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Sunday 27th September 2015 ko 21.00

Liga I

STEAUA BUCURESTI 3 (Hamroun 8 Chipcui 44 Stanciu 66p)

FC VOLUNTARI 1 (Goosens 69p)

Att 3,362

Entry (VIP 1) 100 lei (c£16.72) cheapest ticket 12 lei

No Programme

League magazine- FREE

Our taxi driver back to the airport summed the position up well,

“I’m a fan,” he said, “But I’m not watching while that man’s in charge.”

That explained why there was less than 3,500 in the frankly palatial surroundings of the Arena Nationala, in Bucharest, and when the stadium holds 55,634 the place felt empty even down to only one ticket booth being open. But how it ended up this way is quite a story.

To give the club its full name, Clubul Sportiv al Armatei Steaua Bucuresti or translate Army Sports Club of Steaua Bucharest, were formed in 1947 and were run under Communist rule by the Ministry of Defence as the team of the army. There were 7 sections for sports such as Athletics, Boxing and Weightlifting, but the football section rapidly became the most well-known.

The football section was almost immediately involved in controversy as the club were parachuted into the top league by means of another club, Carmen Buceresti being forcibly disbanded by thr communist authorities! Carmen’s demise came about in no small part for their failure to lose to to Dinamo Tibilsi (then USSR, now Georgian) in a friendly a few weeks earlier that was widely seen as a a propaganda match.

During the 1980’s the club were Ceaucescu’s favourites, with the club’s army links being used to offer other clubs’ nominally amateur players inducements to join, such as the avoidance of conscription for example; the likes of Georghe Hagi and Georghe Popescu seeming transferred without either the player or ceding club’s consent!

Possibly as a result of this, Steaua have never played outside of the Romanian top flight, and unquestionably their finest hour was winning the 1986 European Cup Final beating Barcelona on penalties after a 0-0 draw in Seville.

The club has had problems since the fall of Communism and despite domestic dominance have failed to make any great forays on the international stage. The football club was separated from the rest of the society in 1998, but signed a 49 year lease to continue playing at the Army’s stadium, the Stadionul Ghencea, in the heart of the Steaua sports club’s complex. However further controversy was to hit the club. The move away from the Steaua Army Society may have kept UEFA rule-makers happy but in 2003 Bucharest politician and businessman George Becali bought a majority stake in the football club.

To describe Becali as a colourful character would be something of an understatement. A multi-millionaire though property deals in Bucharest with the Army that seemed to favour Becali far more than the military, he has been accused of running the football club in a highly authoritarian fashion.

Even his ownership of Steaua makes eyebrows raise.  In 2005, his fortune was impounded by the National Fiscal Authority (ANAF) for Steaua’s tax debts of $11 milion. However, Becali manged to successfully sue ANAF and the seizure was lifted. He was then able to avoid paying the taxes by transferring the assets of Steaua to a newly formed company, AFC Steaua Bucureşti, allowing the old association to go bankrupt. Officially Becali detains no official link to the club, as he gradually renounced his shares in favour of his nephews.

With that in mind, the Army grew tired of their name being dragged through the mire, so they sued in December 2014 to claim only they were able to use the name and logo of Steaua, and when the courts found in their favour, the club were forced to redesign their badge to the eight-pointed star of today. They played for around a month under the name “FCSB” until they came to an arrangement with the army to revert to using the Steaua name. Nevertheless the rent was raised sufficiently at the Stadionul Ghencea for Becali (or his nephews) to shift all home games in March this year, to the Arena Nationale where the club were already playing all their European games.

So what was it like paying the place a visit? I found it odd to put it mildly, after games in the far more down-to-earth 4th division. Its easy enough to get to, just take the 90 trolleybus from Universitate which terminates at the stadium. The only issues we had was that all public transport seems to stop at 11pm so we ended up taking a taxi back to our hotel at Piata Romana. That should be approached with a little caution, check the price per km (usually 1.39 lei) on the door of the cab and do check the driver’s photo on the dashboard. We saw no problems, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist!

The other issue was that the ticket booths at the buses’ terminus were closed, you need to walk round to Strada Maior Ion Coravu, you’ll see the ground of 4th division outfit Electroaparataj close by. There are a wide range of ticket prices from 12 to 100 lei, and is must be said that our £16 bought us cinema seats and a fantastic view, but little else.

It was odd seeing Steaua play in front of no home Ultras, in fact it seemed that save for the Voluntari (who share at Dinamo Bucharest) fans, the vast majority of the patrons seemed to be sat in a “Premium” seat, with the lack of atmosphere to match! There was a lot of leather on display, a status symbol here, but little in the way of home passion.

On the pitch Steaua were able to dispatch a frankly poor Voluntari side with the minimum of fuss. The low crowd had one silver lining as during the second half a massive thunderstorm caused the retractable roof to leak, sending fans in all areas to scurry for a dry seat!  But the sting in the tale for the visitors was the news that Becali is now threatening to divest himself of Steaua and purchase another club who in his eyes at least, needs him more. And one of the clubs mentioned is Voluntari which might explain their fans’ banner, which roughly translated says,

“Football roots are planted deeply in Romania, and that is why it hurts us more!”

But as I write this the Bucharest media are now reporting that Becali is now wanting to rent back the Stadionul Ghencea, but without the main stand, while the liquidators are hovvering around a poultry firm in his name! Life certainly isn’t dull if you’re a football fan in Romania, but that was a common theme across all the games we saw!

It would be remiss of me to not to thank two gentlemen who without whose help this weekend would not have been possible. So thanks to Andrei Otineanu and Florin Alboiu and see you both soon.