Steaua Bucherest: From Champions Of Europe To The Team With No Name

In May 1986 Steaua Bucherest lifted the European Cup after beating the mighty Barcelona; an incredible achievement for a team who, in subsequent years, have lost their name, their badge and faced an ongoing struggle to compete.

That night in Seville few gave the Romanian champions a chance against Terry Venables’ fast-flowing side. However, they would be crowned kings of Europe, thanks mostly to their legendary goalkeeper Helmuth Duckadam.

The backdrop to the 1985-86 European Cup campaign was very different from that of today as it was the first time that no English teams had participated in the competition following a ban that had been introduced after violence between Liverpool and Juventus supporters had lead to 39 deaths in Belgium at the 1985 final.

Romanian football was a very different beast 30 years ago too as a number of former Eastern bloc sides found themselves competing with the game’s elite thanks, mostly, to rather dubious Communist backing.

Clubs such as Dinamo Bucharest, under the guidance of former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and their city neighbours Steaua had become household names and often found themselves rubbing shoulders with the giants of Europe if not being able to knock them off their perch.

Steaua was established in 1947 as a vehicle of the powerful Romanian military, a club who enjoyed a unique way of attracting young players throughout the Communist era as playing for the club meant no national service.

But they were perpetually in the shadow of their cross-city rivals Dinamo – who enjoyed somewhat questionable connections and as the rivalry grew so intense the secret police regularly bugged Steaua's offices and routinely obstructed transfers

The Securitate, which were of a particularly brutal and sadistic disposition, even by Eastern European standards, had presided over Dinamo Bucharest during the club’s prosperous years of the 70s and 80s, though despite some rather shameful interference from those in charge were not able to challenge the domination of Western European sides on the pitch.


The tide turned in 1983 though when Steaua Bucharest appointed Valentin Ceausescu, Nicolae's son, as General Manager, who set-about commercialising the club and signed lucrative sponsorship deals with the likes of Ford and FIAT. Slowly – and not without the intervention of his father's regime – Steaua wrestled Romanian footballing power away from Dinamo to become a powerhouse in their own right, not just at home but in Europe too.

In 1984/85 and under the leadership of coaches Emerich Jenei and Anghel Iordănescu, Steaua mounted an impressive title challenge which they would eventually win after a six-year break – a triumph which propelled them into the following season’s European Cup.

When the competition got under way on 18th September 1985 Steaua played with a freedom that flew in the face of their meddling dictator and his son as they progressed in Europe's elite competition, oozing guile and confidence along the way.

They dispatched Denmark's Vejle Boldklub in the first round before beating Honved of Hungary and then Finnish minnows FC Lahti – a run which took them through to the semi-finals.

The fact that both Juventus, the reigning champions, and Bayern Munich had been despatched in the last eight illustrated that the, so called, bigger sides weren't to have everything their own way. There was no surprise that Juventus had been knocked out 2-1 by Barcelona, but Bayern had surprisingly lost to Belgian champions, Anderlecht.

After an impressive a 2-1 win in Munich, Bayern were unable to turn things round in the second-leg in Brussels as Enzo Scifo gave an indication of just what he would do for Belgium in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

It was that man Scifo that Steaua would have to worry about in the semi-finals as it was to be Anderlecht who awaited them, so when the prolific marksman scored again in Brussels to give the Belgians a 1-0 first-leg lead, it looked as though their run was over.

A fourth minute Piturca goal gave Steaua hope in the second-leg though and when Balint made it two on 23 minutes they found themselves ahead in the tie. On 71 minutes, Piturca sealed a 3-1 aggregate win and Steaua’s place in the European Cup final, making them the first Eastern European side since Partizan Belgrade two decades earlier to achieve this feat.

Helmuth Duckadam

In that final, held deep in the south of Spain at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on a balmy, steamy evening, Steaua would face FC Barcelona who enjoyed the almost exclusive support of the 70,000 crowd that night with only 1,000 specifically chosen representatives of either Steaua or Ceausescu's communist party in attendance.

It was in no way an epic as Steaua suffocated  Barcelona, who fielded a below-par Bernd Schuster, who was unable to establish his usual grip on the game as each attack was stifled by Steaua's well-drilled defensive line.

The game was becoming an excruciating spectacle, not just for Venables and Barcelona’s fans, but for the millions watching at home. At 90 minutes it was 0-0 and everybody would have to endure another 30 minutes of attack versus defence. Not surprisingly after 120 painful minutes there was still no score and, just like in Rome two years before, the final of the European Cup would go to penalties.

After two hours of boring football Steaua and Barcelona lined up for what was surely one of the most remarkable shootouts in European football history that mirrored the farcical nature of the game as a whole.

Steaua's Mihail Majearu went first and hit his penalty straight at Barca keeper Urruti before Barcelona captain Jose Alexanko saw his penalty brilliantly saved by Duckadum. Steaua then missed again, as Laszlo Boloni's poor kick was saved easily.

Steaua keeper Duckadam was inspired, diving to his right to save Barca's next penalty before Marius Lacatus stepped up and smashed his shot in off the underside of the bar. Barca's Pichi Alonso was next, but Duckadam dived to the right for a third time in a row.

Gabi Balint then made it 2-0 to Steaua to put Barcelona on the verge of victory as Barca's Marcos slowly walked to the spot looking like a condemned man before hitting his spot-kick straight at the Romanian. No goalkeeper before had saved four penalties in the final of any of football's major tournaments, leading Duckadam to become known as ‘The Hero of Saville.'

Back in Bucharest 30,000 fans took to the streets in celebration before marching to the airport to greet their heroes the following morning in scenes not witnessed in the country since the end of World War 2.

To say the victory was undeserved would be harsh as they did have genuine quality with the likes of goalkeeper Helmut Duckadem, captain Stefan Iovan, Marius Lacatus and forwards Victor Piturca and Gavrila Balint.

Steaua’s victory was something of a pinnacle in the history of the club. Domestically they would go on to dominate for years to come and would even embark on a 104-game unbeaten run in the Romanian league over the next three seasons.

But around the same time as that incredible sequence was coming to an end Romania was becoming a very different place as people realised football was largely irrelevant compared to finding something to eat for dinner as the communist regime began to pinch.

Just a matter of years after the greatest moment in Romanian footballing history, much of Eastern Europe was being dismantled, Bucharest was in flames, and Ceausescu and wife were executed on Christmas day 1989.

In subsequent years Steaua did reach the European Cup final again in 1989 with perhaps an even better side that contained the likes of Gheorghe Hagi and Dan Petrescu but were defeated by Milan. They also won six consecutive championships between 1992 and 1998 in what was something of a swan song for this once great European football club.

Steaua Bucharest Club badge

By the end of the 1990s, the football club had renounced their military roots and declared themselves a public company, changing their name to FC Steaua București in the process having been taken over by Romanian businessman Viorel Păunescu.

Păunescu performed poorly as a president though and plunged the club into debt, leading to George Becali, another businessman, being offered the position of vice-president, in hope that he would invest money in the club. Becali eventually purchased the majority share in 2002 but things were to turn sour despite some decent on-field showings both at home and abroad.

In 2014 the Romanian Ministry of National Defence took Steaua to court, claiming that the Romanian Army were the rightful owners of the logo of Steaua Bucharest and the Supreme Court found in the army's favour, stripping the football club of its badge, name and identity.

The former European champions now faced the humiliation of being forced to play without a name and couldn’t even display their own badge on the scoreboard.

By 2015 the club had issued a statement declaring that they had reached an agreement with the Ministry of National Defence which would allow them to retain the name Steaua București and their original club’s colours; but despite the fresh start it would appear the damage had been done and their best days were well and truly behind them.

The fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of Communism, the Bosman ruling, huge international interest in the likes of The Premier League and mega-money TV deals might well be to blame for the inability of teams like Steaua to compete among European football’s elite in recent years; but the efforts of Duckadam and his teammates on that balmy night in Seville 30 years ago remains one of the European Cup's greatest underdog stories.