Expunge from your mind anything you’ve read which claims that the top tier is worth bothering with (even my more than adequate post from the other day). The division to watch this season is going to be Liga 4 București. Today the capital’s municipal football association (AMFB) announced the teams that will make up, at least on paper, the strongest line-up in any local football division since the national championship became a league in 1932. First, a quick primer on the way the system works…
Currently the top two divisions in the Romanian football pyramid are fully nationwide competitions. Liga 1, operated by the Professional Football League (LPF), contains 14 teams. Liga 2, run by the Romanian Football Federation (FRF), has 20.
Liga 3, also organised by the FRF, is made up of 75 clubs, including a smattering of B-teams, and is split into five regional series. Teams from Bucharest are mostly in the south-eastern series this season. Famous names competing at this level elsewhere in the country in 2017-18 will include several phoenix clubs formed by fans’ groups after the dissolution of the respective original club in 2016:
- ASC Oțelul Galați (2011 Romanian champions);
- SSC Farul Constanța (forty-two seasons in the top flight);
- FC Petrolul Ploiești (three league titles, plus one as Juventus București – it’s complicated, read my article about it here!);
- FC Universitatea Cluj 1919 (fifty-six seasons in the top tier, plus a cup win). [I’ve written about their history here.]
A big fan base and some degree of financial security should ensure that these clubs reach Liga 2 next summer. Not all of them own the rights to the name and history of the old entity, however, and this is a theme continued into the division below.
So down and down we dive into the county football scene, where there are forty-two different Liga 4 competitions, each run by its local association: in Bucharest’s case the AMFB. We have known for a while now that the Ministry of Defence, having won its protracted legal struggle against the owner of Steaua and forced him to change the name of his club, was forming a new football club, CSA Steaua, for entry into Liga 4. The ministry claims the legal rights to the history, name, colours and badge of the 1986 European Cup winners.
We have also known for some time that the division was likely to accommodate more than one club claiming to be the continuation of the defunct Rapid București. AFC Rapid (see my article from this time last year) won promotion from Liga 5, while the local council in Sector 1 has announced the formation of Academia Rapid, with several big names attached and a sizeable cash injection proposed. Fans of the old railway club may yet remain divided.*
What we didn’t know – until last week – was that there will also be a new Dinamo! The sports club ASC FC Dinamo, as distinct from the football club in Liga 1, has use of the Dinamo sports complex and could play at the decrepit Florea Dumitrache “stadium”, the former home of Dinamo’s disbanded B-team.
Between them, incredibly, this Liga 4 line-up can claim all of the capital’s 55 league titles and 42 cup wins since the war – bar one, because Progresul, cup winners in 1960, who competed in Liga 4 last year, will apparently not enter this time. What’s more, if you look favourably on the claims of upstart clubs styling themselves after great names of the past, Carmen Bucureşti and Venus Bucureşti (both dissolved in the 1940s and revived in the 2010s), you can append Venus’ eight inter-war league titles too. Last but not least, Hagi’s former club Sportul Studenţesc adds a further three cup final appearances and over a thousand Liga 1 matches.
Here is the full list of clubs in this season’s Bucharest Liga 4, courtesy of amfb.ro:
- AFC Asalt
- AFC Carmen
- AFC Comprest GIM
- CS FC Dinamo
- FC Metaloglobus II
- CS Progresul 2005**
- AFC Progresul 1944 Spartac II**
- AS Academia Rapid
- AFC Rapid
- AS Romprim
- FC Sportul Studentesc SA
- CSA Steaua
- AS Termo
- Tricolor FC
- AFC Venus 1914
- ACS Victoria
Only the winner qualifies for a two-legged play-off against other counties’ Liga 4 champions, with the result that 21 teams get promoted to Liga 3. The fight for that one spot, probably between the new Rapid and the new Steaua, should bring thousands to Giulești and (hopefully) Ghencea. Exciting times for local football!
*Another Rapid club, Mișcarea Feroviară, will apparently disband rather than continue in Liga 5.
**Neither of these are the historic Progresul mentioned above. I believe. (This hurts my head.)