LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

CFR Cluj

Five titles in a row for the new football kings

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Romanian champions CFR Cluj have seen significant success this century, with five titles coming under two different owners. First, Árpád Pászkány broke the Bucharest duopoly on the league championship in 2008, his side going on to be crowned three times. In 2017, Marian Băgăcean ended the threat of insolvency by buying a majority share in the club. CFR (‘cheff-fair-rey’) duly won Liga I in 2018 and 2019.

Their stadium, Dr Constantin Râdulescu, stands in the hilly district of Gruia, close to Cluj station. Formed, as displayed on the club badge, in 1907, CFR (Căile Ferate Române, ‘Romanian Railways’) Cluj were originally Kolozsvári Vasutas Sport Club, the Hungarian version of their name.

Once the post-World War I settlement placed the city inside the Romanian border, Kolozsvár became Cluj and the club CFR.

Dr Constantin Râdulescu Stadium/Peterjon Cresswell

Thereafter little of note happened for 50 years, until the club were promoted to the top flight in 1969 under coach Dr Constantin Râdulescu, a former ‘U’ player. Râdulescu later lent his name to the CFR stadium built soon afterwards. Goals from veteran striker Mihai Adam, nabbed from local rivals ‘U’, kept relegation at bay until 1976.

With loyal Râdulescu still at the helm, CFR trod the murky waters of Romanian lower-league football, where they would have stayed but for the arrival of one Árpád Pászkány in 2002.

This Transylvanian Abramovich, a shy but savvy shaven-haired young entrepreneur, a journeyman footballer for both CFR and ‘U’, made his money in trade. Promoted back to the top flight in one season, thanks to goals from fans’ favourite Adrian Anca, CFR then reaped the benefit of his know-how.

Dr Constantin Râdulescu Stadium/Peterjon Cresswell

Applying this principle to the local club he now owned, and ignoring age-old questions of nationality, mall-builder Páskány built a team on player-trade agreements reached with Benfica, Argentina’s Lanús and AJ Abidjan of the Ivory Coast. A curtain-raising friendly with Benfica in 2007 signalled the first home game with modern floodlights.

By the end of 2007-08, CFR only had to beat, of all people, Universitatea, already relegated, to wrest the title from Bucharest. On a dramatic last day of the season, Cluj were gaining a hard-won victory by a solitary penalty while Steaua were tonking Gloria Buzâu 5-0. Later on, it turned out that associates of controversial Steaua shareholder and nationalist politician Gigi Becali were at a restaurant on the outskirts of Cluj with a suitcase containing an alleged €1.5 million in cash. Yet the title, in fact the double, went to CFR.

Dr Constantin Râdulescu Stadium/Andy Clark

Even more remarkably, the Railwaymen debuted in the Champions League with a famous victory over Roma at the Olimpico. Chelsea later brought CFR down to earth – though only after a 0-0 draw in Transylvania.

Further investment saw another title win in 2010 – Roma gaining revenge in the Champions League – and again in 2012, after a fully blown fight in an abandoned derby with ‘U’. The visit of Manchester United in 2012-13 saw CFR again in the spotlight, but a mid-table league finish hints to a team in need of a little lift.

Pászkány duly bowed out in May 2014, selling on his shares to investors. This led to a period of financial uncertainty, a 24-point (!) deduction by the Romanian FA – and certain relegation averted at the end of the 2014-15 when the draconian punishment was rescinded and CFR finished third on merit.

Dr Constantin Râdulescu Stadium/Peterjon Cresswell

The arrival of Cluj-born financial auditor Marian Băgăcean in 2017 injected cash into the club to push CFR back into the title reckoning. With former Chelsea star Dan Petrescu as coach, the return of influential Argentine midfielder Emmanuel ‘Draculio’ Culio and the purchase of burly striker George Țucudean from Viitorul Constanța halfway through the campaign, CFR just nicked the 2018 Liga I crown from Steaua in the championship play-offs.

Petrescu left for China before CFR’s disastrous return to Europe and defeat to Dudelange of Luxembourg. Managerial changes followed, before Petrescu was persuaded to return from China and steer CFR to a fifth title in 2019. Fittingly, it was terrace hero ‘Draculio’ Culio who converted the penalty that retained the title – and Țucudean who was again crowned top league scorer.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Opened in 1973, the Dr Constantin Râdulescu has seen major improvements since the arrival of CFR owner Árpád Pászkány – yet still only contains three stands. An all-seater 23,500, set on a slope in the residential district of Gruia, it is open on its north side, allowing a view of the pleasingly undeveloped outskirts of town.

Tribuna I (sectors 1-23), with VIP seats, and Tribuna II (sectors 37-53) along the sidelines, and home end Peluza 1 and 2 (sectors 24-36) behind the south goal are arranged in two tiers. Depending on the opposition, away fans are usually allocated sector 28 at the far end of lower Peluza I, at the corner with Tribuna II.

The main entrance is on Str 11 Octombrie – note the poignant mural depicting CFR history in the Tribuna I stand.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

From town, bus 37 runs from central Piața Mihai Viteazul to the Arena CFR stop, journey time about 10-15mins. Walking from the train station, via Strada Fericirii and Strada Kovári László, would be steep and strenuous – take a taxi and expect to pay around 15 lei/€3.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

For league games, a seat behind the goal in Peluza I is around 10 lei/€2, 25 lei/€5 lei for higher up in Peluza II, the same price as the lower tier in Tribuna II. The best seats usually available are around 35 lei/€7.40 in sectors 41 and 49-50 in Tribuna II. The ticket office (Thur 10am-5pm, Fri 10am-5pm, Sat 10am-10.30pm) is near the main entrance on Str 11 Octombrie.

Tickets for the upcoming game can also be purchased through Romanian-only bilete.ro.

A different pricing system with match packages usually applies to Champions League fixtures.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The Joma store (Mon, Wed, Fri 10am-3pm, Tue & Thur 1pm-6pm, match days 2hrs before kick-off, then open for 1hr after final whistle) at the stadium proffers CFR souvenirs emblazoned with railroad iconography. First-team tops are burgundy, second-choice white.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

With the dearth of decent bars – almost any bars, in fact – around the stadium, CFR fans tend to meet in town. Key place is the Domino Sport Pub, just over the river on the corner of Strada Brassaï Sámuel and Dávid Ferenc. Inside is done out head-to-toe in football scarves, with just about enough room for a TV.

The only real option near the ground is found behind the Peluza I/II South Stand, at Str Gruia 37. An enclosed front terrace with blue Timișoreana beer logo’d chairs is complemented by a modest smoky interior that features an incongruous image of the Eiffel Tower. On any given afternoon, stotious regulars will be caning the fruit machine.

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