What follows is a not very detailed account of the match previewed at great length here.
Saturday 14 October, 7.15pm.
Liga IV Bucuresti.
Stadion Valentin Stanescu-Giulesti, Bucharest.
Ticket price: 10 lei (£2) for Tribuna II.
We allow plenty of time to get into the stadium. Only we don’t. Fifteen minutes till kick-off and we are starting to get chilly, detained at the gate while a giant tifo is hauled over the back of the unused south end onto the path in front of us. The crowd is growing, and growing rowdy.
Then the riot police funnel us along the rubbly path, through some makeshift fences, past the former swimming pool, which has progressively deteriorated over the last three years from a disused, but recognisable, former swimming pool into abject dereliction. We are searched, more perfunctorily than usual. Like a mirage, the actual refreshments stall is actually open, for (I think) the first time since the Liga 1 days. The toilets are crowded. Up into the stand and it is properly crammed. Even the steps are full of people standing. There is no way we are getting to our regular place towards the halfway line, so we shuffle along to some empty seats at the foot of the watchtower, right in the corner of the stadium. But I can accept a somewhat restricted view (restricted even more as everyone stands for the entire match), because of the noise and the spectacle.
The black-clad stelistii, who fill the away section far more than any team’s fans I have seen in action here, remind me of the Rapid fans away at “Steaua” (i.e. FCSB) back in 2015. They have brought colourful tifos and very wordy banners and have clearly been practising their chants, perfectly synchronised clapping and all. But while the occasion at Ghencea was notable for the contrast between the apathy among the home fans and the animation of the visitors, here tonight it is a much more even contest. We are at the opposite end of the ground from the packed peluza, but those ultras groups have made a big effort: there’s a huge banner across the front, and everyone seems to have brought a big flag.
Although we are all up for the occasion, two renditions of the club anthem “Suntem peste tot acasa” – which is always sung as the teams come out at Giulesti – takes the edge off it a bit, and throughout the game the away fans are in better voice than the home support. The scoreboard is fully functional – for the first half at least – and even displays the faces of the players while the line-ups are announced. Unheard-of. Again there is a colour-printed, one-sheet programme. Academia Rapid start with Pancu and Niculae up front, taking a gamble on the former’s fitness.
Special guests are here (although I can’t see them): Mircea Lucescu, Anghel Iordanescu and Miodrag Belodedici are all in attendance.
After irregular loud bangs coming from the stand opposite, the game is but young when the flares and smoke bombs really come out in force. Fans in the peluza chuck a few into the goalmouth, which is of course usually designed to shake up the goalkeeper.
Unfortunately Rapid are defending that end in the first half, so the home ‘keeper has to try to kick the flaming things out of his penalty area while trying not to give his fans evils. Play is held up for a few minutes while smoke dissipates from the stand, which looks like it’s on fire.
The visitors start brightly and rarely have to deal with an intrusion into their own half. Pancu is visibly suffering, although Niculae, who earlier in the season was noticeably pulling out of challenges, is putting himself about a lot more tonight. The game is fractured and fractious, rough and ready. Half an hour in, a penalty is awarded for a handball by Bratu in the Rapid penalty area. It looks ball-to-hand to me from our great distance. Steaua’s top scorer Predescu steps up and, as the keeper dives low to his left, chips the ball panenka-style neatly to the right. He has his 20th league goal of the season and the visitors are 1-0 up. Predescu and his team-mates celebrate wildly in front of the home stands, withstanding a hail of thrown objects, before enjoying the moment with their own supporters down the other end. Within a couple of minutes, Pancu is substituted: he is clearly not fit and blames himself for his team going a goal down.
Ten minutes later, though, Niculae equalises with a neat finish and does the same as Predescu in reverse, first shushing the Steaua fans, who greet him with missiles of their own, then lapping up the praise of the rapidistii.
At half-time we head for the toilets, which is an unexpected struggle as the lights inside are all out. They’ve got to power the scoreboard somehow, I suppose. Not one but two stalls selling food and pop are in operation! Crazy days.
Steaua boss the second half and eventually the inevitable occurs: the first red card is shown after an hour, to Bratu. The second booking seemed harsh to me. But the home fans’ ire does not last long, as Predescu receives his second yellow for diving just inside the Rapid box. There has been a lot of simulation up to this point, but the referee had not punished anybody until now. Predescu is suitably outraged and incredulous and we have a good laugh at Steaua’s indignation and suffering.
The game finishes all square. All that remains is the mutual salute between both sets of supporters and their teams, followed by a sustained period of verbal abuse aimed at illustrious representatives of the opposition. Steaua luminary Marius Lăcătuș’ imagined sexual proclivities are vocally condemned by our side, while the army’s lackeys give vent to their own disparaging thoughts about Academia Rapid’s sources of income and the ethnic origin of their fans. And it is these unedifying chants which accompany us on the unusually sociable stroll back to Crângași metro station, where there is a man on the platform holding a seat he’s ripped out of the stand.
Which is all in keeping with the experience, I feel. What else is this night if not a nostalgic throwback to the way things used to be?