Újpest v MTK Budapest
Szusza Ferenc Stadion / Nemzeti Bajnokság I / 29th April 2017
Of all the European clubs I’ve visited on the continent, the club that I probably still have the most affection for is the Belgian club Club Brugge. I absolutely adore the city of Brugge and we had an awesome day at Club a few years ago. Thus, as a Club Brugge admirer, I really shouldn’t like the colour purple – the colour of Club’s arch-nemesis Anderlecht. But, for me, there is just something beautiful and sexy about the colour purple, especially on a football shirt. Plus, it was the shirt colour of the legendary fictional team of Harchester United of Sky One Dream Team fame (if you know, you know). As Alice Walker writes in the canonical The Color Purple “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” Solely because of the colour purple, I have always thought Hungarian club Újpest were a cool club. So, with a 3 day weekend to see off April and to kickstart May, what better excuse to head back to the Hungarian capital and to take in Újpest on Saturday and BKV Előre.
Not long after 12.30pm, I was rolling into Budapest Keleti station and it was here I met up with itinerant European groundhopper Dan. Dan is currently studying in Budapest and had kindly agreed to let me crash on his sofa bed for the next two nights. Perfect for my weekend of beer, football and goose in Budapest (more on the goose later).
After a couple of metro and trams, we were at Dan’s flat in the heart of Budapest. I thought he had got my head around Budapest on my last visit, yet it seemed my geographical confidence was misplaced. Budapest really is big (obviously) and I had completely lost my sense of direction. Dan had only arrived back in Budapest from a trip to the southwest of the country just before I arrived, but he was more than happy to head straight back out. There ain’t no rest for the wicked and all that.
I felt I had ‘done’ most of Budapest on my last visit, so I was really not fussy about what the day’s itinerary held,before we headed up to the stadium in north Budapest for the 6pm kick-off. However, there was one thing I had missed last time and wanted to pay a quick visit. Like a lot of big European cities, Budapest is plastered with graffiti, although some of it is particularly artistic. In particular, I wanted to see the last graffiti homage to Hungary’s iconic 6-3 win at Wembley, when the Mighty Magyars arguably had the best team in the world at the time. And of course, a Welshman is always going to enjoy any homage to an England loss at Wembley. Here it is below. Excellently done.
Dan had planned on starting us off at one of the craft ale bars in the Jewish Quarter, but it seemed they were all closed until late afternoon. Instead we headed into ‘Pivo and Bar’ for our first pivos of the day. As our talk turned to alcohol, Dan was horrified to learn that I hadn’t tried Unicum on my last visit to Budapest. I had no idea what it even was, but Dan headed straight for the bar and there was soon a glass of Unicum in front of me. I learned that Unicum is a herbal liqueur and considered one of Hungary’s national drinks – I certainly won’t be drinking it again though. It was rank.
Next up we headed to the king of the ruins pubs, Szimpla Kert. It really is magnificent with its graffiti-covered walls and various nooks and crannies. It has a car in the middle of it too, as a sort of makeshift picnic table and if that isn’t cool, I’m not sure what is. Szimpla Kert really is brilliant, although the place was a hive of stag dos on this Saturday morning with people like ‘Woody’ stumbling around in his ‘Reservoir Stags’ t-shirt. The Szimpla Union beer was as fine as I remember it though – especially compared to some of the more shoddy Hungarian beers I’ve had in the past.
We then ended up in the bar opposite Szimpla Kert, wedged down below street level. After one quick beer in here, we felt it was a good time to begin our tram/metro/bus hopping north towards Újpest. Although I was soon sprinting back through the streets of Budapest back to the bar, as I d left my phone on charge in the pub. Oops. Thankfully, nobody had decided to swipe it and it still sat there untouched on the table.
With no idea where we were heading, I very much let Dan take the lead. We were soon emerging out of a metro station in District IV – where Újpest FC can be found – and we had one simple bus journey left to take us up to the ground. At least we I bought it’d be simple. Dan ran off into a shop and came back with cans of rose wine that were on sale for us; I still don’t know what compelled him to make such a purchase. So we found ourselves heading through the northern suburbs of Budapest, drinking wine from cans and with plenty of time to make kick-off. We could even see the floodlights approaching – problem was they weren’t the floodlights of Újpest FC; they were the floodlights of some other Budapest club (there are a lot and I can’t remember who exactly). We had got on the wrong bus and gone the wrong way down the road. D’oh.
Kick-off was not far off now and with our confusion over what bus to get on we began walking back to the original tram stop to hopefully rectify our error. Eventually, we decided to make kick-off we may have to take the financial hit and flag down a taxi. Taxis seemed scarce, but we eventually got ourselves a willing driver – and certainly willing to take lots of our money. We knew full well that our use of English was almost certainly going to lead to us being ripped off – and we were – but it did get us to the ground with about ten minutes until kick-off.
The Szusza Ferenc Stadion hadn’t got my pulse race on my first viewing of it. It is a fairly ordinary stadium with one of those unnecessarily high roofs above the stand, which I’m sure don’t give much shelter from any rainy or windy weather. Plus, there wasn’t enough purple on show around the exterior for my liking. I must say though that I was a fan of the triangular floodlights looming overhead.
I did go to buy a scarf for my collection from one of the stalls, but the only ones on offer were those shitty silk ones that I hate. No scarf purchase today. Considering we had made such a dash to make kick-off, we figured we should actually head in. For a measly 1200 forint (about £3.25), we had ourselves a ticket and entered. I’m sure some Charlton Athletic fans would have a right to claim we’d given Újpest 1200 forint too much.
Újpest are one of the five clubs owned by Belgian businessman Roland Duchâtelet. Aside from Újpest, the other clubs under the Duchâtelet umbrella are: STVV in Belgium; Carl Zeisss Jena in Germany; Alcorón in Spain; but undoubtedly the most headline-grabbing of them all is the Duchâtelet ownership of Charlton Athletic, after he acquired the club in 2014. Fair to say, Charlton fans really, really don’t like him (that’s putting it very lightly). In one recent poll, he was even voted the worst owner in the Football League and my word is there a hell of a lot of competition for that particular crown. If his ownership of Charlton has been one almighty catastrophic train wreck, his Újpest ‘project’ has not been too far behind on the tragic scale.
Duchâtelet took over the club in 2011 with the aim of bringing back the glory years to Újpest. If anything, he has taken them further away from any sort of glory. Despite such lofty ambitions, Duchâtelet seemingly got bored with his Hungarian project and now has his son Roderick running the show. Over the past few years there have been some very shady business deals – so much so that the club almost got thrown out of the league and sent down to the third tier for one particular shady deal, which involved bankrupting the club and then starting again as a new business. Instead, as a ‘new company’ they were banned from Europe for 3 years, a ban that has reached its end this year. With such a circus behind the scenes, the fans are obviously frustrated, so I was unsurprised to find a rather scant crowd at the game today, even though they were playing Budapest neighbours, MTK.
We found ourselves entering the ground to the left of the club’s Ultras, who were still at least pumping a bit of liveliness into the club; they were good value for the whole 90 minutes. Sadly, the other three stands all had very small gatherings within them – including the MTK away end.
The ground, which has been Újpest’s home since the 1920s, was a bit more interesting inside – probably thanks to the now more prominent purple on display. Still, it wasn’t exactly a life changing experience. The teams arrived onto the pitch to the club anthem being sung by the home fans, before this was followed up with lots of anti-Ferencváros chants, led and conducted by the guy and his drummer friend up on the raised platform at the front of the stand. There were a lot of anti-Fradi chants and it seemed that Újpest really do hate Ferencváros. Budapest is absolutely littered with football club, but the Újpest v Ferencváros is considered the main Budapest derby. From what I could tell, Újpest and MTK had no real beef with each other despite sharing the same city and being located 10km apart.
The football on show was okay without utterly thrilling, with Újpest in mid-table and MTK Budapest just one spot above the relegation spots. There were a few great chances for both sides, but a mix of good goalkeeping to deny Újpest and poor decision-making when through on goal for MTK stopped both teams taking the lead. Undoubtedly, the best thing on display during the first half were the Ultras and the coming to life of those rather cool floodlights.
There really was nothing much to report on the pitch, until the final minute of the first half when MTK earned themselves a penalty. This was the cue for an obscure Premier League blast from the past to make himself known; the player was none other than former Crystal Palace striker Sándor Torghelle. Torghelle signed from Palace from MTK way back in 2004/2005, the season Palace made a brief return to the Premier League. Despite being signed to help keep Palace in the top flight, it’s probably fair to say that he flopped, as he scored just one goal in a League Cup game v Charlton. He’d score here too in Újpest, as the 34-year-old striker confidently buried his penalty to make it 1-0.
Half-time: Újpest 0 – 1 MTK Budapest.
Half-time proved to be strange, as we somehow ended up speaking to one lad, who turned out to be part of some small gypsy supporters club at Újpest. I know well enough from living in Slovakia that there is a hell of a lot of prejudice towards the Roma community and I’ve probably witnessed more anti-gypsy prejudice than any other kind. Some guy next to us asked did we know the gypsy supporters’ group guy – we obviously didn’t. He was probably just checking we had nothing to do with their community, as was very friendly with us after that initial question – which is very sad really.
The second half was a slow burner and the only real action came in the last ten minutes. An Újpest attacker burst into the box and was hacked down from behind for an easy penalty decision. You won’t see a more emphatic penalty than Bardhi’s, as he absolutely walloped his penalty into the top corner. 1-1.
A large group of the fans in our stand had headed for the fence at the front and began to climb it to watch the final ten minutes. I’d always wanted to do that at a European football ground and with us being more than a safe distance away from the Ultras, we climbed the fence to watch too. How continental of us.
The game was slowing down again, although now there was something else to admire: the sky. It was as if the sky knew of my love for purple and decided to make the setting as Újpest-y as possible. It really did look purple and there was only one thing to do about this: try to take a photo to create a suitably over-edited and pretentious Instagram post. See the results below. Some lovely purple scenes.
The clock hit 90 and it looked like the evening’s scoring was over. However, MTK fighting not to drop into relegation had one last chance. A 20 yard volley was scuffed by an MTK player, only for it to conveniently deceive the defence and play in Ádám Hrepka. Despite not expecting the ball to come to him, he reacted brilliantly by controlling it and coolly slotting into the bottom corner. He was soon running towards the away end and climbing their fence to celebrate with the MTK fans. Dan has no real allegiance to any Hungarian or Budapest team, but we’ll just say that he wouldn’t like to see one of Budapest’s bigger clubs get relegated and so even he let out the tiniest cheer of joy at MTK’s winner, before remembering where he was quickly. It wasn’t like he was at the top of a fence for all to see or anything. Oh…he was…
Full-time: Újpest 1 – 2 MTK Budapest.
Getting back from the stadium was a lot easier than getting there and after a quick beer in a cool, little bar in the local metro station, we were heading back south into the city centre. One of my highlights of the weekend was about to unveil itself…
If there was one thing I learned more than anything this past weekend, it’s that more kebab shops need to sell goose. My word was it good! In fact, I’d rate this postmatch meal as one of my all-time favourites – even considering my beloved Spices of Kashmir kebab shop back in Salford. A big slice of goose, these sort of circular chips and chili paste is the future of post match meals – a glorious future at that.
My first day in Budapest ended perfectly: with Punk IPA. I’d been without my lovely elixir for far too long and Dan had brought me to an ale bar with a fridge full of the stuff. To make me salivate even more, we even sat by a load of barrels containing the wonderful stuff. And the Punk would fuel us onto for the rest of the night with Dan claiming that we eventually got through 9 post match bars. I couldn’t work it out as they all seemed to blur together for me.
Another great day an evening in Budapest and the best part was I had another day and evening to go the next day too. Újpest was a decent experience without being mindblowing – I certainly wouldn’t dissuade anyone from going though if you find yourself in beautiful Budapest.
Highlights: Budapest is awesome, more Szimpla Kert, decent fans, all that purple, all that Punk IPA in the evening, more goose please.
Low Points: not a fan of Unicum, public transport cockup, poor game.
See all my photos from Budapest and Újpest here.