Sunday, 21 July 2013

We've played European Champions before

Michael Dunne, creator of the All Departments AFC Bournemouth Fans’ Podcast, recalls the another time when the former European Champions visited Dean Court. You can listen to All Departments free at All Departments and follow the show on Twitter @alldepartments

Tonight’s friendly with Real Madrid brings back memories of another unlikely match up between our beloved Cherries and European footballing aristocracy. Steau Bucharest may have fallen from continent’s highest echelons in recent years, but when they visited Dean Court in February 1990 they were very much in their pomp. The previous May they had been runners up in the Champions League final, and in 1986 had become the first team from Eastern Europe to win the trophy, beating Real’s arch rivals Barcelona in a penalty shoot-out. In between, they had also appeared in the semi-final of Europe’s top competition, so it came as something of a surprise when the announcement was made at the old Dean Court that we would be hosting Romania’s best team on a free Saturday, having been knocked out of the FA Cup by Sheffield United the previous month.

Having just turned 17, I was somewhat starry-eyed at these developments, and wasted no time in securing the afternoon off from my part-time job in Christchurch to see the game with my own eyes. I caught an early bus with a couple of my friends, leaving plenty of time to see the Steau team warm up before kick off. We sat on the front seat at the top of the bus and, as we waited at the traffic lights at Pokesdown station, a slightly battered looking white coach pulled out from the left. To my astonishment it contained the classiest outfit ever to come out from behind the Iron Curtain. With what felt like miraculous timing, our light immediately turned green and we were right behind the Steau coach. The backs of a few of what we took to be the players’ heads were visible through the rear window and, as we loudly speculated as to who they might be, no less a figure than Gheorge Hagi, Romania’s greatest ever player, turned around, smiled and waved at us, followed by several others, including the mercurial Marius Lacatus and future Chelsea star Dan Petrescu.

Alas, our new pals from Bucharest were already in the dressing room by the time we arrived at the Court, and our explanation of the above events to the doorman did not weaken his resolve to keep us out.

Lacatus was the star of the show on pitch, scoring twice in a 3-1 win for Steau. Hagi lived up to his nickname of the ‘Maradona of the Carpathians’, pulling the strings in midfield with consummate ease. Overall, I thought we coped manfully with such skill and finesse and gave, as they say in football, a good account of ourselves against far superior opposition.

The strangest thing about this whole incongruous affair was that Steau were unable to find any other English team willing to play them on their trip, a fact that at the time I put down to some murky Cold War shenanigans going on deep behind the scenes. I don’t imagine this evening’s illustrious opponents have been equally short of offers.

Michael also kindly took some photographs of Dean Court yesterday so do take a look at them as the stadium is tidied up ahead of the Real Madrid match.

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