On first setting eyes on the Stadium Dinamo my mind went back to the football stadia of old – Žalgiris, Dynamo Moscow or Lech Poznan back in 1984. In just about every atmospheric dimension the physical nature of the built environment at Dinamo Bucharest was similar – this was a real step back in time.
The descriptive narrative that crept into the mind was multi-sensory words came to mind but they were not enough.
To wonder across terrace with wild abandon.
Listening to the busy sparrows,
that sing amidst weed strewn plinth.
Shadows of former glory and stately era,
watching on from pedestal high
and stone column mounted.
Stadium Dinamo is a holistic sensory overload of space, shape, feel and historical placement, a monument to the long-gone communist era. It appealed to my eyes, memory, ears, nose or mouth.
Now back in Liga 1 there is a special aura here at Dinamo Bucharest – an architectural experience that is instantly perceivable to those of us lucky enough to have been born in the 1970’s. But it is a feeling that rides countenance to just about every other modern day football stadium you can imagine.
There has been an identity crisis in Romanian football now for years. Rather like the son of a farmer who learns that his father is selling the farm, and whose identity as an heir to a farm and the lifestyle of a farmer may be lost, so fans of both Dinamo Bucharest and Steaua have been shaken by change, liquidation, and a distortion of whom they really are as football clubs.
It’s almost 20 years since Dinamo Bucharest won a Romanian Liga 1 title. Moreover, a footballing split success wise in Romania has seen the power balance switch away from the traditional hotbed of the capital to the football landscape dominated by Cluj.
Romania is a classic modern day European country. It is a land which looks like one whole on a map but scratch just underneath the surface and a diverse group of cultures reflect its historical past.
The transition from Wallachia, Transylvania and Banat through to the communist era enclave that ended in 1989 has came and went with a revolution. If that was bloody so the movement to being an EU state has been fairly smooth for Romania the gulf between the 1990’s and 2000’s allowing a new mindset to grow and bed in.
Less smooth has been the transition at Bucharest’s two largest clubs – Steaua and Dinamo Bucharest. For both clubs the transition from being non-profit state owned to public share companies has been traumatic.
There are now two Steaua Bucharest’s – one known as FCSB, and which UEFA recognise and claims to be the owners of the original Steaua club honours – and the original Steaua Bucharest the traditional army club.
Multiple court cases have seen the status of each unreconciled only to once again fall into the abyss of the chaotic unknown after appeal and attack.
In Bucharest the majority of fans seem to have edged towards FCSB in terms of whom to support especially in UEFA competition. There are though those who still see Steaua as offering fans a truer sense of meaning in harmony with the army club’s original values.
At the unofficial club shop not half a km from the Steaua Stadium I spoke to the shop owner who claims those not loyal to Steaua follow blindly a fake club or as he calls them ‘FCSB is a shepherd club’ – an empty body that herds, tends, and guard’s sheep.
Since 2015 the Romanian Football Federation has withdrawn Dinamo Bucharest’s right to enter UEFA competition twice less so because of branding or stigma and more to do with bad financial management. Insolvency has twice occurred with owners left with large debts that ultimately contributed to relegation being witnessed at the Dinamo Stadium in spring 2022.
The current Dinamo Stadium was inaugurated on 14 October 1951. It witnessed many of Dinamo’s biggest European Cup matches of the 1980’s under the watchful stern gaze of the Communist regime’s Internal Affairs Ministry. Despite its relatively central locality and importance to the Dinamo Sports Brand, Dinamo Bucharest played many of its Liga II matches during season 2022-23 at the Nationala Arena. This included the big ‘derby’ fixture against Steaua Bucharest.
Dinamo Stadium is often referred to as ‘Groapa’ (the pit) being that it is simply a hole in the ground rather than a built-up creation. When full it was an intimidatory theatre where visiting teams feared the fans who gathered Dinamo, in its heyday, being one of Romania’s best supported clubs.
Now litter and weed strewn and seemingly abandoned by the football arm of the sporting club this is a place that will probably find itself demolished in the years ahead such is the pace of development in the Romanian capital.
Statues to honour former players continue to cast a shadow over the crumbling surrounds.
And while the wider Dinamo sporting complex it inhabits is still operational there is a sense of wild abandonment to the interiors from birds singing untouched by human life to weed strewn terracing broken and unsafe.
Inside a lone runner uses the athletic track to practice – like the club who played here, he keeps going reaching for the finishing line despite challenges.
While the Stadionul Dinamo has an integral if not central part to play in Dinamo’s historical identity and past a movement away would appear to be complete as season 2023-24 nears.
Significant matches such as fixtures against rivals FCSB look like they will be played at the Arena Nationala. Meanwhile season tickets for other domestic matches now appear to be available for the Stadionul Naţional de Rugby Arcul de Triumph in the north of the Romanian capital
It will up to those who follow Dinamo to forge a new identity at the home of Romanian Rugby.
*While FCSB finished Liga I 2022-23 in third, Steaua Bucharest performed well in Liga II and contested derby matches against Dinamo Bucharest. Steaua continue to accuse the FRF, FCSB and to a lesser extent Dinamo of sabotaging its ascent back to the top tier while FCSB have labelled Steaua ‘no longer the modern professional arm’ of the Steaua brand. The latest ruling is that Steaua is ineligible for promotion to Liga I for season 2023-24 partly due to a lack of private investors. Such are the legal complexities that surround the identity of Steaua things may change.