Football in Bucovina and Basarabia

Historical/geographical notes:

1. Bucovina became part of Romania in 1919; the northern half became part of the Soviet Union in 1944 and independent Ukraine in 1991, while the southern half has remained in Romania. Bucovina is nowadays thus partly in Romania, partly in Ukraine; of its two biggest cities, Chernivtsi is in Ukraine and Suceava in Romania. 

2. What Romanians call Basarabia is now the independent republic of Moldova. I’m treating it as a part of Romania not from an attack of nationalistic lunacy but because in football’s early days it was Romanian territory (1919-1944).

Bucovina

Unlike the Hungarian-ruled Transylvania and Banat, Bucovina was an Austrian province within the Empire. Its biggest city was Czernowitz (Cernăuți in Romanian; Chernivtsi in Ukrainian). It was an ethnically very mixed region, with Ruthenians and Romanians predominating in the north and south respectively but with large Jewish and German populations in the towns.

Austrian rule brought football early to Czernowitz, and each ethnic or linguistic group started a club. By 1908 – only a decade since Viennese teams had started participating in organised internal competitions and representative games within the Empire – there were enough teams in Czernowitz to hold a city championship. The German-speakers had got there first, founding in 1903 a club that would later be best known under the name Jahn, but there was also a Polish team (Sarmatia, later Polonia), two Jewish clubs (Hakoah and Maccabi) and, of course, a Romanian club. The latter was named Rumänischer Fußballklub (RFK) Czernowitz. When the whole of Bucovina was absorbed into the new Romanian state after the end of the First World War, the club of the Romanians was renamed Dragoș Vodă Cernăuți.

The Bucovinean champions qualified for the national final tournament from 1921: Polonia, Jahn, Hakoah, Maccabi and Dragoș Vodă all had a turn at being knocked out by teams from other parts of the country while the Bucharest and Timisoara clubs cleaned up. After a league system was adopted for the national championship, Dragoș Vodă spent the 1937-38 season in the top division and finished bottom with eight points from eighteen games; they were condemned to Divizia B.

One of early Romanian football’s most curious stories is that of Alfred Eisenbeisser, an ethnic German midfielder born in 1908 in Cernauti (then Czernowitz… of course). In 1930 Eisenbeisser – who was known to Romanians as Fredi Fieraru – moved from Jahn to Dragoș Vodă and, although as yet uncapped, was selected for the Romanian squad to travel to the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay. He played both of Romania’s games there, a win over Peru and a 0-4 defeat against the hosts. As a result of a cold bath on the journey home across the Atlantic, Eisenbeisser contracted pneumonia and almost died before reaching port in Genoa. Critically ill in an Italian hospital, word reached his family (apparently from his team-mates) that he had indeed passed away. Imagine the scene, as his grieving mother is preparing the funeral meal, and Alfred walks back into the house. Eisenbeisser, fully recovered, went on to win three league titles with the Venus Bucuresti team of the 1930s, and to have a parallel career as a figure skater. He participated in the 1934 and 1939 European Figure Skating Championships and the 1936 Winter Olympic competition.

Basarabia

Football arrived later in Basarabia, which was part of the Russian Empire before the First World War. Chisinau’s first recorded football match was in August 1910, between a local high school and another from Odessa. It ended in an unfortunate 22-0 defeat for the home side.

Basarabian teams joined the Romanian championship in 1924, holding a regional tournament which featured five teams: Mihai Viteazul Chisinau, Unitas, Sporting, Maccabi and Romanian Railways Regiment. The latter, who won, changed their name to Fulgerul a few months later, and featured foreigners Mihai Tanzer* and Adalbert Strock in the mid-1920s. At this stage the winners of up to eleven regional leagues across the country qualified for a knock-out final competition for the Romanian championship. Fulgerul held their own in this format until the tournament was reorganised into a league: by 1932 there were two divisions but no place for Basarabian teams. (The football clubs of the Moldavian SSR would largely continue this inglorious record throughout the existence of the Soviet Union, barring a creditable 6th place in the Soviet Top League for Burevestnik Kishinev.)

In the late 1920s, Fulgerul’s rivals Mihai Viteazul Chisinau could boast on their playing staff the three Valcov brothers Colea, Petea and Volodea**, before they were all signed by Venus Bucuresti in 1930 following a game between the two teams in Chisinau.  Another famous player to have come from Basarabia was Ripensia Timisoara’s Nicolae Simatoc, who went on to play for Brescia and Barcelona in the late 40s/early 1950s.

*One of the few players who represented both Hungary and Romania at football, although he was an ethnic German from Timisoara. Tanzer, known in Hungary as Mihaly Tancos, spent two years at Fulgerul in between successful spells with Chinezul Timisoara and the mighty Ferencvaros of Budapest.

**The Valcovs were ethnic Gagauz from Bolgrad, a (then) majority-Bulgarian town which was in the Russian Empire when the boys were born, then part of Romania during their playing careers, then in the Soviet Union after World War 2, and is now in Ukraine. The brothers formed a potent attacking trio for Venus’ multiple title-winning team of the 1930s. Petea would die on the eastern front in 1943, and Volodea of tuberculosis in 1952, but Colea went on to coach Steaua, Dinamo and Romania.

Sources:

The Accidental Groundhopper. 12 October 2013.http://theaccidentalgroundhopper.blogspot.ro/2013/10/football-in-vanished-world-bukovyna.html 

Stăncioiu, Octavian. ‘Echipe din România interbelică – Dragoș Vodă Cernăuți. Românii nord-bucovineni’ [‘Teams of inter-war Romania: Dragoș Vodă Cernăuți. North Bucovinean Romanians’] Ripensia Sport Magazin. 2 April 2015. http://www.ripensia-sport-magazin.ro/istoria-fotbalului/echipe-din-romania-interbelica-dragos-voda-cernauti-romanii-nord-bucovineni/ 

Stăncioiu, Octavian. ‘Începuturile fotbalului bucovinean.’ [The beginnings of Bucovinean football.’] Ripensia Sport Magazin. 3 Dec 2015. http://www.ripensia-sport-magazin.ro/istoria-fotbalului/inceputurile-fotbalului-bucovinean/

Frisk, Cristi. ‘Istoria fotbalului moldovenesc, la ceas aniversar.’ [‘Moldovan football history at anniversary time.’] Sport Local. 10 Aug 2010. http://sportlocal.ro/istoria-fotbalului-moldovenesc-la-ceas-aniversar 

Wikipedia.