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Saturday 7th May 2016 ko 13.00

4 Liga Bucuresti

PROGRESUL BUCURESTI 2 (Sider 45p Nin 61)


Att 132 @ Stadionul Electomagnetica

We awoke to uncertainty on Saturday morning. I sat at breakfast turning the death of Patrick Ekeng over in my mind, and at that moment I didn’t really want to think about football, let alone watch another game. But that would have been selfish, and ultimately self-defeating, and for organiser Andrei Otineanu the situation was a good deal worse. I grabbed my bag and headed for the hotel entrance.

Andrei was sat there in tears, constantly refreshing the information on his smartphone. He knew that the Romanian FA had called off all games under their jurisdiction that weekend in tribute to Patrick Ekeng. That meant the youth game we’d planned first up, and all games in the top 3 divisions. That cancelled our games at Concordia Chiajina that evening, and at FC Voluntari on Sunday afternoon. That was bad enough but did their decision include local fixtures too?

We had few options open to us. One was for the minibus to head around 90 minutes south to the border with Bulgaria where there were games, one on Saturday, and one on Sunday but border rules would have meant us having to cross the border individually. So while the decision was made we had a look round the National Stadium and visited the wonderfully quixotic Strada Xenofon painted by artist Eva Radu in 2014.

Finally the news came through that the Romanian FA had decided to let local FA’s make their own decision on whether to play. Moreover the Bucharest FA had decided to play their fixtures as scheduled with a minute’s silence preceding. That decision allowed Andrei to plan, and plan he did and a trip to Venus Bucharest replaced the Concordia game.

We had enough time to look round a flea market, take in the Carol Park Mausoleum- the Romanian Tomb of the unknown soldier, and buy a quite superb ice cream each before heading west to the Stadiunul Electromagnetica, for what I suspect was the game on the hop that Andrei was most looking forward to.

Progresul Bucharest are one of the grand old names of Romanian football. Formed in 1944 as variously the logical, “Bankers” the unusual, “Barbers,” and the plain odd “The Knights of the Sycamore Leaf,” they played 32 consecutive seasons in the Romanian to flight. They knocked Partizan Belgrade out of the UEFA Cup in 1996 as Nationale Bucuresti but financial problems in 2009 saw the club all but bankrupted and kicked out of their spiritual home the Cotroceni Stadium, and relegated to the 4th division.

The Cotroceni Stadium now lies virtually derelict, and Progressul are exiled at the Viitorul Ground, close to the National Stadium. But with this game marking the club’s 72nd anniversary the club decided to hire the altogether superior Stadionul Electromagnetica for this game. The ground is used by Rapid Bucuresti II who used to be Electromagnetica Bucuresti before being swallowed up by the bigger club.

And what a ground it is with that stand with its curved roof buttresses, and the scoreboard drew gasps from most of the foreign visitors, although none of us knew quite what to make of the chicken coop!! Despite their problems Progresul have kept a small band of ultras who gave their team colourful support despite some quite amazing alcoholic exploits! I watched one fan drink a bottle of brandy during the first half; it’s a wonder he could stand up, let alone sing!

Despite a kit clash, rectified by cannibalising their training kit, Progresul won this game well, and celebrated with feeling with their fans. Who knows, maybe this grand old club might just find its way back to the big time?