One afternoon in Pitești

Late autumn 1981 and the rigours of a Scottish winter approached.  In the single charts Adam and the Ants catchy ‘Prince Charming’ was dominating the radio airwaves.  Meanwhile, Sting and The Police are the main sounds of choice amongst albums.

In UK politics Margaret Thatcher was two years into power and the royal wedding of Charles and Di was still fresh in the memory. Globally, anti-nuclear protests were in full flow and television screens were still reeling from the assassination of Egyptian ruler Anwar Sadat.

Despite tough times being ahead for Britain economically, football in the British Isles was entering a golden period of domination by the time 1981 arrived.   Nottingham Forest had been crowned European Cup champion twice and Liverpool had won the trophy in Paris thanks to the left foot of Alan Kennedy.

Bobby Ipswich Town also tasted European success in 1981 thanks to a UEFA Cup Final win over AZ Alkmaar.  But not 5 months later rejoice quickly turned to despair as Mick Mills and John Wark were defeated by Aberdeen in the following season competition.

Alex Ferguson’s Scottish side were then drawn against the largely unknown Argeș Pitești from Romania.  The side from the small Romanian town of Pitesti were named after the Arges hills and lay some 80 miles north-west of Bucharest.

After the glamour of defeating the holders this was the grim reality of the second round.

Romania at the start of the eighties was a harsh regime. Enveloped by tight austerity measures and political repression the country was ruled by Nicolae Ceausescu.  Effectively it was a Stalinist police state.

This was rule via the cult of personality but it would be 8 more years before his authoritarian regime would be overthrown. Romania’s revolution in 1989 was a bloody one – only afterwards did the world learn the full barbarity of Ceausescu’s crimes.

But in 1981 the similarities between both Arges Pitesti and Aberdeen were stark.  Both had arisen from being mere championship outsiders to being regular title contenders in respective domestic leagues.

Although football in Romania owed a great deal to the soccer mad King Carol, the game was first introduced to Romania by the British engineers who worked on the oil refinery during the 1890’s.  But it would be 1909 before organised professionalism and the top ‘Divizia A’ arrived.

Arges were formed in 1953 as Dinamo Pitesti.  It was not until the incoming of the hated Ceausescu regime in 1965 that the fortunes of the side grew and success was tasted.   In 1965 Dinamo had reached a cup final against Stinta Cluj only to lose 2-1.

By 1967 Romania was progressing its own communist policies politically and the Dinamo tag attached to the club disappeared. Economic ties with West Germany grew and a decision was made to rename the club ‘Arges Pitesti’ in 1967 after the surrounding heavily industrialised county that surrounds Pitesti.

Throughout the 1970’s Arges were Romania’s best footballing side.  Title winners twice, European Cup adventures included matches against Real Madrid, a defeat of AEK Athens but a loss to Nottingham Forest.

Being one of Romania’s top sides during the 1980’s Arges Pitesti had a side filled with Romanian internationals.  In goal was the 20 cap Gheorghe Christian whilst in defence Zamfir was an experienced right back.

The star player of the Arges side was Nicolae Dobrin, the so called Prințul din Trivale – the Prince of Trivalea.

Dobrin who died in 2007 and whom after Arges renamed its stadium, made his debut for Arges in 1962.  By the 1970’s he was a much sought after player with Real Madrid chasing his signature.

Numerous talks took place between Santiago Bernabéu and Nicolae Ceaușescu as regards the possible transfer of Dobrin but due to strict communist doctrine principles of ‘national value’ and ‘estrangement’ a transfer was blocked by the regime.

Arges were a side of professionals in more ways than one. The likes of Barbulescu, Viorel Moiceanu, Viorel Turcu and Marian Radu were all either engineers, PE teachers or sports instructors when not playing football for the side.

For a side that had never been past the second round of European football Aberdeen were facing a side with a good pedigree.

The Second Round first leg at Pittodrie Stadium during October 1981 had been a formality for Aberdeen.  Still on a high after the demolition job on Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town, the side of Ferguson swept the Romanians aside by 3-0. First half goals came from Gordon Strachan, Peter Weir and John Hewitt.

One day before Guy Fawkes night on 4th November 1981, Ferguson and his Aberdeen side ventured onto the turf at the then 1st May Stadium in Pitesti for the second leg.

Although afternoon kick off was an unusual occurrence for the Scottish side such an early start was now common place for the Romanians.  In 1981 evening football was banned in Romania by the regime due to energy consumption restrictions  – a factor alluded to by Ferguson in his programme notes before the first leg:

Lets just call the Romanians ‘energy conscious’ – it is a place where floodlight sport is currently banned.  With that in mind Arges will be doing all they can to stifle us at Pittodrie and restrict our output to a minimum.”

For a while the numerous missed chances during the first leg at Pittodrie Stadium looked set to punish the Dons in Romania with Radu’s far post header and Ilie Barbulescu’s inch perfect curling free kick leaving Aberdeen 2-0 down at half time.

But it was as the teams came in for the half-time break that Alex Ferguson embarked upon perhaps his most famous of all dressing room explosions.

Long before an alleged flying football boot struck David Beckham in the face and a pizza went flying at Arsene Wenger, came Ferguson’s notorious half time explosion in Pitesti.

Ferguson, always an advocate of the advantages of anger as a motivational conduit, waited for his side to be seated before striking out at a large heated industrial tea-urn which subsequently went flying across the visiting dressing room.

This was management by factory canteen standards as Ferguson’s anger and displeasure at the first half performance saw boiling hot tea splashed over Scottish international defenders Alex McLeish and Willie Miller and the china cups adjacent went flying through the air.

These half time events did though turn out to be the motivational outburst Aberdeen needed.   The now Scotland international manager Gordon Strachan went onto scores a penalty on 55 minutes with John Hewitt equalising on the 85th minute to make it 5-2 on aggregate.

Whilst Aberdeen went onto enjoy numerous European runs in the 1980’s Arges Pitesti went downhill fast.  After relegation to Romania Liga II in 1993 they would play only one more season in Europe and this ended in an 8-0 loss to Celta Vigo in 1998.

By 2013 the Vulturii Violeti were again playing in the Romanian second tier of Liga II – Seria II and a 9th place finish highlighted just how far the side had declined both financially and on the field of play since the days of Nicolae Dobrin.

Things did though got worse.  By August 27th 2013 a Romanian 4th round cup tie against Sanatatea Cluj had to be forfeited by 3-0 as Arges were unable to fulfil the tie.

On its 60th anniversary and like another Pitești side ‘Internaţional’ two years earlier, Arges Pitesti the Romanian football club were dissolved.

Today, another side ‘SCM Arges Pitesti plays its football at the Stadium Nicolae Dobrin but in the lowly depths of Romanian Liga III, Seria VI.

And still inside the visiting dressing room of that stadium possibly lurks the memory of an afternoon in November 1981 when Aberdeen came to town.

UEFA Cup 2nd Round 2nd Leg 4th November 1981

Argeș Pitești 2 v Aberdeen 2

Arges: Christian, Barbulescu, Badea, Eduard, Stancu, Cirstea, Baluta, Kallo, Radu, Ignat, Turcu

Aberdeen: Leighton, Kennedy, Rougvie, Cooper, McLeish, Miller, Strachan, Watson, McGhee, McMaster, Weir

Referee: J.Redelfs (West Germany)

You can see highlights of the first leg at Pittodrie Stadium here

You can see highlights of the trip to Romania here