Ferencvaros TC v Puskas Academia
NB I (league) Sunday 16th July
I’ve always enjoyed the adventure-filled nature of the Bourne series; from the identity-seeking self-discovery of the ‘Identity’, to the steely glances and shadowy invincibility of the more recent, mute incarnation. Sometimes I have imagined myself in that scenario: all eyes of a visibly oppressive and omnipotent security force searching you out, having to go to outrageous lengths to achieve a sense of calm and normality beyond the world of fingerprints, retina scans and espionage. However, I now feel that this itch has been scratched, as I have successfully bought a ticket and entered the Groupama Arena, Ferencvaros.
The Groupama Arena is immediately adjacent to the ‘Nepliget’ Metro stop, which is on line 3. If you’re in the centre of Budapest (Deak Ferenc ter) then Nepliget is six stops away, in the direction of Kispest. The Metro system in Budapest is excellent and, provided you know in which direction you’re heading, is easily navigable. Nepliget Bus Station is also where many of the International Buses arrive, so the location really is ideal.
Normally, I would stick a hyperlink in here, comment on the price of the ticket, simplicity of the website and any glitches or issues to be aware of and move on. Ferencvaros, however, have decided that online ticketing really isn’t for them, which I can understand when a club is having very small crowds and never selling out on the proviso that tickets can simply be bought at the gate. No. As an occasional fan, tourist or groundhopper coming to Ferencvaros, you are made to feel like a terrorist threat, convicted hooligan and wilful carrier and spreader of Ebola.
Firstly, you need to register for a ‘Fradi’ card, which is the compulsory fan card which is used to gain entry as well as to load with credit for food and beverages. This is more ridiculous, and laborious, than passing through United States Immigration and Border Control. The office where this takes place looks like the inside pan of a deep fat fryer, and is right next to the ticket booths, although finding the door is not as simple as it sounds. Having made it into the room, I explained the purpose of my rude interruption to the man whose menacing grimace suggested his recording EasztEndersz was set for further postponement. He actually reminded me of Danny Dyer when he used to do those ridiculous ‘ahd-mahn’ football rivalry shows before adorning a pink dressing-gown in Albert Square.
The surly employee, who will henceforth be known as Danny, barked “ID card now” at me. I produced said card, which provoked a head shake like I’d told him “my dog ate my homework”, and Danny entered various details from the card into a computer. He then placed the card down, and asked me to fill out a form, which surely contained the same information he just entered. I duly obliged, and was then beckoned towards a PC camera. After he told me not to smile and stored my exasperated image, I was guided towards a plastic device. I had no idea what this thing was. I was told to press down with a finger (can’t remember which) on some part of it and then, after several attempts and much frustration evident on Danny’s melted face, a scan of my handprint was subsequently taken.
It crossed my mind at the time that he was taking the piss, seeing me as some gullible foreigner and having a laugh at my expense to break the monotony of his day. Only later (the next day) did I discover that they actually scan handprints to verify your identity in order to activate the turnstiles to let you in the stadium. It’ll take time for Viagogo to find a way round that. Oh, wait, nobody uses Viagogo for Ferencvaros matches. Because there’s no demand. Why? Because, well, they’re rotten.
The fruits of my labour, having just arrived at the bus terminal fifteen minutes beforehand, was a ‘Fradi card’ for 1000 Ft (it’s 1500 Ft if you buy it on the same day as the match). This enabled me to go to the ticket booths and buy a ticket. My ticket was 4200 Ft (around 14€) for a seat fifteen rows back almost on the halfway line. With the cost of the card added, this was 5200 Ft (about 17€).
Considering that this whole procedure took around twenty minutes with me being the only person there, you can imagine the bottleneck that this causes on match days in the hours leading up to kick-off. Therefore, getting your Fradi card and ticket the day before, or as early as possible on match day, makes sense. However, it is a stupid system: having fans arriving over an hour before the game and still getting in late when your stadium is only about a third full is a ridiculous scenario.
Places to Stay
Budapest is awash with every kind of accommodation you could hope for, so I’d really recommend you do your own search here in accordance with your requirements. I found a single room for 48€ per night (including a good breakfast) at the Residence Baron, next to Fovam Ter Metro, and was very happy with it, but if I was with a team of lads then there’s a plethora of low-budget alternatives I would’ve considered. With the Metro being so good, provided you’re near a stop, there’s really no need to be near the ground, even if it’s a late match.
Any preconceptions that may be harboured about Central and Eastern European cities should be rewritten after a visit to Budapest. This is one of the grandest and most interesting cities you will ever experience. Having been once before, three years ago, I remembered how much I’d enjoyed it but my memories were more of my experiences, and who I was with, than the city.
For those looking for comparisons, think Paris, but smaller and cheaper. Getting around the city is probably best done on foot, or public transport if you have the time. A 24-hour ticket for the public transport network costs 1650 Ft (5.50€) and is well worth it, although there are alternatives (http://www.bkv.hu/en/). If time is more limited, one of the open-top bus tours is the way to go to get a good overview of the main sights, and a cruise on the Danube is often included.
It would be a shame to visit Budapest and not go to one of the many baths around the city. The largest baths are the Szchenyi Baths, next to the city zoo, just behind Heroes’ Square, although the Gellert Baths and the Rudas Turkish Baths are also brilliant in their own way. I had grossly underestimated how much I’d enjoy this experience and how rejuvenated I’d feel afterwards. It is worth noting that some baths have “men-only” or “women-only” days, and this should be checked out in advance.
Finally, provided you stay away from the upmarket hotels, eating and drinking in Budapest is very cheap compared to most major capital cities. Visiting Szimpla Kert, the original ruin bar, for a beer and a look around is recommended, although there are loads of nice restaurants, cafés and bars all over the city.
The stadium itself has a capacity of 24000 and was opened in August 2014. It seems that many of Hungary’s football teams have either recently renovated their stadium, are in the process of doing so or are about to. In spite the criticism I have heard levelled at this ground for being “modern and soulless”, sometimes it’s a good thing to not have to stand in puddles of pee in a snaking toilet queue and having a good view of the pitch without having to straddle a pillar isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
My biggest criticism is ridiculously overbearing swarms of stewards and security: there were perhaps 8000 fans at this game and it felt like each had their own member of staff. As I strolled, 120 bpm Travolta-style, to the turnstiles with my ticket and Fradi card in hand trying to look like I knew what I was doing, I was intercepted by a steward, who did the disinterested pat-down with impressive aplomb. Then, having negotiated my way through a turnstile before, I scanned by ticket under the infrared sensor. Nothing. Other way round maybe. Nothing. The turnstile steward smiled at my helplessness and told me I had to scan my Fradi card (the ticket, therefore, serving no real purpose other than to tell me where to sit). I did this, but then she said “No. You must scan your hand!” After a couple of attempts, I placed my left hand into their scanner and my Fradi card into the other scanner, simultaneously, and the turnstile clicked, meaning that my “life line” on my left palm didn’t correspond to anything in their database of thugs and litterbugs, therefore I wasn’t the droid they were looking for and I could go about my business.
Once inside, if you’re looking for refreshments, the card system in operation means you find one of the people with a big flag on their back. You can top up in denominations of 1000Ft it seems, although, by design, a hot dog and a beer is 1030Ft – not an issue if you’re a regular, and quite cheap, but enough to ensure that groundhoppers leave with unspent credit, which is not refunded. The beer is Soproni, ubiquitous in Budapest, and is OK but nothing to get excited about. However, it was a very cold beer and at 490Ft for 0.4 litres on a hot day was very refreshing. For 540Ft, a hot dog with these freeze-dried space-food onions and a gloopy mayonnaise was an interesting beer sponge. At least they didn’t try to garnish it with the Devil’s food, cucumber, like they did at Honved.
I found my seat easily enough, and was given the once over by a mustachioed seed-muncher two seats down, presumably because I wasn’t decked out in Fradi merchandise, like most people were. The sun was beating down relentlessly on my spontaneously freckling bald head and I noticed that most of the supporters in the stand were wearing caps. So, I put my hand to my forehead, like a sailor peering beyond the horizon, hoping that the sun wouldn’t scorch a mark or blister into my hand incase I had to scan it to go for a piss.
As it happens, the toilets are more than adequate, and could accommodate a capacity crowd and the stewards without a problem. The view from the seat was perfect, the seat itself was comfortable and I had sufficient leg room. In all honesty, the facilities inside the ground are excellent, provided you can get in.
Ferencvaros v Puskas Akademia
The pre-match ritual involved an extra from Lord of the Rings running round the pitch with an eagle on his arm to some middle-ages feudal music, although I can’t help thinking its effect is diluted when the stadium is so empty. The fans were fairly enthusiastic but there wasn’t much variety in the singing: any variation of “Hajra” and “Fradi”, in any order, seemed acceptable.
Then, there was the football. The ball behaved like a twelve-sided die, skiting off of feet, shins and heads in random directions. Some agricultural tackling, reminiscent of Scottish Junior Football, punctuated the match with alarming frequency. I expected something similar in quality to the Scottish Premiership, or the bottom half of the Pro League in Belgium, but it was nothing like it. It was a big pile of sweaty bollocks, just like the Rudas Baths.
Zoltan Gera strolled around the pitch like he was Pirlo, with the arrogance of someone whose career wasn’t spent yo-yoing between the Premier League and the Championship in England. Unfortunately, while he was one of the better players on show, the 38 year-old’s performance didn’t match his ego.
The best football of the match was nevertheless played on the opening stages, with the home side having a little more of the play without being dominant. It was Puskas’ Academia who took the lead through Szakaly after 24 minutes, who promptly gestured towards the fans and made himself the pantomime baddie whilst acquiring a yellow card. Moments later, the same player was very lucky not to be sent off for a poor challenge and raising his hands.
Ferencvaros did press for an equaliser and Puskas’ keeper made a couple of good saves until a free kick was awarded on the edge of the box. It looked like a great chance, and the keeper left a large gap to his left. So, I sneaked out camera (having seen how friendly the staff were to tourists, I wasn’t keen to sample the fans’ disdain by filming like I was at Stamford Bridge) pointed it in the general direction of the goal and Varga flighted the ball into the top corner to equalise.
The second half was a not plot full of twists and turns but a collection of incomplete short stories, where you had to imagine the ending of each move, just like those “complete the story” competitions for teen authors. This passage of play could be summed up by the fact that two players, named ‘Poor’ and ‘Koch’, were booked for clumsy tackles. It was indeed, a limp affair.
A draw was probably a fair outcome for the match and, while I sometimes come away from games in buoyant mood feeling that nobody deserved to lose, this was a match where nobody deserved to win. The stand emptied very efficiently and within ten minutes, I was being whisked back towards Kalvin Ter along line 3 where my dinner awaited. I was Hungary.
- Quality of match: **
- Stadium character: **
- Stadium atmosphere: ***
- Hospitality: ****
- Ease of access: *****
- Things to do around the stadium: *** (although loads 15 minutes away)
- Overall: **.5
Conclusion: Ferencvaros’ stadium is perfectly situated and, once inside, is a very respectable arena. However the experience leaves a lingering aftertaste, like cucumber on a hot dog, of bewilderment at the complicated method of ticket acquisition (which is not worth the hassle – go to Kispest), and disappointment at the level of quality on the pitch.