Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Photoblog: Derby day in Bucharest

A weekend in Bucharest - hardly the most romantic of holidays, you might think.

Well that depends on your priorities. For me a trip away necessitates a change of scenery, and there's no greater antidote to the sterility of orderliness in the UK (respect for rules, queueing, attentiveness to other people's private space) than spending a few days in the relative anarchy of Eastern Europe. I was looking for a place to spend a couple of days getting away from London, and Bucharest seemed like just the ticket.

So Romania it was - a place where manhole covers are removed, seemingly at random, with the holes left unmarked so that if you happen to not be watching where you're walking, you could find yourself falling 40 feet down to an untimely and unglamorous death in Bucharest's sewer system.

Romania - where the despotic Communist-era leader Nicolae Ceauşescu knocked down 30,000 homes in central Bucharest in order to build for himself a palace. Now used as the country's parliament, it is the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon.

But enough of the tour-guide - the main reason for Bucharest as my destination of choice was the football. This weekend was the occasion of the city's second derby between Dinamo and Rapid (Steaua are the best-supported of Romania's football clubs and so their game with Dinamo is considered the bigger derby match).

In the event the game was a classic. Away side Rapid, spurred on by some of the most committed fans I've seen, raced into a 2-0 lead at half time, only for Dinamo to score three times after the break and record a breathtaking comeback win, 3-2. Winger Gabriel Torje was the hero for Dinamo, scoring a brilliant winner which wouldn't disgrace the English Premier League.

I went along with a camera, and a mobile telephone with the police on speed dial, to capture events.

In an article in 2009 Dinamo Stadium was named by The Times as one of the ten best stadiums in the world. One assumes that a predilection for "Communist-chic" was the guiding principle behind such a decision, and it's fair to say that the arena didn't disappoint. A series of characteristic neo-classical statues in Olympian poses man the grounds around the entrances, while the obligatory running track and floodlight pylons, as well as the concrete tower blocks, lent the whole place a distinctly nostalgic air. It's a stadium that never lets you forget where you are.

And here is Dinamo Stadium in all it's glory, as the players warm up.

Overlooking the stadium stands Spitalul Clinic de Urgenta Floreasca - a hospital. During the game patients wearing green smocks and medical workers wearing blue stood out on the balconies to watch. I particularly like the man on the left of the top balcony with a plaster cast on his arm.

These were among the most heavy-duty crowd control units I have ever seen at a football match. Many people - in fact, almost every Romanian - I spoke to prior to the game warned me of the potential dangers of attending the Dinamo-Rapid derby but I didn't take them too seriously until I saw these riot police. In the event, it was among the Rapid fans where the worst trouble occurred...

Just minutes into the game Rapid fans set off a series of smoke bombs from the away end.

The match was halted for a couple of minutes while the smoke cleared. Cue a baton charge from the riot police in the away end.

The scoreboard end in Dinamo Stadium is known semi-formally as the "Peluza [Stand] Cătălin Hîldan" after a former Dinamo player who died on the pitch in a friendly in 2000. The banner dedicated to Hîldan decorates the end behind the goal.

Meanwhile the Rapid fans responded with their own banner - "We wear the cherry-red shirt with pride". Indeed, throughout the game the fans taunted one another by unfurling successive banners. In this photo "Galerie pula" is directed at the fans in the Cătălin Hîldan Stand (known as the Galerie) - let's just say "pula" translates as a particularly nasty word and leave it at that.

Another of the themes for the night's banners was Dinamo's recent disastrous result in Europe. Leading Hajduk Split 3-1 from the first leg of their Europa League third round qualifier, Dinamo - amid whispers of match-fixing - contrived to concede three goals without reply in Split to lose the tie and crash out of the competition. Rapid's fans held up banners reading "Hvala Hajduk" (Thanks Hajduk, in Croatian), and one euphemistically asking whether Dinamo had played "with a handicap". In the above photo Dinamo's fans respond - "Honour cannot be bought, symbols cannot be sold" reads the lower one, while another on display throughout the game spoke of the club as having "a clear conscience".

At full time the Dinamo players celebrated their fine comeback with the Cătălin Hîldan Stand. Those who watch football on the continent will be familiar with the sight of a running track soaked wet by hosepipes, but for those who have never seen this before, it's so that flares and firecrackers which find their way onto the running track from the stands are extinguished.

3-2 indeed.


Anglofil said...

Nicely done James! To be perfectly honest, Romanian football is such a mess right now that I gave up watching it altogether for a couple of years. With refs taking bribes, and parvenu club owners it’s somewhat of a filthy experience.

I remember The Times mentioning Dinamo’s stadium among the best ten in the world, and their choice was staggeringly bewildering. I can only imagine they needed a bit of Eastern European flavor to be geographically-correct, but fact of the matter is it’s one of the most depressing stadiums you could find yourself in Romania, let alone the world. Horribly low attendance, stands miles away from the pitch, and it’s built on a former garbage dump, hence its colloquial name – “The Dump”. Rapid’s stadium, Giulesti, depite being equally shattered, is a more vibrant affair due to their vocal and loyal fans. Has an Argentinean feel to it.

Let me wrap up by saying that Romania may be quite an entertaining escape for a weekend, in that Balkan, “Black Cat, White Cat” sort of way, but living here day in day out is as nerve-wrecking as living a mental hospice. How I do miss the sterility of orderliness, as you call it, of life in the SW15...

Keep up the good work with the blog!

lorenzotns said...

Nice piece of work. Perhaps, when looking at the pics, the (small) size of The Dump makes it all seem less important, but you were witness to the latin electricity of Romanian people. I do have one correction to make: "Galerie Pula" translates into a 4-letterish "Your supporting? = Naught" trivially said.
It's surely worth more going to see the real deal, Steaua-Dinamo (in both its expressions, I'd say, there are 2 different feelings in 2 different stadiums). Then again, I strongly reccomend travelling to Craiova for Universitatea vs. Dinamo and/or to Timisoara for Poli vs. Dinamo; the pics might not turn out so brilliant (the Craiova supporters scene is currently close to lowest-ever, Timisoara are doing decent work; however, in both cities, a match vs. Dinamo draws out latent energy), but there'a a certain vibe that can't be caught by the human eye

explorish said...

excellent story. hope you don't mind being quoted on "allromaniansarevampires.com".

you're always welcome in Romania - lorenzotns made a few good suggestions with footballing flavor. i'd pick Timisoara first - a charming city, international airport, direct flight with wizzair for less than USD200.

Craiova is cool to get the "real Eastern Europe" with a flair.

if you're in need of any tips for the trip, any time.


James Appell said...

@lorenzotns Thanks for the correction and also the travel advice - I'll be watching Man City play Timisoara tonight with interest! J

Germ said...

Nice work ,it's really nice to see how an outsider looks at Romanian Footbal :)

And as the other's here I do recomend you the Steaua - Dinamo Derby as the derby to see!The Stadium will have no space left then and the fans hate each other till the death!

Anonymous said...

Emmanuel, my friend, Dinamo is not the most hated club in Romania.

James, i hope you enjoyed the match, and i'm also happy that you liked the atmosphere.You're welcome in Romania, and I expect you to come to the real derby of Romanian Championship, Dinamo - Steaua.


Anonymous said...

im from ro ,i will be glad to talk whit you about football and romania,here is my mail valy_bv16@yahoo.com.cya

Anonymous said...

Hello James,
Anonymous is right, you should watch the real derby of our (romanian) championship but also you should watch it from a real stadium, Ghencea!
Come see Steaua - dinamo!

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Always glad to hear your thoughts. Be nice now! James