Always popular but never champions, Universitatea Cluj have always been linked, as their name suggests, to academia.
An influential body in Transylvania, ‘U’ play at the newly built Cluj Arena, funded mainly by local and national authorities. Apart from the National Arena, no other venue in Romania can match it for its modern-day facilities.
Formed by the local student sport society in 1919, ‘U’ were inaugural members of the Romanian league in 1932 – the closest they’ve ever come to winning the title. They reached the cup final two years later but again were pipped by Ripensia Timisoara.
Playing in their familiar white-and-black shirts, bearing the trademark U badge, the Red Caps (Sepcile rosii, after local student headwear) hit their stride from the mid 1960s.
Based on a team created by Transylvanian Stefan Kovacs, an ex-‘U’ player who later led Ajax to two European Cups, Universitatea won the cup in 1965 thanks to goals from Mihal Adam, and enjoyed a top-three league finish in 1972.
With occasional later stints in the lower flight, ‘U’ continued to fill the Ion Moina Stadium, suitably fashioned in the shape of two letter u’s. Its demolition in 2008 led to the club having to play at minor grounds in the Cluj and surroundings – anywhere but bitter rivals CFR, in fact – until the gleamingly impressive Cluj Arena was built on its site in 2011.
Its unveiling coincided with Universitatea’s then recent promotion, allowing for another fiery clash with CFR in May 2012. Overall league form, however, was inconsistent and ‘U’ were relegated in 2015.
The 30,000-capacity Cluj Arena is a multi-purpose venue built by Cluj County Council leased by Universitatea for every home game. Designed by the same local firm responsible for the Liberty Center Mall and the remodelling of the CFR stadium, Dico si Tiganas, the sleek, grey Cluj Arena consists of four stands in two tiers, Peluza 1 (Sud) and 2 (Nord) behind each goal, and Tribuna 1 (Vest) and 2 (Est) along each sideline.
The home South end backs onto Aleea Stadionului, where you’ll find the ticket offices and a couple of modest outlets – there is at yet no bar or restaurant on-site. Close by to the west, an indoor arena is still being built; to the east, a pretty park and boating lake.
Inside, despite the running track, a near century-long tradition of fanatical local support makes for a decent atmosphere and healthy attendances. Away fans enter through gate 3 in the Peluza Nord to occupy sectors 1G1-IL and surrounding ones according to demand.
You can approach the stadium either via tram Nos.101 and 102 from the train station to the Peluza Nord (Stadion Cluj Arena stop) alongside the Somesul Mic river or via bus No.30 (Parcul Central stop) central Piata Mihai Viteazul to the Peluza Sud end.
The main ticket offices are on Aleea Stadionului opposite the Hotel Sport, either side of Burger World. Availability is rarely a problem. Prices are kept affordable – less than 15 lei should get you seat in either Peluza behind each goal, and not much more for a better view from Tribuna 1 or 2.
The Universitatea store (daily 10am-10pm) is found on the first floor of the Iulius Mall (Str Alexandru Vajda Vojevod 53) on the eastern outskirts of the city. A modest selection of Cluj Arena souvenirs are available from the lobby after the stadium tour.
An enjoyable and informative English-language tour (7 lei) can be arranged via email@example.com. Friendly guide Lavinia takes you round the stadium’s impressive VIP and press areas and talks you through the long-term plans for this ambitious entertainment complex.
By the ticket offices behind the Peluza Sud, you’ll find a branch of the Cafeteria Pralina chain of pastry shops – nice cakes and coffee, no alcohol – and, beside it, Burger World. Here, a friendly, English-speaking chef can rustle up a burger engleze with bacon (8 lei) or a French-style galez variety (9 lei) in no time, complemented by a big bottle of Ursus from the fridge outside. Pop a complimentary Orbit gum afterwards and you’re set for the match.
Over the crossroads at the boating lake, the Chios casino comprises two terraces, one overlooking the pedalos bobbing in the water. A more convivial pre-match setting you couldn’t imagine. It’s 5 lei for an Ursus beer, 10 lei for a cocktail, 29 lei for a platou Casino of pork and grilled meats and 56 lei for a blow-out pepper steak and mountain of chips. A restaurant in the Peluza Nord end of the Arena is slated for 2014.