In the baraj last week – the play-off to fill the last place in the top division for next season – Liga I side FC Voluntari faced a team that was only formed in 2013 and yet lays claim to a rich footballing history.
In 2013 UTA Arad was a team in the doldrums, having spent only five of the past thirty seasons in the top division. A businessman from Cluj, Adrian Marțian, took control of the club. (He initially intended that his associate Adrian Mutu would be his partner in the venture, but their relationship soured and Marțian eventually accused Mutu of trying to have him assassinated in Corsica.) Marțian, however, failed to stabilise the club: within a year it was unable to meet rent payments to the council, which owns the stadium. Unable to fulfil four of its fixtures towards the end of the 2013-14 season, UTA Arad was demoted to Liga IV and effectively went out of business.
A phoenix club was founded in 2013 by former UTA player Marius Țucudean, now a local businessman, in conjunction with influential fan groups and with the support of the local council. The name UTA Bătrâna Doamnă (the Old Lady – the nickname of the original club) emphasises the connection between this new club and its predecessor, UTA, a leading light in post-war Romanian football. This is a club, the greatest in the traditional football hotbed of the Crișana region, that can claim no fewer than six league titles and two Romanian cups, plus an enviable European record.
The club was originally founded in 1945 as IT Arad, named after Industrial Textiles Arad, a firm owned by industrialist Baron Francisc von Neumann. In 1946 the construction of the ITA stadium was complete, and it was inaugurated with a match against Ciocanul Bucuresti, which had previously been called Maccabi Bucuresti, a club representing the Jewish community of the capital.
The very first competition ITA entered, which was the first post-war Romanian championship, in 1946-47, they won comfortably, with an eleven-point margin over Carmen București. ITA’s Hungarian striker Ladislau Bonyhádi was the top scorer in the league, with 26 goals in 26 matches. The team also featured other established Magyar stars such as Iosif Petschovsky, Gyula Lóránt and Mátyás Tóth. These three had been part of the history-making side Nagyváradi AC in nearby Oradea, which, during the wartime Hungarian re-occupation of northern Transylvania, had become the first club from outside Budapest to win the Hungarian championship.
In 1947, after the Communist takeover, Neumann (who had survived the war despite being Jewish, but was now undesirable as a minor aristocrat and a major capitalist) was arrested and detained for eight months. Stripped of his assets, he fled to Switzerland without a penny to his name. Although the textile company was nationalised, the stadium still stands and now bears Neumann’s name.
In their second season, now without Tóth and Lóránt, ITA won the league and cup double, beating CFR Timișoara into second place in both competitions. Bonyhádi managed an incredible 49 goals in 30 games, a Romanian league record which still stands – as does the team’s overall goal tally of 129. ITA won by six goals or more on eight occasions and scored eleven in a game three times.
In the 1948-49 season, with hotshot Bonyhádi departed for Hungary, ITA finished only ninth, scoring just 45 goals in 26 games. They bounced back the following year, however, taking back the title and again reaching the cup final, under a lovely new Communist name, Flamura Roșie, “Red Flag”. Flamura Roșie finished fourth and then eighth in the following two seasons. Petschovski, a regular in the Romanian national team, was still one of the stars, but he left for the capital in 1952, the year he represented the country at the Helsinki Olympics, and helped CCA București (the future Steaua) to their second and third league titles. When he returned to Arad, it was again to join the defending champions, Flamura Roșie having wrestled the title back from CCA in the 1954 season, by one point, under the management of Coloman Braun-Bogdan.*
A decade in mid-table followed this fourth triumph, during which time the name of the club was changed again, to UTA Arad (Arad Textile Factory), a name which brought back the industrial connection. But then the second golden age dawned. In 1965, Nicolae “Coco” Dumitrescu and Ioan Reinhardt were appointed as coaches in place of Braun-Bogdan. Both had joined the club at its formation in 1946 and had been part of the successful ITA/Flamura Roșie teams of the 1940s and 1950s. After one cup final, which they lost to Steaua 4-0, and a few seasons of consolidation, in 1968-69 UTA became once again champions of Romania. The following year they not only participated in the European Cup (where they were pulped 8-0 at Legia Warsaw**) but retained the league title, their sixth and (so far) last. But one of the club’s greatest achievements was yet to come: in the 1970-71 edition of the European Cup, they were drawn against the holders*** Feyenoord in the first round. Ernst Happel’s side featured the prolific Swedish striker Ove Kindvall and homegrown legend Wim Jansen (who many years later stopped the ten!). Dutch international stars Wim van Hanegem and Rinus Israel were also in the team. The odds were against UTA.
In front of 70,000 fans in Rotterdam, the Aradeans scored first in the 15th minute through a Florian Dumitrescu header, but a soft long-range equaliser by Jansen ten minutes later meant they took a 1-1 draw back to Romania. And in the return leg, a year to the day since their humiliation by Legia, UTA managed a 0-0 draw to go through on away goals, in front of 20,000 of their own supporters; the great Austrian coach Happel compared it to the eighth wonder of the world.
Red Star Belgrade accounted for them in the next round, but Arad’s achievement lives on. The following season, having finished as runners-up in the league, UTA played in the UEFA Cup. They reached the quarter-final, where Tottenham (Jennings, Coates, Peters, Perryman et al.) did for them in Arad and went through in spite of a 1-1 draw in London.
The glory days were well and truly over by 1979, when UTA were relegated to Divizia B, and they have never troubled the honours board since. Yet the fans remained passionate and strongly attached to their club’s history, which is why it is heartening to see the new UTA rise so quickly. The coach who has led them to the brink of promotion to the top tier is Roland Nagy, a former Steaua player but a local boy, who coached the old UTA for several years in the mid-2000s. The Motorul stadium can only hold 2000 people, but you can bet it will be packed for the resumption of an old rivalry with Poli Timișoara in Liga II next season. Although one of these days I’ll have to write about the unbelievably convoluted history of the various competing Poli Timișoaras…
**Winger Florian Dumitrescu remembers that at half-time in Warsaw the score was 0-0, and the team doctor gave the players some pills, which didn’t have the effect they were supposed to…
***who had beaten Celtic in the 1970 final, and were also world club champions, having overcome Estudiantes of Buenos Aires in a two-legged tie.