A Matter of Life & Death

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Újpest 1 v 2 Ferencvaros (12.09.2015)

Heading into the weekend’s 215th Újpest v Ferencvaros derby and most of the outside world was focussing in on Budapest. Unfortunately it wasn’t the build-up and excitement ahead of Hungary’s fiercest football derby that was captivating the world’s attention. Instead, the mass exodus of migrant refugees from the east that had bottlenecked at Keleti station – Budapest’s gateway to the west – had totally dominated the news headlines for the best part of a week leading up to the match.

As a football tourist it was hard to escape those headlines, and the migrant crisis that had unfolded in the capital had thrown the travel plans of thousands into chaos, not least the migrants themselves. It wasn’t difficult getting info Budapest, my 10 hour overnight sleeper train from Krakow took care of that; but it was heading westwards from the capital that was the tricky part. All direct trains to Vienna were cancelled until further notice.

Post derby, my onward journey would take me to Slovenia via Austria. The cancellations definitely threw a spanner in the works, but here at ‘Look at These Scenes’ we pride ourselves on thorough travel planning. Years spent following England around Europe, and plotting up to random club games in the Slovakian 3rd Division when the TV schedules ruin your first choice options, and there’s plenty of experience to fall back on!

There were alternative routes into Austria that weren’t being exploited by the frustrated and desperate migrants. Trains were still running to Bratislava in neighbouring Slovakia, which was then only a one hour connecting train ride away from Vienna. It was difficult to fathom why no-one seemed to cotton onto this, and there were no checks at either the Slovakian or Austrian borders en route to Vienna, or any blockades preventing free movement onto the platforms at Keleti.

The migrant camps that had plonked themselves at Keleti station were distressing to see first-hand. As I exited the station, lines of tents and makeshift shelters filled the concourse and underpass area underneath the station. Many others didn’t have the luxury of a shelter, and parents with babies and young children were just lying out on any belongings they had on the tiled floors of the underpass. The stench from human uncleanliness poisoned the air and made for an altogether unpleasant and saddening experience. To everyone else though it seemed just a mere ‘interference’ to daily life in Budapest. Tourists and backpackers trod over refugees to access metro ticket machines; people bustled through congregating migrants outside to get to buses, taxis and trams; and once you took a few strides away from Keleti it was hard to believe an international humanitarian crisis had been unfolding in the capital for days on end.

I digress. Let’s move onto the derby.

Sorry, let me briefly digress again! Back in 2013 my carefully planned stag do to Budapest was built around taking in two derbies in one weekend. Meticulous plans that were abruptly ruined when the entire weekends league fixtures were cancelled due to snow that had fallen in other parts of the country! I’m still bitter about it today! But despite that disappointment, a fleeting visit to the Szusza Ferenc Stadium was enough to reaffirm Újpest as ‘my’ adopted Hungarian team of choice. I’m not sure whether it’s the clubs famous purple kit, the club badge, their working class roots, or the reputation of the clubs supporters, but something lured me in!

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Újpest have a longstanding and proud history. Formed in 1885 and originating from the cities 4th District – a deep rooted working class section of the capital, the Szusza Ferenc stadium is proudly located in the heart of the tightly packed residential streets of the district today, some 130 years on.

If you’re a Hungarian pub quiz fan, then you’ll love this next stat. Arsenal’s 96 year stay in the English top flight is profound, but Újpest have featured in Hungary’s top division for 102 consecutive seasons. Impressive stuff hey? But even more impressive, is the fact that Ferencvaros once signed Craig Short (the former Notts County legend) as their gaffer in 2008. Unfortunately for Craig he had to leave the club shortly after, as when the club finally got round to checking his CV and qualifications they realised he didn’t have the necessary coaching credentials to coach and manage in Hungary!

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Despite being among the oldest football clubs in Hungary (Újpest, 1885, and Ferencvaros 1899) the famous rivalry between the two clubs ‘only’ dates back to the 1930’s. Following some in depth pre-article research, Wikipedia reveals that this coincided with Újpest’s first title win, a period of subsequent dominance which saw the ‘Lilák’s’ win the league title five times in nine seasons. Prior to this period of ‘purple reign’, MTK Budapest were the Fradi’s ‘Prince-ipal’ derby day offering (see what I’ve done there!?). But that was then and this is now, and Újpest v Ferencvaros is commonly regarded as Hungary’s ‘biggest football fixture’, often drawing the largest crowds, the most passionate atmospheres, well-choreographed fan displays, and regular scenes of violence between the hooligan sections of the supporters groups.

It’s this reputation for violence in Hungarian football that has led to the footballing authorities introducing the ill-fated ‘fan card’ system. A system which has gone down as well with the ultras as the recent Vienna train cancellations did with the migrants. The system has been met with total disdain from many ultras groups across the country, and there is no doubt the fan card system has had an impact on fan culture in Hungary, particularly with the ultras and away-day attendances. The fan card is viewed as football’s equivalent to big brother, and Ferencvaros fans have regularly boycotted games, instead choosing to watch their team’s matches on big screens outside their own stadium.

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Smaller than usual – the travelling Ferencvaros fans….

Whilst the fan card system had caused the natives much frustration, Újpest were most accommodating in helping me to avoid it. I was clearly seen as low risk, and by providing my name, birth town and passport number via email, 2 tickets (costing £6 each) were reserved for the big game before I even arrived in the country. That was the straightforward bit. Trying to actually locate the place (or as it turned out, the specific person) to collect the tickets from was a conundrum I hadn’t bargained for.

The instructions from the club were simple. Report to the ticket office on ‘Mildenberger Utca’ and collect them. On arriving at the said ticket office, the ticket ladies didn’t speak English, and my lack of Hungarian saw the ticket office window closed in my face! Shortly after though one of the ticket ladies came out onto the street and gestured for me to visit another ticket window outside of Sector D which was close-by. My waving of a British passport must have given her a clue as to my intentions! Relieved, I queued up, and was even more pleased when the bloke behind the counter spoke some broken English. He informed me that my tickets weren’t here, and to try visiting the ticket window situated on the opposite end of the turnstiles. After battling through the building crowd that was now queuing to get in, I was greeted by another ticket lady that said they weren’t there.

Anyone know where the pre-paid ticket collection point is? No?....

Anyone know where the pre-paid ticket collection point is? No?….

I was now starting to panic. Kick off was drawing ever closer, the crowds were building by the minute, and the initial excitement of the treasure hunt to find tickets was now waning thin. No one from the club itself seemed to know where pre-paid tickets were collected from!  I headed back to the first ticket office to start again, but disappointingly this was now closed! Of all the games I’ve been to abroad I have only ever not got into a ground once, and that was England away in Estonia, mainly because I didn’t have a ticket in the first place!

Becoming rather desperate, I approached an ‘approachable looking’ lady that was waiting near the entrance gate to the turnstiles. Luckily I struck gold with my selection, as that ‘approachable look’ ensured that she not only spoke English, but she also knew exactly where to take me! As it turned out my tickets were being held patiently in a white envelope by a girl that was stood inside the ground on the other side of the perimeter fence and turnstiles! The only way to access her was via the chief steward through the fence! After checking my ID, he then called over the said young lady, who checked through her envelopes and handed me two tickets! I’m not sure who it was that helped me in the end, but without her it’s safe to say I probably would have missed the derby!!

When you experience that amount of unnecessary drama before kick-off you need a beer or two just to take the edge off! Thankfully Hungarian football embraces the concept of ‘beers at your seat’, and at 80p a pint you could fill your boots! (None of this closing at half time nonsense too, the bars remained open until after the final whistle!).

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Újpest line up before kick off….and a random kid in a plain t-shirt photo-bombs the mascots big moment…

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A “full kit capo”…what more do you need…

A full kit capo, a colourful tifo display, and a 3rd minute strike by Senegalese striker Diagne got the derby off to an absolute flyer. You can’t beat a full kit capo, sorry, early goal on derby day to crank things up a bit, and the Újpest ultras went berserk! Ferencvaros came in to the game with seven straight wins at the start of the new season, yet Újpest came out of the traps and played at a tempo that made the Fradi look pretty ordinary for an hour of this hotly contested derby. Talking of hot, the 2nd half pyro display from the Újpest ultras made the home end look like it was on fire, but ironically the fans crescendo of passion and vigour signalled the Újpest players starting to run out of steam!

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It’s flares o’clock….

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The keeper tries to find his back four…

As the game wore on you could sense the Fradi were growing stronger and stronger. With more time in possession, they started opening up the Lilaks back line that had previously looked so resistant. The equaliser that everybody in purple sensed was on the cards but hoped would never come, came on 78 minutes following a glanced near post header by Bode. Cue wild scenes in the away end.P1060524

 

 
To be honest a draw was the very least Újpest deserved for the work rate and endeavour they had showed. The players had clearly put a shift in, but football doesn’t always reward hard work, and just as everyone was settling for a share of the derby day spoils, Bode popped up again in injury time to net the winner for Ferencvaros. The Lilák’s derby day had been ruined in the worst possible way.

Football is often comparatively regarded as a matter of life and death, and clearly no one likes coming out second best to your most hated rivals. This result would have definitely hit Újpest fans hard, but on returning to central Budapest and Keleti station, the sight of human desperation and the ongoing migrant crisis certainly puts things into perspective.

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Dawn on a new day at Keleti Station…

Tickets & City Info:

An email to the club a few weeks before should be enough to bag yourself a ticket. Although games at Ujpest rarely sell out, the fan card system means it’s easier to arrange things in advance than go through the registration process when you’re out there. You will need to set up an international bank transfer to secure the ticket reservation, which will cost more than the tickets themselves! I just hope you have more luck collecting your ticket than I did on match day!

Budapest is a city renowned for its spa’s and bars! So if you like to pamper yourself and have a beer, you can do both at the same time here. A visit to the spa is a way of life here, and really should be part of your itinerary. The Rudas Spa (adjacent to the Erzsebet Bridge or Elisabeth Bridge) on the Pest side provides an old school and ornate Turkish spa experience, with a range of different thermal baths set at different temperatures. The ice cold plunge pool sorts the men from the boys! If you prefer experiencing Budapest’s most famous spa experience then head to the Szechenyi Spa (see below). This spa has its own metro stop and is an outdoor spa experience.

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In terms of nightlife there is no shortage of options, but one unique experience is to head to the Jewish quarter and take in a few of the ‘ruin bars’. Quite literally derelict outdoor spaces that have been revamped and turned into spaces for Budapest’s social crowds to mingle. You could do worse than start on Kazinzcy Street, bars such as Szimpla Kertmozi, Koleves, Kunplung and Convierto are all close by. The latter is an open top roof venue, with a reputation for house music and many of Budapest’s finest DJ’s regularly play at this venue. The Jewish Quarter makes for a perfect pub crawl, and there are that many ruin bars that you’d do well to make it round them all on one night out!

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In the Jewish Quarter: Ruin bars, ‘Koleves’. (above) and ‘Kunplung (below)…

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