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