An Entity without Identity:
The Collapse of Football Fandom in Romania
Can it really go deeper than that? Officially, 218 people have watched the Liga 1 (Romanian National football league) game between FC Steaua Bucharest and ASU Poli Timișoara at the largest venue of the country – Arena Națională (with an all-seated capacity of 55634). That accounts for less than 0.4% of tickets sold. Say 300 people by adding to the headcount the stewards, police forces and the guests who did not have to buy a ticket. And this still comes no more than a couple of weeks after the same home side, at the same arena, gathered around 500 football lovers for the match against Pandurii Tg. Jiu, a visiting side that also had some of its own ‘records’: 34 in attendance against FC Voluntari, 50 against FC Botoșani, 200 against Astra Giurgiu (the reigning champions) at a stadium of 20054 seats.
Bothering with computing averages and calculating any other sorts of statistics doesn’t even make too much sense after all: it’s obvious that Romanian football is at a low in terms of fan-relationship. But here is another one: 68709 people have visited the stadiums between the 15th and the 20th matchday included, during which 42 games have been played. The total figure is still less than what Bayern Munich attracts at one game only (sold-out months in advance). As a matter of fact, the total of stadium-goers attracted by the Romanian league in about 40 matches equals the average of one matchday in Germany.
We could play with numbers just for the fun of it: stadium-going in Romania is at such an ordinary state that it would be impossible not to sob at virtually any type of comparison that one could think of. Fourth and fifth league rural side games attract better crowds than the defending champion of the country. This would be a dream of every football manager only if the leveling of crowds came at the positive end, not the other way around: it would be lovely to see lower league figures rise towards the (tens of) thousands in attendance, similar to a top flight game. Unfortunately, this is a dream that seems to have died some time ago. Now, it’s rather that first league game attendances have declined below fourth league ones.
Neither FC Steaua nor Pandurii Tg. Jiu play their home games at their “home” venues. Pandurii continues its ‘auto-exile’ 50 km south in Drobeta Turnu Severin until the development of the new stadium will be ready. Hilarious enough though, nobody knows whether the club will financially survive to play at the new complex. Debts are so high that the club was forced to renegotiate player’s wages, having to drop them so much that many of the footballers decided to end their contracts. Last summer, Universitatea Cluj, one of Romania’s meaningful clubs, was dissolved due to similar constraints. The city of Cluj-Napoca now has a state of the art stadium (capacity: 30000), but no team to use it. The local authorities together with the six universities in the city have set up a new club trying to carry over the tradition and the history of the disbanded one. The new club plays in the fourth league and gathers about 2000 fans during a matchday at Cluj Arena. Tirgu Jiu risks following the example.
The identity loss is what probably mostly affects fans’ decisions. While people can accept defeat as a consequence of a zero-sum game which characterizes football, what they cannot tolerate an entity without identity. Speaking of earlier days, there were times when Romanian football was part of civilization, when a match in Craiova, Timișoara, or at any of the three grands of the Capital city (Dinamo, Rapid, Steaua) would have attracted ten to thirty thousand people. Save for Dinamo, the other names went bankrupt or were re-founded as new clubs. The re-organization, though, did not save the former history and silverware of the so-called “original” club. Fans took a step back and now sigh for a defunct club that will probably never come back again, while the pitches are occupied by newly-established teams with just a handful of fans interested in following them and which do not represent the identity of the fans. This sort of mismatch is a cause of empty stadiums and we can only wonder if there will ever be a way of reconciliation.