Saturday 2 June 2018, 12 noon.
Stadionul Metaloglobus, Pantelimon, Bucharest.
Ticket price: free.
It’s the last game of the Liga 2 season for both these clubs. Metaloglobus have endured a torrid one, hovering mainly just above the relegation zone. Dunărea Călărași, by contrast, are flying high and have already secured promotion to Liga 1. If the Danubian visitors win today, they will seal the divisional title ahead of AFC Hermannstadt, their only real competition for most of this year. The home team need to win to stay up, although results elsewhere will have an impact too, as Dacia Unirea Brăila and Pandurii Târgu Jiu are also at risk.
Dunărea’s run of thirteen consecutive league wins came to an end a couple of weeks ago against FC Argeş: the team’s first defeat in the league since August. The away support is here, with flags. They probably number about forty. This is my third visit to Metaloglobus and the place is packed out. The car park is rammed. Actually it’s not really full, or even close. Megabus’ average home crowd this season is around a hundred but that figure will be slightly boosted by today’s tally. As on the previous occasions, the home fans today are quiet and grumpy. A tone deaf family have somehow been permitted to bang a drum and lead the chants; nobody joins in.
The visitors are much the better team: bigger, faster, more skilful, and certainly more confident. After twenty minutes they take the lead from a corner and, on a scorching afternoon, it’s all uphill for Metalo. Their two best players from the last time I was here, busy midfielder Stîngă and dead-ball maestro Ghenovici, feature today too, but neither is given any time on the ball and they struggle to build attacks. After a bit of possession upfield with half time looming, the home team are caught on the break and Banda extends Dunărea’s lead with a cool finish.
After a refreshment break – which for us involves leaving the ground and crossing a busy dual carriageway to the petrol station – the game resumes. We sit in slightly different seats this time; there’s more space in the makeshift stand now that survival looks impossible. We are situated directly behind a couple of the players’ other halves. As the game ebbs away and anxiety builds, these women eat seeds and yell obscenities at the linesman. While his young daughter and her friend chant ‘Gheno, Gheno’, the frustrated Ghenovici does have a couple of opportunities to pull a goal back from free kicks but cannot work the magic today. The team don’t offer much of a threat from any other quarter, and the Danubians hold out for a clean sheet and their 29th league win of the season. Later in the day, when they return to the small riverside town of Călărași, the federation will present them with the Liga 2 trophy. For Metaloglobus, the sinkhole to the third tier has opened up and swallowed them. There are half-hearted chants against the coach, but this has been coming for a while – ever since a run of defeats in April – and, although the players and their loved ones are downcast, the supporters seem no more miserable trudging out than they did at kick-off.
So, not just the last Liga 2 game of the season, but the last for at least another year for both these clubs. Metaloglobus, after just one season at this level, return to whence they came and, because it’s a privately-run concern rather than a council-funded project, will probably survive. Călărași, meanwhile, has a team in the top division for the first time ever. Their young manager Dan Alexa, the lank-haired former Romanian international defender known as the Surgeon for his frequently crippling tackles, has extended his record to an incredible three Liga 2 titles with three different clubs in four years as a coach. (I was there for the second one too!) Alexa’s high standards were visible during the second half of this game: when his team butchered a chance to go 3-0 up he angrily kicked a full water bottle the length of the dugout.