Giulești Stadium, Bucharest.
Giulești Stadium, Bucharest.

Rapid Bucharest: the challenge to power of Grivița’s railwaymen

A railwaymen team in a long-term conflict with power

The Grivița railway workshops are located on Calea Griviței: the avenue runs along the tracks that run north-west of Bucharest from the Gara de Nord, the main railway station of the Romanian capital. Founded in 1897, in the communist era they will earn the name of Grivița Roșie, “Red Grivița”, in honor of the strikes of the railway workers of early 1933.

The protest for better working conditions, in a country strongly hit by Great Depression, clashed with King Carol II government, and on 15th February after the arrest of some movement leaders, among them the future communist leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, 4,000 workers started a strike and occupied the factories. The day after, the army surrounded the workshops and, after the workers refused to surrender, opened fire killing seven of the protesters.

A cherry-colored jersey

The story of Grivița’s strike testifies to the mobilization and organization skills of the Bucharest railway factories’ workers. Nonetheless, maybe the biggest heritage that Calea Griviței‘s workshops have left to Romania is a cherry-colored jersey with a legendary history. It’s June 1923, ten years before the strike, when five workers decide to create a football team, putting pen to paper in a Griviţa’s primary school. That’s how CFR Bucharest was born, taking its name from Romanian railways, Căile Ferate Române. But the name with which the club will enter the legend will be another: Rapid Bucharest. The name change will happen in 1936, complementary to Rapid Vienna. In the same year three great strikers will join the team: Ștefan Auer (also known as István Avar), Ion Bogdan and, above all, Gyula Barátky. The “Blonde miracle” had worn both Hungary and Romania jerseys, and in spite of some drinking problems he will live a second youth in Rapid’s team.

An awkward semi

Rapid became king of the Roumanian Cup, from 1937 to 1942 it won six consecutives trophies. The most memorable is the edition of 1938, not because of what happened on the pitch, but for what was around it during the semi against Venus Bucharest, the team of police prefect Gabriel Marinescu. The match was decided by a Barátky’s late goal in the extra time, but Marinescu didn’t accept it: after the railwaymen had celebrated the victory at Luther’s restaurant, close to Gara de Nord, the police arrested Barátky, Auer, Cossini and Raffinsky, Rapid’s “magic box”, with no reason.

Marinescu was too powerful in that moment to go against him (he was also vice president of Romanian Football Federation), and the day after a letter appeared on Gazeta Sporturilor in which the prefect disputed the result of the match, writing that Barátky’s goal was to be canceled for offside. Rapid’s managers had to bend over and ask by themselves a rematch, in exchange for the liberation of the four players. The rematch was to be played on 21st of May. After the liberation Barátky and Auer promised to score two goals each as revenge for the arrest. And that’s what actually happened: Rapid ended the first half leading 4-1, and the final result was 4-2 for the railwaymen.

In front of such a clear victory Marinescu couldn’t protest anymore, but he nonetheless did a grotesque request: become an honorary president of Rapid. He made it, but not for long because his end was near. As a police prefect he was a persecutor of legionary and para-fascist Gardă de Fier (“Iron Guard”), having arrested its leader and ideologist Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, some months after the semi. When in 1940 legionaries and Marshal Ion Antonescu staged a coup forcing King Carol II to abdicate, Marinescu was quickly arrested in Timișoara while he was trying to leave the country, put in Jilava prison and executed in november 1940.

“Vote for the Sun”

The relation between Rapid and power will not be over with this episode, but it will change radically with the instauration of communism and the following nationalization of football. The railwaymen team will be one of the more docile to accept the sindacalizarea (“unionization”) process, and during the electoral campaign of 1946, as the liberal press reported, Rapid played some match with a sun (symbol of the coalition in which Communist Party was a candidate) and the writing Votați Soarele, “Vote for the Sun”. In the following years they could also enjoy the protection of the most powerful man of the country, the Communist Party Secretariat Head Gheorgh Gheorghiu-Dej, linked to Grivița’s workshops since his arrest in 1933.

In spite of these beneficial relationships, Rapid became a sort of “third team” of Bucharest, remaining in the shadow of Roumanian Army’s Steaua and Securitate‘s Dinamo. A situation that may have rekindled a vein of dissidence in the railwaymen’s club fans. A vein documented by various anti-regime slogans sung over the years by the Rapid supporters. When Olt of Scornicești, Nicolae Ceauşescu’s native town, will arrive in second division and will face Rapid after its relegation, winning 1-0, it will ironically be celebrated by Rapid fans with the choir Cine v-a băgat în B? Ceaușescu PCR! (“Who brought you in 2nd? Ceaușescu and the Communist Party!”). And the legend says that the chore Ole, ole, ole, Ceaușescu nu mai e (“Olè, olè, olè, Ceaușescu is no more”), soundtrack of 1989 revolution, was actually born by a Rapid fans’ song.

Thinking points

The history of Rapid Bucharest makes us reflect about the relationship between football and power, how it changes during time and how the fame of being connected to or against it is built and sometimes created by legendary or historical facts.

Have you ever thought about the relations between the different powers that ruled your country and football teams? Do you know if your favorite team has some history to share about this issue?

Find out more

This is an adaptation and translation from this longer article: Rapid Bucarest: la sfida al potere dei ferrovieri di Grivița, by Damiano Benzoni. Here is the official club’s site, with its history page. For only-English readers there is this article by Futbolgrad site, but also wikipedia page about Rapid’s history is actually quite deepened.

This story was translated and adapted by Enrico Cavalieri, FMH Editor.

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Giulești Stadium, Bucharest.
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