Saturday, 17 July 2010

FC Astra Ploieşti (Romania)

For a team who haven't achieved the greatest results in their long history, Astra still seem to have packed a lot of comings and goings into their time on the grass - albeit most of it off the pitch. They formed in 1934 in Ploieşti, the ninth biggest city in Romania. A mere 35 miles north of the capital Bucharest, the town is perhaps more famous for its historic oil wells which made it sporadically rich. So rich in fact that it once declared itself an independent republic after a short-lived rebellion against the Romania monarchy in 1870.

This rich vein of going against the grain has continued in the city, but not much of it has found its way to Astra, who had a pretty indistinguished league career in the middling leagues until it finally won the Liga II title in 1998, which gave them five uncharacteristically happy years in the top flight. Its only other title of any kind was when it won the Liga III title in 2008, but they have made the semi-finals of the Cupa României on two occasions in the last decade as well.

Their spell in the top flight ended in 2003, when a lack of funds forced them to merge with their much more successful city rivals Petrolul Ploieşti - although when we say merge, we actually mean competely absorbed. After two years in footballing nowhereland, local businessman Ioan Niculae - the seventh richest man in Romania - decided to refound them under the name of FC Ploieşti and send them back to their old Stadionul Astra home. But last year, after they were once again promoted to Liga I, he decided to revert to the historic old name of Astra, and revert to the old black and white stripes, after a couple of years playing in a strip more akin to AC Milan. Well, it makes more sense when you consider they're better know to their friends and enemies alike as The Black Devils! 

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