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Friday 5th May 2016 ko 17.00

5 Liga Bucuresti

A.S. OLIMPIC 4 (Busco 40 Cristea 56 Mimaloche 82 Calin 84)

BENFICA BUCURESTI 3 (Sharande 27 Stojan 55 Smarande 64)

Att 44 at Stadional Energoutilaj

Entry FREE

No Programme

I’d been in contact with Romanian student Andrei Otineanu for quite some time, and it was he that convinced me to complete a highly enjoyable visit to Bucharest in September 2015. During my time in his country he made it clear he wanted to organise a groundhop in his country, and we talked at length at what would be involved. I flew back home wondering what, if anything, would happen next.

I wondered, because on one hand Andrei is only 21, but for all the youthful exuberance there was something both endearing and impressive about him. In the end I gave him the blueprint for the annual Swedish hop, but made sure I didn’t try to influence him too much, it was important for this event to be very much his creation.

My one tangible involvement was to agree to be there, and that turned into something of a poisoned chalice when my own team Oxford United played themselves into a situation where they needed a win from their final game of the season to guarantee promotion. Typically that was when I’d be in Bucharest, but I’d made a promise, and due to Andrei it proved to be the correct one.

We were based in the Ibis hotel, close to the ridiculously sized People’s Parliament. We each paid €140 for what entry fees there were, minibus transport, a kebab between the the two Friday games, and lunches and dinners on the Saturday and Sunday at two local restaurants. Andrei also included programmes and badges he’d produced for each of the scheduled games. It was an inspired move on his part, and a bargain to boot.

We headed south for our first time, dodging cars on Bucharest’s notoriously gridlocked boulevards. Bucharest is a city of contrasts, the faded elegance of the centre, the new monied skyscapers of the business areas, but there are areas of absolute poverty too. The Gara Progressul district certainly fits the latter description, with pot-holed roads, and straggled verges. Like virtually all the 25 grounds in Bucharest the Stadionul Energoutilaj is still state owned, and was connected to the huge cement factory behind during communist times.

Now the city’s grounds are open for any club to rent them but in a poor country all the state provides for its properties is a security guard, and they are meant to act as groundsmen. The truth of the matter is that they don’t which is why the pitch was in a dreadful state here with the penalty spot in a hollow, mushrooms growing, and as much weed as grass. The spectator and player facilities get looked after by the clubs, and since again there is no money the maxim is definitely “Necessity is the mother of invention!” Here that “Make do and mend” philosophy even extended to the players’ kits, Olimpic sporting an old Romanian national strip and the visitors a hand-me-down kit from fellow Bucharest side Comprest.

Now with such a lousy pitch we all thought that there would be no way these two sides, at the bottom tier of local football in Burcharest could serve up an entertaining game. How wrong we were, the passing was crisp and the mistakes seemed more to human error than any turf deficiency.

Olimpic were unquestionably the better team but somehow Benfica contrived to lead twice. The fact that they lost was in no small part to them using all of their substitutions at half time. They then lost 3 outfield players in the last 17 minutes, and down to 8 men Olimpic took full advantage.

Any hop needs a ground and game to kick the event off with a bang and this was the perfect way to start our weekend. However what was to follow shook us to the core.