Romania’s second city of Cluj-Napoca, de facto capital of Transylvania, is home to 2012 champions CFR, and local rivals Universitatea, or ‘U’. While ‘U’ can claim a better long-term pedigree, placed sixth in Romania’s all-time league records, CFR have enjoyed more recent success thanks to the arrival of entrepreneur Árpád Pászkány in 2001.
Since then, the CFR owner is said to have invested €90 million in the club, almost a third of it in their modestly sized stadium, the Dr Constantin Râdulescu, visible from trains pulling into Cluj-Napoca station. An ethnic Hungarian in this region of ancient strife and shifting borders, Pászkány took on the big boys of Bucharest and won, picking up three titles in six seasons. In May 2014, feeling he had taken the club as far as he could, Pászkány announced that he had sold his shares to a group of investors.
Both CFR (‘che-eff-airr’) and ‘U’ were founded in the early 20th century. CFR is the acronym for the local railways, with which the club has always been associated.
As their name suggests, Universitatea were formed by students, specifically from the local University of Medicine. As Stiinta (‘Science’) Cluj, they won the Romanian Cup in 1965. Considered the local team, ‘U’ now play at the gleaming new Cluj Arena, financed by the Cluj County Council and national government, opened in 2011.
Local derbies are fierce affairs, most notably the on-field fisticuffs that caused the clash of May 2012 to be abandoned. Then there was the cup semi-final of 2015 that didn’t produce a single goal over two legs and was settled on penalties. Between fans, animosity was at its height immediately after World War I, when Transylvania, and Cluj-Napoca itself, changed hands from Hungary to Romania.
Back then, the key local team was Victoria Cluj, league runners-up three times but dissolved in 1947. Today, for the first time in Romanian football history, league titles have been heading this way, along with European lucre. For how long may be entirely up to the new investors of the Railwaymen – under-achieving U almost lost their top-flight licence in 2013.
Cluj-Napoca Airport is 9km (6 miles) east of town, connected by bus No.8 (every 10-30mins, 30min journey time). From the terminal, you’ll find the bus stop is through the car park, veering right onto the main road. Make sure that the bus is heading for the downtown transport hub of Piata Mihai Viteazul and not in the opposite direction.
Tickets (3.50 lei return) are sold at kiosks and validated in the funny little round metal punchers on board. A taxi from the airport should cost about 20 lei. Diesel Taxi (+40 264 946) is as good as any. City transport of buses, trams and trolleybuses also runs on the same punch-ticket system.
The tourist office can provide information about accommodation. For value and location, the Hotel Sport (Aleea Stadionului, +40 264 593 921) is a classic old Socialist lodging alongside the Cluj Arena, near a pretty boating lake. Breakfast is included in the internet booking-site rates of less than €20 per person.
Near the CFR ground, the Hotel Ary is a pleasant, simple three-star. Between the two stadia, the two-star Pensiunea For You (Str Cetatii 26A, +40 264 434 677) is (very) cheap and cheerful while the hilltop, three-star Belvedere (Str Câlâsilor 1, +40 264 432 071) is a climb up from the narrow little river that crosses Cluj.
Nearer town but still within easy reach of both grounds, the Grand Hotel Napoca is a renovated four-star. Dead central, the three-star Hotel Transilvania is where ‘Dracula’ character Jonathan Harker stays in Bram Stoker’s novel.
The best football bar in town is undoubtedly the Cram In Pub (Regele Ferdinand 16), right on the main drag. Despite the unpromising name, it’s a quality hang-out, its walls covered in images of Italian ultras, Diego Maradona, ‘U’ fans and retro kit, and a shirt signed by Adrian Mutu. Watch out for prices though – a small draught Paulaner is 9 lei.
Officially on the main square, but rather on Bul Memorandumului alongside it, the Berâria Ursus (Piata Unirii 20) is a 24-hour beer hall with bar food and live football on TV. Close by, the Gambrinus offers table football and regular live music.
The main expat bar in town, the Irish Music Pub also stages concerts, usually at weekends. For FIFA 10 video games on a huge screen, in somewhat trendy surroundings, the Cartel Bar (Str Avram Iancu 29) is on a quiet street close to the centre.