Arges Pitesti – 42 Years On

The date of Wednesday November 4th 1981 may not seem like one of the most famous days in the history of Aberdeen FC. It was cold, rather dull and the Dons were in Romania for a UEFA Cup tie against FC Arges Pitești.

Pitești was like any other major Romanian city of the time. The capital and largest city of Argeș County, Pitești and its people by 1981 was under the repressive social and economic policies of Ceaușescu.

Like in many Marxist-Leninist states of the time Ceausescu headed up the Romanian communist party which claimed to be the vanguard of the people. The politburo has appointed Ceaușescu in 1965 and by 1981 Romania had began an austerity programme designed to enable Romania to liquidate its entire national debt of $10,000,000,000.

The result was economic stagnation; and conditions fit only for economic crisis and misery. The country’s industrial capacity – some of which was centred on Pitesti – was eroded as equipment and parts grew obsolete, energy pressure increased, and the standard of living deteriorated significantly.

In contrast Aberdeen in 1981 was an outlier in what was a grim decade for the United Kingdom. The offshore North Sea oil industry was developing and the The Don matchday programme was full of adverts encouraging home buying in Aberdeen’s growing suburbs.

In the east of the city a great football side was beginning to bud if not truly flower. The previous round had seen Ipswich Town outplayed and beaten 4-2 on aggregate. FC Arges had defeated the Cypriots of APOEL but the first leg at Pittodrie ended in a convincing win for the home side by 3-0.

Alex Ferguson had kindly labelled the Romanians as ‘energy conscious’ before the tie; extremely diplomatic given that at the time floodlight sport was banned due to a directive from the state. In those days diplomacy by the host club was as important as tactics – nothing was said to upset the opponents either in words in the programme or in the local newspapers.

Aberdeen ventured out to Romania in buoyant mood inspired by the earlier win over Ipswich Town and that 1st leg demolition in late October. The Dons side had learned numerous lessons in European football in the late 1970’s all of which meant by the turn of the decade the side was a mix of international experience and UEFA competition savvy.

Pitesti had developed as a trading town in northern Wallachia, serving as an informal residence for various Wallachian Princes until the 18th century.

During the early stages of the communist regime, it was one of the main sites of political repression.

Industrial plants that had been established and offered employment to locals becoming state owned during communism. Moreover, housing become cramped, energy use regulated and food prices rocketed meaning the rationing of essentials was a fact of daily life.

FC Arges were formed on 6 August 1953 by an order of the Ministry of Internal Affairs who created Dinamo Pitești. The name was a reference to the Dinamo sporting society. The new team were not starved of success, progressing steadily though the leagues and becoming Romanian Champions in 1972 and in 1979.

In the European Cup the club faced Real Madrid and Nottingham Forest also defeating AEK Athens in one of its most famous scalps. In UEFA’s other competitions Panathinaikos and Utrecht were defeated meaning FC Arges had developed a solid reputation as a home for hugely talented players.

At the heart of the great Arges side had been Nicolae Dobrin – Prințul din Trivale (The Prince of Trivale). By 1982 he was celebrating over 20 years in football making his debut at 16 in 1962 but still considered one of Romania’s greatest footballers. He is perhaps the greatest player Romania had ever produced alongside Florea Dumitrache at least, that is, before the era of Hagi.

The danger for Aberdeen came from lie Bărbulescu – a man ordained by the President of Romania in 2008 – and the forward Marin Radu. Both of these men went on to play for Steaua Bucharest in its greatest ever side that won the 1986 European Cup.

The second leg in Pitesti proved to be a tricky affair for Aberdeen. First Radu on 31 minutes and then Barbulescu on 36 minutes managed to give the home side a 2-0 lead. With the home side resorting to heavy tackles and a desire to claw back the three goals they lost in Scotland, the first half could not have gone any worse for Aberdeen.

But with the retirement of Dobrin, the emblematic symbol of FC Argeș, it meant the era of great performances for Arges in Europe were over. By the 1980’s the team became mediocre culminating in two legged ties being lost when it looked like success was likely.

So it proved in the second half with a penalty from Strachan (following a reckless tackle on Weir) and a John Hewitt equaliser giving Aberdeen a 2-2 draw.

Afterwards Arges manager Alex Constantinescu said Aberdeen were always favourites given the 1st leg lead they had established. That said Aberdeen got a scare and showed evidence of a naivety that the more experienced SV Hamburg would exploit in Round three.

In 1982 the Nicolae Dobrin Stadionul had been named “Stadionul 1 Mai” (1st of May Stadium). Its name was a reference to 1st May, known as the “International Labour Day” or at it was in Romania (Ziua internațională a muncii), the “International Workers’ Day” (Ziua internațională a oamenilor muncii).

In 2023 I took a trip to the Romanian city of Pitesti eager to visit and see the location of one of Aberdeen’s FC most famous European nights. The stadium has not changed much appearance wise and my guide at the gates of the club seemed eager to talk of Mario Kempes who had scored at the stadium for Valencia.

Soon talk went onto the game against Aberdeen which he claimed to have been a spectator at some forty years previously.

For 15 minutes I wandered and sat around Nicolae Dobrin Stadium looking at the images of famous players and imaging myself back in 1982 and the goals that were scored in the tie.

There surrounds have not changed and a sense of that afternoon some 40 years previous flowed through my mind as the afternoon becoming evening in the Romanian summer sunshine.

UEFA Cup 2nd Round, 2nd Leg

Arges: Cristian, Barbulescu, Badea, Eduard, Stancu, Cirstea, Baluta (Nica 75), Kalo, Radu, Ignat, Turcu (Moicieanu 60). Manager: Constantinescu

Aberdeen: Leighton, Kennedy, Rougvie (Simpson), Cooper, McLeish, Miller, Strachan, Watson, McGhee, McMaster (Hewitt), Weir. Manager: Ferguson

Arges Pitesti scorers: Radu 31 Barbulescu 36
Aberdeen scorers: Strachan 55 (Pen), Hewitt 85.

Attendance: 8,760
Venue: Stadion 1st May, Pitesti, Romania
Referee: J. Redelfs, West Germany