Richard Augood tells us what a Champions League night is like in Romania
Queueing at the Steaua Megastore to buy tickets. Should we go for the £20 VIP sofa? Last night's VIP table at Disco No Problem had come with a choice of a fight with a gypsy pool hustler, a 300% special foreigner tax and having to pick up the bar tab twice. So, second category tickets it is. Sector 20, right on the halfway line.
Lost in the Bucharest district called ‘The Heroes of Public Sanitation’, on the banks of the stagnant river Dambovitza. A bar! Beer anyone? The sign by the door says that the premises are protected by ‘Tarantino Security’. Maybe not.
Hop on a tram heading in a likely-looking direction. Hooray, there’s a map on the wall. We’ll soon find our way there now. The tram was bought second hand from the Germans and the map is of Frankfurt. Oh well; there's a man over there with a red and blue swastika flag. Let’s follow him.
Outside Complexul Sportiv Steaua. Lots of nervous-looking 16-year-old policemen. One of them has a canister of tear gas bigger than himself. Approach the least twitchy one. “Scuzati, unde este sector 20?” He points with his nightstick towards one of several clusters of men in UEFA bibs. We obey. Bib man grabs and rips our tickets. Run up the bank towards our seats. We’ve got a lovely view from here, right behind the goal, next to the big sign saying ‘Sector 5’. Run back down the bank. Find a policeman old enough to have grown a moustache. Yes! He speaks English. Act stupid. “We have tickets for sector 20” “Ah, is big problem.” His accent is strong. “Here is where will be much fun.” Was that ‘fun’ or ‘fan’ that he said? Doesn’t really matter, now he’s saying “Very dangerous. Sit at edge and be quiet.”
Here's the plan. If we try not to look German and keep quiet, they might ignore us. Back up the bank. Everyone turns and stares at us. Head for the edge. Struggling through a forest of big bendy flags. One man is busy inserting the end of his flag into the business end of a blow-up doll. Success! Wave it about! Biggest cheer of the night.
Trying to get to the edge. Wow, someone must have let off a pretty big smokebomb, we can hardly see the floodlights. Look around. Everyone is chainsmoking cheap Romanian fags. Aaah, that’ll be it. Someone really does let off a smokebomb and suddenly it’s like the end of Dad’s Army. Find somewhere to sit. Over there, next to the man selling cartons of Scandia Pop Vodka.
Steaua come out to warm up. Bogdan Stelea’s out of the team and looks glum as all the Stelistii chant the name of Gherasim, his replacement. Back to the changing rooms. A couple of bars of the Spice Girls and then that fanfare “De dum dum dum something THE CHAMPIONS!! Diddy da da daaah!” Mr Scandia Pop Vodka is staring at us. We start talking loudly about English football to establish our not-German credentials. Open the programme. “Arbitru: Paul Durkin (Anglia).” One minute gone and Paul Durkin disallows what looks from 100 metres like a perfectly good goal, saying the ball didn’t cross the line. People are glowering at us. Paul Durkin’s mum is a very busy woman if this lot are to be believed.
Steaua look shoddy. So do Dortmund. Lacatus looks old and cantankerous. Number 9, Calin, looks just like Patrik Berger. A pity he doesn’t play like him. Gherasim makes Stelea’s performance against France in Euro 96 look like a classic of understated authority and composure. Nagy, Steaua’s Hungarian left-back brings the Transylvanian question back to the front of everyone's mind by giving away two comedy goals.
Half-time! A manhole cover opens and a gang of children emerges from a subterranean drinking fountain to start selling the used Scandia Pop Vodka cartons they’ve filled with water. The sunflower seed sellers reappear. No sign of any official UEFA Champions League sunflower seeds so it has to be bootlegs. Take that, Lennart Johannson!
Stelea leads Steaua out for the second half. The Stelistii all chant his name and he glows like a Belisha beacon. It’s like a scene from the end of a Children's Film Foundation movie, Bogdan Saves The Day. Bogdan doesn’t. Steaua have 90% of the possession but fail to engage Lacatus’ interest. The centre backs take turns gifting chances to Dortmund. Chapuisat misses an open goal from six yards. My companion and I go “Aaaaah!” Everyone stares. “So, errr . . . I guess you don’t do that here, eh?”
The Stelistii are getting behind their team again. “Lupta, Steaua!” (“Fight, Steaua!”) Nagy gives away his third goal. Within a minute the stadium is empty except for about 50 Dortmund fans and about 200 policemen beating them up. Back down the bank. Can’t find a taxi. One man has and is sat in the back looking chuffed even though he’s boxed in six deep on all sides by empty cars and the meter's running. Any trams around? There might be one underneath that pile of people trundling along at slightly less than walking pace. Taxi! Haggle. Success. Special foreigner tax is only 150% this time. “Disco No Problem, please.”
From WSC 118 December 1996. What was happening this month