The Welling United Fanzine
Friday 22 March
On the PitchFixture List
Park View Road
So confident were we that the Wings wouldn't reach the heady heights of the play-offs despite the claims and statements to the contrary from a number of members of the Welling United community,we booked a trip to Budapest to coincide with the final. Our confidence was well-founded and we would depart Luton airport with the Wings having stumbled to a 16th place finish.
Aside from visiting one of Europe's most picturesque cities the trip also gave us the opportunity to take in some foreign football. My one abiding memory of Hungarian football is Trevor Brooking's goal when the ball lodged in the stanchion.
A number of Hungary's top-flight clubs are based in the capital: MTK, Ujpest and the rather more well known Ferencvaros. First port of call had been these clubs' respective websites. Three things struck us:
Plan B involved a visit to UEFA's site which informed us that, as luck would have it, all three of the aforementioned teams were at home during our stay. That of course meant we had a decision to make so a more in depth trawl of UEFA's Hungarian section was needed. It didn't take long to discover that, beset by financial problems, Ferencvaros had blown a mid-season lead and were now playing second fiddle to Debrecen, conveniently their opponents on the Sunday of our stay. Decision made, then.
As our trip neared, Debrecen maintained their lead and would make their visit to the capital six points clear with four matches to play, making it a must-win game for the reigning champions. Tasty, we thought.
Friday evening's departure time arrived after a hasty trip to the bank to avail ourselves of some Forints, needed in advance so we could pay the "man who will meet you by the airplane". Passing the flight time with a scan through the Rough Guide revealed Ferencvaros, or Fradi as they are known locally, had attracted a strong skinhead - and anti-Semitic - element to its support. Another page told us Fradi was known for its racist “ultra” hardcore supporters. Not so tasty, we thought.
Somewhat fortuitously we had booked accommodation at the aptly named Hotel Fortuna, a mere five minute walk from Ferencvaros's Ulloi Ut stadium, and so our first task on Saturday morning was to obtain tickets for the following day's showpiece. After being ushered back through what turned out to be the players' entrance we found the tiny window that passed as the ticket office in spite of it being clearly designed for midgets. Using our best Hungarian we pointed to the relevant match on the fixture list and were then presented with another list showing ticket prices ranging from £2.75 to just over a fiver. Opting for something in between we noticed a couple of CDs on display while waiting for our change. One appeared to be the club song (hopefully not the awful Y.M.C.A. from their website) while the other had 'Hooligans' emblazoned on the front. Even less tasty, we thought.
The rest of the day was spent sightseeing though we did stop off at a cool little Communist-themed bar for some liquid refreshment. Taking our seats we noticed something familiar on the portable TV in the corner: Premiership football. Chelsea were receiving the trophy, swiftly followed by the relegation battle between Palace and Southampton. We settled down to peruse the menu and with the help of the guide book's translation section we deduced the majority of the pizza toppings but were still stumped on a few until we got our hands on the English version of the menu.
Which brings me to a little aside: another of WIE's competitions, the prizes of course being our grammatically incorrect mugs. The image to the right shows pizza number nine in Hungarian; WIE invites guesses, by e-mail to email@example.com, as to their English translation of 'Maszop-szadesz', the pizza name.
Having satisfied our appetites it was time to continue our tour of the sights. Except it all kicked off at Selhurst so another visit to the bar was in order. Our stroll back across to the Pest side of the Danube involved a detour onto one of the islands in the river, one that was very popular with joggers judging by the number of them making the descent from the bridge. Once there we discovered why: there was a strip of athletics track material all the way round the edge of the island. Can you imagine that anywhere in Britain?
With kick-off set for 11.30 there was time for a leisurely breakfast before leaving the hotel at 11.15. Burger vans and (unofficial) merchandise stands pepper the streets around the major British stadia; the Ulloi Ut was surrounded by stalls selling water and nuts. At our entrance we were surprised to find no turnstile operator; instead there was a barcode scanner which opened the turnstile. The gateman was inside and removed our ticket stubs there.
It was then we realised the match had started - it seems kick-off was brought forward by 10 minutes for television - and so we quickly made our way to our seats. It immediately became clear that our sector was far from full and that despite the all-seater stadium the majority of punters were standing on the area behind the seats. "When in Rome" we thought and joined the standees.
Squad numbers have hit the Hungarian game with a vengeance, the home side fielding "Joe" 90 in an attacking midfield position. The atmosphere among the home fans was somewhat muted with just the occasional chant of "Fradi". In the red corner the visitors were much more lively though that also included the scourge of football grounds: a drum.
The game was, quite frankly, awful. Fradi had most of the ball but never looked like doing anything with it; Joe seemed on a mission to give it away at every opportunity. Even allowing for the windy conditions, the set pieces were dreadful, often sailing yards too high over the danger zone. Then, out of the blue, the visitors unleashed a 25-yarder which the Fradi keeper pushed aside, certainly one for the cameras. Fradi finally managed to get a free kick to land inside the penalty area but failed to take advantage of some hesitant keeping.
Half time was a relief and brought about the highlight of the match: the Debrecen fans setting off a flare in front of their enclosure. Meanwhile most of the home fans disappeared to top up their nuts.
The second half was a similar affair, Fradi continuing to have and then squander possession. Somehow Joe managed to survive three substitutions though he did lose his place as highest shirt number when 99 came on. Given what was at stake, particularly for the hosts, the lack of passion in both their fans and players was strange.
We had to seek our entertainment on the terraces and right on cue a local chav obliged, launching a tirade as the visiting substitutes warmed up in front of us. It would obviously have helped had we understood a word of it but his manner and voice were amusing nonetheless. The potential for it to all kick-off was illustrated when a number of Fradi's boys charged to the front for their caged animals impression.
Back on the pitch the visitors had two good chances late on, on each occasion playing in a striker but both times he elected not to shoot and the game drifted to a goalless conclusion, probably not a bad thing for the post-match atmosphere.
So that was that, a top of the table clash with but one shot on target. A quick trip to the club shop ensued in order to get Mullan a pennant and badge to add to his collection. The football may have been cheap but at approximately 30 quid for a shirt the merchandise wasn’t!
Such ennui had built up that we headed back to the hotel for a nap only to find the Police had closed the road. The hotel entrance was only 100 yards or so away but Jobsworth Bobby was having none of it until his boss intervened and let us through.
Later that day we checked out the final day's results from Division Two (known as the Championship to those idiots in the Football League) and discovered the Gills had bitten the dust. Couldn't happen to a nicer chairman!
On Monday morning we took a trip to one of Budapest's biggest tourist attractions, the Statue Park, on the outskirts of the city. This features many of the old giant Communist statues that previously adorned the city's streets. And we got the chance to sit in a Trabant.
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