Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Curious Case of (The Football Team From) Timisioara

Over the last few years a very strange story has been played out as regards the main football team in Timisoara. I'd give you their name, but it's all a bit confused and confusing. They are currently playing under the name FC Timisoara, but half of the problem surrounds the name, so it may not be that for much longer. But rather than be cryptic, let me try and sum it up/explain it as best I can (and given that there are bits of the story that confuse me too, that may not be that well).

A football team called Politechnica Timisoara were founded in 1921 and over the years they had a reasonably successful history, winning the Romanian cup on a couple of occasions, playing in Europe and winning games against Celtic and Atletico Madrid amongst others. In the 90s, like all Romanian football teams they ceased to be a nationalised entity and entered the marketplace. No longer linked with the Polytechnic itself, they retained the name (just as the other clubs did - CFR Cluj are not actually owned by the state railway company for example).

In the middle of the 90s they went down to the second division and in about 2000 the club was bought by an Italian businessman named Claudio Zambon (The city of Timisoara seems to have very close ties with Italy). It got relegated again, and then again to languish in the 4th division (county level in Romanian football). It was in 2001 (or 2002, stories conflict) that this story gets bizarre and confusing. Zambon, having fallen out with the local authorities and media, and who had lost all rights to the club and the name (this bit is disputed) decided to up sticks and move the club away from Timisoara all together and relocate it to a village just outside Bucharest. In the meanwhile, a former Romanian international player named Anton Dobos who had played for AEK Athens and who had bought a Bucharest based club on his return to Romania, and renamed it AEK Bucharest, decided to move this club to Timisoara, at just the time when they had been promoted to the top flight. The moved club, now called Politechnica AEK Timisoara became the de facto descendant of the original team, and the fans certainly saw it that way. (Dobos was recently in the news again as he survived a horrific car crash which put him in a coma for a while)

The new club, again renamed Politechnica 2002 Timisoara, were authorised by the FRF (Romanian Football Federation) as the official heir of the original club and could inherit the club's records, but then Zambon, who'd left Romania some time before, returned and by some sleight of hand, got this authorisation transferred to his club (still called Politechnica Timisoara even though they were playing 500km away). It seems that basically he tricked the FRF into this, and that the problem now is that the FRF are loathe to admit that they were scammed so they are sticking to their guns. I won't go into all the labyrinthine details, but you can, if you wish get a much longer version here which is written by a fan (so it's obviously a tad partial, but it does give roughly the story I've heard myself from various sources without all the detail, so I think it's fairly close to the truth).

The upshot of all the shenanigans is that Zambon took his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport which upheld his claim (mostly because it is only actually allowed to accept evidence from the national federation which was still covering up its previous errors). The CAS decreed that the Timisoara-based team were no longer entitled to use the club badge, colours, name, and even club songs (that last bit was eventually withdrawn as it was seen to be somewhat unworkable to stop all the fans singing them). FIFA stepped in and demanded that the CAS decision be respected, and thus the club were renamed Politechnica 1921 Stiinta Timisioara (and subsequently, after this was deemed not sufficiently different, FC Timisoara) and the colours changed from white and violet to white, purple and black.

At the beginning of this season FC Timisoara were docked 6 points (by the FRF on the say so of FIFA) for not changing the colours enough (violet to purple was not sufficiently different they felt, even though no-one had specified how much the colours needed to be changed). Despite this (or perhaps because of it) FC Timisoara have had a storming start to the season and would be joint top without the deduction. In the meantime the club that still plays with the name near Bucharest have gone down to the 5th level (I think, again reports conflict) which must be basically a pub league.

It should be made clear that while this case bears some similarities with the AFC Wimbledon vs MK Dons Franchise story, there are many more grey areas. It's clear that Zambon has no feeling for the club and its fans, and that the fans (who I submit are the ultimate arbitrator of which club is "real") have made it clear that they consider FC Timisoara to be the the real club and the owner of the history and the symbols. However, the club (FC Timisoara) was owned by the richest man in Romania, oil tycoon Marian Iancu, until he resigned in order to be able to pursue legal cases against the FRF in regards to the whole situation. So, they are not the small fan-funded heroic underdog fighting against injustice and for football that AFC Wimbledon are, but a slightly less sympathetic entity.

Having said this, I have always had a soft spot for the club as they are the only one in Romania who seem to have genuine fans, who show up to every home game in great numbers and sing and chant and make a show of their fandom, and I wish them every success in regaining their club and it's symbols and heritage (and the 6 points)

An English language blog about "Poli"

2 comments:

FcPoliFan said...

Yup, the article is ok. I had actually written the post on the Poli forum, because we're looking to create a website which explains the details of our case - in several languages (Romanian, German, English and French are almost finished, and we're still trying to do Italian and Spanish).

Zambon's team is actually in the 4th league, I checked it out now on his website (www.politehnicatimisoara.ro).

Thanks for your support! If you need any information, just let me know - and tell me if you manage to get something published on the matter. At this point, after the protests were blindly ignored by those bastards at the RFF, the international community is the only one we can look at for help - but the case needs to step into the limelight in the press, as much as possible.

theilliades said...

Interesting article.
Makes the shenanigans in the EPL with the Tevez and West Ham / Sheffield United affair seem all the less controversial.
Seems that Romanian football has long adopted this 'NFL franchise' type structure for clubs and consequences like this are always going to be a possibility. Ultimately, many fans lose out.

Nice piece....

thanks.