There hasn't been this much trouble in Hungary since Archduke Franz Ferdinand were a lad - welcome onboard guest contributor (and long suffering housemate of your erstwhile scribe) Nick Dunkeyson.
A word before I start this piece. I'm not John, the guy who writes most of this blog and has an unhealthily pretentious approach to Carlisle United. I'm just some guy unlucky enough to houseshare with him. Just don't expect a similar type of prose, that's all I'm saying. (This is the least insulting intro I have ever received from Nick - Ed.)
There's a certain type of football fan who views the whole process of football as akin to collecting stamps, or more appropriately Panini stickers. Said football fan equates “quality of human being” with “percentage of the 92 league grounds visited for a match”. Or perhaps they judge the worthiness of someone's opinion as a fan of a club on how many matches they go and see a season. Maybe they've even taken to following as much world football as possible, in order that they can offer a comprehensive opinion on the Latvian left winger that West Brom are trying to sign.
In my own way I'm a trainee football fan of this kind, especially with European football. I've seen a few matches these season from the comfort of my own home, taken a liking (as others have) to Napoli, Dortmund, Atletico...the usual suspects, really. And it was in that vein that I decided a trip to Central & Eastern Europe on holiday should include me going to a few matches. I did all the preparation, worked out where I'd be and when, and found home matches for Ferencváros, Slovan Bratislava and Austria Wien while I was in each city. Three matches, right – after all, if circumstances conspire against me for one of them, there's still another two, right?
Wrong. In Slovakia, I was victim to the modern plague on the football fan's scheduling – TV demands, which saw Slovan's home clash with Dubnica moved from Saturday to Sunday. I could've waited another day I guess, but ehh, there isn't that much to do in Bratislava. In any case, Slovan won 6-1, and to quote Jonathan Wilson, goals are overrated – especially when the match is no spectacle. In Austria, I was victim to a more, er, literal kind of plague. Namely, 'flu. Not much you can do about that, and yeah, pretty unlucky considering but hey, it'll have been alright having seen Ferencváros first up, won't it?
Okay, I know that unless you're scriptwriting “Memento”, it's a narrative mess to come back to your first event last, but it's Ferencváros that I want to talk about most here. Anyway, they're playing newly-promoted Siófok off the back of being thrashed by local rivals Újpest. And I've buggered up my timings. Expecting to arrive 45 minutes before kick off, just, y'know, to absorb the atmosphere, kick off's half an hour before I'd written down, so I've got 15 minutes to get in. Still plenty of time, so you'd think, but that isn't accounting for one rather major problem.
Speaking to a Millwall fan recently (Millwall played Ferencváros during their 2004 UEFA Cup 'run'), he'd said the atmosphere there was fantastic, yet terrifying. He mentioned things like Nazi symbols, and the general impression he gave was one of the stereotypical Eastern European football experience. It's maybe this, and the fact Ferencváros are so enthusiastically supported in Budapest that led to my problem. You see, I couldn't buy a ticket to go and see the match, even though it had far from sold out. Why? I had to have a “FradiCard” (Fradi being the nickname for Ferencváros) – a piece of photo identification to prove that, well, to prove something or other. Why do clubs and organisations have photo ID? Whatever their reasons, that's why. And I didn't. And I only had by this time 10 minutes before kick off to get a ticket. How could I get a card? I had to walk halfway round the ground to the club shop, to find a frantic scramble of people waving pieces of paper to try and get the aforementioned card. I shoved to one side to get a form, and despite knowing next to no Hungarian I made myself understood, and got a form. And then, a problem – of course a problem. It's all in Hungarian. By now I've less than 5 minutes before kick off. The 'queue' in front of me to get a card is 40-strong, and more dependant on physical strength than anything to get to the front. Screw this, I think, talk about making the whole experience hard for the neutral. I went back to the hostel and got drunk with a couple of Swiss.
Looking back at this, it's a bizarre tactic. I spoke to Hungarian football blogger Tomasz Mortimer about Ferencváros' initiative, and he noted it was “no wonder they get shit attendances”. And you know, I have to agree with him. It's a hell of a rigmarole to go through for a match, especially for someone like me just hoping to see some football while on holiday. Domestically, Hungarian football's in a kind of terminal decline at the moment. The most successful club of recent years, Debrecen, have to travel 200 km to Budapest for their UEFA Cup matches, as their ground isn't up to scratch. With the exception of Adam Szalai, there aren't really young Hungarians making the breakthrough across Europe. And the best-supported, most famous club in Hungary are doing their level best to discourage casual fans.
Or are they? Since I got back I've done a bit of investigating, and I genuinely cannot find any mention of this FradiCard anywhere on the Internet. The Ferencváros site is only available in Hungarian, but even translated into English there's no mention of it, certainly nothing on the ticket information page. And I can't imagine such a Draconian measure would be introduced for a match against a bottom-of-the-table side like Siófok. So, did I dream the whole thing? Or, more likely, are Ferencváros merely possessed of a singularly unhelpful website. Given their attitude to getting entry to the ground, I'm going to suggest the latter may be the case.
As a little sign-off, I'll just note that in a way, not seeing Ferencváros was probably a lucky escape for me. It was only when I was trudging off that I saw a latecoming fan arrive...wearing a Sheffield United shirt. As a Wednesday fan, I'd completely forgotten that the Blunts used to have a tie-in with Ferencváros. I could've been supporting an ideologically distateful enterprise had I gotten in!