Gareth Ashton on Football in Budapest
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In his latest piece, he reflects on a recent trip to Budapest where Gareth spent time visiting some of the attractions of the Hungarian capital alongside reflecting on the footballing history of the nation, as well as the football clubs of Buda and Pest.
Whenever anyone mentions Hungarian football, the conversation would more than likely revolve around the Aranycsapat or ‘Golden Squad’ and Magical Magyars of the 1950’s. Arguably one of the greatest football teams the world has ever seen, they entered the 1954 World Cup Final unbeaten in 30 matches. A record-breaking run which included the 6-3 humbling of an England team full of stars and household names. A game that would be christened ‘The Game Of The Century’. Now everything was set up nicely to cap off those glorious years with a World Cup victory in the Swiss capital of Bern.
The Hungarian opposition in that final was West Germany, a team who they’d already annihilated in the group stages of the tournament 8-3. Things started well for Hungary when they went 2-0 up after 8 minutes with goals from Puskas and Czibor. So far so good. But the West Germans fought back to make it 2-2 and 6 minutes from time Helmut Rahn won the match and the tournament with a grass cutter strike from the edge of the box. Once again the Magyars were World Cup bridesmaids, repeating their runners up position from 1938, when it was Italy who got the spoils.
By the time of the next World Cup in 1958, Hungary were a depleted football nation due to the political upheaval in the country and failed to make it out of the group stage. They have never been further than the quarter finals since, whilst consistently failing to qualify for the finals since Mexico ’86.
The capital city of Budapest is an unassuming gem, full of history and beautiful architecture. In footballing parlance, it’s a city of 2 halves; Buda and Pest, either side of the River Danube, they were eventually linked by the Chain Bridge in 1849. Basically, Pest is the flat side of the Danube and Buda is up on the hill which is a lung busting walk, or an easy, quick ride on the funicular where the city’s castle greets you at the top. The views from the top are stupendous overlooking the beautiful architecture of the Hungarian Parliament, situated on the banks of the river. History is all around you, from Buda castle at the top of the funicular, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Gellert Hotel and Baths, and the majestic, Neo-Renaissance masterpiece that is the State Opera House, well worth a visit to see an opera, or just a guided tour.
A quirky half day trip to Statue Park and Memento Park is also recommended. This outdoor museum displays a fine collection of the Communist era in Hungary, featuring sculptures and statues of Lenin, Marx and Engels, plus some iconic Socialist propaganda commissions. October 23rd 1956 marked the start of the Hungarian Revolution against the Stalinist rule, initiated by 12 University students who reformed the original students union in protest at the oﬃcial Communist union. After a brutal, bloody conflict the uprising was crushed by the end of the year. In 1989 Hungary became a democratic republic and joined the European Union in 2004.
On a much lighter side, the modern city is full of beautiful cafes, restaurants, and bars. The Hungarian National Gallery and National Museum house comprehensive and important exhibits to satisfy the most discerning culture vulture. Budapest is home to many football clubs from all across the city sprawl, and a shirt collectors dream, although you do have to do your research for outlets which stock them. Each club has their own story and the shirts I came back with don’t represent all of the teams in the city.
- MTK: Magyar Testgyakorlók Köre Budapest Futball Club translates as “Circle of Hungarian Fitness Activities Football Club of Budapest”.
- Ujpest: Formed in 1885, Újpest FC has spent 102 consecutive seasons in Hungary’s top flight, winning the championship 20 times. Older readers may remember the club being named Újpesti Dózsa, the police club.:
- Ferencvaros: The only Hungarian team to have won a European trophy, and probably the most recognised club side in Hungary. Their Green and White striped shirt is one of my particular favourites.
- Vasas: The metal workers’ club, Vasas SC, plays at the Stadion Rudolf Illovszky, which holds 5,054. It’s a new build stadium built in 2019 on the site of the original ground which was demolished in 2016. The majority of their honours are in the distant past, winning the Hungarian first division 6 times in a 20 year spell between 1957 and 1977.
- Honved: Budapest Honvéd FC, based in the Kispest suburb of Budapest, became the Hungarian army team in 1949. Hence soldier Ferenc Puskás – who won five titles with Honvéd – gained the nickname ‘The Galloping Major’ after his rank.
- Hungarian National Team: It’s hard to see past that majestic team of the 50’s and Ferenc Puskas, as his picture and legend is constantly on show in all of the souvenir shops.
One team who escaped my pre trip research was BKV Elöre SC. Based not far from the national stadium, the club play at the 2,500-capacity Sport utcai Stadion in the Hungarian third division. The club, which plays in yellow and blue, has never seriously challenged for honours, but needs to be included in the list.