Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Football Fever

Football fever is gripping the nation. This is because both Rapid (hooray) and Steaua (boo, hiss) have reached the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup. However, in a cruel twist of fate, the two have been drawn to play each other in the quarter final, meaning that rather than an exciting European away trip to Gelsenkirchen or St Petersburg or, errrm, Middlesboro, they don’t even get to leave Bucharest to play the tie. On the one hand this means that there will be at least one Romanian team in the semi final, so there is that advantage, but on the other it means that the excitement of European football is heavily diluted.

All the TV channels have been wall to wall football since even before the games last week in which Rapid (hooray) put out Hamburg, and Steaua (boo, hiss) put out Betis. Following the two wins, though and the subsequent quarter final draw, it has been never ending. I presume this will go on at least until the semi-finals, and should one of them actually make it to the final the networks will implode in an orgy of happiness and self-congratulation. It’s got to be rough if you don’t like football. Or possibly worse still if you support Dinamo. Basescu has been in on the act, showing up to watch a couple of the games in person, and then at the weekend inviting all the players to the Cotroceni Palace for a little get together.

Now, I have to say that the apparent interest and national feeling for Steaua baffles me. Even now, they are taking the lion’s share of the media coverage, and it seems from what I can gather that they are supported by most Romanians. Yet, when you look at their past (and even their present) it’s a wonder that they are not utterly despised by most of the country. To explain: Steaua were the team patronised by Ceausescu. They won most of the championships during his rule, got all the good players, and presumably got the benefit of a surprisingly large amount of refereeing decisions. (Romanians may be interested to learn that there are two things non-Romanian football fans know about Steaua – the European Cup win of 1984, and the whole Ceausescu/Securitate* connection). If I were Romanian I would hate Steaua passionately, and no amount of fawning media coverage would make me change my mind. Indeed, I do hate Steaua passionately, and I’m not even Romanian and didn’t know life under Ceausescu.

OK, you might be saying, Ceausescu’s dead, Steaua must be allowed to have a clean slate and be judged on their present day merits. Well, you might be right, but Steaua are now owned by today’s most repulsive man in Romania, Gigi Becali. He’s not Ceausescu, I’ll grant you, but given enough power I reckon he’d do a similar job. Why do I feel such disgust towards this man? Well he’s a fundamentalist bigot for a start (he once said that he had nothing against Jews as long as they converted to Christianity), and an egomaniac of the highest order (last year he commissioned a painting of the Last Supper with the Steaua team replacing the disciples and him in the Jesus spot). His money comes from dodgy dealings with the army (ie he buys stuff off them cheap, and sells stuff to them expensively – like a small scale Dick Cheney). He is on TV all the time, and for some reason then media seem to love him. He has openly expressed support for an extremist right wing Romanian organisation called Noua Dreapte, which is in favour of a return to the years between 1941 and 1944 when Romania was ruled by the fascist Antonescu* and his Iron Guard.

So, I, and any other neutral football fan from outside Romania, will obviously be supporting Rapid. They are the third club of Bucharest, and are so very definitely an underdog. They have a nice manager, Razvan Lucescu, who always comes across as an affable good bloke whenever I see him interviewed. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching them and willing them on as they have surprisingly beaten Feyenoord, Rennes, Shakhtar Donetsk, Hamburg and others. But above all, their hardcore fans are less obnoxious than Steaua’s, they are not owned by Gigi Becali, and it would make Nic and Elena turn over in their graves. Go Rapid!

PS One of the rumours surrounding the Ceausescu years is that after the 1984 European Cup final which Steaua won on penalties from Barcelona, the goalkeeper Ducadam refused to hand over the car that he won for being man of the match to Ceausescu’s son. In return for this act of defiance, the securitate broke his hands (obviously a big deal for a goalkeeper), and he never played top level football again. The official story is that he contracted some kind of blood disorder, and that is why he retired from the game. I have no idea which of these two stories is true, but the very fact that the first one exists and is believed by many will give you some idea of the way this country used to be run.

* Note that a number of factual errors have been pointed out to me in the comments below.


Dezso said...

Got an envy for the Romanian football scene. In Hungary I have not got excited over any teams including the NT - even when I have been watching them playing against England in the now Puskas Stadium! I have even wrote about 'hungarian soccer' recently...

I will support - virtually, though as I fortunately have no sufficient TV channel coverage - Rapid for sure!
Go, Go, Rapidamente!

Anonymous said...

The Iron Guard and their rebellion were crushed in 1941 by Antonescu, their leaders fled the country or were imprisoned. Antonescu continued to lead the government until 1944.
And to all football fans disappointed by the future Rapid vs Steaua confrontation, if Italy was Romania, Rome was Bucharest, and Lazio should play against AS Roma (or Inter Milan vs AC Milan to mention also some other teams, some other cities), would still have been such a tragedy? One could also mention London and Arsenal vs Chelsea, and so on...

Andy H said...

Thanks anon, for the history lesson. Noua Dreapte are supporters of the Iron Guard as I understand it. So, not Antonescu then. I stand corrected.

I think most football fans in other countries are as disappointed when two teams from that country are drawn together in European competition as I am with this draw. I mean Rapid play Steaua regularly, it's just not as exciting as a Rapid vs Sevilla match or similar. The media tend to love it, as they can write loads and loads about the ancient rivalry and refereence all the previous match-ups, but I think most fans would prefer to have a "true" European fixture. And particularly in the examples you cite, but not only. Still, I could be wrong.

Andy H said...

And it's disappointing and not a "tragedy". That's all.

Anonymous said...

Andy, you're barking up the wrong tree a bit with the whole Steaua/Securitate thing. It was always Dinamo who were the team favoured by the (secret) police - the clue is in the name: they are Dinamo, and like the Dynamos/Dinamos all across Europe were set up by the police after the second world war in a direct homage to Beria's bunch in Moscow. Steaua were (and are?) affiliated to the Army, which in a state with conscription means they have a legitimate claim to actual popular representative status, inasmuch as they represent something that everybody's had a share in. I guess a UK equivalent would be if more like an NHS team than The Royal Engineers. And furthermore, regardless of what was happening in smoke filled rooms in late December '89, out in the streets the firefights were between the (secret) police and the army. "Armata e cu noi" as they chanted in Bucharest on December 22nd. That sort of thing still counts for a lot.

As long as Becali is on the scene I will be hoping for a victory for the Giulesteni, but if Steaua do prevail then I won't be too upset (although I don't get subjected to Becali's odiousness like you do, so can afford to be magnanimous).

Oh, and Ducadam definitely did have some sort of blood/kidney disorder. I saw him briefly take the pitch during a tenth anniversary rematch of the '86 (not '84 - tut tut) final and he was clearly not a well man. I don't buy the whole Securitate/Mercedes story. It would be the matter of record rather than rumour by now were it true.

See you in April,


Anonymous said...


Richard beat me with the historical perspective, I concur and won't comment any further.

As for the reason Steaua enjoys the support it has: I guess it is the team with the most offensive game, and the only Romanian club to have given the Romanians the feeling of "superteam", on par with the world's greatest.

Rapid was probably the most popular team in the '70's but for the '80's teenagers (such as myself, though I was not born in Bucharest and, strictly speaking, I'm not a Steaua supporter) Steaua was one of the joys in an otherwise bleak period.
The overall feeling that Steaua is the best club in Romania subsided from that era (helped by the fact that, until this year, they were the only Romanian team that had any sort of decent presence on the international scene).

As for the present: I saw Rapid a couple of times this year on US TV,
I saw Steaua on Romanian television on the Internet, and I have to say that on a good day Steaua is still way more spectacular than Rapid. I guess it ultimately comes down to this (otherwise I actually like Razvan Lucescu and despise Becali, though the recent Steaua coaches were respectable too).

All the best.

Andy H said...

Thanks Richard. Seemes like this post was not one of my better moments, factually speaking. They were Ceausescu's team though, no? Didn't Ceausescu Jr basically run the team in the 80s?

Andy H said...

You choose to support a team because they play better football? Good god man, what kind of attitude is that? I mean it's fine for the World Cup or something, but club football needs its irrational (and in this case entirely rational) hatreds.

Choosing a team because they play attractive football is just...wrong. That way anarchy lies, my friend.

Anonymous said...

Depends what you mean by Ceausescu Jr. Valentin was running the show, yes, but he seems to have been a pretty good egg (at least comparitively speaking) - so much so that a myth grew up around him that he was adopted by Nicky & Helen. Also, he seems not to have abused his position as much as he might have done. The only real instance of them strongarming people was when they drafted Gica Hagi into the army to make sure he could play for Steaua in the 86 Super Cup against Dynamo Kiev (he scored the only goal from a free kick). The really loathsome son was the late Nicu who drank himself to death some time in the early 90s. His favoured team was Inter Sibiu as he pretty much ran the judet of Sibiu as a personal fiefdom. As for Ceausescu senior he never gave much away in terms of football allegiances, but the weasels around him made sure that his home village team (FC Scornicesti, later renamed FC Olt) enjoyed all the benefits of patronage. I think they may actually have made the UEFA cup one year. The went under almost as soon as their guardian angel did.


Anonymous said...

>You choose to support a team >because they play better football? >Good god man, what kind of attitude >is that?

It was 1979, I was 9, FC Arges - Nottigham Forest 1-2 (second NF goal Gary Birtles), UEFa cup second round. I cried and cried in front of the TV set ... well, I guess that'
s the last time I was THAT emotionally involved with football :).

Not because I grew up on BBC WS (on shortwave, in '80's Romania). Not even because I became a scientist :)). But I guess I like football 'cause it's not as much about winning as American sports.

I mean, in football you can be great for 85 minutes, fail to score and lose at the last moment. Conversely ... you can be quite lousy for 85 minutes but get lucky :)))). Try that with basketball.

I guess it's a latin thing, similar to the Romans watching gladiators.

Anonymous said...

During the 1980s, Steaua and Dinamo had access to all players. They could blackmail young good players with conscription -- players would be conscripted, or they could do their military service as playing for either of them. Most of the players accepted without any protests -- playing for them meant fame and fortune.

And not only that, but there were lots of fixed games and unfair referee rulings. There were fixed games which ended with very large scores, so their players would win the golden boot. (Romanian teams won it four times :-)

In the meantime, Rapid spent a decade in the second division and their supporters chanted: "Galeria lui Rapid / Nu e membră de partid".(Rapids' supporters / Are not party members) :-)


Andy C said...

Hi Andy H
I think you might have written a bit of this wrong im sure you meant to say HOORAY for STEAUA and a very BIG BOO for that team from GUILESTI.
I have only just started reading your blogs but i will continue
Keep up the good work

Andy C