For somebody that has visited Hungary on many occasions, I only took in my first matches in 2011. My report, which appeared on the number one English language Hungarian football website (www.Hungarianfootball.com) can be read here.
Having whet my appetite, I couldn’t wait to go back for more. After scanning the fixture list, I selected exactly the same weekend that I went away the previous year and having found that Wizz Air, Luton – Budapest, had worked out as the most reasonably priced.
Thursday 25th October 2012
Once passing through security at Luton and paying £4 a pint, it suddenly dawned on me just how soulless air travel really is. Airport buildings and their interiors have no character, people never just ‘pass the time’ with small-talk as they await their flight, there is always a feeling of waiting, just waiting and waiting some more, because you have to turn up so early and herd from one queue to another.
There was a slight late start to my flight to Budapest, but the journey was comfortable and without incident. On arrival at Ferenc Liszt Airport, I took the airport bus to Kőbánya-Kispest and then the metro to my rented apartment. In the evening I dined in a delightful restaurant on Liszt Ferenc square, before retiring to get some sleep.
Friday 26th October 2012
Just like in England, Hungarian football matches are staggered over the weekend to gain the maximum opportunity for TV exposure. Hungarian football is characterised by dwindling crowds but TV companies appetite remains strong, suggesting that there is a latent interest from the domestic fans, if only in-between getting their fix of English, Italian, Spanish or Champions League coverage.
Unlike in England, the matches chosen for television are only announced a few weeks before they are due to be played. The TV channels had pumped for ‘relegation battle Friday’ (christened by me – not them) with Siofok v KTE as the 1700 kick-off and Eger v Pápa being shown at 1900. Siofok is the main party resort for the young on the southern shore of Lake Balaton and Eger a beautiful historical city in the North East of the country. Either way it meant staying away from the capital, despite having booked my apartment for the duration of my stay. I decided on the game in the north and booked into a hotel near the ground. Only after which I discovered that Eger had not played at home all season. MLSZ, the Hungarian Football Association, had deemed their ground unsuitable for the top flight, and whilst the club desired to be playing back at their 6000 capacity Szentmarjay Tibor Városi Stadion before season end, it wasn’t going to happen before the game against Pápa (or Lombard-Pápa to use their full name). Eger had played home games in Debrecen, Miskolc and Budapest prior to this game, so I really wasn’t sure which way it would go. But I wanted to stick with this game in the hope that it would be played in Miskolc, where I have family. Around 10 days before the game, it was announced that Debrecen’s Oláh Gábor utcai Stadion would be the venue. A round-trip of 160 miles for the Eger players and fans for a home game! Not forgetting that Pápa had a 500 mile round-trip. For those of you that don’t know, there aren’t many places in Hungary which are 250 miles apart!
I was booked on an early afternoon InterCity train service departing Budapest’s Nyugati station, so I spent the morning exploring the city. This city oozes history around every single corner and I was starting to immerse myself in it. I have visited Budapest many times before, from very early childhood and have seen such a transformation in the political and social history of the nation in this relatively short time. However the buildings on these narrow side-streets and broad sweeping boulevards have seen it all, from the Habsburgs, to the Austro-Hungarian empire, Nazi forces during WWII and the subsequent Soviet occupation and inevitable iron-fist rule. By 1956 Hungary had had enough and tried and very nearly overthrew their Soviet ‘masters’. There is not a single Hungarian I know whose family history was not touched by these events in the Autumn of 1956 and the revolutionary tale is expertly told by Anglo-Hungarian Victor Sebestyen in his book Twelve Days, a book I had just started reading before I left home.
A national holiday has been declared on October 23 each year since communism was eventually overthrown in 1989 and the memorials to those that perished in 1956 and the plethora of national flags were still very evident, three days after the day of remembrance. I visited the Kossuth Lajos square, adjacent to the Parlament building were there are permanent memorial to the revolution and at this time large Hungarian flags being displayed with the centre circle missing. One of the symbols of the revolution was the Hungarian flag with this centre piece missing. On Soviet occupation the traditional flag was annotated with a Soviet emblem, the revolutionaries didn’t want their national flag to be smeared in this way.
From here I made my way to Nyugati station for my 2-and-a-half hour trip to Debrecen. Before departure I noticed a supposedly very British hobby being undertaken in the station as groups of and individual young men were photographing what looked like a freshly painted electric locomotive. The journey to Debrecen passed without incident. This part of Hungary is very flat and is often referred to as the Great Plain. Despite this there was colourful Autumnal scenery to observe, particularly when crossing the River Tisza in Eastern Hungary. I even passed one ground en route, that of Cegléd (see ground here), who play in NBII (2nd division), the team I plan to see play Újpest B at the latter’s ground on Sunday. To accompany me on the journey I had a couple of bottles of Borsodi’s very fine búzasör (wheat beer).
After taking the tram to my hotel I set about walking to the ground, via the Garda Pizzeria for my dinner. The menu had an English translation, but I had wished it hadn’t, after seeing the following on the menu …
I passed on the Cock Testicle and Comb Stew and decided upon something that I was a little more familiar with! Afterwards I set about finding my way to Oláh Gábor utcai through the leafy suburban streets of this University city. I was soon guided by the floodlights to the ground which is situated in one corner or a large city park. On approach though, it felt little like matchday with just the one sunflower seed / hot dog / drink seller set up on a fold out table outside the ground. There was a big TV presence with broadcast vans, floodlights and miles and miles of cabling, but little and hardly anybody else. With it still being almost an hour until kick-off, I wandered past the open security gate and through a side-entrance into the ground. There was no entrance fee, or if there was, it wasn’t being policed very well. There was literally no more than half a dozen fans inside the ground, which was a series of four uncovered seating stands with very little infrastructure around them (unlike many British-style stands which often have a circulating area underneath the seating / standing area). Accompanying the 6 or so fans were around 50, yes 50, burly male ‘stewards’, dressed identically in red jackets with ‘Security’ emblazoned on the back. Each of these men looked like they had lived their whole lives in a weights room and were only brought out for feeding or providing security services at football matches.
I took a seat in one of the stands alongside the side of the pitch and realised just how cold the night air was! It wasn’t far off freezing, so with 45 minutes still until kick-off and with no need for a bag of sunflower seeds, I headed to a restaurant close-by for warmth and another beer.
I returned to the ground around half an hour later and noticed the crowd had swelled almost ten-fold! There was now as many fans as security! A quick headcount and estimate by me put the crowd at 50, but the official attendance was recorded in the national sports newspaper Nemzeti Sport the following day as 56. To my right behind one of the goals were around 8 or so Eger fans, who made the long journey and never stopped singing throughout the game. They seemed the complete polar opposite to the Manchester United/ Chelsea / Real Madrid supporting, TV watching, football fan that unfortunately are far too prevalent in Hungarian society. It seemed that the rest of the crowd were largely neutrals.
The surreal nature of the event wasn’t compromised when Gangnam Style was selected as the music that the teams took to the field to!
At last the game kicked off, and it was a cautious approach from both teams. There seemed to be no real rhythm to the game and possession was lost far too easily in midfield. In the first quarter there was only one really stand-out player and that was Pápa’s Quintero. A Colombian who pulled the strings in Papa’s midfield. After only 17 minutes Eger’s Serb, Pavicevic, who had previously required quite lengthy treatment was substituted by Hamouz, a Czech. However after 28 minutes it was a Hungarian that grabbed the headlines as Adam Farkas waltzed through the Pápa defence beating a number if payers and slotting past the Pápa ‘keeper. This was the most skilful play I was to see all game and had come after a period of Pápa domination.
Just 4 minutes later, with Pápa looking for an equaliser a totally innocuous cross from the right hit the shin of a returning Eger defender and spun wickedly over his ‘keeper’s head, bounced just over the line and into the back of the net. 1-1.
The first 20 minutes of the second half breathed a bit more life into this game. Both teams had one golden opportunity each which they failed to convert. Eger with a header that whistled millimetres over the bar and Pápa on a counter attack, that culminated in a one-on-one with the Eger ‘keeper. Unfortunately for the away team, despite the striker’s lob clearing the ‘keeper’s reach, the ball bounced just outside the post and away to safety.
The last quarter of the game really had no momentum, as if neither team wanted to taste defeat, but weren’t prepared to take any risks in attack. There was one mistake in the later stages of the game by the Eger defence, which would have been punished had it not been for woeful finishing. At which point the Eger coach Ferenc Meszaros encroached onto the field of play to give his back four a good old Hungarian rollicking! The 4th official wasn’t happy, but he couldn’t make Meszaros see sense. Finally the referee came over to calm the irate coach down after which he returned to his dugout, but not before he kicked a water bottle á la Arsene Wenger.
Final score 1-1.
Saturday 27th October 2013
It was an early start for me today to get back to Budapest for my next Hungarian football fix, therefore I had to skip breakfast at my hotel and caught the tram back to Debrecen station.
Once there I ordered a coffee and a selection of jam filled pastries. I needed the latter to take away the taste of the former. If I had dipped the plastic cup into a road layer’s tar bucket I think it would have tasted better. I welcomed the arrival of the 0749 to Budapest as a chance to rest before the next game.
I arrived back at Budapest Nyugati station and made my way to Ferencváros’ ground the Albert Flórián Stadion. This was because I had to collect my Fradi Card (Fradi being the shortened nickname of Ferencváros). As far as I am aware, Fradi are the only club in Hungary to have an ID card scheme. They are the most successful club in Hungary, the most popular, but also have the supporters with the most notorious reputation. However I was able to register for a card in England and collected it on my arrival today at the Fradi Shop. I was then permitted to buy a ticket for the following day’s game against table-toppers Györ.
After returning to my apartment I then started to make my way to the suburb of Kispest for today’s match, the Budapest derby between Honvéd and Újpest. Whilst this may not have the spice of the big derby between Fradi and Újpest, the local police or Rendőrség weren’t taking anything for granted. Police armed with batons, helmets, pistols and gas masks (!) were on every vehicle of each underground train towards Határ út, where I changed for a tram to the ground. When I got off the tram, I saw further evidence that the Rendőrség weren’t taking things lightly.
At the entrance to the stadium complex there was a ticket office and I was told that I needed to pick up my pre-booked internet-purchased tickets up from the main office inside the ground. Adjacent to the ticket office was a memorial to Hungary’s greatest ever footballer, Honvéd’s most famous son, the late Ferenc Puskás. As I made my way to the main office, I passed a 3G training pitch to my left and a wall to my right, the latter artistically decorated in Honvéd colours and images, before happening upon a memorial to another legend, that of József Bozsik, another member of the Magical Magyars team that dominated world football in the 1950s, and whom the Honvéd stadium is named after. Puskás has the honour of having the national stadium named after him.
On arrival at the main office I was left to my own devices to find my match ticket. I started wondering around the corridors of this administrative building, before looking through the one open door there was, with what looked like a member of the coaching staff sat inside. In my broken Hungarian I tried to ascertain where I could pick up my pre-paid ticket and ‘coach’ motioned me to follow him to another office, where a lady reached inside her top drawer and pulled out an envelope with my ticket in. The club shop was also housed in this building and was well stocked, except for the one essential item I needed to keep out the Budapest Autumn chill – a Honvéd scarf. I settled on a Honvéd shoebag for my son and ended up paying most un-Hungarian prices.
After eventually getting through the turnstile there were ample hot dog and beer stands dotted around and after buying and consuming one of each, I walked up a flight of stairs to get to the main stand and take my seat. I had decided to ‘splash-out’ when booking my ticket, having selected a front row upper-tier seat, costing 3000 Ft – around £8.50. The Bozsik stadium looks as it was originally built as an uncovered bowl, with low level terracing and some seats. The stand I was in was the only covered area, and seemed like a later appendage to the bowl. The floodights, like those at Fradi, were some of the most monumental structures you’re likely to see at a football ground.
As this was Honved’s closest game to the anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution the players and supporters observed the national anthem before the game – something that they had obviously forgotten to do in Debrecen the night before.
It didn’t take long to realise that the quality of the football today, at the higher end of NB1 was of a far better standard than yesterday’s match between two teams likely to be contesting relegation at the end of the season. The first corner of the game was Honvéd’s on 8 minutes. The Újpest defence headed the corner clear, which was controlled by a Honvéd player just inside the box. As he positioned himself to shoot, he was scythed down in an industrial manner by an Újpest defender -penalty! Honvéd’s no.9, Delczeg, took responsibility for the kick and slotted home. 1-0 to the hosts.
This spurred Újpest on to come back at Honvéd, whom themselves were looking to double their lead. It was proper end-to-end stuff.
Around about the half-hour mark Honvéd had golden opportunities to do just that, but were thwarted by a few moments of brilliance from Balajcza, the long-serving Újpest ‘keeper, who made not one but two point-blank saves from Faggyas in a goalmouth scramble, and then parried a shot from one of Honved’s three Nigerians, Marshal Johnson, to safety to complete his repertoire.
A characteristic of the first half was the wild gesticulating of Honvéd’s manager Marco Rossi, both towards his team and the officials. In fact he was quite reminiscent of his fellow countryman Paulo di Canio on the touchline. Rossi, somewhat of a journeyman as a player and was once on the books of Sampdoria, couldn’t complain about Újpest’s equaliser right on the stroke of half-time. From well outside the area Péter Kabát despatched a wonderfully executed free-kick past the Honvéd wall and into the back of the net. Caught on camera below. 1-1.
In the second half, both teams were looking for the win, but were unable to penetrate each other’s defence, due to a combination of wayward passing in the final third or poor finishing. On 66 minutes, Rossi instructed Ivorian Souleymane Diaby to strip off his tracksuit and prepare to come on. However Senegalese striker Dieng had other ideas and chose this moment to beat Újpest’s left back for pace and finished exquisitely from a tight angle to put the hosts back into the lead. 2-1. With the 4th official’s board about to show Dieng’s number, the substitution was cancelled and Diaby was sent back to the bench to put his tracksuit back on.
This ignited Újpest into playing their best football of the game in the next few minutes and were eventually rewarded for this dominance when substitute Zaris Yadin leaped, totally unmarked, inside the Honvéd box to head a cross from the left downwards, which bounced on the line and beat Honvéd’s ‘keeper. 2-2.
Soon after Diaby did get to make an appearance in the game. He was brought on as substitute and lasted just 5 minutes after he received a straight red card for a high, rash and dangerous challenge on an Újpest defender. There were no more real chances of note in the remainder of the game which finished with the points shared.
Unlike British fixtures that have a high risk of crowd disturbance, in Hungary it seems, it is the away fans that are let out of the ground first and the home fans kept inside. It was at this point, whilst I mingled with the home support and awaited permission to leave, that I noticed a number of British voices mixed in with the home faithful awaiting to leave the ground. Budapest is a hotspot for stag dos and coupled with the fact that English band Half Man, Half Biscuit once sung about being a Teenage Armchair Honvéd Fan, the Bozsik stadium seems a popular venue.
I made way back to the City Centre firstly by catching a tram back to Határ út. Rather bizarrely, about 5 minutes into the journey, a Rendőrség patrol car pulled up alongside the tram and motioned to the driver to bring the tram to halt. A conversation then took place between the driver and the police and what followed was a police escort of the tram with the patrol car driving onto the central reservation for trams and slowly, with lights flashing, escorted the tram back to Határ út. Never have I before been on a tram that required a police escort!
Sunday 28th October 2013
I met my cousin for brunch at the very ornate and atmospheric Central Coffee House on Károlyi Mihály Ut. Whilst the building it is housed in is old, the interior seemed to be replicas of a bygone age, yet the spirit of 1930s café culture was replicated extremely well. The food was delicious and the prices very reasonable. Unfortunately our waiter was providing us with the kind of service that you would expect from a waiter who had been working there since the 1930s – slow and forgetful.
Unfortunately this put me on the back foot and I left late to get to the first of today’s games Újpest B (in essence Újpest’s reserves) v Cegléd in NB2 (Division 2). After getting the metro to the end of line 3, I knew I had to catch a bus to the Szusza Ferenc Stadion. This was proving difficult. I waited at two different bus stops before I realised that I should be at a third. I then seemed to wait an eternity for the correct bus to arrive and when it did, I boarded it at the time the game should have kicked off. I alighted the bus in the heavily industrialised 4th district at the northernmost edge of the city,thinking that the first half was well under way.
Disconcertingly, as I approached the stadium there was no noise at all, and after entering the open gates and climbing up the stairs to look out over the ground, the reason for the lack of noise became apparent – there was no game! There were three possibilities here 1) I had got the kick off time wrong 2) Újpest’s B games aren’t played at the same venue as the first team or 3) the game was off. I found an open office door and walked in. The rather perplexed looking gent behind the reception desk, who must have wondered what an English speaking person was doing attending a NB2 game, informed me in Hungarian that the game was off due to the vast amount of rain that had fallen in Budapest overnight.
That meant I had just one game left to enjoy on this trip, the evening game between Ferencváros (Fradi) and Györ and probably the biggest game of the weekend in Hungary.
As I made my way to the Albert Flórián Stadion*, there was a big game atmosphere around town. The police presence on the metro was far greater than it had been the previous day and everybody knew that the main boys of Hungarian football were at home. I was walked through the underground station at Népliget the Fradi fans singing and chanting was reverberating off the walls and was deafening. Make no mistake, these Fradi fans were no shrinking violets. As I emerged to ground level, I was greeted by row upon row of heavily tooled-up riot police and a large milling crowd, drinking, singing and buying sunflower seeds.
I made my way into the ground and to my seat located at the back of the stand and in line with the half way line. None of the stands at the Albert Flórián Stadion have roofs and tonight the weather was being most unkind, with driving, swirling rain. This is a grand old ground, with apart from the aforementioned monolithic floodlights, has a statue behind one goal and an extraordinarily fashioned VIP box.
Many of the Fradi supporters didn’t arrive until the last few seconds before the players emerged from the tunnel and I was surprised, despite my knowledge that domestic Hungarian games aren’t well populated, that the ground wasn’t entirely full. A paradox to the ferocious reputation of Fradi supporters is that the music that is played immediately before the players arrive on the pitch is Johnny Mathis’ When a Child is Born – albeit a reworded Fradi version. However by now the Fradi ultras – the Green Monsters – were in full force and a good reception was granted to the teams as they stepped onto the field of play. There was another rendition of the national anthem and then we were straight into kick-off.
Györ started the game and in the early stages, both teams seemed quite cautious. That was until the 7th minute, when Györ took the lead with the first real chance of the game. The Fradi defence failed to clear a rather inoccous ball into the box and Roland Varga, who spent time in Italy with Foggia and Brescia, stepped up at the right time to take full advantage. 0-1. That was probably the last chance Györ managed in that first half, as Ferencváros came forward, fashioning chance after chance, mainly to be denied by the woeful finishing of their strikeforce. Their best chance to take the lead came just after the half-hour. An unidentified home player (possibly Peric) missed an absolute sitter from 6 yards that sailed over the bar. On 37 minutes minutes, it looked as though Fradi would eventually break the deadlock, but Dutch striker Julian Jenner’s acrobatic bicycle-kick cannoned back of a post. The Fradi faithful were in good voice and supportive of their team’s efforts, but they knew that really, considering the chances that they had in the first half, they should have gone into the break in the lead.
The voices were more dissenting in the second half as the home support really expected Fradi to ramp up the effort and take what they felt was rightfully theirs – victory. Unfortunately for them at least, the Györ defence and midfield were far more steadfast and allowed little through in this period. In fact there were only two real chances in this half and both fell to Fradi. On 52 minutes a last-gasp block by a Györ defender following a goalmouth scramble denied Fradi the equaliser they really deserved.
Eventually the equaliser came, from Serbian midfielder Alempijevic. His daisy-cutter shot from the edge of the area crept inside the post, past fellow countryman Stevanović. Stevanović must have thought the goal he was defending had led a charmed life until now, but in truth, this was a shot he really should have saved.
At that was it. No hunting for the killer goal from Fradi, no effort to regain their advantage from Györ. Full time 1-1. This will have left the home fans the far more frustrated as they were unable to make any headway towards the top of the league.
*Towards the end of the 2012/13 season a decision was made to demolish and totally rebuild the Albert Flórián Stadion, with Ferencaváros playing out the rest of the season at the national stadium the Ferenc Puskás stadion. In its place will be built a new all seater bowl (with a roof for specatators!), that will be suitable for European club football, but more than likely, with far less charm. See video below.
After three new grounds and six new clubs I returned to England the following day with the sweet after-taste of another great footballing weekend in Hungary.