Forza Hungary!

A couple of days ago The Hungarian Football Association (MLSZ) appointed Marco Rossi as the new Head coach of Hungary, replacing Georges Leekens at the helm. The move comes after a string of poor performances under the Belgian’s tenure, leading to widespread dissatisfaction amongst fans and players alike.

Georges Leekens was appointed in the autumn of 2017, replacing Euro 2016 head coach Bernd Storck, whose contract was terminated as a result of losing to Andorra and falling at the wrong end of a 5-2 defeat against Switzerland. Leekens – who, prior to his appointment, had been virtually unheard of in Hungary – was brought in to rebuild the national side from scratch for future success. He was widely credited for laying the foundations of the current Belgian national side, although a lack of success and the constant flow of talent from Belgium could put this into question.

During his 4 games in charge Hungary lost convincingly against Kazakhstan, Scotland and Australia, and managed to scrape an undeserved draw versus Belarus. He did not introduce young talent into the team; in fact the average age of the squad went up since Euro 2016, including calling up 33 year old Kitchee (Hong Kong league) player Krisztián Vadócz and 32 year old Predrag Bošnjak, the latter who spent the majority of his career in mid-table Hungarian sides and has not played since the embarrassing 2-1 loss against Northern Ireland under Attila Pintér back in 2014. The matches not only lacked quality, but players appeared to be unmotivated, and unlike in previous years, they did not show passion nor motivation on the pitch either. He had several months to come up with a new squad and failed to do so.

Marco Rossi’s appointment drew widespread acclaim from players, journalists and the public alike. However, the logistics of the appointment are questionable; Leekens claimed that he was not notified about the MLSZ’s decision to terminate his contract and he only heard about Marco Rossi’s appointment in the media. He is set to return to Hungary next week to discuss his future.

The MLSZ’s decision to make Rossi head coach appears to be the right one. Having coached in Hungary between 2012 and 2017 and since 2017 in Dunaszerdahely (Dunajská Streda) – the Hungarian minority’s team in Slovakia – he has a good understanding of Hungarian football culture and its mentality. He will be able to express himself to players better and be more understanding towards them.

Rossi is also a builder. However, unlike Leekens, he has a proven track record in the Hungary football environment, taking mid-table Budapest Honvéd to league glory in 2017 by slowly improving the team year by year. Despite a small interval in his Honvéd career – when in May 2014 he resigned, but was rehired later on in the next season when the club were struggling – he has shown dedication to the job and had a great relationship with the fans. He has also demonstrated his ability to have an instant impact, taking qualifying Dunaszerdahely to Europa League qualifiers for the first time in 24 years in a single season. An instant impact at Hungary is necessary more than ever as they prepare to qualify themselves for Euro 2020 on the back of a poor run of performances they have not experienced in decades.

Marco Rossi’s role at the national team is more than a new job for him. For Leekens, this was just another new appointment with another national team. He did not plan to live in Hungary, and even when he heard the news of his sacking, he was staying in Belgium. Rossi on the other hand has lived in Hungary for 6 years and has shown his dedication and love for the country during his time at Honvéd and Dunaszerdahely. In interviews, on the news that he was linked with the Hungary job, he responded with words expressing humility such as “honoured” and “humbling”.

It is this what sets him apart from Leekens. He will show 100% commitment and will motivate players to show passion on the pitch as he is personally invested in the team. Hopefully he will bring cohesion, which was not seen in performances under Leekens’ tenure. He has no international experience, but all good international managers have to start somewhere and he is the best for Hungary at the moment. He already has that good connection with fans in the country that Leekens could only dream of. Rossi’s time as a lot of uncertainty over it and may not go as planned. However, most fans will agree that they would rather lose under Rossi than Leekens as they know that at least with the Italian’s team they will lose with dignity.

@tomicserep


A nation rejoices

The final whistle in the Groupama Arena against Norway heralded a sense of euphoria that has been forgotten in Hungary for a generation. After a 44 year absence the nation will once again compete amongst Europe's elite at this summer's Euro 2016 in France. And while it has been a long and arduous wait, ravaged by adversity and disappointment, the nation can once again rejoice at the country's success.

Following the game against Norway, celebrations in Budapest and all across the country took long into the night, fans flooded the streets with the colours of red, white and green and a plentiful of palinkas were consumed to quench the dry throats of elated supporters never ceasing to sing, a few by none other than Hoffenheim striker Adam Szalai. However the emotions were still raw, the celebrations felt surreal and beyond reality. Often we Hungarians had to pinch ourselves to make sure we hadn't been engulfed in a dream, and relief flooded our systems when we awoke (wherever) the following day to the same news. Hungary are going to France! But now with time for the achievement to properly sink into our brains’ and comprehended by our minds, it is fair to ask just what can we expect?

I will begin with a customary statistic; only one player (Gabor Kiraly) from Hungary's starting eleven against Norway was alive when the country last competed in a major tournament at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. And only six (Kiraly, Vanczak, Juhasz, Leandro, Bosnjak and Gera) from the entire squad. Hungary is a nation with a paltry of experience at the elite level. Even more accentuated by the country's lack of representatives in Europe's major leagues, two in the Bundesliga (Zoltan Stieber and Adam Szalai), one in the Premier League (Adam Bogdan) and LA Liga (Balazs Megyeri), while the Serie A and Ligue 1 hosts not a single Hungarian. Even the above mentioned are merely fringe players in their squads, and rarely see themselves in the starting eleven. While the rest ply their trades in the lower leagues across Europe and the world, notably clubs in Poland, America and China.

Notwithstanding this inexperience, Hungary is also a nation full of potential. In 2009, the country finished 3rd in the U20 World Cup, a fruition that rewarded an extensive youth project that has been gradually expanding across the country since the early 2000s. And a system that has produced the likes of Krisztian Nemeth, Tamas Kadar, Laszlo Kleinheisler and Adam Nagy - all crucial players in Hungary's route to qualification. As well as clubs like Puskas Akademia - an academy founded in 2007 who commenced their history in Hungary's third division, but have since gone onto reach the Nemzeti Bajnoksag, Hungary’s first division, six years later in 2013, and have remained ever present from thereon, providing the national team with players such as Kleinheisler as well as Adam Gyurcso and Attila Fiola. This supplemented by a manager in Bernd Storck bold enough to offer youth players a chance at senior level, provides a sense of optimism for the future that Hungary has seldom seen in previous decades.

The latest crop of youngsters offers a new hope. Players like Adam Nagy, Zsolt Kalmar and Laszlo Kleinhesler are what epitomises the modern footballers of today, they are players of versatility and flair. They are game changers, unpredictable in a good way, players who have the capacity to pull, so to say, ‘the rabbit out of the hat’; they are what gets the fans out of their seat, jumping with joy. Kleinhesler typified this point with his outstanding goal conjured out of nowhere in Oslo against Norway in the first leg of the Play Offs, when a whole nation erupted with glee back in Hungary. However the above trio are only a few players amidst an abundance of talent seemingly thriving in Hungary and are yet to be tested at senior international level such as: Bence Mervo, a strong agile goal poacher who was awarded with the silver boot at this summer's U20 World cup; Mario Nemeth, a diminutive lithe number ten reminiscent of Philippe Coutinho; Laszlo Pekar, a robust midfielder with already six goals to his name this season, including a terrific effort against Videoton; and David Markvart, a midfield technician with an impeccable eye for a pass.

Bernd Storck, who also had a short stint at Hungary's U20 side, is familiar with these up and coming players and has not been shy of handing debuts to his youngsters, Adam Nagy for example was involved in all of Hungary's last five qualification matches playing a steadfast role. With Storck's faith in youth, Mervo, Nemeth, Pekar and Markvart alike have an outside chance of making the squad for the Euro's, and will undoubtedly be key components of Hungary's squad in the long term.

The squad is also built from the players of the 2009 World Cup bronze medallist generation. Players like Krisztian Nemeth, Zoltan Stieber and Tamas Kadar offer unfulfilled potential dying to finally burst onto the international scene. Kadar and Nemeth both tipped to be the stalwarts of a new Hungarian footballing age, endured torrid spells during their youth in England at Newcastle and Liverpool, blighted by severe injuries that would have crippled most players. However Kadar and Nemeth have come through their adversity to make good careers for themselves at Lech Poznan and Kansas City respectively and will undoubtedly be highly coveted with impressive displays at the Euro's in the summer. Whereas Stieber is yet to find his level in Germany with a mixed level of spells for various clubs, his current one at Hamburg has proved futile to say the least. Nonetheless at international level he too has shown glimpses of his potential, a cathartic and astounding late winner in a tense game against Finland was a goal many Hungarians will not forget for a while and showcased what Stieber athleticism and agility can provide. For these players, the Euro's will be an opportunity to come to the fore of the footballing world once again.

Meanwhile for the old guard, the likes of Kiraly, Gera and Dzsudzsak, the Euro's will herald a chance to vanish their former qualification dismays and bow out of the international stage in style. It will be an opportunity to finally justify their hype to the sceptics who have dismissed their achievements at club football due to such scant to show at international level.

To cast our minds back into the long forgotten past, in Hungary's last appearance at the Euros in 1972, the nation finished fourth, hosting legends such as Ferenc Bene and Ballon d'or winner Albert Florian amongst their ranks. The incentive is there for the players to do well once again, though the notion of emulating such former greats is understandably farfetched and naive. The truth is expectations are difficult to surmise, with nothing to compare to from previous tournaments, nobody is quite sure what will ensue in the summer. This element of surprise is perhaps Hungary's greatest advantage and something that can be capitalised on. Norway underestimated the country and were thoroughly humiliated with back to back defeats. Come the draw on December 12th I am sure many countries will be vying for our name with similar agendas. Let's hope they too will be left with crimson cheeks by the end of the summer.

Lastly a note to those who claim to diminish Hungary's qualification with the argument for the newly expanded 24 UEFA team system, while this conviction is true and may perhaps made qualification less challenging, it is also disputable and should come to moot when one assess the quality of the teams who still failed to qualify such as Greece, Bosnia, Slovenia and Denmark - whom have all competed at major tournaments in the past decade. And of course not forgetting Holland, the 2010 World Cup finalists, who a little over two years ago thrashed our nation 8-1 in one of Hungary's most humiliating defeats at the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. Journalists dubbed the result as the country's lowest footballing moment and called for a crisis point, doubts were raised whether Hungary would ever compete in a major tournament in our life time, while the manager at the time Sandor Egervari was axed. Three managers and a qualifying campaign later; those doubts have been cast aside. Now the roles have juxtaposed with the Dutch having to endure the tournament from their sofas at home, while Hungarians will be celebrating in France. Football truly is a bizarre and beautiful game.


Bonjour France!

Written by Gaby Kovács

In 1986 I was 12 years old. My Panini World Cup sticker book lay mostly empty other than a couple of pages, Hungary’s. Unsurprisingly, these pages filled pretty quickly as by playground swaps value, the entire team could be had for as little as Gary Lineker or the shiny Brazil badge. As a family, we sat round the television to watch our national team in Mexico whilst the adult males swore, waved their arms around and drank Hungarian spirits. The beauty of being so young meant that if we won, I was elated and if we lost, it didn’t ruin my day. This has served me well as a Hungarian football fan. As Hungary bowed out of the tournament, little did I know that I would celebrate my 21st, 30th and 40th birthdays before we would qualify for a major tournament again.

As the group was drawn for the 2016 European Championships in France, we were given hope that this could finally be our year. Where we found that hope is beyond me as Hungarians are pessimistic by default and we would be starting a qualifying campaign off the back of a painful 8-1 defeat in Holland where our manager, Sándor Egervári resigned before the 90 minutes were up. He lasted a lot longer than our defence who gave up pretty much after kick off. On December 19th 2013, Attila Pintér was named as the new Hungary manager. He was an unpopular choice but looking at the facts, he had just lead Győr to their first Hungarian 1st division title in 30 years and at least deserved a chance. Fast forward to 7th September 2014 and the first group stage game at home to Northern Ireland. The visitors hadn’t won an away game since 2010 and the full house at the brand new Groupama Arena in Budapest was expectant. Hungary dominated and after 75 minutes were rewarded with a goal from Tamás Priskin. I don’t think anybody expected the mood at the point to drop so dramatically, but it did. On 81 minutes, 2nd half substitute McGinn equalised and 7 minutes later, Lafferty had snatched a winner. The crowd turned on Pintér and that would be the last we would see of him. On 18th September it was announced that former international Pál Dárdai would take control of the team for the next 3 matches. Dárdai was working as a youth coach at Hertha Berlin, the club where he made 297 appearances and earned club legend status. He had been capped 61 times for Hungary, scoring 5 goals of which his most memorable was a thunderbolt against England at Old Trafford. One thing became clear pretty quickly, he was a likeable guy with a calm head on his shoulders. There was just one problem. Dárdai said he did not want the job full time.

As baptism’s of fire go, having to take charge of the national team for the first time against bitter rivals Romania in Bucharest must rank highly. Our pessimistic gene kicked into overdrive and the talk was not about whether we would lose, but how many we would lose by. On the stroke of half time, Rusescu put the majority of the 52,000 crowd into a frenzy and everyone was getting exactly what they expected. With the game nearing its conclusion, Hungary were awarded a free kick in a dangerous area which Balázs Dzsudzsák would take as usual. Balázs was a hugely talented winger who made his name playing for PSV Eindhoven in Holland before losing his way in Russia after being lured by the huge sums Anzhi Makhachkala were paying their players. He made just 8 appearances before moving to Dynamo Moscow. He made 89 appearances for the capital club but only showed his brilliance in glimpses. On the 11th October 2014, he fired himself into Hungarian folklore. He struck the free kick so well that the goalkeeper could only help it into the net and the Hungarian end of the stadium went into meltdown. The calm Dárdai was waving his arms furiously at his players, insisting they keep their heads as there was still 8 minutes to go and a barrage was surely coming. The game ended 1-1 and the no hopers had taken a point. Three days later, Hungary won 1-0 in the Faroe Islands and as Zoltán Gera put the ball into the net with 6 minutes to go a month later in Budapest against Finland, Dárdai had given us 7 points from three games and most importantly, hope and belief.

We had to wait until March 2015 for our next competitive game by which time, The Hungarian football federation announced that Dárdai would stay on as manager until 30th November. Dárdai said his son influenced his decision to stay on by saying “without you, they are not going to win”. I think we all believed that as well but Hungary being Hungary, drama was just around the corner. A 0-0 draw against Greece was followed by another late winner, this time in Finland. By the time of Hungary’s next qualifier in September, relations had soured between the Hungarian federation and Hertha Berlin. The German side had appointed Dárdai manager of their first team in February on an interim basis and in May he was given the job full time after a string of good results. Dárdai was given an ultimatum by Hertha, them or us. The lure of the Bundesliga proved too much and we were looking for manager number 3 of our qualifying campaign. Tomasz Mortimer and I attended a Champions League game between The New Saints and Videoton in July and speaking to national team stalwart, Roland Juhász it was very apparent just what the players thought of Dárdai. He had given the players self belief and the sadness of him leaving was very difficult to hide. Roland gave us the name of the next manager that night, Mr Bernd Storck.
Unless you payed attention to all the teams below the full international side, you could be forgiven for not knowing who he was. The media and fans had all speculated about who the new manager would be and names such as former manager Lothar Matthäus had been bandied about. One thing we had all decided on was that it would be someone with pedigree to get us over the finish line and onto France. In June 2015, Storck had taken our under 20 side to the World Cup in New Zealand where despite losing two group stage games, a win against North Korea was enough to see us through. Despite a brave effort in the round of 16, an extra time defeat to eventual winners Serbia saw us return home with just a solitary win to our name. Hardly the pedigree we craved. Storck’s international experience was as manager of Kazakhstan’s under 21’s and full side between 2008 and 2010 before he was demoted to manager of their under 19 side. At club level, he had been assistant manager at Hertha Berlin, Wolfsburg, Borussia Dortmund as well as having full control of FC Alma-Ata in the Kazakhstan Premier League. After a two year spell as manager of the Olympiacos under 21 side, he was announced as Hungary under 20’s manager in 2015. Most Hungarians agreed that once again, we had gone for the cheap option and had given up on qualification. We would crash out, have our scapegoat and search for a new manager while everyone else tucked into snails in France.

A month short of a year since we played Romania, they were the visitors in Budapest as our new man was given the now traditional first game in charge against the old enemy. In the shadows of the refugee crisis that had taken a grip on Hungary, this was the biggest game we would face in many years. There was nothing to shout about. We drew 0-0 and learnt nothing new but amazingly, still had an outside chance of automatic qualification. Rioting fans predictably took the headlines after the game. Next stop for Hungary was a trip to Belfast a few days later to face a side that had automatic qualification in their own hands. They were surpassing all expectations in the group and made our defeat in Budapest look not that bad after all. I will forever thank them for ensuring Attila Pintér got the sack though! Again, there were no great shakes to the team but we saw 20 year old’s Ádám Nagy and Zsolt Kalmár in the side with the former making his debut. Both played under Storck in the Under 20 side. Richárd Guzmics put Hungary ahead in the 74th minute and after Baird was sent off for the hosts on 81 minutes, things were very much going our way. Unfortunately, Kyle Lafferty had different ideas and deep into stoppage time, equalised. Northern Ireland were on the verge of qualifying and Hungary were back on the verge of despair, a place they have sat for 30 years.

October 2015 saw the end of our campaign, or so we thought. Going a goal down at home to the Faroe Islands put us in a bad place and already the daggers were out for Storck. The introduction of Dániel Böde early in the 2nd half changed the tie and his two goals saw us win the game. It wasn’t convincing but the last game away to Greece would be a definite win for us as the former European champions hadn’t managed a single win in their 9 previous games and had only scored 3 goals. Full time, Greece 4 Hungary 3. Under Storck, we had come back to beat the Faroe Islands, drawn 2 games and lost to struggling Greece.

I can’t quite place at what point approaching the end of our qualifying campaign it became apparent that we could qualify as the best 3rd placed team. The maths and scenarios gave every Hungarian a headache that for once was not induced by alcohol. At one point in the group stage, results were going our way so well that we were actually sitting in the automatic qualification spot and even sweeter, knocking Romania into 3rd place. Our hopes of qualification lay at the feet of Spain firstly. They had to win in Ukraine to ensure us of the best 3rd place spot. As Janos became Juan for the night, Hungary’s hopes were in the hands of a nation who owed us one in return for Ferenc Puskás. They delivered, as Mario Gaspar’s goal earned a 1-0 win and Hungary were through! Except we weren’t. Like a sick football version of Takeshi’s castle, there was another challenge. The following night our left eye was on the Latvia vs Kazakhstan game while our right eye was on the Turkey vs Iceland game. Kazakhstan were winning 1-0 in Latvia whilst Turkey were drawing and we were now one minute plus stoppage time from qualification. When things go bad for Hungary, they go spectacularly bad and in traditional Hungarian style, Turkey scored and won the game 1-0. It was the playoffs for us. As if having to endure watching Latvia vs Kazakhstan wasn’t cruel enough.

We have a very short lived history in play off matches. Our last in 1998, ironically to qualify for the World Cup in France, ended with a 12-1 aggregate defeat to the former Yugoslavia. Confidence was back to its usual low level and there was no way we would qualify. As the balls were drawn, Norway was announced as our opponent, a side we hadn’t beaten in 30 years. At this point a journalist and friend at Hungary’s biggest sports newspaper, Matyas Szeli, said to me that for once we don’t have to rely on anyone else and if we qualify, we do it ourselves and take the plaudits for it. This really struck a chord with me and he was right. Let’s not take fear, pessimism and the Hungary team of the 1950’s into these games. Let’s do it with what we have here and now.
On the 12th November, game day in Oslo, news began to break that 21 year old László Kleinheisler was in the starting eleven. Like many young Hungarian players, he has bags of potential that ultimately he hasn’t fulfilled. He plays for the Hungarian champions Videoton but due to a contractual dispute hasn’t played a league match for them this season. In fact, he currently resides in their B team who play in the 3rd division. What was Storck thinking? Ádám Szalai was picked to play up front despite having a dreadful qualifying campaign and warming the bench for his club side, Hoffenheim. Maybe 39 year old goalkeeper Gábor Király earning his 100th cap would be the only thing to celebrate tonight. During my commentary I asked if picking Kleinheisler was crazy or genius and around 5 minutes later, I got my answer. The debutant received the ball just inside the right hand side of the area and immediately struck it towards goal. The keepers hands couldn’t prevent it from going in and Hungary were leading in Norway. Unbelievable. Norway played like a team that needed to win by 6 goals to win as they snatched at every shot and hurried everything. They had 16 corners and enjoyed 67% of the possession but come full time the scoreboard said Norway 0 Hungary 1. Király was fantastic in goal and was backed up magnificently, not by his defence but by former national team goalkeeper, Márton Fülöp. Earlier in the day, the 32 year old passed away after a fight with cancer. He was a much loved guy amongst fans and players and the team could have been forgiven for playing poorly. I wouldn’t have blamed them. There was a huge belief that this would be for Marci though and every single player reacted in a way that would have had him smiling like he always did.

Sunday November 15th 2015. The 2nd leg in Budapest. Most Hungarians were still full of doubt. We almost expected to lose, like we do in all the big games. Bernd Storck named his line up and there was another shock with Tamás Priskin picked to play up front. His reasoning was that he is good at defending in our own box. A bit odd to think that of your striker but we all expected to spend 90 minutes watching our goal being battered. Zoltán Gera’s booking in Oslo meant he was suspended for tonight’s game so in stepped young Ádám Nagy. Filling those boots in a game like this would make some seasoned pros nervous so how would the Ferencváros man react? He was playing at his home stadium at least. Silence for Márton Fülöp, Újpest legend Pál Várhidi and the victims of the tragic terrorist events in France preceded the match and our national anthem was sung like it had never been sung before. We had a very average football team, living in the shadows of former greatness but the pride on show was incredible. With just over 13 minutes played, Priskin collected the ball and ran towards the box before cutting inside, taking out two Norway players and curling the ball into the top corner. It was an incredible goal and one I would never have thought he would score. 2-0 to Hungary on aggregate and 2-0 to Bernd Storck. Norway never really threatened and it was Hungary who pressed on. As time was running out, a Henriksen own goal left Norway with a 3-0 deficit to overturn and only 7 minutes to play. As a Hungarian, the belief was that Norway would score four of course. On 87 minutes, Henriksen scored in the right end as far as he was concerned to make it 2-1 on the night and 3-1 on aggregate. I don’t think there are any words that can justify the feeling at full time. The scenes were unreal. I had never witnessed anything like that on a football pitch before where Hungary has been involved. There were tears of joy, disbelief and relief. 30 years of Hungary’s past sitting upon our shoulders, lifted in an instant. As Bernd Storck was hoisted into the air by the players, the man nobody wanted became a son of Hungary. In his pre match interview, he said “I am now a Hungarian”. You certainly are Bernd.

If you support a major nation where qualification comes as regular as your moans about why you only beat team X by a couple of goals, you will never understand this feeling. I have read a lot since qualification about how the European Championships has been devalued since the expansion to 24 teams was made and personally cannot think of anything better than having the lesser nations involved. They bring passion, supporters that won’t stop singing regardless of how their team are doing and of course, there is always a chance of an upset. I suppose the same people questioning the decision are the same that don’t realise football happens outside the English Premier League. Ask a Hungarian what they expect of us at the finals and the answer will be the same, nothing. We don’t expect a single point, even before the groups are drawn, and that’s just fine with us.

History can reset its clock, from 30 back to zero and I can go back to collecting stickers for my European Championships sticker book.

For all the latest news, scores and more follow @djgabyg and @tmortimerftbl


The New Saints vs Videoton

Written by Gaby Kovács

The Champions League is all about big European team A vs big European team B isn't it? Wrong! The magic is to be found way down the leagues and in the early rounds of the competition. It's about playing teams you have probably never heard of from countries you probably never knew existed. What will their fans be like? Who is their number 10? What will their team play like?

I doubt in many press boxes around Europe come the start of the group stages, will various media outlets be scrambling for information about the opposing teams, players and fans. On the borders of England and Wales last night, this was exactly what I found.

I arrived in Oswestry, a small town border town in Shropshire, not really knowing what to expect. Will the pubs in the town centre be full of Hungarian ultras drinking and singing? No. Everyone was going about their usual business at a slow pace blissfully unaware that the champions of Hungary were in town.

Upon arrival at the ground four hours before kick off I could see all the preparations taking place to welcome Videoton and UEFA. I walked into the main entrance and into a very impressive bar area. Kids were arriving to use the bowling alley whilst the locals drank tea and coffee. If you haven't seen it before, an article a few years ago asked, do aliens exist, and are they actually Hungarians? I think a lot of people at the New Saints had! Wearing my Hungarian international coat with HUNGARY written across the back, I became a curiosity. Will he want goulash? How did he climb over the fence around Hungary to get here? I was approached by a man in a suit who introduced himself cautiously whilst looking me up and down. He was the head of police intelligence. One of the downsides of being 6ft tall, big built and having a skinhead is that I fit the profile of an ultra perfectly. we sat down and talked about how many fans Videoton are likely to bring and why Polish fans were planning to be at the game. I think and hope I put him at ease. He was a really nice guy actually but to others looking on I must have looked like I was being told off for being the leader of the ultras!

My colleague Tomasz arrived at the ground after a journey as gruelling as mine and we headed to the press sign in section to get our passes. Gilbert was the man responsible for this and was very welcoming before grilling us about what to expect from their Magyar opposition. this was a novelty for us as lets face it, most people in Hungary couldn't care less about our teams! Gilbert led us to our press position and made sure we had everything we needed before leaving us. A really nice touch and just another little thing that makes The New Saints unique. They really wanted to make an impression as hosts and they surpassed expectation at every level I am happy to say.

As the Welsh press joined us in the press box, the friendliness of everyone was staggering. Again people were keen to learn about Videoton as well as Hungary. The consumption of Palinka at the 2nd leg by Welsh people will purely be down to Tomasz and myself! Apologies for the hangovers guys! The representatives from the football association of Wales were fantastic guys too, keeping us stocked up with sweets!

As kick off approached, Videoton's ultras descended upon the ground in good numbers. They were in good spirits and very noisy which considering there wasn't a local pub made it all the more impressive. They took their places in a small corner of the ground with no segregation and must have felt like freed zoo animals when you consider what it's like to be an away fan in Hungary. There was no trouble and the party got into full swing when their friends from Raków Czêstochowa and Zwickau in Poland joined them. They were brilliant throughout as noted by various Twitter accounts linked to The New Saints.

There has been much written about the game itself so I won't go into great detail but I think we were all surprised about the way The New Saints approached the game and they could and should have possibly been a few goals up. After an administrative error, Videoton were left without a striker and 1st choice goalkeeper and although that was evident up front, the debut of young goalkeeper, Péter Gábor, was excellent. After a few shaky moments clearly down to nerves, he grew in confidence and stature and demonstrated good handling on quite a few occasions. A clean sheet in a Champions League qualifier on your debut is not be sniffed at although it may be a while before he gets another chance.

István Kovács was clearly the danger man and he made run after run at The New Saints defence but the end product wasn't there. I can't blame him really as there was no goal threat for him to provide for but it was amusing to hear the commentator for Welsh TV channel, S4C, call him the Hungarian Pele!. On the wings, Oliveira had lots of possession but had a mixed night with a lot of his passes intercepted. Much the same can be said about Gyurcsó, although his goal proved to be the difference in the 77th minute when he fired Videoton into the lead and gave them the win and possibly important away goal. Defensively, bar a few lapse moments, our left and right back were given lots of freedom to go forward and Fejes in particular was all over the pitch. Roland Juhász was calmness personified and after facing The New Saints before whilst at Anderlecht, I am sure the Welsh forwards will be glad to see the back of him.

I can't be harsh on Videoton for a few reasons. Our season does not start until this weekend and only a handful of friendlies have been played so although the lack of team cohesion was apparent, it was understandable. The new manager has not managed to make his mark on the side yet with people still finding their feet in his new system. They should prove to be too much for The New Saints in Hungary though and I fully expect them to progress in the competition, at least for another round.

The press conference at the end was amusing as I asked Videoton manager, Bernard Casoni, wether he has lined up a replacement for top goalscorer, Nemanja Nikolić. Bernard said that a good goalscorer was hard to find and also very expensive. I told him I was available to which he enquired how much I would cost him! Really good of him to interact the way he did considering he has only just joined the crazy world of Hungarian football.

This was one of those nights where the football was a backdrop to the day on the whole and as we left the stadium, we bumped into the team getting onto their coach. They were all very relaxed. Manager Casoni wandered around the car park on his mobile phone while Hungarian legend, Roland Juhász spoke to us like we were old friends. Videoton's director watched over them all like a headmaster ensuring all his children were present before leaving the school outing. Don't meet your heroes someone once said. I disagree completely. The Vidi players and staff couldn't have been more friendly and accommodating.

Driving away from the stadium, the sat nav said 155 miles and 3 hours to get home. I sighed, although not because of the journey ahead. The New Saints had become The New Friends which I was leaving behind. There were so many people that made it a brilliant time. This is what football is all about. It is so far away from the Champions League most people know of or care about that it is on a different planet. A planet where the Hungarian aliens were welcomed by the good people of Oswestry and The New Saints Football Club.

I hope you all enjoy Hungary (apart from the football!) and get to take home memories like I have. Diolch yn fawr iawn!

Follow Gaby Kovács on Twitter @djgabyg and Tomasz Mortimer @TMortimerFtbl


The Hungarian 1st division fixtures are out!

It's that time of year again! Planning a trip to Budapest or elsewhere in Hungary to watch football? Here are some key dates and fixtures for you.

Key:
BCS = Békéscsaba
BHFC = Budapest Honvéd
DVSC = Debrecen
DVTK = Diósgyőr
FTC = Ferencváros
HAL = Haladás
MTK = MTK Budapest
PFC = Paks
PAFC = Puskás Academy
ÚJP = Újpest
VAS = Vasas
VID = Videoton

The winter break starts after the weekend of the 11th December 2015 and the league resumes on the weekend of 11th February 2016.

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Images courtesy of the MLSZ


Hungarian teams in Europe 2015 and (hopefully) 2016

If you are planning your holiday around our teams annual crashing out of European competition, you may want to hold on a little bit longer!

So, here's how the draw worked out for us.....

Champions League 2nd Qualifying Round:

The New Saints or B36 Tórshavn vs Videoton

Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League champions, The New Saints, won the title with ease. From 32 games, they won 23, drew 8 and lost 1. Scoring 90 goals and conceding 24, the gap to second place was a huge 18 points. They have qualified for Europe in the last 16 seasons and have been victorious twice before, firstly knocking out Irish side Bohemians before losing to Belgian giants Anderlecht and secondly, a 2-1 aggregate win over Northern Irish side Cliftonville before bowing out at the hands of the Danes, FC Midtjylland. TNS play at Park Hall in Oswestry where the capacity is around 2000, with 1000 seats.

B36 Tórshavn are the current champions of the Faroe Islands Premier League. They won the title by just one point and had a record of 19 wins, 4 draws and 4 losses from their 27 matches. They last made it to the 2nd qualifying round in the 2006-07 season where they lost to Turkish side Fenerbahçe. In their last two European campaigns they have met Northern Irish side Linfield, losing just once over the 4 legs and drawing the other 3. Based in the capital, they play at the Gundadalur Stadium which has a capacity of 5000. bizarrely, B36 are already 16 games into the current season so match fitness won't be a problem!

Europa League 2nd Qualifying Round:

Go Ahead Eagles vs Ferencváros

The Dutch side from Deventer qualified for Europe via the fair play route after FC Twente withdrew. It may soften the blow for them after being relegated from the Eredivisie last season via the play offs to De Graafschap. They have played in Europe only once before in their history, back in the 1965-66 season where they lost to Scottish side Celtic. Currently playing in Emmen at the Jens Vesting stadium whilst their ground is developed, it has a capacity of 8600.

Debrecen vs FK Sutjeska Nikšić

A trip to Montenegro for Loki who face the league runners up who have been champions twice before in recent seasons. In the last two seasons in Europe they where knocked out by Moldovan side FC Sheriff Tiraspol, drawing just 1 of the 4 legs. Sutjeska play home games at the Gradski stadium which has a capacity of 5214.

MTK Budapest vs FK Vojvodina

The Serbian Super League side finished 4th last season and are no strangers to Hungarian opposition in Europe. In 2013 they knocked out Budapest Honvéd very comfortably at the 2nd qualifying round stage, winning 5-1 on aggregate before going on to lose to FC Sheriff Tiraspol in the play off round. They have met MTK before in Europe back in the 1987-88 Inter Toto Cup where they won 5-0 on aggregate. They play at the Karađorđe Stadium which boasts a capacity of 14458.