Blat!

is a Romanian word meaning a fixed match. Apparently it is also used in Russian, with a wider meaning encompassing all kinds of enchufe – doing things by connections. It could come either from Yiddish or Polish. Apparently.

This week the big Liga 2 news is of unprecedented punishments meted out for match-fixing in Romania’s second tier. This post is largely a translation/abridgment of this article on ProSport’s Liga 2 website. It is quite long, but there is a genuinely interesting fact right at the end, so you could scroll straight down to the bottom of the page if you wanted.

Seven months after it was revealed that second-division club Gloria Buzau was under investigation regarding a dossier of ten matches from the 2014-15 Liga 2 season, which were fixed for financial gain, a decision has been announced. The Romanian Football Federation (FRF)’s discipline and ethics committee has handed out harsher punishments than ever before. Altogether, fourteen Gloria players have received significant fines and bans from footballing activity, while the head coach – former Steaua, FC Bochum and Romanian international forward Viorel Ion – and his two assistants have been hit with a two-year ban and a 200,000 lei (44,000 euro) fine each.

Viorel Ion. [Source:reporterntv.ro]

It seems that these ten matches, which stretched from September 2014 to May 2015, were fixed in accordance with the wishes of an international gambling mafia. UEFA’s Betting Fraud Detection System alerted the authorities to certain games with unusual betting patterns, and the behaviour of the players and coaches implicated was examined in retrospect. Several former players seem to have given evidence against their ex-colleagues. In November 2015 ProSport reported the evidence on each of the games, with relish at some of the amusing details, “worthy of gangster movies”, they reckoned. As the reporters point out, the revelations make it hard to believe that these are the only fixed matches, or that Gloria’s opponents could have all been unwitting stooges.

The dossier also includes eight matches from Gloria’s pre-season visit to Turkey in the summer of 2014, when they played teams from Iran, Russia, Algeria and Saudi Arabia. It appears that on this trip, in spite of the club’s insolvency, the delegation was accommodated in a luxury hotel (paid for by whom?) and that the players received around 500 dollars each in exchange for arranging the appropriate fixtures. Anyway, here are some details from the league matches in question:

League round 2, 6 Sep 2014: Academica Argeş – Gloria Buzău. 3-0

The team was instructed to be 2-0 down at half time and lose 3-0. Assistant coach Romeo Bunică was not at the game, but was in telephone contact with his colleague Marian Roșu, telling him when the team needed to concede a goal. Roșu told head coach Ion and he alerted his men on the pitch. In return, two days later Bunică returned with a bag containing 5000 euros’ worth of lei (about 22,000 lei). The starters received around 1000 lei each, and the substitutes 500 lei.

Round 4, 20 Sep 2014: ACS Berceni – Gloria Buzău. 4-2

Ion asked striker Adrian Răduca not to shoot at goal during this match, and his teammate Amet Ferdin was asked to get sent off towards the end of the game.

Round 5, 27 Sep 2014: Farul Constanţa – Gloria Buzău. 4-0

Gloria needed to lose this 4-0, after being 2-0 down at the break. When his team were only 3-0 down, Ion was heard to berate the Farul coach for not respecting their agreement: this might suggest opposition involvement…

Gloria players trying really hard against Voluntari. [Source:liga2.ro]

Round 14, 22 Nov 2014: FC Voluntari – Gloria Buzău. 5-1

Although he was suspended for this match, Ion went pitchside before kick-off to tell his players they must lose. Again they had to be trailing 2-0 at half time and lose by four goals. In injury time, Gloria’s goalkeeper Stoicescu was sent off for a foul in the area. Bunică tried to persuade the Voluntari penalty taker to miss. Fortunately for the conspirators, Stoicescu’s outfield replacement Burlacu saved the spot kick.

Play-off, 18 Apr 2015: FC Voluntari – Gloria Buzău. 5-2

Ion told one of his players: “Voluntari are our friends; they need to win.” The agreement was (again) 2-0 down at half-time, 3-0 final score. But one of the players not in the loop, Ioniță, scored a goal late in the first half. The coach was seen jumping up as if in celebration while shouting to his assistant: “Bunică, we’re screwed!” A 3-1 score at half time saw the plan adjusted on the hoof: Gloria would still lose by three goals. Each player got 1,500 lei for that.

Play-off, 2 May 2015: CF Brăila – Gloria Buzău. 3-2

The day before the game, Ion tells his players that if they don’t beat Brăila, they will be sacked and the club will go bust. The players go off and bet on their own team to win. The following morning, however, the coach orders them to score goals, or, if they can’t manage that, to let Brăila score goals. During the game, Ion tells his players when they should concede. The Betting Fraud Detection System later reports suspicious betting on the total number of goals scored in the match. Brăila staff notice what is going on and are not happy at being involved in this ‘circus’; therefore this is one of the few cases in which there is no suggestion that the opposition were complicit.

Play-off, 15 May 2015: SC Bacău – Gloria Buzău. 4-0

Needing to go in at half-time losing 3-0, but only 2-0 down in the last minute of the half, Claudiu Dumitrescu commits a foul in his own area and Bacău score the penalty. The FRF investigation reports that towards the end of the game Ion was urging his players to concede a fourth goal.

Play-off, 27 May 2015: Academica Argeş – Gloria Buzău. 5-1

By now used to such goings-on, the players were wondering what they would be expected to do in the next match, and thus what they should bet on. The head coach demanded that the score be 0-0 until halfway through the first period, whereupon they should concede two goals. At half time there was some confusion: assistant coach Bunică told the team they should score around 60 minutes, but Ion argued that it was very hard to score at will, so if they could not manage to score themselves, they should let the home side score instead. (Again it is implied that the opponents were not in on it.)

… I mean I could go on. For completeness, the other fixed matches in the dossier were :

Round 15, 29 Nov 2014: Gloria Buzău – ACS Berceni. 7-1

Play-off, 30 May 2015: Gloria Buzău – Rapid CFR Suceava. 1-3

It looks like the records for those ten matches will be wiped. Of the matches fixed during the play-off stage of the season, only the fixed defeats to promotion contenders Academica Argeș and FC Voluntari could have affected the important outcomes of the season. Voluntari eventually took the promotion spot by a good margin, but they were winning virtually every game anyway. With little chance of catching the leaders, and no danger of relegation, Gloria Buzau had nothing to play for – except that bag of cash. Even during the regular league season there wasn’t much jeopardy: Săgeata Năvodari were deducted 66 points (!) for unpaid debts and, along with Unirea Slobozia, were excluded from the competition due to financial problems, while the season was going on: thus the two relegation places were settled after only 21 rounds of fixtures.

Artist’s impression of what hard currency near a football player might look like. [Source:fanatik.ro]

Viorel Ion, a local Buzău boy and long-serving employee of the club on both playing and technical staff, had been intending to quit football this summer in any case, in order to run for mayor of the town. He claims that the accusations are a politically motivated attempt to discredit him. He denounces the Romanian football federation (FRF), the national anti-corruption directorate (DNA) and the Social Democratic Party (PSD) in a defiant rebuttal of the verdict. (Surely ABBA are next in line for acronym-bashing.) A reputation for corruption is not always a handicap in Romanian local politics. In February 2015, the serving mayor of Buzau, Constantin Boscodeala (of the PSD), was sentenced to five years in prison for illegally transferring 360,000 euros from the local budget to … Gloria football club.

So I guess everyone probably knows match-fixing goes on in Romania, particularly in the lower divisions. And it makes sense. There is startlingly little money in the game beyond Liga I – and even there, many of the clubs are insolvent.* And with so many clubs unable to pay their players regularly, they must be easy pickings for shadowy men trying to fix football matches. After the Communist years, when arranging for favoured teams to do well was de rigeur and barely worth commenting on, there existed a cooperativa or ring of blat throughout the 1990s, in which provincial club owners were in cahoots with senior FA officials to rig the sport at a high level. In 2003 this informal system began to unravel, but it looks like the practice has never gone away. This time, though, there is a source of income external to the Romanian game. By handing down relatively draconian sentences, hopefully the FRF has begun the process of stamping this out, but it will not be easy.

*Incredibly, of the 24 teams that have ever won the Romanian championship between 1909/10 and 2014-15, only one both still exists and is solvent. Thanks to Ripensia magazine for that! (It’s Steaua.) In the top division this season, the list of clubs currently in administration includes Dinamo, CFR Cluj and Petrolul Ploiești.

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