Ferencvaros: Days in Europa

Ferencvaros will take to the field at the Groupama Arena in this evening’s Champions League Qualifier against Djurgarden of Sweden looking to emulate last season’s European adventure that saw the club achieve their best European performance in a generation.

While the Green Eagles failed to progress to the Champions League Group Stage last year, dropping down into the Europa League, the reputation of the club on the European scene was enhanced tenfold as they came within a whisker of the knock-out rounds.

This season’s European campaign will start off on a slightly unusual footing due the impact that the Covid virus is having on European football.  Instead of the traditional two-legged qualifiers, tonight’s fixture is a winner-takes-all affair with no room for complacency from either side. 

In addition, despite fans being allowed back into stadia in Hungary since May for domestic fixtures, tonight’s fixture will take place behind closed doors as part of UEFA’s continued efforts to limit the spread of the Covid virus; somewhat limiting the advantage of being the home side with no rowdy support in the stadium to back the team.

With Djurgargen currently sitting 3rd in the Swedish Allsvenskan after 16 games and Ferencvaros looking slightly rusty in their season opener at MTK on Friday, might the Green Eagles miss the roar of a passionate home crowd to spur them on to victory?

However, before this season’s adventure takes flight, let’s take a look back at last season’s European campaign.


Champions League qualifying shouldn’t really be an easy prospect, however, in QR1 you would like a kinder draw than 8-in-a-row (now 9-in-a-row) Bulgarian champions Ludogorets. Despite the difficult nature of the opponent, Ferencvaros put in a typically disciplined performance interspersed with flashed of excitement from Tokmac and debutant Zubkov; both of whom would contribute goals in a 2-1 home win.

A nervy second leg was expected in Bulgaria, however, two Fradi goals in the opening 20 minutes put the tie to bed and, try as they might, Ludogorets could not find a way back into the tie, eventually succumbing to a 5-3 aggregate loss.

Maltese outfit Valletta were next up and once again Ferencvaros had home advantage in the first-leg.  An expectant crowd was not left disappointed as Ferencvaros comfortably ran out 3-1 winners, and could easily have added to their lead such was their dominance.

With a two goal lead to take to Malta, Ferencvaros were left in the difficult position of not knowing whether to stick or twist and go for the kill.  A penalty midway through the first half for Valletta gave the hosts hope of staging a comeback, however, Tokmac’s strike on the hour ended Maltese hopes for good.

Having dispatched of Ludogorets and Valletta in the first two rounds, Croatian giants Dinamo Zagreb were next up for Ferencvaros. Unlike the previous two rounds, Fradi were away from home in the first-leg.  Despite falling behind to an early Olmo goal and looking second best for most of the first half, a stoic and disciplined second half performance, capped by Siger’s equalising goal, saw Ferencvaros record a highly creditable 1-1 draw.

Confidence was high ahead of the second leg with qualification to the play-off round and guaranteed Group Stage football at either Champions League or Europe League level the prize on offer.  All Fradi had to do was keep Dinamo at bay for 90 minutes; a task far easier said than done as a rampant Zagreb tore Ferencvaros apart time and again, running away with a 4-0 victory to send Fradi crashing out of the Champions League and into the consolation of a Europa League Play-Off against Suduva of Lithuania.


Away from home in the first-leg, Ferencvaros returned to Budapest with a goalless draw in the bag and hopes of qualification to the Group Stages very much in their own hands.

An early Verbickas goal did little to dampen the spirits of the home support or players who continued to impose their style on the game.  Goals from Varga (OG) and Boli had Fradi in the lead by the interval before Topcagic levelled for Suduva against the run of play.

Where Ferencvaros teams of the recent past may have crumbled, Rebrov’s new breed stayed strong and true to their playing style, confident that the goals would come again.  Just three minutes after losing the second goal, Fradi were back in front again thanks to that man Tokmac.  A host of chances came and went leading to a nervy finale before Signevich scored an injury time penalty, securing Europa League Group Stage football, much to the relief and joy of the home support.

Drawn against Espanyol, CSKA Moscow, and old Champions League foes Ludogorets, few observers gave Ferencvaros any hope of mounting a serious challenge  for the top two spots in Group H.

An unexpected point away to Espanyol in matchday one after a backs-to-the-wall performance was followed by a hugely disappointing home collapse against Ludogorets; the Bulgarian’s gaining revenge for their earlier Champions League Qualifying defeat at the hands of Ferencvaros by handing out a 3-0 demolition this time out.

However, much better was to come in the double-header against CSKA with Ferencvaros emerging with 4 points following another tactically perfect away performance, resulting in a 1-0 win.

Going into the final two games, Ferencvaros had exceeded all expectation by not only keeping their qualification hopes alive, but an unlikely win at home to Espanyol would all but seal European football post Christmas. 

With the clock hitting 91 minutes and the scores level at 1-1 Ferencvaros were awarded a late penalty which Skarvka slotted home sending the home fans wild with delight.  However, football is a cruel mistress, as Ferencvaros would find out 5 minutes later as Espanyol scored the latest of late equalisers to silence the home support.

Espanyol’s late late show in matchday 5 set up the mouth watering prospect of a winner-takes-all showdown in Bulgaria against Ludogorets.

Unfortunately for Ferencvaros, there would be no repeat of their 3-2 win from earlier in the season and the 1-1 draw achieved thanks to Signevich’s injury-time equaliser was not enough to see them into the knock-out rounds, finishing 0ne point behind Ludogorets in the Group.

However, despite the heartbreak of not making the Champions League and falling at the final Europa League Group hurdle, Ferencvaros European adventure of season 2019/20 has restored an element of pride, missing from the club for many years.

What will 2020/21 have in store?

Football Returns to Hungary...but not Quite how we Know it

Competitive football returned to Hungary today for the first time since the Covid-19 enforced lockdown brought about a temporary halt to the season on March 14th. Three fixtures, one NBI and both Magyar Kupa semi-final first legs were played out behind closed doors as Hungary slowly moves towards life returning to something resembling normality.

The debate will no doubt rage on over whether or not football should be returning so soon, however, the MLSZ has put in place a stringent testing policy to ensure the health and well being of players and club officials alike, and there is a clear desire to finish both the Kupa and NBI seasons on the pitch.

With public health and safety also a major concern, the MLSZ has sanctioned the return to action behind closed doors, putting the famous Jock Stein phrase “football without the fans is nothing” to the test.

To help combat the eerie, soullessness of a fanless stadia – sadly, not an uncommon ‘sound’ at some NBI venues - Ferencvaros adopted an innovative approach in the day’s first game; piping artificial crowd noises into the ground through the PA system. In addition, Ferencvaros also placed around 3,000 fan cut-outs in the stands to help recreate as real a matchday environment as possible.

On the pitch, Fradi continued their pre-shutdown winning ways – no doubt bringing boundless joy to the cardboard fans watching inside the stadium – recording a 2-1 win over Debrecen, after falling behind to a stunning early strike from Adam Bodi; the Loki player arching a drive from fully 20 yards range into the right corner of Dibusz’s goal leaving the keeper stranded.
Without the roar of the Green Monsters to fire the hosts on, the concession of the early goal raised some doubts as to whether Ferencvaros would be able to bounce back or not. Those doubts were silenced midway through the half as David Siger lashed home from inside the box to the level score.

Three minutes before the interval the same player would strike again, this time thumping a swerving 25-yard effort into the roof of the net leaving Nad in the Debrecen goal flapping at thin air.

With no further goals in the second 45, victory for Fradi saw Sergiy Rebrov’s men extend their lead at the top of the table to 6 points with a further game in hand to play on Wednesday evening against city, and eternal rivals Ujpest.

Magyar Kupa

Both semi-finals are finely poised ahead of Tuesday’s second legs with both of today’s first-leg ties ending in draws.

MOL Fehervar, favourites to lift the trophy, were held to a 1-1 draw away to NBI’s surprise team of the season Mezokovesd-Zsory.

Fehervar struck first through Patkai, stooping to head home a freekick from Houri. With ten minutes remaining the Fehervar defence failed to deal with a simple corner delivery from the right allowing Robert Pillar to steal in and tap home the equalizer ahead of the return game in midweek.

The second semi-final, and more eagerly anticipated, was a Budapest derby between MTK of the NBII, and Honved. Despite being a thoroughly entertaining and pulsating encounter, neither side was able to break the deadlock, leaving the tie balanced at 0-0 ahead of Tuesday evening’s re-match.

Both sides created plenty of openings but were guilty of lacking composure and a killer instinct in front of goal. Young midfield duo Prosser and Palincsar pulled the strings for MTK and will feel that their attacking contributions deserved a better return. However, the best chance of the game, and most glaring miss, fell to George of Honved who blasted straight at MTK keeper Varga when sent through 1-on-1 late on.

On another day, both sides could easily have shared three or four goals between them. As it was, with shooting boots left at home, the score remained blank and the tie poised on a knife-edge.

In Conversation with...Thomas Sowunmi

Thomas Sowunmi is one of Hungarian football’s most fascinating characters.  Born in Lagos, Nigeria, to a Hungarian mother and Nigerian father, Sowunmi became the first black footballer to represent Hungary at International level in 1999. During his 20 years playing career, Sowunmi played for 8 different clubs across 5 countries, and also found time to study for a University degree while still playing top-flight football.  He has now taken on a new role away from the pitch as Club Manager at NBII club Vasas as he looks to help revive the Budapest based sides fortunes.

It’s an overcast
autumnal morning in Budapest when Thomas Sowunmi finds me wandering around the
car park of the beautiful new Rudolf Illovsky Stadion, home of NBII club Vasas.
I’m a few minutes late for our meeting and a little apprehensive as I was
always taught as a child how important it was to make a positive first
impression; being late is not a good start. 
Fortunately, Thomas welcomes me with a warm smile and friendly handshake
before inviting me inside the club offices for a coffee.

For the next hour
or so I am engrossed as Thomas talks openly and in-depth about a variety of
subjects; the highs and lows of a playing career that, in his own words, could
have delivered so much more; pride at representing Hungary at International
level; his thoughts on the development of the Hungarian game; and where he sees
his own career developing.

“I’m a multi-cultural
guy” Thomas begins to tell me when I ask about what inspired him to play in so
many countries during his career.  “I
wanted to understand different cultures, how they showed their passion for
football.  I also wanted to travel the
world and meet new people.  I’m very
lucky that football allowed me to do that.”

During his playing career, Sowunmi played club football in Hungary, France, Czech Republic, Cyprus, and Scotland. “I made friends everywhere I went, and I’m very grateful for that.”

However, despite the
great personal experiences gained throughout his career, there is a sense that
all did not go quite according to plan for Thomas, and that he did not quite
manage to fulfil his true potential.

“I won a lot of things in my career including the Hungarian Championship and Magyar Kupa while at Ferencvaros, but I thought I could have achieved more.  I didn’t always have luck on my side.  I think I was sometimes at the right club at the wrong time, and at others, it was the wrong time at the right club.”

“At Hibs, for
example, it didn’t work out for me as I hoped. 
When I arrived the guys had already qualified for the League Cup Final (in
2007) and the gaffer wanted to play those boys in the Final.  That’s normal and I accepted it, but then I
got injured in training after colliding with David Grof (now goalkeeper at
Ferencvaros) and was out for 5 weeks.  It
just wasn’t to be.”

“In Cyprus, the
team I played for went bankrupt, and at Ferencvaros  I broke my leg during my first season before
coming back stronger and winning the League and Cup.”

Despite these knock-backs, and the obvious disappointment of not reaching the career heights he had planned, there is no resentment in Thomas’ voice.  As he put it to me “these things all happened for a reason, and without them, I might not be where I am today.”

Indeed, had his
career panned out differently, who is to say that he would still have had the
opportunity to carve his name into Hungarian football folklore by becoming the
first black player to represent the Nemzeti Tizenegy?

“That was a dream come true,” he told me, bursting with pride as we spoke about his debut for Hungary in the summer of 1999 against Moldova.  “I always believed I was good enough to play for the national side and actually thought that my time would come earlier than it did, as I was playing better the previous season.  In the end, it didn’t matter when it came; it was just a dream come true to make my debut.”

Sowunmi in action for the Nemzeti Tizenegy

Sowunmi played 10
times for Hungary scoring on one occasion. 
A laid back and relaxed character, Sowunmi paid little attention to his
status as Hungary’s first black International. 
Nor did he allow the racism that was rife in Eastern European football
during his career, and is sadly raising its ugly head again, to affect his

“For me, I didn’t
really think about being the first black player to play for Hungary, it wasn’t
an issue.  There had been other black
athletes represent Hungary in other sports before me, so I didn’t really
consider myself a trailblazer in any way. 
I am half-Hungarian, so as far as I was concerned I was just playing for
my country.”

“I had a good relationship with the fans and rarely encountered much racism at the games.  Sure, it was normal for opposition fans to boo me, but I used that as a motivation to play better.  I can only remember one time where there was a banner at a game that read ‘Go Home To Africa Monkey’, but by the time I came out to warm-up the banner had been removed and the opposition coach apologised to me after the game.”

“Nowadays, I
think it is more of a shock to the players when they experience racism during
the game because it’s something that should have been eradicated by now.  I think the MLSZ has done a good job at
removing racism and the monkey chants from the game here, but UEFA needs to do
more in its competitions.”

“The current
level of fines and sanctions does nothing to deter fans from chanting what they
want as they don’t punish the club or national team enough.  Take a look at the recent game in Bulgaria
against England.  I applaud the President
of Bulgaria for the stance he has taken, but he shouldn’t have to get involved
and any fine that comes from UEFA won’t deter the fans from their actions.  It’s very sad.”

“There needs to
be stricter sanctions and bigger fines, fines that actually hurt the
clubs.  Only then will they do something
to educate the fans and remove racism from the game and leave it in the past
where it belongs”

Along with
sharing his opinions on how football’s authorities can do more to eradicate
racism from the game, Thomas was also willing to share his thoughts on the
development of the game in Hungary.

Thomas Sowunmi was a man of many clubs but the most successful spell of his career was with Ferencvaros

“I think there is
a lack of identity in Hungarian football at the moment, and we need to develop
a style we can call our own.  The Spanish
have tiki-taka, the Dutch are famous for Total Football and playing 4-3-3, even
Scotland is known for its fast, aggressive and direct football.  But there isn’t really a particular style of
football in Hungary anymore and I think that affects the national team.”

“There is an
emphasis at youth level on results over player development, and we have become
more negative and defensive as a result. 
Young players are not being given the chance to develop their skills and
express themselves, and we have a situation where clubs are judging and
discarding players as young as 10 based on their height or skills at too young
an age.”

“When I played in
Scotland, I saw 15 year-olds who knew everything about the game; when to run,
when to pass, how to head and shoot, when to make the tactical foul.  But the best thing was how they all
communicated on the park.  That doesn’t
happen so much in Hungary, young players are very quiet these days and as
coaches, we need to change how we coach and develop the next generation.”

“It’s something
that has been talked about a lot in Hungarian football recently, and we need to
find a consensus to develop a new football identity.”

It is clear that
the development of the game and young players is something that is close to
Thomas’ heart, and this desire to improve can be traced back to his own playing
career when he made the decision to undertake a degree in Sports Management and
Recreation Management at the highly-regarded Semmelweis University, Budapest.

“It may be
uncommon now, but back then I was part of a group of around 20 NBI players who
went to University to study, some of that group are now Doctors and Lawyers.  It wasn’t just us footballers though, most of
the Olympic Gold Medal winning Water-Polo team also studied at University.  For my generation, getting an education and
looking out for your future away from football was something we took

Settling into life off the pitch as Club Manager of NBII side Vasas.

“Even now I am
still thinking about what the future will hold and what I need to do to achieve
my future career goals.  I want to help
Vasas get back into NBI and help more young players make the breakthrough into
the first-team here.  I enjoy the variety
in my current role, however, I do miss being in the dressing room.”

“Along with my role Vasas, I am also the coach at Balatonfuredi in the 4th Division.  Things are going well there and if we get promoted at the season at the end of the season then I might have a decision to make.”

“I’m not sure
what the future holds for me, but I am excited for whatever it may be.”

Ferencvaros – Ujpest: Boli the Difference as Ujpest Left to Rue Missed Opportunities

Ferencvaros took home the spoils and city bragging rights following their victory in the first Budapest derby of the season against Ujpest thanks to a close-range finish from in-form striker Franck Boli.  The Ivorian pounced on a dangerous cross from Eldar Civic mid-way through the first-half to score the game’s only goal.  However, visitors Ujpest were left to bemoan a lack of cutting edge of their own as they dominated for large spells without being able to get the goal their play deserved.

Of Budapest’s numerous derbies, it is the Ferencvaros – Ujpest match that captures the enthusiasm of the city more than most.  As Copa90 found out back in 2014 when they came to the city to cover the game, there is no love lost between both sets of fans who expect their players to leave everything on the pitch at the end of the match.


Yesterday’s encounter - the 227th league meeting of the two clubs - was no different as Ferencvaros, 4th in the table at kick-off played host to 7th placed Ujpest under the watchful eyes of Yoda; the Jedi Master forming part of an impressive pre-match tifo display from the Fradi Ultra’s.

What Master Yoda would have made of the opening quarter of
the game, I’m not sure as the opening exchanges passed with very little of note
happening.  However, just as Ujpest were
beginning to assert a measure of control on the game Ferencvaros broke the
deadlock with their first real attack of the game.

Left-back Civic swung in a teasing cross from the left into the danger zone between defenders and goalkeeper.  While the Ujpest defence froze and failed to deal with the cross, Boli used the Power of the Force to steal in unmarked at the far post and, with an expertly controlled finish, steered the ball home to hand Ferencvaros the lead.

Stunned and deflated, Ujpest found themselves on the rocks in the minutes following the goal but managed to regain their composure before the break, Feczesin and Zsoter both going close to levelling the scores before the interval.

Expecting a reaction from both sides following the break,
the second-half literally started with a bang as the Fradi Ultra’s announced
the start of the half by setting off a firework display that set the tone for
what was to follow on the pitch.

Bar one half-chance that fell the way of the largely disappointing Tokmac, the second half was pretty much one-way traffic directed at Dibusz in the Ferencvaros goal.  Wave after wave of Ujpest attacks were repelled by a combination of saves by the Fradi keeper or last-ditch defending, with at least one effort cleared from off the line. 

As the game drew to a close there was a growing sense of tension amongst the home support that an equaliser was on the cards, such was the intensity of Ujpest’s constant attacks.  Tensions from the crowd transferred to the players on the pitch as mistakes and slackness took over the Ferencvaros players, gifting yet more chances to the visitors.  But still, they could not penetrate the Ferencvaros defences.

From the sidelines, the lively Nebojsa Vignjevic urged his players on for one last push to get the goal his team deserved on balance of play, but could only watch on helplessly as chance after chance went begging.  Alas, it was all in vain as Fradi somehow held strong to claim all three points.


Sergiy Rebrov - Ferencvaros

Despite the win, Rebrov was extremely dissatisfied with his
side’s performance stating that they lost the ball on far too many occasions,
resulting in a loss of confidence as the game wore on.

He also showed his displeasure of the fans booing his
players for playing passing backwards to keep possession in the later stages,
arguing that in those moments it is better to keep the ball in defence than
attack and lose it.

“I wasn’t happy with our attacking players today, they did nothing.  If I could have made more changes I would have taken them all off.  We won, but the performance was not good enough.”

Nebojsa Vignjevic - Ujpest

Vignjevic cut an inconsolable figure in the post-match conference and was lost for an explanation as to how his team had failed to win the match after dominating in the manner they did.

On more than one occasion he spoke of his pride in his player's performance and that he could not remember a game in which they dominated so much in a long time. 

“We had a game plan to press Ferencvaros’ weaknesses, to be aggressive, and patient on the ball.  We created so many chances and I just don’t know how we didn’t score.  I feel so sorry for the players, they gave their all today.”   

FRADI: Next Stop, Europa League

On a night of high emotion and drama, Ferencvaros secured their return to European Group Stage football for the first time in 15 years thanks to a 4-2 victory against FK Suduva of Lithuania.

Spurred on by a spectacular Rocky inspired tifo display with the phrase Feladni Soha – Never Give Up – and a spine-tingling rendition of Himnusz, Ferencvaros showed the bottle of champions to come off the ropes and secure a famous result.

After a cagey opening to the game, it was the visitors who dared to spoil the occasion, opening the scoring on the 11th minute following the first of several failed attempts by Ferencvaros to play out from the back.

The loss of the opening goal stung Fradi and momentarily knocked them for six, almost long enough for Suduva to extend their advantage with what would surely have been a tie ending second goal. As it transpired, it was Ferencvaros who scored next in slightly controversial circumstances.

Ivorian forward Franck Boli was brought down in the box by the Suduva keeper for a clear penalty, however, as the match official blew for the foul, the ball rebounded off a Suduva defender and into the goal. The goal was not given and the penalty stood instead. Fortunately for all concerned Roli Varga converted the spot-kick to level the scores.

Better was to come in first-half stoppage time as Boli flicked home a cross from the right to give the hosts a deserved lead at the interval and send the 18,500 strong support wild with delight.

After the break Suduva emerged motivated from their half-time team talk, began to inch more and more into the game, winning more individual battles. On the 63rd minute their persistence paid off as Topcagic scored Suduva’s second of the night, from a similar position to Boli’s goal in the first half. Unlike the Ivorian’s strike, Topcagic managed to squeeze his effort passed Dibusz at his near post.

At 2-2 Ferencvaros was facing elimination for the second time on the night. However, for a second time they showed character and resilience to bounce back and regain momentum, and the lead just three minutes later.

Tokmac, who’s quick feet and direct running had troubled Suduva all evening, went on another of his mesmeric runs before firing a right-foot effort from fully 20 yards across goal and into the far corner. In an instant of genius, the tie turned once again in Fradi’s favour.

From here on out the hosts dominated proceedings with Tokmac, Isaes, and Signevich all missing highly presentable opportunities to wrap the tie up.

In the end, it took a second debatable penalty decision in added time, this time converted by Signevich, to put the icing on the cake and secure Europa League football for Ferencvaros for the first time in 15 years.

Hungarian Digital Football Benchmark: 2nd Edition

In January (2019) the inaugural Hungarian Digital Football Benchmark Report, analysing the digital reach of Hungary’s NBI clubs, was first published.  With the 2019/20 season now underway, we have decided to bring forward publication of the 2nd Edition, and are proud to announce that the Summer/Fall 2019 Edition of the Hungarian Digital Football Benchmark Report is now available on request.

The Report offers a high-level overview of the digital reach
and performance of NBI and, for the first time, NBII clubs, assessing how the
four most popular digital platforms used by Hungarian clubs are used; Twitter,
Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.  The 2nd
Edition of the Report also marks the first time that YouTube subscribers have
been added to clubs Digital Community tallies, having not been included last
time out.

It should come as little surprise to followers of Hungarian football that Ferencvaros have retained their crown as the club with the largest Digital Community, the current NBI champions leading the way in follower number on all four platforms under consideration.

There has also been no movement in the top 7 places of the NBI Digital Community League Table, however, newly promoted ZTE enter the table in a highly respectable 8th place.  At the bottom, fellow new boys Rákóczi Kaposvár prop up the standings.

At NBII level, Győr leads the overall Digital Community League Table with a following of over 56,000.  Vác, Vasas,  Haladas, and MTK Budapest, covering 2nd to 5th respectively, all have Digital followings of 10,000+.

Notably, while all NBII clubs are present on Facebook, the
majority of clubs are yet to sign up to Twitter, possibly the #1 digital
platform for football fans around the globe, Instagram, or YouTube, suggesting
that work is still required to improve the digital reach and awareness of the
NBII and its clubs.

While there have been some minor changes to the Report, one feature that remains is the inclusion of the Social Media Directories detailing the social handles and accounts for all NBI and now NBII clubs.  I would encourage you to get social, to start following, and help to grow the reach of Hungarian football.

To request a PDF copy of the full report, please send a mail to kevin@hungarianfootball.com and we will arrange for a copy to be issued as quickly as possible; requests for individual bespoke club reports will also be considered.