The highpoint of a club’s 131-year history distilled into a single, iconic photograph. Bayern Munich’s Olympiastadion board displays the most unlikely of scores: FC BAYERN 0 RAITH ROVERS FC 1. That Bayern already led by two goals from the first leg and ultimately won this particular game too is an almost superfluous footnote in what was, briefly at least, one of Scottish football’s great fairytale moments.
The 1995-96 season brought the first and only foray into Europe for Raith Rovers and the novelty and exoticism of that UEFA Cup campaign will long be remembered by supporters of the Fife club. European competition history is littered with clubs like Raith who were briefly good enough to earn qualification to a UEFA tournament, but never quite good enough to repeat the feat. As part of a regular new BTLM feature called One-Timers, we’ll be looking back at some of those clubs and exploring how their brief moment in the sun came about.
Our first featured selection is the now extinct Romanian club of FC Corvinul Hunedoara, a left-field choice that will probably ring few bells even among the most seasoned of Europhiles. This was a club that had historically muddled along between the second and third tiers of the Romanian game until the arrival of a very famous figure in Romanian football.
Mircea Lucescu is recognised to this day as one of his country’s most influential coaches and this sometimes means his brilliant playing career is overlooked. A flying right-winger at Dinamo Bucharest with tactical sense and maturity beyond his years, Lucescu became Romania’s youngest-ever captain at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. The reasons why he wound up at little Corvinul seven years later following a star-studded career at Dinamo were somewhat unconventional. In March of 1977 a powerful earthquake struck Romania killing more than 1,400 people, the great majority of the deaths occurring in urbanised Bucharest from buildings that collapsed by the dozen.
Lucescu’s wife was traumatised and desperate to leave the capital fearing another earthquake could strike at any time. Her husband pacified her by negotiating a move out of the capital to the more rural Transylvanian steel-making town of Hunedoara where he would join Corvinul. Lucescu was 31-years-old and with plenty still to offer as a footballer. A move to a club with just two top-flight seasons to its name might have seemed a big drop in standards, but ultimately it would prove a great testing ground to develop his fledgling theories about management. After two strong seasons he was appointed player-manager with Corvinul now well established as a Divizia A club for the first time.
Leaning on the club’s strong reputation for developing youth talent, Lucescu started to craft a team of brilliant youngsters that included future international regulars like Michael Klein, Ioan Andone, Mircea Rednic, Dorin Mateut and Romulus Gabor. Using his contacts from the capital he added a couple of wise old heads by persuading Dinamo veterans Radu Nunweiler and Florea Dumitrache – his attacking partner for a decade in Bucharest – to see out their playing days at Corvinul.
Each successive year saw tangible progress and Lucescu’s team reached new heights during the 1981-82 season. Dinamo Bucharest won the title but Corvinul pipped Olt Scornicesti on goal difference to snatch third place and one of Romania’s precious UEFA Cup spots. European football was coming to Hunedoara for the first and only time.
The Austrians of Grazer AK became Corvinul’s debut European opponents and the Romanians eased comfortably through the teams’ First Round UEFA Cup tie. A 1-1 draw in Austria was followed up by an emphatic 3-0 win in the home leg thanks to goals by Andone, Mateut and the ageless Dumitrache. FK Sarajevo would prove more exacting opposition in the next round. Leading 4-2 in their home leg after another stirring home performance, Corvinul missed the opportunity to put the tie out of reach of the Yugoslavs when Michael Klein squandered an easy chance to add a fifth. Sarajevo duly scored twice in the last ten minutes to level the game at 4-4. The Romanians were easily beaten in the return, seemingly still deflated by their late first leg collapse.
Corvinul’s once-in-a-lifetime team started to disintegrate as the veterans retired and their manager and talented youngsters moved en masse to Dinamo Bucharest. While Corvinul would never threaten Romania’s European places again, the club did remain competitive and spent the rest of the 1980s comfortably in Divizia A mid-table. Relegation came in 1992 and the chances of the town ever seeing European football again look non-existent with the debt-stricken club going under in 2004. A decade later the town still has no senior football club.