The newspapers love it when the FA Cup brings together an unusual club with a renowned cup-fighter from a higher level. And there’s none more unusual than FC Romania from the Essex Senior League who, in their first year in the competition, played host to Sutton United from the Conference South.
It was a second qualifying round tie that received its fair share of publicity. Even the cab company that took Game of the People to Theobalds Lane, FC Romania’s rented home from landlords Cheshunt FC, knew of the game. “We’ve taken a few people down there this afternoon, what’s going on?,” said the friendly radio operator at Station Cars.
Curiosity got the better of quite a few people, and little wonder. FC Romania are a bunch of players from the old country who, after moving to Britain, wanted to carry on playing football. Although they play in Hertfordshire, they are in the Essex Senior and this season, are trouncing everyone they meet. On the evidence of their spirited display against Sutton, it is clear that the quality of FC Romania’s players is far better than the level they are currently playing. They play good, highly technical football with just a hint of aggression. And they are backed by noisy supporters who wave flags, chant songs (love the megaphone!) and really get behind their players.
This would be their fifth tie of the competition, having beaten Haverhill Rovers in the extra preliminary round after a replay by 3-0, Heybridge Swifts (2-1) and AFC Sudbury (3-1).
But a cup-tie of this magnitude was completely alien to FC Romania. Somebody must have told them that they need a lot of security, for there were bag searches, men-in-black everywhere and cordoned off areas in front of the entrance of Cheshunt’s stadium. For a non-league game?
Bizarrely, once inside, the airwaves were filled with the sound of John Adams, FC Romania’s adopted Englishman who acts as club secretary. Actually, he was providing a mild cabaret show for the crowd as he talked extensively about his love of FC Romania, their love of him and the importance a magic of the FA Cup. Whether you appreciated the performance or not, there could be no doubting Mr Adams passion for the club (he’s had a crazy, speculative bet they will win the competition over the next few years!) and, impressively, he could speak the odd word of Romanian, never an easy language to master. He urged the players on for the entire 90 minutes.
Sutton United are something of a classy club, all crested blazers and decorum. They also know a bit about the FA Cup – who can forget the 1988-89 season and that memorable win against top flight Coventry City at Gander Green Lane?
While FC Romania have won all their league games this season, Sutton have not really hit their stride, losing three of their nine fixtures, the most recent a 0-3 drubbing at Ebbsfleet. But they are no strangers to FA Cup runs to the first round and last season they reached that stage before losing to Kidderminster Harriers.
Their squad has seen a lot of new faces this season and there’s plenty of experience in men like Craig Dundas, Dale Binns and goalkeeper Alan Julian.
Sutton put their hosts under early pressure, but FC Romania’s defence looked very composed, especially the towering Vilcu, who was a commanding figure in central defence. In the 18th minute, however, Cristi Iacob brought down Dundas in the area and Glen Southam stroked home the penalty kick to give Sutton the lead.
FC Romania continued to play some good football – I liked Cornea, who stroked the ball around as if he owned it – although they failed to trouble Julian. In the 38th minute, Sutton netted a second goal, again from the penalty spot, There was a touch of déjà vu about the goal, Dundas upended by Iacob again and Southam scoring his second from the spot. Two minutes later, Sutton grabbed a superb third, Michael Spillane firing into the top corner after Dundas and Kuffour had tried to weave their way through and the ball ran loose. Surely, it was game over for the plucky Romanians? But think again, they are not called “the wolves” for nothing.
Bugiu, who looked lively and skilful throughout, went close in the opening minutes of the second half. He did well to control the ball and then attempt an overhead kick that went over the Sutton bar. The home side and their noisy following were given some hope for a comeback in the 50th minute when Tincu set up Ilie Vasile and his low shot seemed to deceive Julian as it found the net. With 10 minutes remaining, the game came alive again as the determined Romanians scored again to set-up a tense finish. Once more it was Vasile who did the damage, shooting low into the net after slipping past the Sutton defence.
Despite some late pressure from the home team, Sutton drew on their experience to ensure Julian’s goal remained intact in the closing seconds. FC Romania left the field to a standing ovation after what was an excellent cup-tie.
Thanks to John Adams’ help, I was fortunate enough to speak with Ion Vintila, the unassuming FC Romania manager, after the game. “I am so very proud of my team,” he insisted. “There was a big gap between the two teams, but we played well and showed great character in coming back from 0-3 down at half-time. In the end, we were disappointed, but we can be proud.” He was 100% accurate with his assessment.
I had an idea as I travelled back from the game: FC Romania could take on an ambassadorial role for Romania in Britain. Their compatriots don’t get the best press, as they say. The football team could act as a real positive force for Romanians. They surely won a few friends with their FA Cup exploits this season…
Game of the People would like to wish FC Romania every success for the remainder of 2014-15!