Budapest Honvéd v Szombalethy Haladás
Bozsik Stadion / Nemzeti Bajnokság I / 29th October 2016
When my dad went to Budapest on a football tour back in the 70s, it was eventful: he had dinner with Ferenc Puskás, he tackled a hotel security guard and he got held up at gun point…twice. I’d have been very impressed if I could match or even come close to rivalling that level of hijinks on my trip to the Hungarian capital. Nonetheless, I came back having had a superb time without meeting any Hungarian football demigods or being confronted with any guns being pointed my way. When I look back on my maiden visit to Budapest, the part I’ll look back upon most fondly will be my visit to Budapest Honvéd FC. What a club.
Over my 28 years, I’ve read a lot of football literature covering a range of different areas from the football universe. In my late teens I seemed to go through a phase of reading a lot more football history-based stuff and one of the key protagonists who kept cropping up in such works were the Hungarian club of Honvéd.
The Hungary national team of the 1950s is widely celebrated as one of the greatest, most innovative and most influential teams in football history. They famously smashed England 6-3 at Wembley (thought I should mention that one) and they really should have won a World Cup; instead they somehow imploded in the 1954 final against West Germany with the unlikely German triumph now dubbed as the ‘Miracle of Bern’ – that was how all-conquering Hungary’s were during that era. Many of the stars of that Hungary team came from Honvéd: József Bozsik Sándor Kocsis, Zoltán Czibor and László Budai were all stellar names at the time. However, the real crown jewel in the Hungarian/Honvéd crown was the iconic Ferenc Puskás – who some would argue was the greatest player of all-time. As mentioned at the begiinning, my dad and his teammates had the pleasure of meeting and having dinner with the great man, thanks to my dad playing for his work’s football team, with the jelly manufacturing company he worked for just happening to be backed by a wealthy Hungarian. Equally impressive was that he enjoyed a tour of the Ferenc Puskás Stadium – the national stadium – from ‘The Galloping Major’ Puskás himself. Puskás is indefinitely the star of the Honvéd story and the chief catalyst of their golden era.
Honvéd were also one of the forefathers of the old European Cup and what is now the Champions League. Their 1950s European exhibition matches to take on Wolves at Molineux and Red Star Belgrade over two legs. home and away, proved popular enough for the whole concept of European competition to kick-off. It was actually while Honvéd were away in the 1956 European Cup, taking on Athletic Bilbao, that Honvéd’s golden era began to disintegrate. The Hungarian Uprising fired up whilst the team were away and the players refused to return to the hardline setup in Hungary. Honvéd were banned as a club by their own FA and FIFA and the players headed off to play for elite clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid instead. Apart from a second golden era in the 1980s, Honvéd have had significantly less impact on the football world since.
With such a fascinating history behind them and with my longstanding fascination with the club, Honvéd were top of my list of clubs when it came to choosing a club to visit, as I finally crossed over the border from Slovakia into neighbouring Hungary. A weekend in Budapest awaited me: enjoying goulash, enjoying the sights of the Danube and, hopefully, enjoying some entertaining Hungarian football too.
I arrived into Budapest just after 10am and with kick-off for Honvéd’s against Szombalethy Haladás in the top flight being at 3.30pm, my first few hours in Budapest were a bit rushed really. However, I will state now that Budapest is easily my favourite place of my European tour so far. It’s absolutely magnificent. It’s rather grandiose, but with a bit more edge to it compared to the likes of the rather pretentious Vienna; I like a place that has that ‘edge’.There seems to be no real logic to the layout of the city either and this Lost Boyo did find himself getting lost a few times.
Honvéd is located in the southern suburbs of the city, but having read that there wasn’t too much going on down there, I opted to stay central for the time being and then hop on the metro towards the ground (I’d bought a 72 hour metro/tram pass for a mere 4150 Forint – about £12). Staying central meant I was near several of Budapest’s famous ‘ruin bars’ and my first port of call happened to be probably the most well-known of the ruin bars: Szimpla Kert. In case you don’t know, ruin bars are the city’s ramshackle, ‘DIY’ bars, which usually frequent old, abandoned buildings or disused urban spaces. The layout and setup of them are erratic to say the least, but very, very cool, as I hope the photos below demonstrate. They are a hipster’s paradise.
Next, I was off to see the Danube, although I decided to save visiting Buda on the other side of the river until my free Monday afternoon (Budapest is essentially two places: cultural and grand ‘Buda’ on one side of the Danube and the more lively, urban ‘Pest’ on the other). Adjacent to the Danube, I went from the very Budapest environs of a ruin bar to the less adventurous setting of ‘British Pub’. I certainly learned a thing or two about Hungarian Forint here though, as I somehow tried to pay my 600HUF beer bill with 6000HUF instead. Oops. Well done to the honest waiting staff for noticing my cock-up.
Now armed with a firm grasp of Hungarian currency, I headed for the metro; I’ll add in here that the metro system is excellent here and very efficient, even though the trams and metros used are rickety, old things. Soon enough, I had made it south to Hatán úr metro station and I emerged into a far grimmer looking area of Budapest than the centre. Graffiti-covered walls, dilipidated shop windows and old tower blocks dominated here. Directly outside Hatán úr metro station, I found a tram stop to which I was led to believe I could take a tram 5 minutes down the line to Kispest tram stop, located directly outside Honvéd FC’s home .With plenty of time on my side, I decided to walk, but soon learned that the walk down this long road would take much longer than I first thought it would. Luckily, I had a can of Hungarian favourite Sporoni to keep me company – not that the beer was anything to write home about to be honest.
Just as I was really regretting my decision to walk and getting increasingly bored with the endless parade of rundown housing, my heart suddenly skipped a beat. The floodlights emerged – and my god were they beautiful. Yes, once again, I had fallen in love with some floodlights. But it was impossible not to, as they stood there looking imperious and unashamedly traditional. I swear the skies became bluer as soon as the floodlights appeared into view, such was their beauty.
Football across Central Europe is hardly flourishing right now with attendances dipping, alongside many fans boycotting games for a range of reasons. So, I was caught off guard to find a quite large gathering of people outside the large gate with the words ‘Budapest Honvéd FC’ adorning the top of it. There seemed a real buzz about the place and so I got myself the cheapest ticket in the Ultras’ end (having read that the home Ultras here were not really a threat to an outsider – unlike others). 150HUF it cost me to enter. 150HUF…that’s €;0,48 in Euros or 43p for my readers back home in the UK. Absurdly cheap and easily the cheapest I’ve ever paid for a football ticket.
With a scandalously cheap ticket in my wallet for the ‘Kispest-szektor’, I first of all headed for the area behind the main stand (the only stand) where I guessed rightly that I would find a club shop. I wanted to get myself a scarf, but I was disappointed to find that they only had those crappy, silky feeling ones. I briefly enquired about the price of a replica shirt, before deciding to not indulge myself too much and opting for the scarf to add to my European collection. By now, I had also attracted the curiousity of the staff, who wanted to know what a foreigner was doing here in Kispest. I began to explain Lost Boyos to a bemused audience, before then excitedly getting a #NoFlatCapNoParty sticker out to give to the staff. As soon as I started handing over the sticker I realised this was a bad move. In my excitement, my mind had momentarily forgotten the disdain that exists between the Hungarians and the Slovaks and gracing my new batch of stickers are Slovak emblems in tribute to my adopted home. Immediately I saw the 3 or 4 staff members faces change and become far less smiley. I quickly joked the situation away, as the cashier shouted to his mates across the shop something about a “Slovak.” Unsurprisingly, they didn’t want to keep the sticker, but I stayed on friendly terms with them by quickly declaring ‘Hajra Honvéd!’ a few times (‘Come on Honvéd!) They genuinely saw the funny side and seemed to understand that I wasn’t interested in causing an international incident. I reminded myself to not go flashing Slovak emblems around in the stand with the Ultras.
Armed with my flimsy scarf, I made my way back around to the other side of this beautiful bowl-shaped structure, where I encountered another ticket check and bag search. Once again, the queue was quite long and I was surprised again by how many people were already here with another 30 minutes or so until kick-off. On the other side of the second set of turnstiles was a narrow, fenced-off area with a beer stand, some tables and a small toilet area – the whole area here was far too cramped for the amount of people here, but fortunately most were already standing on the terrace. After getting two beers for myself (I couldn’t be bothered queuing twice) I went and joined the congregation on the terrace.
As soon as I stepped foot on the terrace, I was in love with this stadium; actually that’s probably a lie as I was in love with the place the moment I saw the floodlights from the street. The stadium’s name comes from the legendary midfielder Józsif Bozsnik, a player who earned a 101 caps for the national team and was an early pioneer of the sort of midfield role played by the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Xabi Alonso in the modern game. The Bozsik Stadion was built in 1913, but has undergone countless redevelopments and facelifts over the past 100 years. Despite this, it still feels remarkably traditional with the stadium being a 10,000 capacity huge open bowl with just the one covered stand (the ‘Puskas-tribun’).
So, I was already preaching my love for the stadium, so what of the fans? Well, if I loved the stadium, I’m not sure what word to use to do the fans justice. They were superb. I’d arrived just as they were organising a display of their European football heritage by getting people to hold up multiple signs around the stand, each with the name of a different European city where Honvéd had played in the past. Free red/white/black flags were dispensed around the stand to every fan too.
From the first minute I’d arrived there, the singing was incessant and all seemed to be pro-Honvéd rather than abusing rival clubs. With the teams coming out onto the pitch, the three Ultras perched atop the fencing with megaphones were leading the flag waving and chanting, just as a whole series of red/white smoke bombs went off attached to the fencing. The names of many European cities were then raised into the air – from the likes of Prague and Istanbul to Vilinius and my previous hometown of Manchester. It was all just rip-roaring fun and a great spectacle. A ball hadn’t even been kicked yet and already I could sense that this was going to be a magnificent experience.
I’d had a quick peruse of both team’s squad lists beforehand and only two names were really recognisable to me, although both were for the away team. To my initial delight days before, I had found out that the trouser-wearing Hungarian goalkeeper legend Gabor Kiraly was now plying his trade for today’s away team, Szombalethy Haladás. On learning this, I was straight to Twitter expressing my joy, only for that joy to be killed off instantly by the news that he was injured. However, the other familiar name for Szombalethy Haladás was on the team sheet this afternoon and was their 37-year-old captain: former Plymouth and Hull playmaker Peter Halmosi – really a superb footballer during his days in the Football League (and fairly good in this game too actually). Extra hipster points to him too for wearing the strange number of 79. But, sod Halmosi today, I was supporting the legendary Honvéd and by golly were they easy to like and cheer on.
Honvéd were brilliant in the first half. The fans were in great voice and the players were responding to the support. I found friends amongst the support too, thanks largely to Imre – a very friendly Honvéd fan who could speak English and was generally just great company for me in the stand. He kindly translated chants for me and helped me talk to others, especially the fella standing behind me who’s retro shirt I was impressed with. I outed myself as a Swansea City fan quickly enough and got friendly acceptance of this. I racked my mind for any Swansea-Hungarian links, but the only link I could conjure up was that Ipswich’s Tamas Priskin played on loan for us for 3 games (and managed one goal – against Ipswich’s big rivals, Norwich, of all teams).
Honvéd were all over the away team and creating several chances. There were chances from corners, scrambles in the box and even the post being hit, but Honvéd’s incisive play was delivering no luck. However, the chants of “KISPEST!” continued and the team kept going. It was very noticeable how the fans solely used the name ‘Kispest’ and not the club’s actual name, ‘Honvéd’ ; Kispest was the club’s original name and is the name of the area where the club reside, whereas Honvéd translates as ‘army’ and a name adopted by the club when it was taken over by the Hungarian Ministry of Defence and became the national army team in 1949. Many cite the military regime at the club as a chief reason for the golden era flourishing at the club in the 50s, as army conscription forced the best players to the club and made them stay too.
Back here, in October 2016, Honvéd’s dominance brought rewards in the 42nd minute as the home team earned themselves a penalty after a clumsy tackle in the box. The star of the show so far had been the well-travelled Italian forward Davide Lanzafame and I was not surprised to find him easily roll home the penalty to send the Kispest-szektor wild.
4 minutes later, and a minute into first half stoppage time, there were more scenes on the terrace as Honvéd scored a second. Márk Koszta gathered in the box from 8 yards, turned quickly and sent his shot into the far corner. Cue more hugs with my new friends and then more rhythmical bouncing involving the whole terrace.
Amazingly, in the third minute of stoppage time, there was a third goal of the half, but this time to the away team and in rather bizarre fashion too. A cross into the box from a free kick seemed to have been dealt with by the Honvéd keeper, but his punch went straight to Bálint Gaal, who in a split second fired a powerful volley over the defence and keeper from 16 yards and straight into the top corner. That was the last kick of the half and a pulsating last 6 minutes to say the least.
Half-time:Budapest Honvéd 2 – 1 Szombalethy Haladás.
‘Well, that was fun to say the very least. Over to you second half to try match that,’ I thought to myself
Honvéd sat just 3 points behind Haladás before the game and the home team were certainly the far better team of the first half. The second half was a far more even affair though. There were a few half chances, but nothing too thrilling. In fairness, the game looked won by Honvéd already.
As we entered the final ten minutes, the home fans seemed confident and the noise went up a few notches again. Above us were orange-tinged skies with the floodlights lighting up the action far below with their powerful blast.
In the closing minutes, much more light was to be brought to proceedings as a whole array of flares fired up around the Kispest-szektor and a glorious red hue resonated from the corner and across the pitch. I took in my surroundings and just basked in all its brilliance. If I could encapsulate one moment to sum up to people why I go watch random games in random places, this moment would be very high on my list. The skies, the ground, those floodlights and those magnificent fans around me waving their flares frantically like men at some sort of tribal rave. It was all just superb.
I was very happy when the final whistle blew to confirm that Honvéd had secured the win and the 3 points, but sad that my Honvéd experience had come to an end. Their players deserved the win, but, more importantly for me on this Saturday evening, their fans deserved it.
Full-time:Budapest Honvéd 2 – 1 Szombalethy Haladás.
I stayed behind for a little while to witness the fan-player love-in, as each hailed each other, with many fans now climbing atop the fencing to salute their heroes properly. I made it clear to Imre how much I had enjoyed myself and thanked him for his excellent company, before heading off to the nearby tram spot. It was goodbye to Honvéd, but not Budapest.
Football would prove equally kind to me in the evening too – except this time in the form of table football. As I learned regularly in my old beloved Mancunian drinking hole, the Piccadilly Tap, I’m awful at table football, as I do not have the hand-eye coordination for it. Yet, after visiting a couple more ruin bars (and Hooters) and getting more ruined, I ended up at the large, very lively bar beneath my hostel. It’s all a bit blurry, but I somehow befriended a group of Hungarians around a similar age to me (maybe) and with a table football table next to us, we figured why not? Quickly enough a ‘loser buys the beer’ system was instigated. This clearly inspired me to take my table football to a whole new level, as I romped my way to several free beers. By the early hours of the morning and after some more beer and a bit of dancing to some Euro pop/rock, I was happy in the knowledge that my bed was just above me on the floor above the bar. It was most welcome. I needed my sleep for more adventures in Budapest the next day.
I’d probably say that even after one day in the Hungarian capital that Budapest was already my favourite place of my Central European tour so far – and this was further built upon over my next day and a half in the city. Honvéd was definitely the highlight of the weekend though. The ground, the sense of history, the game, those gargantuan floodlights (not sure I’ve mentioned them yet), but more importantly the fans. It was all just a wonderful experience – all for less than 50p. So until next time, ‘Hajra Honvéd!’
Highlights: Budapest is magnificent, ground easy to get to on public transport, cheap, brilliant fans, great ground (those floodlights!) great first half, the atmosphere, the flares, lots of free beer from table football.
Low Points: not much of interest near the ground (not this was a problem really).
See all my photos from my day at Honvéd (and some of proper Budapest) here.
Also, recommend you looking at this photoalbum from the club’s Ultras Facebook page here (featuring me a couple of times if you can spot my flat cap).