Excluding Steaua (26 titles) and Dinamo (18), both of which received privileged status and state support for most of their existence, Venus Bucuresti is the most successful club in the history of the Romanian football championship. And yet it only existed between the First World War and the Communist takeover: Venus won eight of the twenty-two championships in which it took part.
Venus football club was founded in 1914 by students of the School of Arts and Crafts, and affiliated to the Romanian football federation in the summer of 1915. It was a team of students and apprentices collected from the north-west of the city centre, around one of the great figures of early Bucharestian football, Mitty Niculescu (b. 1898). Niculescu, a versatile and gifted player, led the team between 1915 and 1923.
The club were champions for the first time in 1918-19 and again the following season. Then, in 1920-21, it appears from the results that Tricolor won the tournament, but for reasons which remain unclear Venus were proclaimed champions. In a strange league system, split into separate autumn and spring tournaments, the teams did not all play the same number of matches, which makes it very complicated to work out who should have won…
In 1921-22 the championship expanded to take in teams from the new territories Romania had acquired from Austria-Hungary in the aftermath of the war. Because Hungary, Austria and their former territories were the centre of European footballing excellence at the time, the best teams of the Romanian “old kingdom” would take some time to reach the level attained by the clubs from established football cities like Timisoara, Cluj, Arad and Oradea which would dominate the early 1920s. The Bucharest teams Venus, Juventus and Tricolor were unable to get past the semi-finals of the competition for several seasons. Venus broke through in 1928-29: as champions of the capital they beat teams from Brasov and Cernauti to reach the final, where they defeated Victoria Cluj 3-2.
In 1931 the club president, a lawyer called Alexandru Eladescu, supposedly sold a forest to finance the construction of a new stadium, the Venus Arena. It was state-of-the-art, well equipped and had a capacity of 15,000. In 1936 the Bucharest chief of police Gavrila Marinescu became club president, and the club expanded its activities to become a ‘cultural and sporting association’. Marinescu went on to become a government minister and was extremely influential.
On the pitch Venus were winning more titles: between 1931 and 1940 they shared nine championships (now in a proper league format) with their rivals Ripensia Timisoara. Venus’ team featured stars such as Alfred Eisenbeisser (the ethnic German, Bucovina-born Romanian international footballer and figure skater) in midfield; Gheorghe Albu, defender and captain of Romania’s national team; and the three Valcov brothers in attack. In the late 1930s another of the all-time greats played up front: Iuliu Bodola.
Bodola was an ethnic Hungarian, born in Brasov (then still in Austria-Hungary) in 1912. As a young player at Club Athletic Oradea, in the north-west of Transylvania, he scored 52 goals in 89 appearances, helping them to second place in their division in 1932-33 and 1934-35. Venus paid 700,000 lei for him in 1937, along with a monthly wage of 15,000 lei – roughly equivalent to an MP’s salary at the time. Such cash-flashing was made possible by Marinescu directly funding the club from his own income, which included bribes paid by prostitutes and petty criminals.
Bodola’s goals (47 in 61 matches) ensured Venus’ continued success – they were champions in 1938-39 and 1939-40. They also represented Romania in the Central European Cup, aka the Mitropa Cup, the precursor to the post-war European Cup, in 1937, 1939 and 1940; although first Ujpest, then Bologna, then BSK Beograd all proved far too strong for them in their first round ties.
Franz Plattko, an Austrian/Hungarian from Budapest, was Venus coach in their 1936-37 title-winning season. A former Hungary international who had spent seven years keeping goal for Barcelona in the 1920s, Plattko would go on to coach the likes of Colo-Colo, Boca Juniors and River Plate in South America. In the Spanish cup final of 1928, Plattko was battered so brutally by the Real Sociedad forwards that, bloodied and barely conscious, he had to be carried off the field. He returned, wearing a turban of bandages after sustaining a head injury, and played so bravely that Rafael Alberti, a Spanish writer of the Generation of ’27, composed a poem to the ‘blond bear’ called “Ode to Platko”.
In Venus’ only cup final, in 1940, the match had to be replayed three times before their opponents Rapid were able to overcome them. Two years earlier, after a semi-final against the same opposition, Marinescu had four Rapid players arrested while they were in a restaurant celebrating their victory over Venus earlier that day. By now, besides junior minister of the interior, the former police chief Marinescu was also president of the Romanian football federation; his request for the game to be replayed, citing refereeing errors, was thus accepted. There was (understandably) public uproar, and much delight when Rapid won the replayed game 4-2, proceeding to the final where they retained the trophy.
Marinescu himself, now minister of the interior and a powerful political figure close to the abdicated king, was arrested in September 1940 by the new Iron Guard military government, and executed in the Jilava prison massacre two months later. When northern Transylvania was annexed by fascist Hungary in 1940, Bodola fled from Bucharest to Oradea (Nagyvarad in Hungarian) in the occupied region. Remarkably, his team Nagyvaradi AC (formerly CA Oradea) went on to win the Hungarian league title in 1943-44, the first time a team from outside Budapest had won the championship. After the communist takeover of Romania, Venus Bucuresti itself, as a capitalist institution, was demoted to the third division and in 1948 disbanded as the new footballing world – featuring what would become the modern giants Dinamo and Steaua – was being created around it. In 1953 the stadium was demolished.
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