Friday 6th May 2016 ko 20.30
Liga 1 Play-off
DINAMO BUCURESTI 3 (Gnohere 7 49p Rotariu 55)
FC VIITORUL CONSTANTA 3 (Marin 10 Tanase 34 Matan 84p)
For the inaugural Bucharest Groundhop organiser Andrei Otineanu had decided on a mixture of lower league and top flight games and I must admit I was greatly looking forward to visting Dinamo Bucharest, if only to see another eastern European bowl albeit with the distinction of being dug out of its situation rather than the stands being built up as normal. The Dinamo Stadium is nicknamed “Groapa” or “The Hole” which does seem rather apposite!
The club was formed in 1948 from a merger of Unirea Tricolor Bucuresti and Ciocanul Bucuresti, the latter having roots in the Jewish Maccabi Bucuresti club. The new club was formed very much along communist lines as the sports club of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. They moved to their current ground in 1951.
Always fierce rivals with Steaua, although ultimately slightly less successful than their neighbours, the club has always played in the top flight of Romanian football. This game was an end of season play-off league game for the title, and European spots. In Romanian football the top sides enter play-offs while the bottom clubs enter play-outs.
But this game, as exciting as it was, will only ever be remembered for what happened with 20 minutes left. Dinamo had introduced Cameroonian holding midfielder Patrick Ekeng in the 63rd minute to protect a one-goal lead. But in the 70th minute he collapsed in the centre circle. I immediately thought he’d been the victim of an off-the-ball incident and when he was put in the recovery position, and within 3 minutes was being taken away in an ambulance I assumed he’d swallowed his tongue and so would be taken to hospital as a precaution. The fact that the game was played to a conclusion served only to reinforce my view.
At the final whistle the players rather half-heartedly applauded their fans, but then they’d only finished 4th, but the whole timbre of the occasion changed when fans started calling players over to tell them what had happened, and that even with the benefit of two weeks’ reflection isn’t entirely clear.
Ekeng had collapsed due to a heart attack, and whilst the ambulance did get to him quickly that was despite the gate to the pitch being locked. The club doctor claimed to have given the player heart massage, but TV footage clearly shows him doing little more than checking his airways were clear. The ambulance had no great distance to travel, Floreasca Hospital is at the right hand corner of the stadium. But shockingly the firm, “Puls” that provides all medical “expertise” to Dinamo and supplied the ambulance did so with a defibrillator with expired batteries, and hopelessly out-of-date medical stocks.
He was rushed to hospital, and as we left the stadium social media was agog with rumour, and already a vigil was being mounted outside the hospital. We returned to our hotel in a state of shock, and found out the dreadful news that Patrick Ekeng had died around midnight, around 2 hours after his collapse.
But did Ekeng ever stand a chance? His situation evokes that of Fabrice Muamba who received 14 shocks on the pitch at Tottenham Hotspur whilst poor tragic Patrick Ekeng received none. It is possible that even with the best medical attention Ekeng could have still died, but what is completely unacceptable is that basic equipment was either faulty or missing and that people in authority lacked any knowledge. Unbelievably match delegate Marcel Vasile commented that he didn’t even know what a defibrillator is!
Puls, the ambulance provider have been fined and had their licence suspended, but you could gain some solace if you felt that Romanian football would learn from this tragedy. But in 2000 the Dinamo captain, Cătălin Hîldan, collapsed and died of a heart attack on the pitch during a game against FC Oltenița. The upshot of that was that Romanian football was told to bring its house in order, but in 2012 Henry Chinonso Ihelewere, died of a heart attack during a game between his side CS Delta Tulcea and FC Balotesti. What will it take for action to be taken?
We returned to the stadium on Sunday after our final game to pay our respects. The photos say nearly all that needs to be said, but seeing players and tributes from clubs who would normally be the bitterest of rivals I found the most touching. When tragedy strikes you often see the very best of Football. Whether that sense of fraternity will extend to meaningful change is open to debate however.
Tributes to Patrick Ekeng
Dedicated to the memory of Patrick Claude Ekeng Ekeng. Rest In Peace.