Imagine if Manchester United were one day told by the English Crown Court that they could no longer play in red, wear a devil on their crest or, indeed, refer to themselves as Manchester United: Quite a blow to Ed Woodward’s plans for global sports brand indomitability.
This week, this very thing has happened to Steaua Bucharest, the most successful team in Romania and winners of the 1986 European Cup. Steaua have been convicted of trademark infringement by the Romanian courts and are no longer allowed to play in their traditional blue and red, while the team’s crest has been replaced with an empty square. Most ridiculous of all, Steaua Bucharest can now only refer to themselves as the “hosts,” “defending champions” or indeed anything other than “Steaua Bucharest”.
The ruling follows a lawsuit brought by Romania’s Ministry of National Defense against what they say is the illegal use of the Steaua brand. Steaua was founded in 1947 by the Romanian Army as part of a broader sports society, though the club hasn’t had any affiliation with the military since 1998.
It’s a sad state of affairs for the supporters of a team that has won its domestic league a record 25 times and was the first from the Eastern Bloc to lift the European Cup, defeating Barcelona in the final. And it’s perfectly clear who is to blame for their current malaise: Steaua’s racist, sexist and homophobic owner, Gigi Becali.
Becali is a part-time politician, full-time nut job who wears $4,000 shoes and has a painting of himself as Jesus in Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper. He once sacked a coach for being “too Muslim,” banned Steaua’s in-house DJ from playing Queen songs on account of Freddie Mercury’s sexuality, and reputedly refused to sign former Liverpool striker Florent Sinama-Pongolle due to the color of his skin.
As if that wasn’t enough, Becali is currently running Steaua from a jail cell, where he’s serving a three-and-a-half year sentence for three separate convictions: match-fixing, illegally holding three people against their will, and abuse of power.
It’s the latter that likely piqued the Ministry of National Defense’s interest in pursuing their breach of trademark lawsuit: Becalli’s abuse of power conviction was for conning the Romanian state out of $1,000,000 via a dodgy land deal with, you guessed it, the Ministry of National Defense. Quite the coincidence.
So, the next time you bemoan the state of your own club for putting up ticket prices, sticking by a hapless manager or not spending infinite amounts of cash on players, spare a thought for the fans of Steaua Bucharest: nameless, badge-less and run by a lunatic in a Romanian prison cell.
And yet, somehow, they’re nine points clear at the top of Liga 1.