So, game three of this seasons Champions League saw us making the trip into Eastern Europe and to Romania. Otelul Galati’s stadium was deemed unfit by UEFA meaning the debut in the Champions League of the reigning Romanian Champions had to be played over 140 miles away in Bucharest. There was little known of Galati before this season so whilst this trip was never going to be a game against one of the European superpowers it was not a trip United could afford to take lightly…especially given our somewhat insipid start to this seasons European adventure.
Romania having been once a Communist country, it was fairly safe to say that our expectations of what lay ahead in Bucharest were fairly low. But as our plane came in to land in a crisp morning sun we noted the size and quality of some of the estates caressing the runway, even more so the number of swimming pools attached to these mansions…it was more Alderley Edge than Eastern European ghettos! We landed into Bucharest’s Baneasa airport to find a quite small and basic set up, to move on to the waiting coaches, under the watchful eye of the Romanian gendarmerie. To give credit where it is due though, the Romanian riot police had a seemingly great attitude towards the travelling Red Army, in that they were prepared to stand guard giving a presence as opposed to some of the other (and so called better equipped) European countries when their riot police are just thugs in armour looking for trouble.
We made our way into the Old Town of Bucharest to find it was a nice city, not grim like we’d expected but clean, vibrant and quite friendly. Most of the locals we encountered were happy for the presence of tourists. Although some bar staff there could do with raising a smile now and again! We sat about in the sun to enjoy a few pre game beers, a plan which saw us happen upon a bar where one of the specialities was ‘A Metre of Beer’ which was exactly as it sounds! A metre stick crammed with as many glasses of beer that you could fit onto it, which turns out was eleven and all for the low, low price of around £9! Great! That was another plus point for Bucharest, the cost. It actually drove one of our group to proclaim he was moving there for the low prices of beer and the fact he could smoke inside!!
We tracked down the rest of the travelling Reds later in the afternoon and enjoyed a sing and a few beers in the street outside of a bar. Again the Romanian bar owners making everyone welcome by playing United songs plus a few Stone Roses tracks for good measure. The gendarmerie were again present but willing to stand back and allow the United fans to enjoy themselves without trouble. We left in the early evening for a meal where we experienced some traditional Romanian hospitality which whilst great involved some quite strong local spirit in each course…and with that we delicately set out for the game.
Bucharest’s national stadium is a sight to behold. The scoreboard suspended in a spider web like construction hung above the pitch from a great height, and with plenty of open space in the councourses you wonder why in England we seem convinced that stadia have to be built in structures completely walled in. The game comes and goes with United taking a 2-0 win thanks to two penalties from Wayne Rooney. It was far from a performance that will convince anyone that United will repeat last season’s appearance at Wembley with a showing in Munich in May but it is very much three points needed and that is all that mattered tonight. We depart the stadium and it’s off into the night and back to the airport. The three hour flight home spent grabbing as much sleep as you can manage squashed into the rather tiny plane seat and by the time we land back into Manchester, tired and exhausted, we account that we had been up and out for twenty five hours at that point. A few hours sleep and our focus will be on the Manchester derby and our massives from Stockport…game on!