In 1976 a new stadium, Tineretului, was inaugurated. In 1988 the club reached the sixteenth round of Romanian Cup, but lost 3-1 to Corvinul Hunedoara. Two seasons later they finished second in the Third Division, and were promoted to Divizia B. In 2003 the club was taken over by a new sponsor, Valahorum. In 2005-06 the club finished second in Seria 2 of Divizia B. Following play-offs, the club were promoted to Liga I for the first time in their history.  The club finished tenth in its first season in the top division. In 2007-08 year they finished fifth and reached the cup final. Manager and former Chelsea player Dan Petrescu nicknamed the team Chelsea of Ialomiţa. The following season the club won the league for the first time after they beat Timişoara 4–1, and qualified for the Champions League.

FC Vaslui – Stadionul Municipal – Capacity 10,000.  Another club recently formed – this time in 2002 and risen to the top division in a record 3 years.  Last season they finished in 7th place – their best ever finish. Vaslui is located in the east of the country.  On 20 July, 2002, Victoria Galaţi moved to Vaslui, after an alliance between Marius Stan and former referee Adrian Porumboiu. The team also was renamed as Fotbal Club Municipal Vaslui (FCM Vaslui), later only Fotbal Club Vaslui (FC Vaslui). The team manager was named Ioan Sdrobiş, who also brought a few players he trained in the past, such as: Sorin Frunză and Valentin Badea. Adrian Porumboiu assured the club an impressive budget for Divizia C. The official colors were chosen yellow-green, and their first objective, was promotion in Divizia B. The objective was accomplished, so the next objective for the team, was promotion to Divizia A. In the 2003/2004 season, the team failed to promote in Liga I, finishing only the 2nd in the table, behind the new fierce rival Poli Iaşi. With major changes in the team, at the end of the season 2004/2005, FC Vaslui broke a record, being the first club in Romanian history who plays in Divizia A, after only 3 years, since its foundation.

FC Ceahlaul Piatra Neamt – Ceahlaul Stadionul – Capacity 17,500.  Newly promoted in 2009 the stadium is located in the town of Piatra Neamt and is a UEFA 3 star stadium meaning that behind Steaua’s it is the only one that can hold Champions League games.  Ceahlăul played in Divizia A between 1993 and 2004, when the team relegated to Divizia B. They promoted back to Divizia A for the 2006–2007 season.They were supposed to play in Divizia B for the 2007-08 season after finishing 15th out of 18 teams,but Divizia B team Delta Tulcea could not obtain the license for promotion,and Ceahlaul remained in Divizia A.  Based in Piatra Neamţ, established October 20, 1919.  The club’s home ground is Ceahlăul Stadium with a capacity of 18,000 seats(2009). Team colors are, as of 2006-2007 season, orange, yellow and black. The club takes its name from the Ceahlău mountain.

FC Ploiesti – Stadionul Astra – Capacity 10,000.  The Astra is used by CS Otopeni for some of their Liga 1 games.  The club have played at this level a couple of times before, but were in the third division as recently as 2008.  The club was founded in 1934, but until 1998 it doesn’t achieve any notable performance. In the summer of 1998 it succeeds to promote to the Divizia A where it plays for five seasons until 2003, when it merges with Petrolul Ploieşti. Two years of pause passes for Astra, until 2005 when Ioan Niculae founded once again the club. In 2007 the club is renamed FC Ploieşti, but in 2009 after the promotion to the Liga I, it comes back to its traditional name of Astra Ploieşti and the black and white colours, hence the team’s old nickname, “The Black Devils”.

FC Unirea Alba Iulia – Stadionul Victoria-Cetate (aka The Stronghold)- Capacity 18,000.  Best placed finish of 6th in 2004, they have more recently been playing in the lower leagues.  From Alba Iulia, Alba County founded in 1924. They are currently playing in Liga I, after promotion from Liga II, Seria II. Among the greatest achievements the team has known, is a sixth place in the first league, season 2003-2004 and a Romanian Cup semifinal played in 1990-1991. The team colours are black and white, and the team stadium is called Stronghold (Cetate) and has a capacity of 18,000 seats.  After a very weak season in the second league, the team was relegated again, this time to the third league. In the summer of 2006, the management of the club buys a place in the second league from Oltchim Râmnicu Vâlcea. The team returns to the name of Unirea Alba Iulia (United Alba Iulia) and finishes the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 seasons on 4th.

FC International Curtea de Arges – Stadionul Municipal – Capacity: 7,500.  Currently undergoing a major redvelopment programme.  The club were formed in 2000 although they essentially sold themselves to Astra Ploisti.  The club reformed in 2007 and has rised up the leagues since.  Ironically promoted at the expense of rival club Arges Pitesti.  The club was founded in 2000 by local business man Ion Lazăr, being then named Internaţional Piteşti. It activated since the beginning in the Divizia C, and at the end of the first season in history, the club succeeded to promote to the Divizia B, finishing 1st in the series. The second season in history meant a 5th place finish at the end of the Divizia B 2001–02 season. Another 3 seasons of second league football followed, finishing 11th, 8th and 13th, respectively, after which they sold their right to play in Divizia B to Astra Ploieşti. Two years of pause passes for Internaţional, until 2007, when Ion Lazăr, founded once again the club, and this time with headquarters in Curtea de Argeş. After buying the right from Voinţa Macea, the team plays once again in the Third League, and finishes 1st, promoting to the Liga II. On 6 June 2009, the club succeeds to promote to the Liga I and obtains the greatest performance ever made by a club from Curtea de Argeş, becoming the second team from Argeş County that will play in the Liga I after FC Argeş Piteşti.

Thanks to our Romanian Expert Oliver Leisner, author of the excellentGroundhopper Informer. Pictures used above thanks to WorldStadiums.com

FOOTBALL IN BUCHAREST

STEAUA BUCHEREST – GHENCEA STADIUM – CAPACITY: 27,063 ALL SEATER

About the Ghencea
The Ghencea stadium was a break from the norm when it opened in 1974 as it was one of the first stadiums to open in the Balkans without an Athletics Track.  With stands built close to the pitch it was a real break from tradition for Romanian football, and the fans took to the steep terracing immediately, making the stadium a really intimidating place to visit.Originally the stadium was opened as a 30,000 venue, with around 5,000 standing places behind the goal.  These were converted into seating areas in 1991 to make the current capacity just over 28,000.  Today the stadium still only has a single roofed stand that sits proudly above the others.  Basically the stadium is made up of four uniform single tier stands, with the main stand having a double row of executive boxes.  As of October 2006 the stadium was upgraded to UEFA 4-star level.  The club do have plans to increase the capacity of the stadium by adding a second tier, which would increase the capacity to around 50,000.

Who plays there? – Steaua Bucharest –http://www.steauafc.com
FC Steaua Bucuresti were founded on 7 June 1947 as ASA Bucuresti by a group of officers in the Romanian army.  Initially the club did not concentrate on football, preferring instead to develop their athletics team.  The team were soon renamed as CSCA and they competed in their first major competition, the Romanian Cup in 1948.  A year later they won the trophy, beating CSU Cluj 2-1 in the final.   The following season, after another name change to CCA – the Central House of the Army, they entered the Romanian League and in their first season won the Championship, following it up with Championships in the next two seasons as well.

In 1961 the club adopted the name Steaua for the first time, which is Romanian for Star – the obvious symbol of any team playing under Soviet rule.  The club won the championship again in this year, emphasising their dominance in domestic football.  The won the Championship a further three times during the seventies before they started to feel the pressure of some of the newer teams emerging in Romania.  At the time money was also very tight within the region, and so investment into football was often ignored.  However, at the time money was being diverted into the youth academies which would bear fruits during the 1990’s.

Under the leadership of Emerich Jenei and Anghel Iordanescu, Steaua began to build a team to compete at the highest level.  In 1985 they won the championship at a canter, and so took their place in the 1985/86 European Cup first round.  Previous European campaigns had always been short and sweet, but with a very kind draw the club managed to overcome Vejle, Honved FC, Kuusysi Lahti and Anderlecht, they became the first ever Romanain side to reach the European Cup final. On 7 May 1986, in Seville, they met the mighty Barcelona.  After a goalless draw over 120minutes, goalkeeper Duckadam saved all four Barca penalties and in the process delivered the trophy to Steaua.  The club followed this up by capturing the European Super Cup by beating Dinamo Kiev in Monaco.
Two seasons later they reached the final again, underlining their position as one of Europe’s top teams, although they lost to a rampant AC Milan side 4-0.  The club continued to dominate domestically with three successive domestic doubles during the late 1980’s. In addition, from June 1986 to September 1989, Steaua managed a record 104-match undefeated run domestically, setting a world record for this undefeated stretch that stood until quite recently.

The new breed of young players started to emerge during the late 1980’s with future stars such as Hagi, Popescu, Dumitrescu and Raducioui playing a bigger part in the team.  The team went on another amazing domestic run with  six consecutive championship titles between 1992-93 and 1997-98 including three more domestic doubles. The club also made it into the European Champions League group stages on a number of occasions, although two third places finishes were the best they could muster.  As the successful team was broken up again, Steaua needed to regroup and this meant that change its structure from top to bottom.

In came former Italian goalkeeper Walter Zenga as coach, and he immediately took them to the title again in 2005 and 2006, as well as into the UEFA Cup group stages.  The managed to reach the semi-finals of the competition where they met Middlesborough, after defeating local rivals Rapid Bucharest in the semi-finals.  After a 1-0 home victory, the Romanians took a 2-0 lead at the Riverside and appeared to be coasting to the final in Eindhoven.  However a remarkable Middlesborough come back saw them win 4-2 late on and so end Steaua’s chances of European glory.  Last season they finished runners up in the league, although this has enabled them to attempt to qualify for the Champions League group stages again under the leadership of Romania’s finest ever player – Gheorghe Hagi.

The National Stadium, the Lia Manoliu Stadium is currently being redeveloped with a view to re-opening as a UEFA 4 star venue in March 2009.  The last game played here was a friendly between Romania and Moldova in February 2007.  This means that the national team will be playing their games at the Ghencea Stadium.

How to get there
The simplest way of reaching the stadium is to catch a yellow line 3 metro train to Gorjului which is three stops from Eroilor in the centre of the city.  Once you leave the station, you will need to catch a number 41 tram that runs from the left.  A single ticket will cost €1.

Getting a ticket
The club are currently working on launching a new online portal that will enable fans to book tickets in advance.  However, until then tickets can only be purchased from the club store in advanced.  You are also able to book seats for the “armchair” zone, an area of the main stand that has 700 comfortable seats in an enclosed zone, with air conditioning and a bar at the end of the game.  These seats have to be booked in advance by calling the club on +40 21 411 46 56 or by email at contact@steauafc.com.  Tickets for other games start from €30 or 100RON for a normal league game in the Tribuna 0, or €15 or 50RON behind the goals in the Peluze stands.

FC PROGRESUL – THE COTROCENI STADION – 14,300 ALL SEATER

About the Cotroceni
The Cotroceni is certainly a more western style ground that you will find elsewhere in the city.  It is often used as the home to the Romanian Rugby team as well as the current tenants FC Progresul.  The stadium sits in the shadows of the massive People’s Palace, built by the former regime.  The stadium is very impressive, having been completely rebuilt in the 1990’s thanks to some investment from the local banks.

It is an all seater stadium, with a covered main stand, and three single tier open air stands.  Views are good from all areas – the main covered stand offers some great views of the rear of the People’s Palace.

Who plays there? FC National Progresul Bucharest – http://www.fcnational.ro
FC National Progresul Bucharesti to give them their full name are the poor cousins in many ways of football in Bucharest.  Despite playing in potentially the best stadium, their roll of honours is limited to a single Romanian Cup win back in 1960.  They have recently reached two more finals, losing to Dinamo in 2003 and to Rapid in 2006.  However, for the remainder of their history they have had to play in the shadows of Steaua, Rapid and Dinamo.

They did play in Europe for the first time in 1996, although their adventure only lasted one round.  They qualified again in 2002, although again went out in the first round.  Last season’s 16th place finish was just enough to starve off relegation for one more season.

How to get there
To reach the stadium, catch the yellow metro line M3 to Eroilor (in the direction of Industrillor) and then head down Strada Dr Lister where the ground is on your left hand side. As long as you can see the back of the Palace of the People you are heading in the right direction.

Getting a ticket
The club are the worst supported in the league, averaging just over 1,500 on a regular basis.  Tickets are available from the ticket windows outside the main stadium and you will not pay more than €10 for a seat around the stadium, or €20 for a covered seat in the main stand which is advisable in the winter months.

FC DINAMO- STEFAN CEL MARE “DINAMO” STADIUM – 15,300 ALL SEATER

About the Dinamo Stadium
What is it with the Eastern Bloc and their open air grounds.  Dinamo’s stadium offers very little cover for spectators despite sitting in one of Europe’s most inhospitable capital cities in terms of harsh weather.  How the club gets crowds of 7,000 let alone 70 in the freezing winter months is beyond sense.

However, the stadium is certainly typical of many in this region.  It has a wide cinder track around the edge that is occasionally used for athletics, although it actually looks like an American Indy track.  Views behind the goals are remote to say the least.  Large floodlights dominate the skyline.  There has been lots of talk about a complete renovation of the stadium, but apart from an upgrade of facilities in the VIP section nothing has changed.

Who plays there? Dinamo Bucharest –http://www.fcdinamo.ro
Amazingly enough Dinamo are still the most successful team in Romanian football.  Traditionally they were the team of the secret police – hence the Dinamo name which may have contributed to their early success.  The club were formed just after the war, and through a series of local clubs being joined together competed under the Dinamo name in 1947.  They initially moved to the Dinamo stadium in 1951 and immediately began to dominate football in the capital, finishing runners up in 1952 and 1953 before they won their first title in 1956.

They also took part in the second ever European Cup, beating Galatasaray in front of 80,000 spectators.  Over the next few years success was thin on the ground, but they became league champions again in 1962.  They won the title for four consecutive seasons, dominating Romanian football.

The 1970’s were just as successful for the club with four more titles as well as a couple of decent runs in Europe.  However it was in the 1980’s that the club will remember most fondly.  They won three consecutive titles from 1982 including the double in 1982 and 1984, and reached the semi final of the European Cup, losing to a rampant Liverpool over two legs.  Since they have had to take second places to Steaua, especially in terms of their European success.  It took a change of management and directors in the latter part of the nineties to rediscover the success on the field.

Starting from 2000 the club have won four championships and five Romanian Cup Finals, eclipsing out their rivals across town.  They have also enjoyed some high profile games in Europe, playing (and losing) at Old Trafford, Stadio Olimpico in Rome and Stade Velodrome.  They did thrash Everton 5-2 in 2005 in the UEFA Cup.  This season an away goals defeat to Swedish champions Elfsborg in the first round brought an early end to their European adventures.  Current coach, ex-Italian goalkeeper Walter Zenga has revolutionized the team, bringing in a number of homegrown players who have taken the fight to Steaua.

How to get there
The stadium is one of the easiest to find in Bucharest – located just outside the main northern ring road in Sector 2 of the city.  Red Metro Line M1 runs every few minutes to the Stefan Cel Mare station which is opposite the south end of the stadium.  Journey time is 15 minutes.

Getting a ticket
On match days there are thousands of empty red and white seats and average attendances barely break the 7,000 mark.  Therefore it is not necessary to try and pick up a ticket in advance.  Tickets for the games versus Steaua and National often attract crowds over 10,000 and so it may be wise to try and track down a ticket in advance if you are in town for one of these games.  The best seats are those in the Tribuna Oficiala and the Tribuna a opposite and cost €15.  A seat in the Peluza (behind the goals) start from €10.

FC RAPID BUCHARESTI – STADIONUL GIULESTI – 19,100 CAPACITY

About the Stadionul Giulesti
The neat and compact Stadion Giulesti has been the home to FC Rapid Bucharest since 1939.  It is a basic affair – three almost identical single tier open stands with smart dark red seats, and a single small covered stand that is referred to as the Tribune.  The stadium was originally built on a similar design to Highbury.  Views are excellent – stands are not too steep and so nobody is very far away from the action.  The stadium has recently started on a major redevelopment programme which is due to finish in early 2008.

Who Plays there? Rapid Bucharest –http://www.fcrapid.ro
The Giulesti is home to one of Romania’s most famous clubs, FC Rapid Bucharesti.  The club are known more as a bridesmaid rather than a bride with 14 runners up spots in the Romanain Championship compared with just 3 wins, although they have won 13 Romanian Cups.  They won their first title in 1967, some 40 years after their formation.  In the 1970’s they were a regular feature in European football, reaching the quarter finals of the European Cup Winners Cup in.  They had to wait nearly 30 more years to win the title again in 1999, and since then have had to make do with success in the Cup.  In 2006 they met cross city rivals Steaua Bucharest in the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup.

How to get there
The simplest way to reach the home to FC Rapid is by tram number 44 from Gara de Nord station to Calea Giulesti.  Journey time is around 10 minutes.  The stadium is hemmed in to the south by the main ring road and to the east by the main railway line.

Go to Footiemap.com for an overview of who plays where in Bucharest.

Getting a ticket
The 4,000 or so regulars who take their seats in the Giulesti claim to be the most loyal in Romania.  However, with only 25% of the stadium being used on a regular basis then it is not hard to get a ticket,  €30 will buy you a place in the main Tribune, and under cover whilst for €20 you can get a seat in the open air Peluza behind the goals.

Getting around
Bucharest has one of the most developed public transport networks in Europe, comprising of buses, trams and a cheap and efficient metro system which runs for over 63km and covers 45 stations.  A ticket for a single journey is L11,000.  A one day travel card costs L70,000.  For those areas where the network does not reach, taxis are relatively cheap and can be hailed in the street.

Nearest Airport – Henri Coandǎ Airport (OTP)
Telephone:              +40 21 204 1200
Website:                  http://www.otp-airport.ro

The Henri Coandǎ airport is the largest airport in Romania, handling around 3.5million passengers per annum, and growing at around 30% per annum.  It is located in the northern part of the city, known as Otopeni.  There are plans to build a new airport in the south of the city at Bǎneasa which will handle the planned growth of low cost airlines.  The airport currently serves British Airways and TAROM from London Heathrow.  Wizzair also fly to Bucharest but use the much smaller Aurel Vlaicu airport located 3km south of the main airport.

The airport is located around 11 miles north of Bucharest and is accessed via the RATB express bus route 783 which runs to the smaller Aurel Vlaicu airport on the way to the city centre terminating at Piata Unirii. Buses run every 30minutes, and the journey is around 35 minutes.

Tickets can be purchased from a RATB booth in the terminal and cost 5 lei or €1.50 return.  Avoid the taxi touts outside the arrivals hall and use one of the official ones if you need to, which will cost about €30.     Plans have been submitted to link the airport with the current Metro system on line M6 but this is some time off being completed let alone started.

Public transport options in the city are mainly centred on buses, although there is a metro network which links some of the outlying areas.  Tickets for all journeys can be purchased from the silver kiosks next to most stops – remember to frank your tickets on boarding though.

Thanks to http://www.colours-of-football.com for allowing us to use their graphics.

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