A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today
Champions 26 times but not since 2015, Steaua Bucharest are Romania’s most successful club, winning the European Cup, in 1986. Now called FCSB and carrying over that illustrious heritage despite claims from the actual side owned by the Ministry of Defence, CSA Steaua, the club has been in legal entanglements while finishing league runners-up seven seasons out of eight up to 2023.
At the centre of the dispute is FSCB’s notorious owner Gigi Becali, whose personal connections with the military allowed him to accumulate wealth he was then able to spend on his team. Shortly after Steaua won the title in 2013, Becali received a jail sentence for his dealings.
Royal military officers founded Steaua in 1947, when the country was still a constitutional monarchy with a mainly Communist government. The club changed acronyms – ASA, CSCA, CCA – as it pushed to win regular league titles.
Renamed Steaua in 1961, the club attracted Romania’s top young talent to its base in south-west Bucharest with the promise of foreign travel and no national service.
Known more for their prowess in the cup, taking the trophy six times between 1966 and 1976, Steaua began to dominate once manager Emerich Jenei arrived.
After winning their first league title of the decade in 1985, Steaua survived a fiery encounter with Kispest-Honvéd to surprise many by beating Enzo Scifo’s Anderlecht in the semi-finals of the European Cup.
The final in Seville, against Terry Venables’ Barcelona, went to extra-time. Barça, who had got through their semi on penalties, then had every single one saved by inspired Steaua keeper Helmuth Duckadam. An all-Romanian team had won the European Cup, the first time it had gone behind the Iron Curtain.
Drafting in Sportul Studențesc’s Gheorghe Hagi, the most significant of Steaua’s forced transfers, the club promoted Jenei’s assistant Anghel Iordănescu to chief coach. His high-scoring team that made the European Cup Final again, in 1989, were of better quality – but came up against Baresi’s Milan in their pomp.
Soon the new free-market economy changed the structure of the domestic game. Top players left for the West while clubs no longer received total, tacit support from powerful state bodies. Land deals with the Army allowed Gigi Becali to create his fortune and take over Steaua.
With everyone else in the same boat, Steaua managed to keep hold of the prolific Ilie Dumitrescu until his move to Spurs in 1994, before Ion Vladiou took over his striking role.
After six consecutive post-Ceaușescu titles, and with the dealings of owner Gigi Becali becoming ever murkier, Steaua next came to the fore in 2006. Beating city rivals Rapid on the way, Steaua made the semi-final of the UEFA Cup, only a late comeback sending Middlesbrough to the final. A second consecutive title win barely compensated. Playmaker Nicolae Dică deserved better – and certainly better than a miserable time in Catania after his transfer.
By now, CFR Cluj had become the dominant side in Romania, the vibrant economy in the main cities of Transylvania, with links to Hungary, leaving the former giants of Bucharest trailing.
Steaua bounced back to win the title in 2013, the first of three on the bounce. Top goalscorer Raul Rusescu, who also led Unirea Urziceni to the title in 2009, was snapped up by Sevilla before Steaua could embark on a tricky Champions League campaign against Chelsea, Schalke and Basel. For the equally successful campaign of 2013-14, winger Gabriel Iancu stood out, the then teenager a product of Gheorghe Hagi’s FC Viitorul football academy.
Having led the club to two successive titles, ex-Steaua midfielder Laurențiu Reghecampf left for Saudi Arabia. The man he replaced in the Steaua midfield in 1996, Constantin Gălcă, took over managerial duties for 2014-15.
His side came within a whisker of making the Champions League again, only for a 90th-minute wonder goal from Wanderson, and goalkeeping heroics from ex-Rapid Bucharest defender Cosmin Moți saw Ludogorets Razgrad make the group stages on penalties.
By now, the murky dealings of Gigi Becali and how he acquired the club were being dragged through the courts, and he was legally required to relinquish the name of ‘Steaua Bucharest’. Rebranding it as FCSB, Becali also moved out of the Steaua Stadium at Ghencea, which was demolished in 2018.
Now based at the National Arena, FCSB continue to challenge strongly for the title and compete in Europe, playing the likes of Manchester City, Lazio and West Ham. In yet another legal conundrum, it has taken years for judges to decide who owns Steaua’s heritage, all those league titles and that European Cup of 1986.
The Army, meanwhile, reactivated the football section of its sports department, which began to operate as CSA Steaua in Liga IV in 2017-18. The team rose through the ranks, gaining two promotions, reaching Liga II In 2021 – although ownership by a governmental department means they are ineligible to join top-tier Liga I, despite second-placed finish in 2023.
On the plus side, after playing at Ghencea’s training pitches following the demolition of Steaua’s original ground, CSA were able to move into a completely rebuilt stadium in 2021. The opponents for the opening game were OFK Belgrade, the same team Steaua faced when Ghencea was first unveiled in 1974.
Perhaps more bizarrely, the demise of Dinamo Bucharest and relegation to Liga II has revived the Eternal Derby, and the cross-city clashes of the Ceaușescu era.
The field of dreams – and the stands around it
FCSB, the Gigi Becali continuation of Steaua Bucharest, play their home games at the National Arena, attracting around 10,000 fans for most matches. It’s a huge space to fill and almost certainly an expensive place to hire.
CSA Steaua, the club overseen by the Army in Liga II, play their games at the rebuilt Ghencea, the original having been knocked down in 2018. This was once the best stadium in Bucharest, even Romania itself. Unveiled in 1974, overhauled in 2006 and with quite the most luxurious VIP section this side of Vienna (armchair seats!), the Ghencea also featured undersoil heating, TV replays on the scoreboard and decent press facilities. Nearly 30,000 fans were squeezed close to the action.
The new €91 million iteration unveiled in 2021 holds an ambitious 31,000 spectators but it staged two of Romania’s World Cup qualifying games that same year, and the Army is looking to CSA Steaua usurping Gigi Becali’s FCSB at some stage, once some dodgy deal or other catches up on the former MEP.
Until then, visitors to Bucharest have the choice of watching two Steaua Bucharests at two different stadiums.
Going to the stadium – tips and timings
For details of how to get to where FCSB play, see National Arena. Ghencea is stuck out in the south-west of town, the surrounding streets patrolled by stray dogs.
Two trams run to the Ghencea: the 41 from Piața Crângași on yellow metro M1 and the 47 from focal Piața Unirii (M1/M3). Allow at least 20mins for either.
Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much
For domestic games involving FCSB, you’ll pay 15-20 lei/€3-€4 in the Peluzele behind the goals, 25 lei/€5 for the best seats there, and 25 lei/€5 in each Tribuna. Prime seats are 40 lei/€8 in Tribuna I.
Prices will increase slightly for prime European fixtures.
For CSA Steaua, pay on the day from the ticket windows by the main gates, cash-only, average price around 10-15 lei/€2-€3.
what to buy
Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts
The Magazin Oficial Steaua București (Mon-Fri 9am-7pm, Sat 9am-4pm) is at the Cladirea centre, 1st floor, sector 6, Bulevardul Drumul Taberei 44, on the same 41 tram line as the club’s old Ghencea Stadium a couple of stops away.
There’s a nice line in retro ’86 tops, including a Duckadem goalkeeping jersey. Various combinations of red and blue are used on replica shirts and T-shirts, with yellow the away choice. For a cheap, easy-to-carry yet impressive souvenir, the sticker kit (15 lei/€3) showing Steaua badges down the ages is a handy find.
Where to Drink
Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors
Heading to the National Arena, options line Bulevardul Besarabia, including the Berăria Park (No.37-39), a large beer garden done out in Tuborg green. Signature beer cocktails (21 lei/€4.30) come with white rum and grilled platters (99/179 lei/€20/€37) can be shared between several hungry people.
Just past the stadium, Champions serves its purpose perfectly, TV screens inside and out, and a pictorial history of Romanian sport on the walls.
For CSA Steaua, across the road from the Ghencea, Bulevard is named after the avenue it sits on, a gaudy spot for locals looking to impress, with DJ parties at weekends. It’s also hired out for weddings. Although it keeps regular opening hours, seven days a week, this may not be the kind of place to drop in for a quiet pre-match drink.
A better bet is the Hanul Drumețului (B-dul 1 Mai), on the street that runs parallel to Ghencea, about 10-15min walk away. It’s a typical local restaurant, with live accompaniment to meals on certain nights.