Thanks to the royal line of his father and mother, King Carol II of Romania was amongst the numerous great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria – the Empress of India. An Orthodox rather than Protestant by birth, King Carol II reigned as King of the Romanians from June 1930 until 1940.
Made a Knight of the Order of the Garter by his second cousin King George VI in 1938, this obscure monarch played a key role in Romania’s entry into the 1930 World Cup.
King Carol II had assumed the monarchy of Romania thanks to a coup d’état and was proclaimed King on 8th June 1930. To many Romanians, he represented a new beginning and it was hoped the reintroduction of a new period of solidification of the House of Hohenzollern amongst the Romanian people.
Given the will behind his seizure of the throne, he went on to influence the course of Romanian political life for the next 10 years. First through manipulation of the rival Romanian parties and then towards the end of his reign in 1938 by reserving ultimate power to the Romanian Crown.
King Carol II was a man of a Ruritanian nature; choosing to exhibit characteristics of a mythically high royal status yet exuding a typically comic-operatic like romance in his dealings and appearance. He would often join soldiers on the front line shooting guns and polishing armaments.
This sense of importance was said to stem from his Prussian royal line and his own birth in the mystical Peleş Castle deep in the Carpathian mountains. Dashing, wilful and yet politically controversial this recklessness in overthrowing the Romanian democratic system and moving to an authoritarian regime would contribute to later years in Portuguese exile.
Ultimately though it was the desire of the German Nazi party to get its hands on Romania’s oil as well as the domestic will of the Romanian fascist ‘Iron Guard’ that led to his exile in 1940.
His tale, like so many kings, is one of the numerous women, champagne and speed at a time when the automobile and aviation were advancing. Yet when not driving cars or piloting planes he would step back into the retro mode and appear in opera like a uniform. Complete with coloured medals, sword, rosettes and surrounded by poodles, Pekinese and a lifelong stamp collection he appeared at times an eccentric individual.
King Carol II developed an early fondness for football upon assuming the throne. He quickly set in place a path to enter the Romanian national team into the first ever World Cup in 1930. His fondness for pageantry, pomp and a desire to make a name for Romania overseas were forefront aims behind this will.
King Carol II had though been absent from Romania since the early 1920’s; a period when football in Romania was just coming to the fore as a social leisure pursuit and spectacle. In 1922 the Romanian international team played its first international match against Yugoslavia in Belgrade and by 1924 were competing at the Olympic football tournament in Paris. A 6-0 second round loss to the Dutch at the Stade Colombes in Paris highlighting the limitations but ambitions of the nation to compete overseas.
The timing of King Carol’s assumption of the Romanian monarchy is clearly important as to why Romania found themselves at the 1930 World Cup event. Yet it was the son of King Carol II, King ‘Michael I’ who had been on the throne of Romania when the idea for a World Cup first came to fruition. On 26th May 1928, at a meeting in Amsterdam, a Fifa Congress had decided that a new football tournament should be open to all its members.
In 1929 in Barcelona – one year before the return of Carol II to Romania – an agreement was made to hold the tournament in Uruguay the home of the then 1928 Olympic champions. A bitter bidding process had broken out for the right to host the inaugural World Cup as Uruguay, Sweden, Spain and the Netherlands all put cases forward.
King Carol II seized power on 8th June 1930, some 35 days before the maiden edition of the tournament got underway on 13th July 1930. With the influential British home nations England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales all ineligible for the World Cup Romania saw its opportunity to take part.
In its history books and committee notes, FIFA themselves do not dispute the influential role of King Carol. What is disputed is the apocryphal influence of the King upon the selection of the Romanian playing squad. It has been noted that it was actually coach Costel Radulescu – who dropped Emerich Vogl as the Romanian team captain for the tournament and replaced him with Rudolf Wetzer – that picked the team.
King Carol intervened to help overcome domestic opposition to player involvement via a royal decree. In an age, before club owned players and freedom of movement, this royal decree gave Romanian squad players three months off from oil refinery work.
Tied in was a guarantee that they would be re-employed in roles upon their return to Romania from the World Cup.
The core of the provisional Romania squad chosen for the 1930 World Cup came from important footballing centres in Timișoara and Bucharest. Of those selected several came from clubs like CA Timișoara, Chinezul Timișoara and Banatul Timișoara. Of the others, eight players came from teams located in the capital Bucharest with Maccabi București, Venus București, Juventus București, Olimpia București and Sp.Studențesc București being the noted sides of the time.
Other players were drawn from Olympia Arad, UDR Reșița and Dragoș Vodă Cernăuți.
The coaches of the Romanian side were Constantin ‘Costel’ Rădulescu and his younger countryman Octave Luchide. Rădulescu had himself been a footballer for SC Olympia Bucureşti. After the end of his playing career, he switched to match officiating, coaching and football administration.
He was influential in the development of the Romanian football federation and its affiliation to FIFA.
On 21st June 1930, the Romanian World Cup squad boarded the ‘Conte Verde’ liner in Genoa. One stop later in Villefranche-sur-Mer the Romanian squad were joined on board by the French playing squad and the man behind the tournament FIFA President Jules Rimet. Thereafter, the Belgian squad got on in Barcelona, before the luxurious Italian ocean liner picked up the fancied Brazilian side in Rio de Janeiro.
For the Romanians, it was a 16-day Atlantic Ocean Trek and the coach Radulescu is said to have put his squad through fitness drills on one of vast liner’s ten decks. It was all a very curious way of preparing for the event, far removed from the luxury of modern day preparations.
The very first World Cup got underway on 13th July 2013. The Romanian side was placed in the three-team Group 3 with the winners advancing to the semifinals.
The first group game saw Romania play Peru at the Estadio Pocitos in Montevideo.
Under the eye of a Chilean referee Alberto Warnken, Romania took the lead after just 50 seconds thanks to a goal from the 22-year-old Adalbert Desu. The South Americans did equalise 15 minutes from time, but despite the tired legs expected from the exhaustive sea journey, the Romanians scored twice more through Constantin Stanciu and Nicolae Kovacs to secure a 3-1 victory.
The game is also noted for Peru’s captain Placido Galindo becoming the first player to be sent off in the World Cup history due to a series of fights. Moreover, despite crowds of 90,000 congregating at the Centenario for Uruguay matches, the attendance of 300 for the match between Peru and Romania remains a World Cup low.
Next up Romania faced hosts Uruguay at the newly built Estadio Centenario. The home team included formidable players such as Jose Andrade, Jose Nasazzi, Pedro Cea and Hector Scarone with the Romanians losing 4-0 in front of 80,000 screaming fans.
King Carol and his dream of Romania being crowned World Champions was over.
As well as travelling together on a liner to the tournament the 1930 event was a real communal occasion. Many of the coaches played a role in the group matches outside coaching responsibilities. One day before that heavy loss to Uruguay Rădulescu officiated as a linesman in the match featuring Argentina and Mexico, a game refereed by Ulises Saucedo the coach of the Bolivian team.
In an age where the involvement of Monarchy seldom gets past Royals handing over the trophy to the winning side or being a patron the patronage of King Carol needs to be recognised if only for his force of will. Whilst the 1930 FIFA World Cup is remembered for the eight goals of Guillermo Stabile it was the influence of King Carol that ensured an obscure Romanian team entered the World Cup event.
But by the time 1940 arrived Carol was a monarch deposed and once again living in exile. Politically the face of Europe was changing drastically as Romanian fascist party ‘the Iron Guard’ denounced his affair with a Jewish woman Magda Lupescu.
With the Nazi party on the march, the Germans under Hitler were eager to draw Romania into its political orbit thanks to its resources and strategic location at the heart of Europe.
By the time Hitler had called King Carol II a ‘corrupt slave to his sexual instincts,’ the footballing king was on his way out of Romania and on a steam train heading for exile. In Romania, the anti-semitic Ion Antonescu gained power and allegedly contribute to Germany’s final solution projects.
Although he died in 1953 it was not until 2003 that the remains of King Carol were taken back from Estoril where he died to Bucharest and re-interred in traditional Romanian orthodox fashion. Today his name may not be as fondly noted as more familiar names in Romanian World Cup folklore but his role in securing a place for his nation at the first ever World Cup should never be underestimated.
Thanks to his birth in a mystical Romanian castle, and long before Romania’s very own Maradona ‘Georghe Hagi’, King Carol can rightly be called the original King of the Carpathians.