Today’s featured game takes us to Romania for the first time, having already seen hints of the country’s pedigree through the national side’s ability to casually thrive in the face of pyro on the pitch away from home back in episode #5.
In the early ’80s, Clubul Sportiv Universitatea Craiova were one of Romania’s top sides. The club was originally founded in 1948 following an initiative by a group of students and professors from city’s first university-level institution, and upon dissolution of the area’s previous club – FC Craivoa – the team were quickly entered into the national league. Demonstrating the profound difference in which post-War communist Romanian football was run compared to that of a modern league, the entry of the team was coordination by the Ministry of Public Education and the National Union of Students under the mouthful team name “Uniunea Națională a Studenților din România Craiova”.
The new club proved popular among locals and those in the surrounding area, and after several name changes “CS Universitatea Craiova” was settled on in 1966. The following decade saw title challenges for the first time, with a 2nd place finish on goal difference to Dinamo București in the 72/73 season. But this moral victory was important for resulting in the creation of one of the greatest club nicknames in football history, and one that couldn’t have been more fitting for the decade: “The Champions of a Great Love”.
Coined by poet and supporter Adrian Păunescu, the name indicates Craiova’s status as a people’s champion in the face of the state-supported Dinamo side who dominated the league for much of the 20th century. A real league victory did indeed come the following year, cementing the Champions of a Great Love as “Champions of Romania” as well.
Classic, grainy Iron Curtain footage of Craiova supporters celebrating the 73/74 Romanian league title win.
The 73/74 season was also notable for the club’s first continental involvement, with an impressive debut victory against Fiorentina in the 1st round of the UEFA Cup. Domestic cup wins in 77 and 78 kept the team in Europe before a return to league success saw back-to-back championships in 79/80 and 80/81, the latter of which was a league and cup double. This golden age demanded it’s own snazzy new moniker, totally apt for the dynamic ’80s: “Craiova Maxima” (Maximum Craiova).
The league title brought a return to the European Cup, with the 80/81 edition seeing the visit of the club’s most distinguished foreign opposition to date: Internazionale. In a game that brought 35,000 supporters to the Stadionul Central, Craiova admirably held the Italians to a 1-1 draw. Despite this they were eliminated on aggregate, but the following year saw the greatest continental performance of any Romanian club up to that point with an advance to the quarter finals, before elimination at the hands of Bayern Munich.
The Stadionul Central crowd for the visit of Inter, UEFA Cup 80/81, 1980. Note the fans perched above the tunnel.
The distraction of these tournaments possibly helped contribute to 2nd place league finishes both of these years, but an 82/83 UEFA Cup run – only cut short by defeat to Benfica in the semi-finals – along with another Romanian cup win the same season, kept the Craiova Maxima’s momentum going. The period had seen victorious cup ties against significant opposition such as Dynamo Moscow, Monaco, Leeds United, Bordeaux, Kaiserslautern, and even Shamrock Rovers.
Craiova vs Bordeaux, UEFA Cup 82/83, 1982
Pyro emanating from off screen at Craiova vs Kaiserslautern UEFA Cup 82/83, 1983
Off the back of this growing pedigree, confidence was no doubt high in progressing one step further the following season and reaching the final as Craivoa were drawn in the 83/84 UEFA Cup first round against Yugoslavian league runners-up Hajduk Split. The all-Balkan battle would not be the club’s first European tie against a club from the South-Slavic super-state as they had been knocked out of the 75/76 UEFA Cup by Red Star Belgrade.
Somewhat interestingly, Craiova were not the only Romanian team with links to education in that year’s competition either, as FC Sportul Studențesc București – another club formed under the initiative of students and professors, established in 1916 – were taking part in one of six UEFA Cup campaigns for them in the era. But for comparison in status between the clubs, Sportul’s current ground only holds 1000 spectators.
As for Hajduk, it goes without saying that the Croatian side boast one of Europe’s most enviable supporter culture histories, with their “Torcida“ group having formed way back in 1950; the first of it’s kind in Europe. After some quarter final appearances, the club were of average European quality at the time with their most recent big tie a 3rd round defeat to Valencia in the 81/82 UEFA Cup, despite a 4-1 win in the home leg. This was followed in 83/83 with victory against Zurrieq of Malta before elimination to Bordeaux.
Hajduk Split fans celebrating a goal against Valencia, UEFA Cup 81/82, 1981
We join the action late in the game on that beautiful, sunny September 14th of 1983, along with 40,000 fans in the stadium. The figure shows the increase in popularity of the club since the Inter game, who in theory should have been a bigger draw than Hajduk. With the score at 0-0 in the 86th minute, midfielder Ion Geolgău breaks into to the box and strikes the ball in to the net for the hosts, queuing a pitch invasion from the ball boys. Through the resulting celebration we also get a nice look the Craiova kit, which had changed from Adidas the previous year to this unknown brand:
This triggers jubilation from the stands the the likes of which could maybe only be seen in a country suffering through an authoritarian regime, with the ecstasy of football providing a release valve for real world problems as it does on some level for supporters in stadiums all over the world. First we see two smoke bombs coming from the grass behind the running track (extra points for athletics stadium, which we love) before another explodes in the middle:
These are proper, old “bombs” rather than the modern colourful kind, with an aurally satisfying bang like a distant gun shot accompanying each one, as well as the defining noise coming from the supporters themselves. A wider shot reveals several more going off around the ground along with many flags, as the players continue to celebrate:
As many other plumes of grey smoke billow, it is important to recognise that this is coming from all around the ground rather a single, dedicated ultras section as you might expect in western stadiums, demonstrating the immense supporter culture at the club:
The Hajduk players prepare to kick-off but the bombardment goes on:
Oddly for the era, experienced French referee Michel Vautrot is reluctant to restart the game while this is happening. But instead of subsiding to allow the game to finish, the rapturous display only gets closer. As you can see below, one bomb lands right at the border where the track meets the field, which for our purposes we are happy to acknowledge as pyro on the pitch. A Craiova player can be seen reaching the end of his patience and appeals to the crowd with arm gestures, as the flash of yet another bomb lights up the running track itself:
It turns out is the player in question is the hero of the hour himself, Ion, who is now clearly lamenting his sporting achievement due to the fact it has caused this evidently distressing display of positive emotion which is preventing the sport itself from reaching it’s conclusion. You could call it the ultimate “Ion-y”. The irritable Ion had need not fret though, as the game is eventually restarted and the last few mins played, his goal enough to secure the win on the night. We leave with with one last scan around the packed Stadionul Central, as grey of clouds of Maximum Love still hang in the air:
Despite those scenes, it was not to be a happy ending for Craiova in that year’s competition. The return leg in Split saw the hosts win 1-0 to draw level on aggregate before securing the tie on penalties, which set them on their way to what would turn out to be the greatest continental run of all time for a Croatian side in reaching the semi-finals before defeat to eventual winners Tottenham Hotspur (unsurprisingly for Hajduk, that game saw plenty of it’s own pyro action). While we say goodbye to Craiova, who’s fans we can thank for the amazing images above, we will leave you with some scenes from the second leg as a reminder of Hajduk’s own supporter heritage, as we are definitely not done with them. Look out for their return in the not too distant future, on another episode of Pyro On The Pitch.