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Sunday 10th November 2013

NB-I

FERENCVÁROS 0

SZOMBATHELYI HALADÁS 3 (Halmosi 9 64 Ugra 22)

Att 6,756

Entry 2,700 HUF (approximately £7.58)

Programme FREE

It was abundantly clear on our first full day, the Friday that Fradi are the biggest club in Hungary by some distance. We’d researched the ticketing situation before flying out and discovered that to buy a ticket you need to have a fancard first. That’s easy enough to do, either apply via the club’s website or fill out a form at the club offices at the Stadion Albert Florian, at Népliget station. Its free and you simply pick up the card when you arrive.

So Andy and I presented ourselves at Ferencváros’ offices before heading out to Honvéd and our cards would have been ready but for one small problem- my photo. I’d uploaded the only current picture I had of myself, taken at the “Big Pit,” and apparently wearing a miner’s helmet is not allowed.

“Never mind,” the pleasant young lady remarked, “I can always cut your head!”

I opted for a webcam shot instead, it seemed a little less drastic! After that we strolled via the underpass, where by the way there’s an excellent Fradi-themed café, to the stadium itself and the club shop.

The Stadion Albert Florian is being completely rebuilt, so the club are using the national stadium, the Puskás Ferenc Stadion, or for those with longer memories, the Népstadion (“People’s Stadium”). The club hope to be back in the 9th district by next season, but until then, their temporary home is only 5 stops along the number 1 tram route.

And what a stadium the Puskás Ferenc Stadion is! Finished in 1953 it was the scene of Hungary’s famous defeat of England 7-1 a year later. The current capacity of 56,000 is a far cry from the record attendance of 104,000 that watched Vasas Budapest beat Rapid Vienna 9-2 in the 1956 Zentropa Cup final. Its easy to see how an attendance that large could be accommodated. Seats have been added to what used to be huge swathes of terracing, the stadium is one of only a few I’ve to where I’ve looked up and been slightly overawed by the sheer scale of the place. I did find it slightly ironic that the stadium used to be called the “People’s Stadium” when it was situated in one of the more genteel parts of Budapest, we passed two embassies and the ornate Geological Institute of Hungary on our walk round to our entrance!

Incidentally, like the Stadion Hidegkuti Nándor, just down the road, the stadium has had a starring role in a Hollywood film. Here the stadium was used as a stand-in for the Olympic Stadium in Steven Spielberg’s 2005 movie Munich. You may also have seen the stadium in the Queen concert video for the “A kind of magic,” tour, one of Freddie Mercury’s last performances.

The size of the stadium will ultimately be its downfall. Plans have long been afoot for the New Puskás Ferenc Stadium to be built inside the current ground’s footprint. The construction should start in 2014, presumably when Fradi return to the Stadion Albert Florian, with the new national stadium having a capacity of 65,000.

Despite the massive stadium swallowing up the 6,700 or so present, Ferencváros have done their best to make the place home. There’s a section for Ultras, and they made plenty of impact with their flares, and chants, whereas in my section, to their left we made do with sunflower seed chewing, and as Ferencváros’ afternoon got steadily worse morose mutterings.

I expected Ferencváros to make a far better fist of the game than they did, but a mixture of suicidal defending, and ineptitude in front of goal made the game a case of Ferencváros missing then Haladás making them pay. Péter Halmosi showed the kind of finishing that had almost been entirely absent during the rest of our time in Hungary and it was obvious why he’s a Hungarian international, and had played abroad for the likes of Hull City and Plymouth Argyle.

His two goals were either side of another fine strike, this time from Roland Ugrai, and as Andy and I walked back to the tram, destined for a fine Hungarian meal near the Basilica, you could see the riot police waiting for, in their eyes, the inevitable crowd trouble. None came, and the reason was clear to us stood in the tram back to Népliget. The silence from the stunned Fradi fans spoke volumes.

We flew back to England the next day and over a final espresso at the airport we smiled at the 7 games we’d seen. You do have to work at your hopping in Hungary, but do your research, and be prepared to do things the Hungarian way and you’ll have a fantastic time. Without question the best reason to visit Budapest is its people. Whilst many speak little or no English they were, without exception happy to help, and friendly to a fault and obviously proud of their historic city, and the stunning buildings in it. Perhaps they took to the two eccentric Englishman who were prepared to give anything a try once!

We’ll be back for certain; after I published the Honvéd article their under-18 manager emailed me to apologise for his team’s performance, so the very least we can do is go and see Honvéd on their main pitch! Finally my thanks to fellow traveller Andy, who’s planning gave us the time to complete a busy schedule comfortably.