Branch History - Chapter 9

Recollections of Romania

In 1986/7 United were drawn away to the Romanian club Universtat Craiova in the second round of the UEFA cup. Seven of our members travelled with the team on the chartered plane and could not believe some of the things that happened on that trip.

One of them was Brian Beattie who was a committee member at that time and is still a regular traveller on the bus. Brian took the time to cast his mind back and highlight some of the events that occurred on that trip. At that time Romania was still a communist state behind the “Iron Curtain“ so life for a Romanian was totally different from anyone living in the west.

Here is Brian’s story:

While this could never be described as the most exciting trip it certainly was unforgettable and it did let us see the difference in life style experienced by those living behind the “Iron Curtain”. The outward journey did not start too well as Ken Smith and I forgot our United scarves. Fortunately United were a big enough club at that time that the sports shop in Gorgie Rd stocked United scarves so Ken and I nipped along and bought our brand new scarves.

When we arrived in Romania it was at a military airfield. They took our passports and we were held for 3 hours with armed police all over the place. There were no toilets so when we felt the need to pay a visit we had an armed escort into a small wood nearby. It felt like we were being taken away to be shot!

Another memory was that one of the players got up to some nonsense and put some soft porn magazines in another player’s case. This did not go down well with the immigration officers and caused a real scene much to the pleasure of the “offender” and his mates who were in the know. Jim McLean was not amused.

We were staying in the plushest hotel in Craiova but the food was terrible. United had known about this so they had their own chef and hampers of food for the players. In fact, Jim McLean took pity on us and gave us a supply of Mars Bars and bananas to supplement our diet. The lack of any decent food brought out our basic/ hunter gatherer instinct and then we got a big surprise. Right there in front of us was a big limousine with the American Flag on it. Brain started to work, Americans like food, maybe there is an American consulate here, maybe even a McDonalds, the thought of a hamburger compared to what we had been given to eat had us all salivating. So we approached the car to ask the driver a few food related questions. As soon as we got to near to it we were confronted with police carrying guns and they would not let us near it. We discovered later that inside the car was classed as American soil so that if any local managed to get in to it he could claim asylum.

Later we saw the car parked and managed to speak to the driver who dashed our hopes on the food front by telling us that he was only down from the capital Bucharest for the day bringing someone to the University. Once again the car was surrounded by armed police.

The United supporters were, of course, totally unaccustomed to this and I remember well a United supporter going up to one of the armed police and asking “Geeze a shot of your gun for a photie”. The policeman just did not know how to react but I’m pleased to report that nobody got shot.

It so happened that the attaché at the British Embassy came from Musselburgh so he came over to the hotel for a chat with us. He explained what things were like in Romania at that time with the inhabitants being kept very much under the thumb. I remember him telling us to look around in the hotel lounge and these guys in the leather jackets smoking and reading the papers are actually the secret police keeping their eyes on us. I think he was delighted to see some folks from Scotland.

We met up with some East Germans who were great supporters of Scottish Football in general and Dundee United in particular. We were amazed when they asked us if Peterhead were still top of the Highland League and then went on to say “where is Raith, we cannot find it on the map?" They were very keen to get all the information we could provide about Scottish Football. We exchanged addresses and, in fact, some time later we sent them a parcel of souvenirs but we never heard from them again. That was not unusual in these days. It seems they could travel anywhere behind the Iron Curtain but could not travel to the West.

A newspaper article about them meeting up with other United supporters in Czechoslovakia the following season is in the photo gallery. The East Germans told us that someone was always listening so they spoke very softly and only spoke when they were on the move always looking over their shoulders. At one point we were surrounded by a crowd of local youths who were chanting for the local team. Before things got out of hand whistles were being blown and the armed police appeared on the scene. The youths disappeared like snow off a dyke. They sure knew how to deal with troublemakers over there but I’m pretty sure we could not live with such strict control. There was a 9pm curfew for locals so after 9 the streets were deserted.

Another United supporter was arrested for taking pictures of the trains at the Railway Station. Like anybody who stepped out of line he just disappeared. Fortunately he was released and made it back to Scotland. We then come to the match itself. The small band of United supporters were surrounded by armed police “for their own safety”. Again if a toilet visit was necessary an armed escort was required. One other memory was of Paul Hegarty. For some reason Paul, who was injured, was not allowed to sit on the bench so he was sitting beside me in the stadium. I was amazed at the different slant I got of the game by listening to how a professional sees things compared to a fan like me. The players who were not marking, not tracking back or not making the correct runs into space were all quickly identified by Paul.

I am sure things will be a bit different in Romania nowadays but at that time it is certainly not the place you would chose for your holidays.