A Sudden Rezoning
Many of soccer’s ongoing, chronic, and increasingly eternal problems, in their abstract, revolve around a simple theme: fairness for the little guy. Leagues that become ever more top-heavy and make it ever more difficult for the have-nots between one given tier of eliteness and another to break through into the next. Slaves being used to build stadiums for the World Cup. Impoverished neighborhoods being razed to make way for those stadiums. Players going unpaid, or threatening to go unpaid, in situations the world over, be it Parma in Italy or Elche in Spain or Torpedo Moscow in Russia or Newcastle Jets in Australia or AFC Leopards in Kenya or the Ghana national team, to name six examples from this year alone. Longtime fans of top teams in their area increasingly feeling priced out of the stadium.
It’s not always quite so existential, but when you’re the little guy in question, it’s always serious business.
If you were paying attention in the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League, you might remember the name Otelul Galati. In quite the shock result, Otelul- located, naturally, in Galati, near the trinational border with Moldova and Ukraine- had won their first and to date only title in Romania’s Liga I after having finished 8th the previous year. In fact, the 2011 title was Otelul’s only-ever appearance in Romania’s top three. The miracle result landed the Steelworkers directly into the Champions League group stage, where they were drawn with Manchester United, Benfica and SC Basel, causing fanbases of all three teams to go look up who the hell is this team with the hacking cough sound for a name they now have to go to Romania and play. All three promptly dispatched Otelul home and away; Otelul joined Dinamo Zagreb and Villareal in leaving that year’s group stage without a single point.
Meanwhile, the Steelworkers went 6th in the league, followed by 11th the next year, 10th after that, and last season they placed 17th in a field of 18, resulting in relegation.
They went through four managerial changes. Which would be notable if two other clubs hadn’t also handed out four pink slips as well, with six additional clubs issuing three apiece. Only 8th-place Botosani ended last season’s Liga I proceedings having kept the same manager they started with.
As Otelul Galati began adjusting to life in Liga II last week, the little guy turned up. Or rather, little lady.
In the heady days of 2011, Otelul decided it would be a good time to spruce up their facilities, and redeveloped some land to build a training ground. The problem is, there’s a local woman by the name of Cristina Valmas, who owns about a quarter of that land, and has stated that when Otelul made the decision to renovate, nobody contacted her about the plans or asked permission; they just went ahead and built.
Who Ate All The Pies is the only English-language site I can find on this; all the others are written in Romanian, which I don’t speak, and the translations Google is giving me seem suspect. But to the best that I can gather from here, here and here, it seems that Valmas had a claim dating back to 1991 on the land, but for whatever reason, things got bogged down so badly that a local shipyard took control of it instead in 2006, triggering Valmas’ initial legal proceedings. The shipyard sold the land to Otelul in 2011 so they could build the training ground, which meant Valmas was now suing Otelul for the land instead of the shipyard. In 2013, Valmas won the land in court, but she and the club wrangled in negotiations for two more years. Those negotiations, however, failed, and so on July 17th, Valmas showed up at the training ground with the appropriate legal types, along with a construction crew.
The legal types- some police, a bailiff, her lawyer- were there to oversee enforcement. The construction crew was there to define the boundaries of Valmas’ land, which is best seen here:
Concrete was poured and a fence constructed while Otelul was attempting to practice. Valmas went on to state through her lawyer that soccer could be played on the ground… by the general public. Not by Otelul, but at this juncture, the pitch is effectively ruined by the concrete even if they were to reclaim the pitch at some point. There have been no updates on the story since the 17th, which may mean this is just how things are going to be now for Otelul, whose fight to get promoted back to Liga 1 just got a lot more obnoxious.
It’s not like the Champions League is coming around again to give them another windfall anytime soon.