- Sunday 16th October 2016. 3.30pm.
- Stadion Anghel Iordanescu, Voluntari, on the outskirts of Bucharest.
- Ticket price: 10 lei for Tribuna II.
- Official attendance: 500 (quite clearly an enormous overestimate)
After a lively start to the season, in which they put four goals past three different teams, Voluntari’s form has slumped in recent weeks and they are firmly situated in the wrong half of the league table. At the moment they seem safe from any threat of relegation, but this is largely down to the points deductions imposed on ACS Poli Timisoara and ASA Târgu Mureș, who have occupied the two demotion spots all season. (Cult heroes Concordia Chiajna are the most efficient=least entertaining team so far, remarkably managing to accumulate 13 points from their 12 games while only scoring six times.) In any case, there are still fourteen games to go before the league splits and points totals are halved. Then the bums will get squeakier down here in the bottom half.
It’s my first visit to a Voluntari game since they won promotion to the top division for the first time in the early summer of 2014. Today the air is cold and the rain constant; there is no sign of a crowd as I approach the stadium. We plump for the uncovered Tribuna II, with about fifty or so other hardy souls: the ultras, who have a flag and two chants, are in the roofed peluza up the end. The new stand opposite us does not do enough to block the wind blowing across from the green/brown empty fringe of the city into my ears. I am ill-prepared for this weather.
Today’s opponents, ASA Târgu Mureș, a small club from central Transylvania, whose unlikely title challenge went to the last match of the 2014-15 season, are in poor shape. The fact that Dan Alexa, the hairy man who led Rapid to promotion last season, is ASA’s twenty-second coach since summer 2010 helps to explain the situation. They were deducted six points at the start of this campaign for financial reasons, but two wins in twelve games have now wiped that deficit. On this gloomy afternoon the outfield players are decked out in a startlingly bright yellowish kit which looks like it was going cheap at Decathlon.
The first half sees more possession, more territory, and more and better chances for the home side. Adrian Balan’s free kick eludes the Târgu Mureş goalkeeper to give Voluntari a deserved lead after 36 minutes. Normally on these cold, windy and wet occasions half time can’t come soon enough, but here at the Anghel Iordanescu Stadium (capacity 4,600) there are no refreshments nor even any shelter. The nearest bag of crisps is a five minute walk back down the road. Luckily there is a coffee machine for the use of club staff and we manage to sneak a warm drink out of there. We try our luck at getting into the covered stand for the second half, but are turned away – even though the tickets there were cheaper than what we paid. The ticket kiosk is no longer open, so we return to Tribuna II, passing again the back of the (unpopulated) new stand, which is classily wallpapered to look like bricks.
By this stage we have missed Târgu Mureş’ equalising goal. Slightly piqued, but each secretly relieved that the minutes are ticking away, we resume our position. Five metres away from pitchside, we get a great view of various shenanigans involving Voluntari’s touchline-hugging, attacking left-back Florin Acsinte. He makes good runs but appears to be invisible to both teams for a long spell, before taking out his frustrations in a sequence of increasingly ludicrous dives near the corner. Usually this behaviour is my least favourite aspect of the game in Romania, but today it warms the cockles to see and hear some supposedly hard young men being very silly and falling over a lot.
Acsinte apart, the most eye-catching players are the defensive midfielders, both veteran former Romanian internationals. They comprise a tall, bald, scary-looking one, who turns out to be former CFR Cluj legend Gabriel Muresan, for the visitors; and an angular, impossibly old-looking one, ex-rapidist Costin Lazar, for the home side. Amid the usual time-wasting and complaints about the other team time-wasting, Voluntari cannot find a winner. The diehard locals’ hopes of reaching the top half in time for the league split suffer a setback, while ASA are in positive points for the first time this season.
In weather like this, almost all Romanian football stadiums I’ve been to are bleak and uninviting, usually with football to match. I know of one exception: the wonderful Arena Nationala. Watch this space… (and yes, I’ll take hat, scarf and gloves next time).