BUCHAREST, Romania — It was the final game of the season, and the Scornicesti soccer team needed a big victory to be promoted to Romania's second division.
To no one's surprise, a very big victory was what it got.
Scornicesti, the team from a small town that happened to be the home of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, won that last match of the 1977-78 season 18-0.
The following year, the team that came to epitomize the corruption of the Ceausescu era was awarded a tie-breaking goal after the final whistle as it battled Metalul for promotion to the first division. The referee later said he had little choice but to count the tainted goal.
Ceausescu ruled Romania for more than 20 years as his personal fiefdom until he was deposed and executed in December. Sports took a prominent place in his vision of a perfect socialist society, and those who were victimized felt powerless to try to change that view.
"It wasn't cowardice, it was realism," one sports official said, explaining why he had failed to protest that late goal Scornicesti scored against Metalul.
Since soccer is the most popular sport in the East European country, Ceausescu and members of his extended family made various teams their toys. Scornicesti's patron was Lica Barbulescu, the brother-in-law of Ceausescu.
"In all our life there were many compromises," said Doina Stanescu, a sports writer for the Gazeta Sporturilor (Sports Gazette). "It was not only in soccer, of course, but that was just a consequence of it."
Interviews with sports writers and officials paint a picture of rigging Romanian soccer matches that make baseball's Black Sox scandal or college basketball point-shaving cases look minor league.
They said Romanian soccer fans routinely went to games presuming the winner already was known. Newspapers were told which reporters should cover games. Referees were assumed to be corrupt.
Constantin Firanescu, a veteran soccer writer, said players did not have to be paid off -- they knew they were not supposed to win against Scornicesti and other Ceausescu-backed teams, so they entered games fearing reprisals if they won.
Steaua Bucharest, winner of the Champions Cup in 1986 and one of Europe's traditional powers, was the team of Ceausescu's son Valentin and brother Ilie. Its biggest rival was Dinamo Bucharest, sponsored by the hated Securitate, or secret police.
Steaua and Dinamo met in the final of the Romanian Cup in June 1988, with the game tied 1-1 in the final minutes. Steaua scored a goal that was nullified by an offsides call, so regulation time ended with a draw.
Valentin Ceausescu refused to allow Steaua to return for overtime and the game was forfeited to Dinamo. But the Ceausescu family quickly convened a meeting of the Romanian Communist Party's Central Committee, which awarded the cup to Steaua.
A few weeks ago, Steaua president Cristian Gatu returned the cup trophy to the Romanian Soccer Federation.
Steaua and Dinamo routinely took players from other clubs without offering a transfer fee or player trade. Gheorghe Hagi, the star midfielder for Steaua, was taken from first-division rival Sportul Studentesc in 1987.
"Hagi was taken from us and they gave us nothing. We have been fighting for three years with Steaua over it," said Mac Popescu, president of Sportul Studentesc. "It was illegal. I demanded compensation but Steaua, supported by the soccer federation, did not answer us."
When the subject is soccer corruption, Romanians quickly turn the conversation to Scornicesti. Though the team was disbanded shortly after December's revolution, its legacy remains a scar on Romanian sports.
The team was formed in 1977-78 and immediately joined the third division. It entered its final game of that debut season trailing Flacara Automatica Moreni on goal differential in the fight for promotion.
On June 21, 1978, Scornicesti defeated Electrodul Slatina 18-0 to gain promotion. That translates into a goal every five minutes.
In the spring of 1979, Scornicesti and Metalul were battling for promotion to the first division when they played in Scornicesti and the local team was awarded a goal after the final whistle to win 2-1.
Petrica Nicolae, a member of the sports committee for the Bucharest area that included Metalul, met the referee two days after the match.
"I asked the referee and he said, 'Why are you so surprised? Don't you know to whom the team belongs?"' Nicolae remembered.
"It was an abuse in this game and because of the situation in this country no one said the truth," Nicolae said through an interpreter. "No one protested or made an official act to say it was illegal. Because it was Barbulescu, everyone shut up."
Nicolae, his voice rising, switched to English to explain why he had not complained about the game at the time.
"Because in my room was a picture of Ceausescu. And in my office was a picture of Ceausescu, not my picture," he said.
"I wasn't allowed to give my opinion," he said, returning to Romanian. "It wasn't cowardice, it was realism. We didn't have any options."