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Cluj, a city divided by football

Wednesday 1 October ~

Big games and media glare are fast becoming the norm at CFR 1907 Cluj. Still basking in the glory of their shock 2-1 win over AS Roma in the Stadio Olimpico two weeks ago, a carnival atmosphere is guaranteed at the Dr Constantin Radulescu Stadion with Chelsea the vistors for the Transylvanian city’s first ever home Champions League game. CFR have started slowly in the league however and have ground to make up if they are to retain the Romanian title. Argentine striker Christian Fabbiani went back home in July and fan favourite Antonio Semedo was sold to Steaua. Poor form and an unsettled starting XI as new players took time to settle have also combined to cost title-winning coach Ioan Andone his job. The team has lately risen to fifth, but crunch autumn fixtures against main contenders Dinamo, Timisoara and Dan Petrescu’s Urziceni must bear fruit.

One game in particular promises to have the whole of Cluj-Napoca on edge. On 15 October CFR take on city rivals Universitatea (’U’) in the last 32 of the Cupa Romaniei. Founded in 1919, U have dominated the city football landscape for the past 80 years and have the longest, if not the most glorious, period of residence in the first division outside the Bucharest triumvirate of Steaua, Dinamo and Rapid. Until this year U had given the former capital city of Transylvania its only national footballing success in the shape of the Cupa Romaniei in 1965. CFR, meanwhile, were formed in 1907 under the name of Kolozsvár Railwaymen’s Sport Club (KVSC), one which bears testimony to the city’s Hungarian past. By early 2002, the club had only played nine seasons of top flight football in 90-odd years of existence, and were in the third division drawing paltry crowds of around 200. Then Árpád Pászkány arrived.

Recent meetings between the sides have driven home to the sizeable hardcore and hooligan groups amongst the U support the reality of a new city power hierarchy. The CFR squad was attacked in broad daylight on a Cluj street in 2005 and, prior to last winter’s derby, a police presence twice the size of that for the visit of Chelsea failed to prevent masked U fans from petrol bombing the bar where the main CFR fan groups congregate. The teams last met in May on the final day of the season with CFR winning 1-0, as the fans of already relegated U suffered the ignominy of seeing their rivals win the title. What rankles even more is that it could have been different. Pászkány initially looked at investing in U, but failed to reach agreement and took his millions across the city.

While both derbies last season passed off without more serious incident, U fans taunted their rivals with “Hungarians out!” chants. Among Romanian nationalists, CFR and Paszkany are both perceived as Hungarian. The picture is not quite so simple, though. U take the bulk of their support from the predominantly Romanian Marasti and Manastur housing schemes, but Hungarians are also fans of the club. CFR’s fanbase is split roughly 50-50. Cluj became part of Romania through the Treaty of Trianon in 1920,

During the Second World War, however, Northern Transylvania was handed back to Hungary. CFR then played in the regional Hungarian second division while U uprooted to Sibiu and continued in the Romanian league. The Hungarian press has not been slow to pick up on the story of CFR's rise. This is not surprising given that no team from Hungary has qualified for the Champions League since Ferencváros in 1995-96 and that Paszkany is the most successful and prominent personality with a Hungarian background in football today.

Politicians on both sides of the border have been prone to fuelling nationalism. Cluj had an ultra-nationalist mayor, Gheorghe Funar, from 1992 to 2004, while in Hungary there was even a failed referendum on dual nationality. Pászkány considers himself Transylvanian more than anything else. He talks of performance being king, not caring for nationality. CFR fan groups Galeria KVSC (mainly Hungarian) and Commando Gruia (majority Romanian) regularly take turns in singing for their team and travel together to away matches. Not that you will see any Hungarian flags at CFR matches though. Most fans see Romania joining the EU’s border-free Schengen agreement as being the way forward for the region. CFR’s success has helped to promote a renewed sense of pride in Transylvania that transcends historical grudges – Bucharest and Budapest mean little to them. Andy Clark

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