28 January 1990: a friendly match at Olympique Marseille. The pre-match picture shows something unfamiliar: a national team with a sponsor’s name across the front of their shirts. Stranger still, this is the national team of an Eastern Bloc country. Something is changing…
Brief résumé: Romania have qualified for a World Cup for the first time since 1970, by beating Denmark. One of their best players has defected. Oh, and there’s been a revolution which has deposed the dictator after a 22-year reign, so the country is on the road to freedom, democracy, unregulated privatisation, rampant consumerism, etc.
A STRANGE WINTER
Romania’s first match since the fall of Ceausescu the previous month is in aid of Romanian children (or victims of the revolution, depending on your source). The shirt sponsor, Onet, is a Marseille-based company. This is a formidable OM side including Jean Tigana, Didier Deschamps and Enzo Francescoli, captained by Jean-Pierre Papin, and owned by the controversial businessman Bernard Tapie. A thunderbastard from Philippe Vercruysse gives the hosts an early lead, and in the second half Carlos Mozer heads in a pinpoint corner from Chris Waddle to make it 2-0. Ştefan Iovan’s low shot from a free-kick pulls one back for the visitors, and the game finishes 2-1. The highlights are here. As for the money raised, it allegedly ends up in the bank account of an associate of Tapie’s. But please, let’s not entertain the suggestion that the men who would manipulate the sport in Romania for their own ends over the coming years learned anything from this man’s way of running a football club. (I like to imagine that Tapie holds a seminar in the OM boardroom the following afternoon, entitled “Football as a Tool for Personal Gain”, attended by all the agents, ne’er-do-wells and hangers-on who were just beginning to buzz around the Romanian national team camp and would wield great power during the 1990s and 2000s.)
On the same day, Steaua are playing a friendly with Red Star* at the Marakana in Belgrade. Miodrag Belodedici, the ethnic Serb from the far west of Romania, who was part of Steaua’s European Cup-winning side in 1986, is playing one of his first games for Red Star. His one-year FIFA ban (for breaking his contract with Steaua, having defected the previous winter) has only recently expired. The Romanians, fielding a weakened side because so many of their best players are in Marseille, are no match for the Yugoslavs – Belodedici, Robert Prosinečki, Darko Pančev, Dragan Stojković and company – many of whom will go on to win the European Cup against Marseille in 1991. Red Star win the match 4-1. Someone has put onto YouTube a watchable highlights package of the game, featuring Stojković only. Niche.
Also on the same day, back in Bucharest, several newly-founded, or re-founded, opposition parties have organised a demonstration in Piața Victoriei, outside the new government’s headquarters. The protest is a reaction to the announcement by the interim government, the National Salvation Front, that it will turn itself into a political party and stand in the elections which it will itself be organising. The building is attacked by protesters. The following day, several thousand miners from the Jiu Valley in the west of the country come into the capital on buses, apparently with instructions to disperse the protesters and re-impose order. There is violent confrontation between the two sides, and the headquarters of the opposition parties are besieged. This event will become known as the First Mineriad: there are more to come before the year is out. Watch this TV clip (with explanatory commentary in Romanian) to see what it looked like.
The Romanians are on tour, but the rest of the matches produce little joy for the national team on the pitch: a 3-0 defeat against Pisa of Serie B, a goalless draw with Algeria (4 Feb), and a 2-1 loss to Bayern Munich (8 Feb) – the one coming thanks to the goalkeeper fumbling a Hagi free-kick. Steaua, meanwhile, beat Harry Redknapp’s second-division Bournemouth at Dean Court on 17 February – this time with their stars. Lăcătuş, Hagi and Luther Blissett all get on the scoresheet (see the Steaua goals here).
FIXING THE FIXERS
The Romanian Divizia A season resumes on 24 February. Two clubs have been disbanded over the two-month winter break by the FA’s National Salvation Front Committee, punished for their total dependence on the Ceaușescu regime.
- Olt Scornicești (about which you should definitely read this terrific article), the team from the dictator’s home village which played in a stadium holding more than double the village’s population;
- High-flying Victoria București, the police team which customarily finished third in the league, behind Steaua and Dinamo, and which played home games on a pitch inside the Dinamo sports complex.
The systematic fixing of the league had arguably reached its bare-faced peak in the late 1980s, and stories abound of ludicrous scorelines and intimidated referees. All players from Olt and Victoria are now released and re-registered at their previous club, while both clubs’ fixtures for the rest of the season will be recorded as 3-0 losses. Future international stalwart Dorinel Munteanu is among the Olt players at the time.
A newspaper story in early January reveals the strange events in the last round before the winter break, in what turned out to be Olt’s last match in the top division. Before the game it was assumed that, because Olt were languishing near the bottom of the table, Steaua would let them win – especially since the Scornicești side had helped Steaua to win the league by beating Dinamo the previous May. However, the night before, word came from the capital that Steaua were intending to play the game honestly! Olt were not impressed. During the game the referee allowed some terrible fouls by Steaua players, Hagi among them, to go unpunished, but towards the end sent off Gheorghe Mihali and Lăcătuș; a brawl broke out, involving hair-pulling and face-punching. Not a word of this was reported in the newspapers until after the revolution.
SPRING IS SPRUNG
Unlike their bitter rivals, who were knocked out of the European Cup in the autumn by Guus Hiddink’s PSV (this Romario goal completed a 5-1 win for the home side in Eindhoven), Dinamo are still in Europe. They beat Partizan Belgrade in the Cup-Winners’ Cup quarter-finals in March, the pace of young striker Florin Răducioiu being too much for the Yugoslavs (who are, incidentally, coached by ex-Southampton defender and future Dundee United manager Ivan Golac).
During March and April, there are three more international friendlies away from home. A 2-1 defeat to Switzerland (without Dinamo players, as they’re playing Partizan at the time); a 3-1 win over Egypt, Daniel Timofte scoring on his debut; and a 4-1 win in Haifa against Israel, when Răducioiu makes his first international appearance. On 18 April Dinamo lose at home to Anderlecht in the Cup-Winners’ Cup semi-final, ending their European adventure, and on the same day Steaua’s young right-back Dan Petrescu gets an injury in a league match that puts him out of the World Cup.
Politics is a busy space. 11 March sees the Proclamation of Timișoara issued by demonstrators gathered in the western city’s Opera Square. It aims, among other things, to ban Communist Party or Securitate cadres from holding political office for ten years: this would disqualify Ion Iliescu and many of his chums in the National Salvation Front (FSN) from standing in the forthcoming elections.
Beginning on 15 March, when the local Magyars are celebrating Hungary’s National Day, ethnic clashes break out between Romanians and Hungarians in Târgu Mureș. Târgu Mureș (Marosvásárhely in Hungarian) is the biggest town in a majority-Magyar region of Transylvania and is (in 1990) divided roughly half and half between the two ethnicities. Since the revolution Hungarians have been calling for the right to education in their own language and for the reopening of the Hungarian-medium university in Cluj/Kolozsvár. Statues of Romanian historical figures are defaced and road signs vandalised. On 19 March a large group of ethnic Romanians besiege the headquarters of the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR in Romanian; RMDSZ in Hungarian). The next day there is a large Hungarian protest in the square. Aggressive confrontations continue through the night of 20-21 March. Several people are killed and hundreds injured in these violent incidents, responsibility for which remains shrouded in a certain degree of mystery even decades later. Many of the ethnic Romanians involved appear to have been bussed in to the city from nearby villages. The response of the police and military is widely criticised.
On 22 April a pro-democracy protest is held in Bucharest, opposing the hijacking of the revolution by remnants of the old regime. The protesters march to the TV Romania building, symbol of the state media widely considered to be biased against the emerging pro-democracy forces. The demonstration is forcibly dispersed by police, which leads to another protest the following day in University Square. This gathering is intended to be “peaceful, multicultural […] anti-communist, and anti-neo-communist”. A government crackdown begins overnight, attempting to disperse the crowds. More people join protest over the next few days as a result. President Iliescu calls protesters hooligans (golani in Romanian), the same word that Ceausescu had used for the December 1989 demonstrators. This demonstration thus becomes known as the ‘Golaniad’.
In spite of all the public dissent and widespread disapproval, the May elections go ahead as planned; the FSN win by a landslide. Iliescu becomes president of the republic, a post he will hold for a total of ten years across two spells. Romania will have to wait for a head of state who has no association with the Communist regime.
MEANWHILE, BACK ON THE PITCH
2 May 1990: the final of the Romanian Cup, Steaua v Dinamo, still the top two in the league. Steaua are missing regular starters Lung, Iovan, Bumbescu and Petrescu (injured), and Hagi (suspended for elbowing an opponent); Dinamo start with ten current Romanian internationals. In spite of the best efforts of Rotariu and Lăcătuș (in full Beast mode and with Klinsmannic balance issues) in midfield, the full-strength Dinamo are clearly superior. Răducioiu’s early goal is cancelled out by Dumitrescu, but at half-time the Red Dogs are 3-1 up.
Sabau scores a belter early in the second period, then Lupu adds a fifth, and a historic humiliation is on the cards. Then, in the 68th minute captain Lăcătuș scores. Two minutes later his cross is headed in by Rotariu. Steaua are somehow back in it. With eight minutes to go, Răducioiu seals his hat-trick to put the game beyond Steaua again, meaning that Ungureanu’s strike three minutes later is a mere consolation: 6-4 is the final score. A breathless cup final and a fitting farewell to the last great Dinamo team. Within a month most of these players will be in Italy preparing for the biggest stage of all, and few will remain in their own country to contest the 1990-91 season.
May also sees a 1-0 win for the national team over Egypt at home, and a 2-2 draw against a very handy Belgian side in Brussels. From 9 May onward, Divizia A teams are forbidden by the federation from fielding their Romanian internationals in the remaining league games. Steaua and Dinamo, neck and neck at the top, are immediately both held to draws.
Another big story in May: news breaks in Spain that Real Madrid will sign Gheorghe Hagi. According to the sports paper Gazeta Sporturilor, Hagi put pen to paper on a four-year deal on 24 May in Brussels, ahead of Romania’s last World Cup warm-up game with Belgium. It is announced that the transfer fee was 400 million pesetas (roughly 4 million dollars), and that furthermore Steaua will receive a young Madrid player on a one-year
Romania’s World Cup squad:
Guess what? In part 3 we actually get on to the World Cup. Promise!
*Serious football people seem to call them “Crvena zvezda” in these enlightened times. But they’re known as “Steaua Rosie” in Romanian, which is confusing, so I’ll stick to “Red Star”, thanks.