Ferencváros v Honvéd
Groupama Aréna / Nemzeti Bajnokság I / 24th February
The Danubian school of football has produced some famous teams over the past 100 years or so: the Austrian Wünderteam of pre-war fame is talked about in some circles as the greatest national team ever; some would say a greater national team was created 20 years later and about 200km further down the Danube in Hungary with Puskás and his gang of Mighty Magyars. That iconic Hungarian team dominated and scintillated world football in the 50s, but were unfathomably denied a World Cup title in the 1954 Miracle of Bern final. Much of that team was made up of players from Budapest, particularly club side Honvéd, who had Kocsis, Czibor and the legendary Puskás. As Hungary dominated at national level, Honvéd were beginning to dazzle across Europe too. However, this was 70 years ago now and maybe the name Honvéd will mean nothing to a modern generation of football fans who live outside of Hungary. My bet would be that if you went all Family Fortunes and asked 100 people to name one Hungarian football club, I reckon their survey would throw up a clear winner: Ferencváros.
Ferencváros – or Fradi as they are commonly called – are the most successful club in Hungarian football history with them absolutely dominating the country’s football landscape pretty much since the league began. They currently hold 29 league titles, 6 more than old rivals MTK Budapest, who have 23, and 9 more than their main crosstown rivals, Újpest, who have 20.
Having visited most of the big clubs in my neck of Europe, I decided that Ferencváros were due a visit. And with Budapest easy for me to get to and with it being one of my favourite cities, I had no excuse not to head there on the weekend. On this Saturday evening Fradi were due to play Honvéd in a Budapest derby; not THE derby though – THE derby is played out between Fradi and their purple foes Újpest.
Getting to the Groupama Aréna would be an easy task from Budapest-Keleti station and for once I had actually done some research on how to get there beforehand. It had proved pointless though. It was only as my train entered the outskirts of Budapest that I realised our train was not bound for Keleti, but in fact Budapest-Nyugati – a station I’d never stepped foot in before. I would need an alternative route to Fradi, but a quick look at the metro map and I had myself a new plan. That was until I arrived at M3 to find out most of the line was closed – the line that was supposed to drop me off right outside the stadium. Great. There was to be no panic though, as after calling into my hostel en route, I eventually found the replacement bus for the M3 line and getting to the Groupama Aréna was easy enough.
Like virtually every club in Hungary, Ferencváros now have a glittering new stadium, which (for now) is the largest in Hungary, since the larger Ferenc Puskás Stadium was destroyed ready for reconstruction. The Groupama Aréna opened in 2014 with a friendly against Chelsea, just like Rapid Wien’s similarly green stadium, which I visited before Christmas. Also similarly to Rapid’s Allianz Stadion, as far as modern stadiums go, I was a big fan of the Groupama Aréna, especially from the outside. It’s a gleaming, shiny structure that looks like a steely, elegant basket. However, shiny new stadiums are not for everyone, especially the home fans it seems.
Fradi fans have been boycotting games at their new home for the majority of the past 4 years. Why? Well, I suppose it’s that very familiar, very modern tale of the fans feeling that football is leaving them behind and instead chasing the money. Firstly, many Fradi fans were not happy with the increased ticket prices introduced at the Groupama Aréna; I wasn’t exactly impressed with paying 5900HUF (£16) either for what were the 3rd cheapest tickets available for that night’s game (a lot higher than what I’ve paid on previous visits to watch Hungarian football). As well as ticket prices, it’s fair to say that the club’s fan ID system has not gone down well with fans to say the least. Especially not with Fradi’s fanatical Ultras.
To get into the game later that night, I’d need to buy a fancard. This didn’t prove too arduous a task, but it didn’t feel a bit over-the-top. For the compulsory fancard, I had to have my photo taken and then both my hands were scanned on a device that wouldn’t look out-of-place at MI6 in a James Bond film. My new fancard would also set me back an extra 1500HUF (although it is cheaper if you sort it out before matchday). This system was created to apparently filter out the supposed more notorious fans linked to Fradi, as some elements of Fradi’s support have carried a violent and fascist reputation around with them.
Cataloguing every fan was not a scheme welcomed by the Ultras and especially the fact that they had been shunned from any discussion regarding the implementation of the system, despite being consulted by the club on many other issues regarding the new stadium. However, after 3.5 years of boycotting, the Ultras very recently agreed to return to the stadium just before this season’s winter break, although their return was short-lived. On the Ultras’ return to the stadium, there was sadly a stabbing incident amongst a mass brawl and so Fradi were told to close the 4 sectors occupied by the Ultras for 3 games including the game I’d be heading to against Honvéd. Needless to say, it would be a much duller atmosphere for my Saturday visit to Fradi’s sparkling home.
With my ticket and fancard purchased, I headed the 10 minutes back up the road into the heart of Budapest and I then realised that I didn’t really have any plan at all until the 19:30 kick-off later. So I did what I always seem to do when in Budapest: head to Szimpla Kert and take it from there. I’ve waxed lyrical about Szimpla enough in previous Budapest blogs so I won’t bother here; I’ll just say it is still really, really good fun (although my enjoyment took a slight knock on this visit, thanks to the loud, annoying cockney lad shouting loudly about his love for West Ham at random opportunities, alongside his embarrassed girlfriend).
I ended up in two other fairly anonymous pubs near Szimpla, before finally unearthing something really worth writing home (or on this blog) about. I saw a promise of ‘craft beer’ written on a sign outside one rather innocuous looking bar. I would soon learn this bar was called Krimó. I was the only customer in there and so I got superb service from the staff who enquired about my beer preferences. Business was so quiet, I even got invited to go see their microbrewery down in the basement. It occurred to me that I had stumbled upon a truly overlooked gem in the middle of Budapest. A great bar and a good final stop before I headed south back to District IX – Ferencváros.
The Groupama Aréna had looked pretty plush earlier, but as night-time arrived, the dazzling levels had gone up a few notches with the stadium now lit up in the famous green of Fradi. There were a lot of home fans drinking in the dingy, little bars located in the underground Népliget station, but I decided to head on up the steps to the stadium itself. Once my card, my face and my hand had been scanned, I was through the turnstiles and under the beaming ‘GROUPAMA ARÉNA’ sign. Of course, to buy a cold, prematch beer I would have to put money on my fancard – I still hate that system.
The big disappointment of the night would come via the teamsheet: there would be no Zoltan Gera on show for Fradi. Gera is a club legend at Fradi, having played for 4 seasons at the club, before moving on to the bright lights of West Brom and Fulham. After his second spell at WBA, Gera moved back to Fradi the same year as the new stadium was built, but injury would rule him out tonight. I was gutted again to miss out on a modern Hungarian legend, having missed out on seeing Gábor Király play for Haladás away at Honvéd last season (he also had the audacity to get injured in the weeks leading up to my visit there). Nevermind…
Honvéd won the Hungarian League last year for the first time since 1993, but this year they have dipped and found themselves in 5th place before kick-off. Fradi, on the other hand, sat atop the league like they have done many times before. As mentioned earlier, Fradi’s main rivals are Újpest and then probably MTK (especially during the early part of the 20th century); however, although Honvéd may be viewed with slightly less disdain, there is still history here too.
Many Honvéd fans will not call their club by that name, but instead by the district’s name of Kispest. This is because the club had always been Kispest before the communist regime took hold of the country in the 50s, when the regime made Kispest their darling club and changed them to their military club. Honvéd literally translates as ‘defense’. Conversely, Fradi had been always been portrayed as a sort of club of the Hungarian people and ultimately a club of nationalism and more politically right leaning theories opposing the communist rulers. In the early throes of communism, Honvéd were seen as the championed, whilst Fradi were the ones who were beaten down out of sight by the government, thanks to the power the club could generate amongst the people and thus fuel Hungarian patriotism rather than love for the totalitarian overlords. However, the way Honvéd fans chant about Kispest still suggests that they are not exactly enamoured with their ‘Army team’ tag and their ties to the regime either. Back in 2018 though,Honvéd had themselves a corner of the Groupama Aréna to themselves and were certainly noisy enough throughout.
Minutes before kick-off, it really did start to hammer down with snow and I began to fear that I was going to spend the next 90 minutes very, very cold. Luckily I would have a distraction from the freeze. What was to follow was to be one of the best games of football I’ve seen in my 18 months watching football in central Europe.
Fradi played some lovely football and looked very much the better team of the two in the opening 15 minutes. The passing and movement between the front 3 and the supporting no.97, Gorriaran, was superb and the relentless snow seemed not to be making a difference. As I tweeted during the game, it felt a bit like watching a team of Eden Hazards, as I felt their attackers all seemed to have a similar guise and style to him. Saying that, I’d had a fair few beers and I was really cold – so who knows how accurate this judgement was.
As Fradi pushed for a deserved opener, Honvéd broke from nothing and a superb ball to the edge of the box saw Honvéd’s Martin Eppel score 1-v-1 to give the away team a surprise lead. Moments after the away team had wildly celebrated in front of the travelling fans, it would be 1-1 though.
With manager Thomas Doll (the same Thomas Doll once of HSV and Lazio as a player and Dortmund as manager) wildly waving his team on from the touchline, a long shot from Fradi was parried weakly by the Honvéd keeper and a quick ball back across the box saw the ball tapped into an empty net.
On the half hour mark, Fradi had the lead their play deserved. A freekick from out on the right would go all the way to the back post for the skipper Dániel Böde to smash in a volley from about 6 yards. And a similar formula would work for Ferencváros’ 3rd goal, as another freekick from out on the right was bundled in from close range, this time by defender Miha Blažič.
Half-time: Ferencváros 3 – 1 Honvéd.
Despite going behind, Fradi had been brilliant and I expected them to get a few more goals in the second half. However, Honvéd, through some good old-fashioned, gritty determination, dragged themselves back into the contest. No doubt the ref helped a lot too.
The first goal came from the most blatant sho you will ever see, but as the Fradi player was sent flying to the ground near the corner flag, the Honvéd attacker played the ball across the 6 yard box and eventually the ball was scrambled in. 3-2 and it looked like a comeback was on.
Decisions were going Honvéd’s way, as they then earned a very soft penalty in the 68th minute and were presented with the chance to make it 3-3. When I had watched Honvéd play at their home last season, their Italian striker Davide Lanzafame confidently rolled in a penalty to help them secure three points. 16 months after my trip to Honvéd, Lanzafame was rolling his penalty right into the corner again, but this time, Fradi’s keeper, Dibusz, made a superb save to tip the penalty around the post. Of course, as soon as that penalty was saved it was clear that Fradi would win now and they’d finish off with style.
In the 82nd minute it was 4-2 to Fradi after the keeper saved a shot from the edge of the box, only for the ball to roll back to Böde, who tapped in from 20 yards first time with the Honvéd keeper still down from the first save. And it would all be wrapped up properly in the 90th minute with the best goal of the game, as Leandro fired in a 20 yard low volley into the far corner.
Just the 7 goals, controversial decisions, missed penalty and snow. Great game.
Full-time: Ferencváros 5 – 2 Honvéd.
Thanks to the fairly paltry crowd, I was out of the stand quick time and within minutes aboard a bus back into the city no problems at all. Time to find some warmth and some good beer. I knew just the place.
When enjoying a Budapest evening, possibly my favourite bar is the Hops Beer Bar. The bar is littered with several barrels of Punk IPA, but more importantly it has a fairly lengthy menu of craft beers on fraught and in cans and bottles (although it is not exactly cheap because of this). I was even joined by a gang of Nottingham too, who despite two of them being with their girlfriends were looking for a post-craft beer strip club (I informed them it wasn’t my expertise). They were good fun though and after a few beers in there and a few pub stops on the way home, I called it a night.
Undoubtedly, the Fradi game was superb and usually such an entertaining game would have been the highlight of a football weekend, but Budapest threw up one last delight before I left. After making my usual climb up to the Cittadella, I headed back across the Danube in search of a bar I had heard a lot of good things about: the Jónás Craft Beer House – my new favourite bar in Budapest.
The bar is located on one of the banks of the Danube, just south of the Fővám tér metro station and is most certainly worth the visit if you are a beer lover. There was a lovely range of beers on tap and even more bottles and cans in the fridges behind the bar, which ranged from local brews to quirky ones from around the world. I opted for the Peach Please (peach beer, unsurprisingly) made by a local Budapest brewery called Brew Your Mind. It was sensational! Also, the service was great too, as one of the barmen invited me to the bar to sample a range of beers he thought I might like, telling me the story behind each one as I tried it. Awesome beer, awesome service and with a view of the Danube too. Perfect. I left with a couple of cans for the journey home and rode out of Budapest.
Good ground + great game + awesome city + good beer = a successful Lost Boyos trip. You never fail to deliver Budapest.
Highlights: Budapest still awesome, Fradi easy to get to, nice stadium, discovering Krimo, awesome game!
Low Points: fancard system, expensive tickets (for the region).
See all my photos from Ferencváros here.