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Posted by on Aug 1, 2023 in Blog | 0 comments

Every Picture Tells a Story: A Romanian Soccer Riot — Bucharest (1990)

 

“Combine corruption, war, and a national election, and it was easy to foresee that another riot was about to take place in the 1990 Dinamo-Steaua soccer match.”

EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY
SOCCER RIOT AT STADIONUL 23 AUGUST (PART 1/2)
BUCHAREST, ROMANIA (1990)

You haven’t really “lived” life unless you’ve been in the middle of a European soccer riot.

The intercity soccer match played on May 2, 1990, between DINAMO and STEAUA wasn’t just a game between two bitter rivals. For most fans, it was far more personal than a sporting competition. For many thousands, it was an extension of war.

Since 1948, STEAUA had been the team representing the Romanian Army. DINAMO was the team of Romania’s internal security forces, including the dreaded secret police. To say these teams — and their rabid fans — hated each other would be a gross understatement.

Read More: Bitter political history lingers in Romania’s Eternal Derby between Steaua, Dinamo

The December 1989 Romanian Revolution had toppled longtime communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu only five months earlier. Thousands of ordinary Romanians died in the streets of Bucharest fighting each other. The Army (which sided with the revolt) and Securitate (Romania’s security apparatus loyal to Ceausescu) engaged in a brief war that would ultimately determine the nation’s fate. Hence, STEAUA fans mixed with DINAMO fans in an open stadium for the first time since the shooting ended. Making a dangerous situation even more tense, Romania’s first free national election in a half-century was scheduled for the following month, which pitted the fans on opposite sides of the major parties and candidates.

At the time, some of Romania’s soccer matches were known by insiders to be fixed. Politics played the biggest role. Referees were corrupt. Sometimes, entire teams would lose intentionally. A few years earlier, the team from Nicolae Ceasescu’s hometown, FC Olt Scorniceşti, which wasn’t known as a soccer power, had defeated their opponent 18-0 in a critical game. That’s 18 goals to zero, in a soccer match — virtually unheard of. Even a recent Steaua-Dinamo game had devolved into chaos when a preposterous offsides call late in the game against Romanian superstar Gheorghe Hagi gave Dinamo a controversial lead. Steaua walked off the field in protest and refused to return, resulting in a forfeit. Dinamo was declared the winner, a decision that was later reversed by government authorities, creating absolute bedlam in Romanian soccer ranks. Add war and a national election, and it was foreseeable that another riot was about to take place.

Gee, what could possibly go wrong?

Held on a late Wednesday afternoon, the Steaua-Dinamo game ended up being a wildly-entertaining 6-4 win by Dinamo Bucharest. Only 30,000 fans showed up in the Cold War relic, a 50,000-seat stadium named 23 August after the date of national liberation in World War II. Many fans were put off by very real fears of violence breaking out, which is precisely what happened about midway through the game. Fans of both teams were separated by wire fencing set up in the stands. Armed military units patrolled the two seating sections, with guards who were obviously pro-Steaua (the Army’s team). That only made a volatile situation worse. If you look at the photo closely, in the opposite corner of the end zone you can see a section left open to divide the fans. That partition did not last. Fans rushed together, hurled insults at each other, and fought during most of the second half. A few times, the game was stopped because of roars from the crowd and fears they might storm onto the field.

I took this photo (see above) from our seats on the opposite side of Stadionul 23 August. We’d walked to the game from Marieta’s apartment, which was right next to the stadium.  Also, note that Mariet’as apartment building can be seen on the television broadcast.  It’s one of those white towers across the street from the stadium and park:

 

The stadium would soon become famous for another reason, which will be revealed in Part 2.

Also, the Dinamo-Steaua rivalry is still a very bitter divide. Two recent matches were suspended because fans ignited fires inside the new stadium built upon the old hollowed grounds of Stadionul 23 August.  Here’s one image of the riot:

 

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Coming in Part 2: Michael Jackson performs at Stadionul 23 August.

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