Heartbreak at Groupama Stadion

Last night was a treat for this old Fradi fan. It was my first game at the Groupama Arena. My first match was back in 1974 when my Uncle took me to the old Ulloi street stadium to experience my first professional football match. Things were easier back then if you can believe. You walked up and bought a ticket and entered the stadium. Today, getting into the Groupama is a little more complicated. Before I get into what happened at the match, I thought I would share the process I went through to even get into the stadium.

So, if you are visiting Budapest and decide you want to see a Fradi match at the beautiful Groupama, here is what you need to do. First, you have to get a Fradi card. It can not be purchased online. You have to go to the registration office on Ulloi street which is located on the north side of the stadium. You have to fill out a piece of paper. They take your picture, then they have you put both your hands on a biometric reader. I am thinking, “what the hell is this?” Once I had my card, you walk around to the ticket stand and purchase a ticket like you normally would anywhere else. Also, now that you have a card, you can purchase tickets in advance online.

Before you enter the stadium, the sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are sold outside by ambitious entrepreneurs scattered throughout on the sidewalks. That has not changed.

Now getting into the stadium, this rookie had trouble understanding how to go through the turnstile. You need put your card into a reader and stick your hands on the biometric reader. The hand reader is not easy to do. How the hell do I position my hand? Why is not working? People waiting to get in behind are getting inpatient with me. I needed help. Finally, I got through.

Next up, do I want to get something to drink? Well, again, for a newcomer and old fart, there is a new system for doing this as well. I get up to the front of the line, order a beer and pretzel, but I can not use cash or card. You use your Fradi card. Again, not knowing what I was doing, I held up the line…….again. Finally, someone explained where I put money on my card. You have to see the ladies in black who take your money and add it to your card. I hand my cash over and I am good. The concession stand was nice enough to hold my stuff to the side. I have my beer! Funny thing, the beer was cheaper than a Pepsi?

So, now I am starting to understand how they make their extra money. I had a balance that I could not use.

Ok….so, there is your lesson for going to a Fradi match. It’s an adventure for the newbies like me.

On to the match. I had a great seat and the stadium has great sight lines no matter where you sit. It was fantastic. My memories of started coming back on why I fell in love with football in the first place. The crowd was loud, the Ultras put on a show. While the football being played by Fradi was not that inspiring, the crowd still made the game fun.

As the build up to the kick off was a spectacle, the beginning of the game was not. As we were settling into our seats, a turnover in the midfield led to the first goal for Celtic at the 2:30 mark. The response around me was one of frustration and exasperation at what just transpired. Ok, no problem, there is still time. Bogdan looked shaky at the beginning and I politely inquired to the gentlemen to the right. Where is Dibusz? Injured, he replies. I know I wasn’t the only one asking the question.

In the eleventh minute, Celtic scored another goal. But this one was an own goal off a shot from Zubkov that hit Juranovic that went over the Celtic keeper. Ok…the stadium is in great spirit. This game could go our way and my friend’s 2-1 Fradi victory just may happen.

There were some sketchy moments in the midfield and defense that made you feel worried about our future in the match. In yet another moment, Celtic strike again on a fast counter attack and go up 2-1 against us. My friend’s prediction went the wrong way at the moment.

While the crowd kept us entertained and involved in the game, calls by the referee did not endear himself to the Fradi faithful. Colorful language that I am too afraid to repeat were heard all around me. Let’s just say a lot of Mothers were accused of being call girls in those moments.

Celtic seemed to win every 2nd ball and were faster in their ball movement. We could only hope for the half-time whistle to blow and get our team into the changing room for a regroup.

Not much happened during the half-time so I got up to walk around as did everyone else. The WC line was kilometer long as the beer from the first half hit everyone’s bladders.

2nd half starts and things looked promising for Fradi as Tokmac hits the crossbar in the opening minutes to provide some hope. But, the hope would not last long. Soon after, Fradi lose the ball in midfield and Celtic counter to extend their lead to 3-1. The crowd start getting restless and direct the play from the stands only to be further frustrated when passes go astray. Now, their ire is directed towards individual players on the field with calls to go home. Oops…that’s not good.

As the game goes onto into the 2nd half, nothing seems to work. Then, a great thing happened. Celtic made some substitutions. They took out their front line that was causing us so much trouble. That’s right, they took out their goal scorers. Fradi made some changes themselves. I think the changes were the correct ones. Apart for his crossbar effort, Tokmac actually had a bad game, or did not seem to even want to be on the field. Zubkov’s impact slowed in the 2nd half too.

So, maybe the subs can create a spark? Well, kind of. There was a little more urgency in their play. Uzuni started taking over the game for Fradi. He was all over the field looking for the ball. He made a couple of forays into the box. On one he tried to pass it off to Mmaee. Why didn’t he shoot?!! His hard work paid off, as he scored a brilliant goal from the left side of the box into the far right corner. I was fortunate because where I was sitting, as the play started I know that was going in, as I leapt out of my seat in joy. It’s 3-2 now. Never say never in football. If you can score one, you can score more, right?

Fradi tried to use the next 8 minutes to equalize, but that Uzuni moment would not come from the other players. They still had bad passes, shots over the goal, and the bad pass.

The game would end with defeat to Celtic 3-2 and Ferencvaros fans rising from their seats waving their hands in disgust by the loss. The Ultras let it be known they were not happy with boos ringing through the Groupama after the match. Me? I got the hell out of there.

Celtic fans did not have a vocal presence in the stadium, but they could be heard singing for the their club in the city center pubs that would have them.

For me? I wish my Uncle Pali could have been there with me. He introduced me to Fradi. Even though he would have waived his hand in disgust leaving the stadium and declare, “Szar a Magyar foci,” I wish I had another moment to hear him do it.