Romanian Football: The Golden Age

​The eighties were slightly as transformative for the world as the sixties were. The only change massively in the eighties was the fashion got back to it’s normality. No more bell bottoms and weird colors. This isn’t an article on fashion, its on European football in the mid eighties. Steaua Bucharest had a fun ride during this time period and had one of their golden periods. This period is still shrouded in darkness due to the Iron Curtain dividing the world. On the world stage players could go from unknowns to superstars out of nowhere. 

​As a backdrop for this time period Romania was a ruined country by dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. During his early years as the dictator, Nicolae was very popular, but he had slowly ruined the country through economic failure, lowered living standards, and numerous human rights abuses. As is such , the revolution, trial, and execution of Ceausescu and his wife on Christmas Day 1989 helped cleanse the country of this demon. Why this is all worth mentioning is that Steaua Bucharest won five league titles from 1984-89, and made a run to the European Cup. They were managed by Emerich Jenei, and had such stars as Miodrag Belodedici, Victor Piturca and Marius Lacatus. The one player from this side who would personify the club is goalkeeper Helmuth Duckadam due to that great night in Seville. 

​Nicolae’s oldest son Valentin became the president of the club. This of course brought accusations of match-fixing, bribery, and corruption like any time the government has been involved with a club. That power Valentin may have exerted over the off the pitch forces to help the club along only could work domestically if it actually happened. In the 1986 European Cup, Steaua went to do something that no Romanian club has ever done, win the whole thing.

​The Romanian champions quickly dissipated of Vejle and Honved before Finish club Lahti put a scare into them.  This set up a semi-final with Anderlecht, another club that had seen some glory days as well in the eighties. What brought all of these smaller nation clubs into the spotlight in European competitions was the European Ban of the English clubs after Heysel. Steaua lost 1-0 in Belgium, and won 3-0 back in Bucharest, all down to talent not corruption.  This brought the Spanish giants Barcelona into view for the final, which was to be played at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in Seville. Obviously, the crowd would lean towards rooting for Barcelona. 

The road to the final was very different for Barcelona, they faced far bigger names. Wins against Juventus, Porto and a penalty shoot out against IFK Gothenburg paved their way to the final in Seville. This was the Barcelona era with Terry Venables as the manager and Steve Archibald as the main man leading the attack. Barcelona was going for their first European Cup, which just goes to show how great the next thirty years would be for the club.

Credit: Joost Evers /

​A very hot night in Seville made the match very hard on both sides. Bernd Schuster, the other great European import didn’t play to his ability so Venables pulled him out of the match. That caused the volatile German to stomp out of the stadium. With all of this in front of both clubs the match slowly moved towards extra time, and the penalty shootout, where one player would take his place in history.

Preparation for matches has taken many forms over the years. One such way was to study how players took penalty kicks, or how you defended them. Even in the eighties the clubs swapped tapes for guidance and scouting. Duckadam chose however to not watch the penalties from the semi-finals, instead he wanted to put himself in the mind of the penalty taker. After all, Duckadam was a very good poker player so he could play coy if he needed to. 

Mihail Majearu, Steaua’s penalty taker, took the first shot, to see Barcelona’s goalkeeper Urutti push the ball away keeping Barcelona in the match.  Duckadam took Urutti’s spot on the line waiting for Jose Alexanco’s ball. Alexanco ball was driven to the far right, but so far enough right for Duckadam to push it away. Still level Urutti denied Steaua for the second time putting the pressure on Duckadam to do the same. 

Duckadam took off to his right to stop Angel Pedraza, who put the ball on the floor to the right, which Duckadam steered it away with his right hand. This was different to what Duckadam was expecting, for he was pondering Pedraza believing Duckadam was going to his left. Since neither happened, there were two penalties each, two saved. 

Lacatus was next up for Steaua and finally broke the deadlock by smashing it past Urutti on the underside of the bar. Pichi Alonso placed the ball the same side as the previous two shots, Duckadam dove high but was lucky to trap the ball between himself and the ground to keep the ball out. Duckadam was so happy he threw the ball into the sky after the save, however realizing his mistake apologised to referee Michel Vautrot for his display of emotion. Gabi Balint made it 2-0 for Steaua, which left it all up to Marcus Alonso. Alonso, the son of a many time European Cup winner with Real Madrid in the 1950s by the same name presumed that Duckadam was only capable of diving right, put it left. Duckadam, true to his ability and mind guessed right, was there to meet the shot. He leapt to his feet and was ambushed by his teammates celebrating the win. Helmuth Duckadam saved all four penalties that he had faced. This should have been his coming out party in the European game, like it was for many of his teammates and fellow countrymen. Unfortunately, he suffered a rare blood clot disease and disappeared from the game for three years. Unlike his teammates and fellow countrymen he never got to play in the bigger leagues across Europe. When he returned he was playing for lower league clubs in Romania.

Published by Stephen Brandt

Stephen Brandt is the host of the Subs Bench on He has written many articles on the sport over the last 15 years. His first book Boca Juniors A History and Appreciation of Buenos Aires's Most Succesful Futbol Team is out in the fall. He currently lives in Buffalo New York, USA.

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