So, an International weekend early in September and rather than sit around cooling my heels, me and a handful of ‘selected’ others decided to go to Hungary and watch the ‘Buzmeister’ play for his national side against Denmark in a World Cup qualifier at the magnificently sounding Puskas Ferenc Stadion in Budapest (note the name reversal, a peculiarly Hungarian thing). Well, let’s be fair, it was either that or watching England embarrass themselves yet again against ‘Anbloodydora’ ! Quality idea we thought, except of course that the great man had had an ankle operation in the summer and although he had managed 45 minutes for our Reserves a few days before, he had very wisely for QPR’s sake not been picked for the Hungarian squad. Another great idea of mine down the tubes ! Still, the flights were booked and the hotel paid for in advance, the week before he had the operation in fact, so off we went and as it happens, I’m rather glad that we did.
The selected others in the small party were well known Rangers fan Brian Bigwood and his fianc√© Julie plus my far better half Carol, a die-hard Arsenal fan and long-term season ticket holder who was actually looking forward to seeing Nicky Bendtner play for Denmark. In some sort of surreal occurrence, Bendtner had twisted his ankle ligaments in training three days before the match and was somewhat more than doubtful for the game. On the plus side (sort of), called into the squad at the last minute because of the injury to Bendtner, was our old friend Marc Nygaard now playing at FC Randers in the Danish top division, now that really was a surprise, probably to him as much as us.
So having waved goodbye to our luggage very possibly for ever at the infamous Heathrow Terminal 5, we boarded our BA 757 for the short hop across Europe to Budapest. All went well until we arrived, when we walked off the plane into a bloody heat wave. It might have been wet and windy in good old England, but in central Europe it was 88 degrees and that was 8 o’clock at night ! Anybody that knows me will appreciate that I am most definitely not built for hot climates. I could break out into a sweat in a fridge, so heat waves and I were not likely to be the best of friends. At the hotel they told us it would be in the middle to high nineties for the two days of our trip, which cheered me up no end. Still on the plus side we hadn’t lost our luggage and we got the trip off to a good start with copious amounts of ice cold beer at a local hostelry and damned the weather gods to do their worst (or best depending on your view of things). Sod the weather, Budapest was still a great place to be for a weekend and there was we, hoped a good game of footy to look forward to whoever was, or rather wasn’t playing.
Saturday came and went in a blur of hot, sweaty tourist sites and more ice cold beers until late afternoon when it was time to bounce our way up to the stadium on the very cute but ancient Budapest Metro. Miraculously the 2,000 or so Danes in the city were making their way there as well. I say miraculously as almost to a man, they had been drinking solidly since around eleven in the morning when they completely took over one of the many pretty squares in the city. They were no trouble though, at least they weren’t to the local population. They were a bloody nuisance to us it has to be said as they just couldn’t fathom out why we were going to the game no matter how many times we explained. One of them, even drunker than the rest, kept enquiring if we were either Irish or Swiss for some reason even though we told him we were English probably ten times at least. He was last seen being half carried back to his hotel by his chums and whether or not he made the game was a source of some discussion amongst us. We did find out one interesting thing though. Marc Nygaard is actually pronounced ‘Newguard’ in Danish. Maybe that would explain why he always looked so disinterested when he played for us, he thought everyone was shouting at someone else !
The Puskas Ferenc Stadion, built in 1953, it has to be said magnificent, as long as you like rambling, old, open East European type stadiums which fortunately I do. The floodlights are truly amazing. Huge great concrete monoliths rising into the sky and they are visible from miles away across the city. I have to say that I am a big fan of floodlights, the bigger and bolder the better. I happen to think that the worst part of these modern mega-stadiums is the lack of floodlight pylons in the corners. Not only are they great navigational aids but they are often architectural wonders in their own right and these at what used to be called the Nep Stadium are some of the finest I have ever seen, absolute monsters. The stadium is a standard huge bowl containing the ubiquitous athletics track etc with a covered area for the VIP’s and other assorted gentry on one single tiered side with a second open tier plonked on top of the side opposite. It holds just under 70,000 but nobody we spoke to could remember the last time it was much over half full let alone any more.
We paid around twelve quid for the cheapest tickets, situated in the corner of the lower tier, the most expensive ones rising to almost ¬£60 which probably explained why large crowds are not too common in these parts. Security was nothing short of comical. We had watched the Danish fans get full searches twice before being admitted to their sections, but as we piled in with the home fans further down the road, through the ricketiest turnstiles in the Northern Hemisphere, we didn’t even get our bags searched. The programme, such as it was, turned out to be a copy of the morning sports paper ‘Nemzeti Sport’ with all the other sports bits other than the game taken out. Still, it was better than nothing and it was free. The refreshment facilities could have been a bit better I suppose, trestle tables dishing out non-alcohol free beer or warm fizzy water doesn’t really do it for me, nor do the bags of birdseed that Europeans seem so fond of. I was going to say that it could have been worse but I don’t suppose it could really.
The crowd including the strangely subdued Danes was just under 20,000 which considering Hungary’s last home crowd numbered 4,513 was reasonably substantial and all packed into the lower tier had a great atmosphere going right the way through the match. The Magyars are certainly passionate about their national team (at least those that bother to go are) and most had scarves, hats or Hungary shirts. We couldn’t understand the mass of chants and songs they sang throughout the game but the most passionate seemed to be very anti-Russian. The undoubted highlight of the night was the continual efforts of the security staff to get the ringleaders of the Hungarian glee club to sit down or at least stop swinging from the flag-bedecked fences down the front. They failed miserably it has to be said, but gave us a good laugh whilst trying.
The only other noteworthy event concerned the advertising hoardings. As with most major grounds in the world, the Puskas Ferenc has constantly changing and scrolling screens at the edge of the pitch opposite the TV cameras. And as at most grounds worldwide, they advertised things like Kia cars, Nike trainers, local beer and trips to Dubai. On this particular night in this particular city, they had a special one though. It said ‘Morten Olsen prefers Widex hearing aids.’ Now I have no idea whether or not Danish coach Olsen actually needs a hearing aid but it must go down as the most bizarre piece of advertising I have ever seen. And it scrolled right around the whole stadium every few minutes ! Obviously hearing aids are big business indeed in Denmark and if you happen to need a Danish hearing aid then who are we to say that Widex are not the very best (certainly the national coach seems to think so)
Anyway enough of the peripherals, the game itself was appalling. It was going to be 0-0 from the first few minutes and drifted along somewhere between woefulness and ineptitude. It was so poor that at times it was actually funny. Still, whoever goes to watch international matches and expects quality free-flowing football is a bit potty to start with, just ask an England fan. Hungary without Buzzer and the also injured Tamas Priskin of Watford and with ex-QPR target Peter Halmosi an unused substitute, didn’t actually have a forward in their starting line-up which did not do too much for the attacking aspect. But with Bendtner making a surprise starting appearance for Denmark, at least there was one forward on the pitch (one and a half if you included Jon Dahl Tomasson which very few people did). Bendtner missed what looked like one reasonable chance early on and hit the post from the edge of the box later in the 1st half but other than that, the Danes were hardly better than their hosts. So much so that with 5 minutes to go they introduced Nygaard for the struggling Arsenal man. Not that it made any difference.
The final whistle blew on what was it has to be said, a thoroughly dreadful game of football. The only remarkable thing was that nobody but nobody (except us) left the stadium before the final whistle. A game like that in England would have meant the Metro filling up with people from half way through the 2nd half, but not here. We stumbled down the steps onto a train a few minutes after the end with no more than a handful of the more athletic Hungarians and a smattering of Welsh students (and no I don’t know why either). Still despite the standard of football, the bars of Budapest were open and selling fine damn beer for around ¬£1.80 a half litre and the crowd drifted back into town to take advantage, Most people from both sets of fans seemed to be fairly happy with the result which I suppose explained the almost total lack of attacking effort, especially in the 2nd half.
We had to feel sorry for Hungary to be honest or the unpronounceable Magyarorszag as they are known locally. Any team that is distraught to lose an absolute clumper of a striker like Priskin has got to be worryingly poor. Quite why Halmosi couldn’t get on the pitch we had no idea as apart from Fulham’s Zoltan Gera, they were completely devoid of class. ‘My God’
we thought as we supped a few jugs of wonderful local brew Soproni, they must worship Buzsaky when he is fit, what a bloody shame he was unable to play in this particular match, he might even have dragged the overall standard as high as mediocre. Still, Carol and I had not given up on watching him represent his country and in 5 weeks time we will be jetting off once again in the hope of seeing the ‘Buzmeister’ scorch his way around an international pitch, this time much further south. At least, if he is fit he must get a game we thought. But for now it was home, with a plane load of desolate Scots on their way back from Macedonia where not only did they get beat, but half of them never even made it into the stadium ! And we thought we had it a bit rough !