27 September 2014, 9pm
Stadion Valentin Stanescu, “Giulesti”. Attendance is later reported as around 4,000.* No away fans are visible (or audible).
Round 9 of the 2014-15 Liga I season. The 109th meeting of the two sides in Romania’s third longest-running rivalry. Dinamo have won 48, Rapid 37.
These are Bucharest’s second and third teams. On several occasions, games between these two have decided league championships. The venerable 1930s stadium is named after the man who coached Rapid to the first of their three league titles, in 1967, Valentin Stanescu – never mind that he later won the league with Dinamo too. In the 1971 encounter, Rapid were 1-0 up and ten minutes from being champions, but Romanian international Mircea Lucescu equalised in the 80th minute to bring the Red Dogs their sixth title. Lucescu won six championships as a Dinamo player, and one as manager in 1989-90, but turned hero for Rapid as he coached them to their second title in 1998-99. [We should pause to note also that Lucescu was coach of Brescia in 1994, when they won the Anglo-Italian Cup at Wembley by overcoming Notts County 1-0. Gheorghe Hagi played for Brescia; Tony Agana for the Magpies.] In the 1998-99 season, Dinamo’s only home defeat was 1-0 against Rapid, Daniel Pancu the scorer. Pancu, a local legend, is back at the club but not in the team today.
Nowadays, although Dinamo have had a decent start to the season, both clubs are in a lot of financial trouble. Dinamo’s former president was jailed for six years for money laundering and tax evasion in March 2014, and the new president filed for insolvency in May, since when the club has been unable to buy players or compete in European competitions – they qualified for the Europa League by finishing fourth last season. Rapid’s long-time owner George Copos filed for insolvency back in December 2012, after debts of 34 million euros meant that staff were not being paid. Players went on strike in April 2013 and in May the Romanian federation refused Rapid a licence to compete in the following league season. Meanwhile Copos had been sentenced to four years in prison for tax evasion. In the summer of 2013 he sold the club. What happened in the football side of things is more complicated.
Although Rapid finished the 2012-13 season in 8th place, the federation decided to hold a one-off playoff between Rapid and Concordia Chiajna (the 15th-placed team) to decide which would remain in the top division. I think this may be because there was a plan to reduce the number of teams in the top division by two, which was then abandoned. Rapid won this playoff, and played two matches of the new season in Liga I before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld an appeal by Concordia and the federation switched the clubs. In summer 2014, after promotion from Liga II and another change of ownership, Rapid were once more refused a licence for the following season. Fans contributed to the cost of filing an appeal at the CAS, which awarded Rapid a licence after all. So now they’re back with the big boys. In a big derby game. With 4,000 people in a stadium which holds 19,000.
Ionel Ganea, once of Wolves, is Rapid’s coach. His former captain at Universitatea Craiova, Flavius Stoican, manages Dinamo today. Rapid haven’t beaten Dinamo since 2008, a run of nine confrontations.
We are whiling away the mild evening at a barbecue on the edge of town, and don’t get our act together in time to get on public transport, so our first sight of the working-class tower-block-land of Giulesti and of the stadium itself is when we get out of the taxi. We pull up just as bulbs flash around the main entrance. It’s half an hour till kick-off. We stroll right up to the ticket window (no queue) and secure some good seats in Tribuna I, with our backs to Strada Giulesti. I’m nervous about trouble between rival fans, and throwing flares and firecrackers around is a good way to prevent me from enjoying myself, so we don’t go for the cheapest tickets. Then we decide to do what the locals are doing: having eaten well already, we skip the mici or shawarma at the takeaway across the road, but we do stock up on Coke and sunflower seeds from the corner shop. On our way into the stadium, we’re patted down and have to glug our drinks. You can’t take a packet of seeds in either, but if you tip the seeds out of the bag into your pocket that’s fine, it seems.
Rapid are in their usual dark red, Dinamo in white. Six minutes in, Dinamo central defender Nedelcearu hits a pass straight at Bus and then pulls him back as he heads towards goal. The defender is sent off. The free kick, on the edge of the box, is walloped straight at the wall, and the ten men of Dinamo cope pretty well at the back for the next half hour. Then they head upfield, Rotariu swings a corner into the box and Cordoș heads in. 1-0 to the away side after 37 minutes. At both ends some uncertain defending is let off by poor finishing and hesitancy in the final third, until Alexe finishes a swift Dinamo break, with a neatly placed pass into the far corner, to seal the match in the 82nd minute. In injury time, Mera nudges Grecu in the back and Dinamo convert the resulting penalty to earn a flattering final scoreline of 0-3. Dinamo’s 5 ft 5 in Cameroonian full-back Collins Fai looks the most lively player on either side, while his opposite number Andrei Tinc has been entirely hapless. (There’s no matchday programme, so I’ve had to read reports from the next day to find out who was in the teams. We remembered Tinc though; he was that bad.)
Judging from the carpet of shells on the floor of the stand by the end of the game, plenty of people had had pockets full of sunflower seeds. Apart from a few spells of lively singing-and-bouncing in the Peluza Nord to our left and the Tribuna a II-a across from us, the craziest action was a bit of spitting onto the pitch by some kids putting a banner up on the fence which still separates the fans from the playing area. According to match reports, one of the banners belonging to the Rapid fans (the only fans) today reads “We wanted to make a message for you, but we’re only focused on the elections”. Dinamo ultras’ “leader of the gallery” was a participant at the launch of the presidential campaign of the serving prime minister Victor Ponta earlier in the month, exemplifying a manipulation of sporting entities by politicians reminiscent of Communist times.
However, most of the home supporters are preoccupied with chanting against the coach Ganea, who will find himself out of work on Monday. After only one win in Dinamo’s next five games, Stoican leaves his post too. (Although he will come back for another stint for a few weeks in the spring.) In Rapid’s next game, away at Concordia Chiajna, travelling supporters reduced the home team’s black Brazilian striker Wellington to tears with their racist abuse. The player gets booked for complaining about it. New manager, long-time club servant Marian Rada, suggests after the match that perhaps a banana had “slipped” from a fan’s hand. Rapid are fined £4,000 and banned from their stadium for two games. Rada only lasts until 8 January and his successor is gone by mid-April. The reduction of Liga I from 18 to 14 clubs this year means that six teams – a third of the league – will go down. At this point, it looks like Rapid will be among them.
The fans, who are accustomed to disappointment in the last few years, don’t seem too despondent, however, as they spill across the road to the tram stop: the last tram of the night fills up instantly and trundles towards the city centre. We plough on to the nearest metro, but we’re too late and have to hail a cab. Major football matches scheduled for late on a Saturday night, and virtually no public transport after 11pm. But we have just watched a historic derby game for about four quid. Not all bad.
*Rapid Bucharest’s average attendance for the 2014-15 season ends up being 4,735. Some clubs whose average attendance exceeds that in the same season:
- FK Haugesund (and nine other Norwegian teams)
- Maccabi Netanya FC (and five other Israeli teams)
- FK Aktobe (second-best supported club in Kazakhstan)
- Tranmere Rovers (and seven other League Two teams)
- GIF Sundsvall (and ten other Swedish teams)
- All but one of the Belgian top division
Apostol, Eduard & Liviu Manolache. “Un clasic în insolvenţă”. http://www.gsp.ro/fotbal/liga-1/un-clasic-in-insolventa-rapid-dinamo-derby-ul-granzilor-cu-probleme-financiare-detalii-inedite-echipe-probabile-435189.html
Romanian Football. http://www.romaniansoccer.ro/stiri/48277/etapa-9-rapid–dinamo-0-3.htm