Next morning it is match-day, so after breakfast and a spot of writing, I head back into the centre of town. It’s baking hot. I’m looking for the Opera Plaza hotel, where the tickets will be distributed. A few minutes out from there I meet the first Celtic supporters, one young guy greeting me with, ‘are you here on your own again?’
I know him but can’t immediately place him, something that really bothers me as I get older. As we queue in the hotel foyer, I suddenly remember that he was the lad in the new away kit in the café in Sarajevo, next to the Pope John Paul II statue and cathedral.
I also meet the aforementioned Iain Hynds from the Milngavie travel agency who have been taking Celtic fans abroad since the early days of his father, Harry. We have a quick chat about possible trips. Small world.
Having picked up my brief, I bump into @paulthetim then Samthebrit. Sam is actually John and we go back a long way. His son was at school with my older boy a lifetime ago, then his daughter met up with my nephew and they now have a lovely son together. The name is a wind-up as John is one of the most dedicated supporters you will find, and like Paul, he travels everywhere to follow Celtic.
I head into the old town for some food, via a pint of Guinness in Klausen. I get a message from Lubeck Joe, who has been busy visiting Dracula’s Castle and generally taking in the sights but is now planning a few beers in the centre. I met Joe in St Gallen, sitting at a table with Pedro the Belgian, Bob from Portsmouth and Steven from Coatbridge, a sitcom in the making if ever there was one.
O’Peters has now spilled out onto the street and is literally bouncing, so I grab a table at a little place nearby for some pasta and the obligatory beer. I do eventually attempt the assault course which is the Irish pub, perched at the end of a table looking on as the first Cluj fans join the party. There are banners everywhere and from everywhere, the Romanian flag flying beside those of Carfin and East Kilbride. Bemused locals squeeze through the madness. It is noisy but good-natured fun, as always.
It’s after 6pm, less than three hours until kick-off, so I decide to start heading towards the stadium. The fan walk was going to arrive a bit too early so I’ve worked out the route and I reckon there are a couple of decent stopping points.
Whilst waiting to cross the road in the main square, I get talking to a couple of lads in Hoops. Like me, they have had enough of the madness and are looking for a quiet pint so I leave them exploring options. Having walked through the square to take a couple of photos of the main cathedral, statues etc., I hear the distinct sound of Gerry Marsden coming from one of the cafes on the periphery.
It’s your duty. You have to go in. No surprise to find the two bold chaps from earlier enjoying a beer and some Celtic songs. We get chatting. They are Mark and Brian from Tollcross. Brian recognises my name and is very complimentary about the Sarajevo article, which I really appreciate.
There’s a laugh as the music changes from the good stuff to a weird combination of Jimmy Stand v Runrig. That’s soon voted off and normal service is resumed. There’s also a ‘pure Glasgow’ moment as the lads see a friendly face. He emerges directly from the gents toilet to offer a handshake with the immortal greeting, ‘my hand’s wet but it’s ok, it’s no pee!’ We get The Celtic Star photo sorted than I take my leave. The best part of these trips is the great people you meet.
The walk to the ground is straightforward if a bit hilly. Soon I am the lone Celt in the crowd as the stadium draws near but the Cluj fans seem a friendly lot. Some smiles and curious glances but no hassle whatsoever. Owen had said in O’Peters that we would be welcomed as friends to their city. I have inadvertently walked in at the wrong end and am directed around the back of the stands to the visiting section. From the outside the ground looks old, graffiti-clad. For once, I have arrived in good time and walk through after the most intimate body search I have ever enjoyed…I mean endured.
Taking my seat in the stand, I find myself sitting immediately behind John/Sam. Like a couple of naughty schoolboys, we decide to wind up my nephew, sending him a photo of us both with the message, ‘real Bhoys are in Cluj, not Spain’, where he is enjoying a family holiday. Marc is Celtic-daft and so I’ll pay for that later no doubt, next time I need a homer or another favour.
The stadium is a bit unusual. We are in a section behind the goal but to the right towards the corner of that end. It’s part of a larger ‘Tynecastle-like’ structure, with the home support on the other side of the fence. To our right is a similar stand, which is packed to the rafters, including a few wearing Hoops. Many of the Cluj fans are banging those things together which make a loud racket, like you see at athletics meetings On the left-hand touchline is what appears to have been the original main stand and behind the opposite goal is just a fence, a la Hamilton’s New Douglas Park.
A look at CFR Cluj’s history goes some way to explaining the old and new sections of the ground. It is only recently that the club formed in 1907 as the Kolozsvár Railway Sports Club, has operated at the top level both domestically and internationally.
When Transylvania fell under Romania after the First World War, the club changed its name to CFR Cluj, CFR being the acronym for the state railway. The club has spent the vast majority of the time since then bouncing between the lower leagues and it was only eleven years ago that they won their first national title, taking the championship outside of Bucharest and its trio of Steaua, Rapid and Dinamo for the first time since 1991.
CFR Cluj have won a further four Ligue 1 titles (including the last two) and four national cups since then, reaching the Group Stage of the Champions League three times and enjoying victories over Roma, Basel, Sporting Braga and Manchester United. They are currently managed by former Steaua and Chelsea defender, Dan Petrescu, and this year they have already eliminated seeded clubs, Astana and Maccabi Tel Aviv.
There are maybe 400/500 Celtic fans in the ground as the teams emerge and Celtic start well for me, on the attack more than hands been normal over the years. It’s actually from a Hoops attack that the first goal arrives, a lightning breakaway ending with a shot which arrows between Scott Bain’s legs to give the hosts a largely-undeserved lead. However, as in Sarajevo, Celtic hit back shortly afterwards as James Forrest scores an excellent equaliser in off the post at the far end. There’s no further score as the half-time whistle sounds but most fans around me are happy with what they have seen so far.
The second half followed a similar pattern, Celtic looking dangerous going forward but Cluj keen to seek and exploit openings whenever possible, particularly down our left. There were chances at both ends before the referee ended proceedings for the night in the 95th minute.
After the obligatory 15-minute wait behind, we were released onto the streets for the long walk home. For once though, the talk was not about the game. As we entered the final stages of the match, John/Sam turned around to advise me Sky were announcing that Kieran Tierney was signing for Arsenal. Whilst not entirely unexpected, as the end of the English window approached, I was hoping that the move wouldn’t materialise.
This time around anyway. Word spread and the mood of the visiting support visibly changed. Very much subdued. A sad end to what had been a decent performance and result.
Plenty to think about as we trudged back into the city. I decided that I was not in the mood to head into town for a beer so continued on my less-than-merry way, past O’Peters and the Street Food joint. It was well after midnight before I arrived back at the sanctuary of my hotel. Home tomorrow.
Read Part 1, We’re all off to Transylvania in the green, in the green, Part 1, Love Island… HERE.
And Part 2, We’re all off to Transylvania in the green, in the green, Part 2, ‘Match the Fine for Palestine’ HERE.
Follow Matt on Twitter @Boola_vogue