Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rapid (Bucharest) won the Cup and, depending on point of view, this victory could be seen as a sign of improvement, or as a sign of decay.

Rapid, founded in 1923, ranked – roughly speaking - third in Bucharest. It was workers club – as many clubs, not only in Eastern Europe, railroad workers organized it and the ties remained. The ‘working class’ roots preserved the club from destruction when the Communists took power, but not as a leading club. It was the typical story: popular clubs , with strong workers support, were not favoured by and even were suspect to the new rulers, who quickly created their own ‘real working class clubs’ – Steaua (representing the army) and Dynamo (representing the Police) both appeared in 1947. Among the two the real football strength laid, and Rapid was dwarfed. As a result, Rapid fans cultivated the myth of persecution from – and opposition to – the state. And, like everywhere in East Europe, it was difficult to untangle real suppression from imagined one – surely Rapid were not favoured and their record during the whole Communist period is akin to the records of Slavia (Prague) and Slavia (Sofia): they were Romanian champions only once (in 1967), won the Cup in 1972, and now in 1975, but it was the last trophy until the fall of Communism. Although the fans saw Steaua and Dynamo as the arch-enemies, the club was really on the second-tier level with Sportul Studencesc and Progresul – and Progresul was even more successful than Rapid. But that is in terms of football in Bucharest – on national scale Rapid was not exactly seen as a victim, for they had enough clout to loot provincial players if Steaua and Dynamo were not interested in such players, of course. Rapid also provided quite regularly good players for the national team, but after the end of the 1960s – not so often. The Cup winning squad still had good old horses, like Alexandru Neagu and promising youngsters, like Nicolae Manea, but… the club was already on slippery slope: the old players were retiring and the youngsters were not on the same level. 1975 was followed by steady decline and eventual relegation.