Once upon a time Bucharest could have been Leipzig, Warsaw, Belgrade or Pyongyang. And, mention of the North Korean capital might seem a little excessive if you have been to the modern day Romanian capital.

The 1980’s were arguably the toughest decade for Romanian citizens due to what we now know as the Republica Socialistă România. A Marxist–Leninist one-party system, its leader Nicolae Ceausescu was surrounded by an obedient group of communist advisers guided by ideology. He embarked on major projects which had devastating consequences for the Romanian economy, and the living standards of the population.

One project was the construction of a civic centre in Bucharest – which included the huge Palace of the Parliament – as well as the Romanian Academy, the headquarters of many governmental ministries, the longest and widest boulevard of the nation. Thousands of new, standardised socialist dwellings for the working class were also created.

The second and perhaps most brutal was the repayment of all external debts of the Romanian nation. This strategy had the goal of making Romania a completely self-sustaining Marxist country.

Such were the severe austerity measures imposed in the Socialist Republic of Romania by President Ceaușescu Romania was amongst Europe’s poorest.

Then, amidst the rationing of food and overflowing orphanages a footballing miracle happened.

In 1986 Romanian football was dominated by the army and the interior police. Steaua or ‘Star’ – founded in 1947 as ASA (Asociația Sportivă a Armatei București) – became Steaua in In 1961 (Clubul Sportiv al Armatei Steaua) and won the 1986 European Cup in Seville defeating FC Barcelona.

Steaua were Romania’s golden generation club. But thanks to patronage and the influence of the military apparatus the best players of Steaua Bucharest were not home grown. Instead, a squad of experience was procured (some obtained) from elsewhere and existing long standing talent harassed back into a robust squad.

Between 1982 and 1989 some of Romanian football’s best players were swallowed up by Steaua as it challenged for a place at the top table of European football. Every effort was made to replicate the European success of club’s from the Soviet Union.

Marius Lăcătuș came from Brasov while the rich ethnic complexity of the squad was made up of players from all around Romania – Dukadam came from the Germanic Arad, Balan from Baia Mare, Bărbulescu, Bölöni, Radu Pițurcă were also obtained from rival Romanian clubs. Radu and Bărbulescu had been transferred from FC Arges, a club where they had both successfully gained a number of years of UEFA competition experience in the 1970’s and early 1980’s.

From 1974 to 2003, Steaua played its home matches at the Stadionul Ghencea, a grim cauldron of a football stadium situated in South-Western Bucharest. Tram 41 from northern Bucharest, out near where the Ceaușescu family lived trundled through the city until it reached the military district.

The stadium was part of Complexul Sportiv Steaua. At which time it was the first football only stadium ever built in Communist Romania that excluded track and field facilities. It was built by order of the Ministry of National Defence.

Steaua’s club identity is still deeply entangled with being ‘the army’s sports club’ and this did not change much even during the immediate post-Ceausescu period. However, UEFA’s desire to move the European landscape of football away from state interference (as well as growing private investment) has meant the Steaua brand has become quite a confused one in recent years.

Outdoor art is a common feature at many clubs in Europe and can be quite highly idealised, especially around football stadiums. It often leans heavily on the conventions of history, heroes and colour to express feeling, emotion and tradition. 

A range of narrative pictures tell the story of Steaua at the Steaua Complex.

First, the artists introduce us to the authors of some of Steaua’s greatest successes – Baloni and Lacatus to name only two. This mural recalls how a range of players from Steaua gained entry to the hallowed heavens of football history in May 1986.

A variety of techniques are then used to chronicle both the foundations of the club in 1947. They use icons of Eastern Orthodoxy to promote the club’s identity and Romanian heritage.

We are the Shadows,

It is the duty of the future generations

to remain among the legends

that came before and guide us.

Further on through the complex are images of famous fans and fan groupings who follow Steaua including Roosters, Old Boys as well references to the previous naming conventions of the club including CCA – Casa Centrală a Armatei București and ASA Asociația Sportivă a Armatei București.

Today, Romania’s most successful and famous side finds itself in the middle of a crisis partly of its own making.

Supporters are split across those who follow the ‘new’ FCSB (Shepherds) and those to feel tied to the traditional Steaua Bucharest (the originals). These clubs both hold onto that great success of 1986 each displaying the star of 1986 above the badge. As legal entities both the stated goals and previous histories are the same.

The years ahead will see some sort of divergence (legal or otherwise) as Steaua and its supporters seek their true meaning. This may come in harmony with FCSB but some sort of evidence and sense as to the club’s original and perhaps true values certainly exist at the Steaua Stadium.