The Matthews final, Wembley and the white horse, what could be more English than the FA Cup, football’s oldest competition? But among the amateur hopefuls battling in this Saturday’s first qualifying round is a team with a difference. As their name suggests, FC Romania comprise ex-pat Romanians based in Britain. Peterjon Cresswell meets their founder and manager, Ion Vintila.
The road to Wembley is a long one. At this stage of the season, football’s oldest competition, the FA Cup, features teams such as West Allotment Celtic, Harrogate Railway Athletic and Brighouse Town, all bidding to reach the final at Wembley in May.
Of course, none ever get there, but in recent years non-league teams such as Chasetown, Team Bath and Luton have climbed the higher reaches to take on professional league opposition in later rounds – and earn themselves a small fortune in the process.
This Saturday, AFC Sudbury of the Isthmian League Division One North are looking to live the dream. But there’s something different about the opposition in this most English of competitions. They’re Romanian.
Based in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, FC Romania are a team of expat Romanians who have risen through the ranks to reach the Essex Senior League.
Playing one level below Sudbury, the fifth flight in England’s non-professional game, the Lupii have also battled through to the First Qualifying Round in their debut season in the FA Cup.
‘Taking part in the FA Cup has been a personal dream,’ says club manager and founder Ion Vintila. ‘FC Romania, a team named after my own country, is now part of the oldest competition in the world.’
It’s a long way since the playing on park pitches in local leagues back in 2006. ‘I came to England with my family from Targoviste in 2005 to work in construction,’ remembers Ion. ‘I had played for several senior Romanian teams in the lower echelons. Here, we needed passion and desire to get by. Players were recruited through trials at the beginning of each season.’
Playing in the yellow and blue of Hagi and Dumitrescu, FC Romania won the London Football Saturday PM Premier in their first season, and rose up through the Essex Business House and Middlesex County Leagues.
With financial backing from local firm CONARG, the club progressed to compete in the FA Vase, and moved to groundshare with Cheshunt, a non-league club with a history dating back to 1880.
‘We’ve taken it step by step,’ explains Ion. ‘We’ve been established for eight years, and this Saturday we’re playing our third game in this season’s FA Cup.’
In the previous round against Heybridge Swifts, a long shot from Sorin Bugiu, a penalty save from Dragos Banica and bright play from man-of-the-match Valentin Vasile won the day.
‘In this round Sudbury must considered favourites,’ says Ion. ‘But with attitude, focus and commitment, my players can hope to qualify.’
In the same league as FC Romania are Sporting Bengal United, Greenhouse London and London Bari, representing Asian and Mauritian communities.
‘I think we can definitely serve as an example to others,’ concludes Ion. ‘Looking to the future, we would like to have our own ground and a prosperous academy – but we need time, money and patience.’
AFC Sudbury v FC Romania, Wardale Williams Stadium, Brundon Lane, Sudbury, Suffolk. Saturday, September 13, 3pm.