Handball!

Saturday 7 October 2017.

Sala Polivalenta, Bucharest.

CSM București v SKA Minsk (men)

CSM București v Krim Ljubljana (women)

Ticket price: 30 lei (£6) for the cheap seats. (You get two games though!)

It’s a Saturday afternoon in early autumn and it is chucking it down. Biblical, the rain is; biblical. We have arranged to meet our fellow adventurers – breaking new ground by going to watch a sport of which none of us has the slightest understanding – in a trattoria virtually next door to the arena where the mysterious matches will take place. Although it has a sizeable terrace, the restaurant itself is not large; however, presumably because the sky is relentlessly sloshing the ground with all the water it can find, the place is almost deserted and we easily get a table. I secure a good view of the TV screen showing second division football. (Hermannstadt are winning again.)

Fortified by pizza and Staropramen, we squelch across the road into the unknown: an indoor sports event. A double-header of CSM București, the club sustained by the City of Bucharest. Here, handball is the name of the game, not an appeal to the referee. First, the men’s team take on SKA Minsk in the EHF Cup, and then (the big draw) the women will play RK Krim of Ljubljana in the Champions’ League.

Oh the noise, the noise.


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The men’s teams shake hands after the game. The local ultras and a tiger look on.

Things to like

  1. The exhilarating incisiveness of the counter-attack: a marvel to behold when it works well, which with the CSM women it does often.
  2. The shirt-pulling and the shoving*: I never expected the sport to be so rough. You can use your torso to block an opponent, and there are a few other permissible kinds of bodily contact. These teams were taking their defensive play to the limit of the laws.
  3. The fair play. “I’m sin-binned for two minutes? OK.” No arguing with the ref, at least not that I could see – although the officials [Like #7] were kept busy by the continual substitutions [Ambivalent #1].
  4. The rule (which I only found out afterwards) insisting that everyone has to try to score all the time. [Problem: conflicts with Dislike #2.]
  5. The family-friendly atmosphere. There are a lot of kids here and there is no menace…
  6. The cinema-style flip-up seats* – even for the cheap tickets like ours.
  7. The important-looking officials sitting at their important-looking tables*. Presumably they’re watching for on-court infringements and keeping score as well, but the substitutions alone must take some dealing with.
  8. Playing without a goalie: usually when a player gets sent to the sin-bin their team, required to attack [Like #4], swaps the goalkeeper off for an outfield player, until either they score, or the move breaks down, when possession passes to the opposition and the goalie sprints back on again.
  9. Goalkeepers’ agility. Incredible.
  10. The theatrical entrance of the players (and officials) individually, in the dark!*
  11. The merchandise stall (fridge magnets of individual players: yes please!).
  12. The youngsters mopping up sweat from the court during the game.*
  13. The tiger mascot.*
  14. The women’s game was LOADS more entertaining than the men’s.

*something I appreciated in a handball context but would not like to see at the football or rugby. Know your place.

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The build-up for the women’s game.

Things to dislike

  1. The turn-taking nature of the game (like rugby league, or snooker): just not my cup of tea. I prefer something more open and chaotic in a team sport.
  2. The ennui caused by too much scoring: fifty goals in a sixty-minute match? Too much already. Where’s the patient build-up? [Problem: conflicts with Like #4.]
  3. The chants of “CSM, CSM” (pronounced cheh-seh-meh) and “Pa-u-la” (to celebrate the goalkeeper Paula Ungureanu), orchestrated by the PA system. Come on. If the crowd want to chant and sing to urge their team on, let them. If, on the other hand, the only people who want to do that are thirty middle-aged Slovenes in matching outfits, with big drums, crammed into one corner of the arena, and twenty local youths down the other end, so be it. The manufactured chanting smacks of desperation and it always peters out after a few iterations. Give it a rest.
  4. The incredibly high volume of said PA system, denying me the right to peacefully co-exist with my fellow humans. If I come again, I’m avoiding the seats right behind the TV interview set-ups. As should you.
  5. The numerous renditions of “We Will Rock You”. Oh God. Do I need to explain? I was turned off by the unbearable cheesiness of “Gladiators” on ITV in the ’90s. My teenage self was wryly amused by the silliness: the big foam hands, the “Another One Bites the Dust”-ing, Fashanu’s cry of “Awooga!”. I did not see it as a way-ahead-of-its-time model for how actual sporting events should be enjoyed in the future.
  6. Bloody popcorn at sporting events. Popcorn is for cinemas.
  7. Vuvuzelas. Intolerable. And mostly operated by adults, not their kids. How can you do that? Are we not all humans?
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Mop action by the penalty spot.

Things about which I am ambivalent

  • Continual substitutions. It’s hard to keep track of who’s on and who’s off, and players would come on purely to take a penalty, then go off again. Bit weird.
  • The difference in the announcer’s intonation between a goal for us (overexcited) and a goal for them (a matter-of-fact mumble).
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Big stand in the foyer of the venue. “Your city. Your team.” (Because your taxes pay their wages.)

Concluding thought

I’ll go again.

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