10 best groundhops in Budapest

Quaint grounds and strange tales in Hungary’s capital

Where to find the best local football in Budapest and the back of beyond

Many of you may not have heard of Budafok, yet this quaint local outfit way down in the southern outskirts of Hungary’s capital will soon play the biggest game in the club’s history. On April 5, Budafok MTE face Vasas in a Hungarian Cup semi-final, meaning that the Red-and-Blacks are two games away from Europe.

Most seasons since 1912, the good folk of this quiet, wine-producing community, only part of Budapest since 1950, have turned out to watch second-flight football, and will continue to do so again, whatever the result against Vasas.

While Budapest is a city of five big traditional clubs with legacies as deep as the Danube, a myriad smaller ones have histories almost as long if not as illustrious. Some, including Budafok, gave a first start to players in the hallowed squad known here as the Golden Team, Hungary’s World Cup finalists of 1954.

All are fiercely patriotic in a parochial sense, so whenever III Kerület run out, fans chant ‘Come on, you District!’, as that is what the club’s name refers to. Few Neapolitans or Marseillais are as committed to their local team as the left-leaning islanders of Csepel, title winners more times than Videoton.

ESMTK match day/Peterjon Cresswell

Between them, the Big Five of Ferencváros, MTK, Újpest, Honvéd and Vasas have won 96 national crowns, all but 24 since the first one in 1901. Four are in the current 12-team, top-flight NBI, while promotion-chasing MTK will probably swap places with one of them come May. All but one play in completely new stadiums, Újpest’s also remodelled if not rebuilt.

They usually play on a Saturday, while second-tier NBII and third-tier NBIII games are invariably on a Sunday, begging to be groundhopped.

To groundhop in Budapest means to dip your toes into shallower waters where few foreigners tread. It means visiting BKV Előre, and their stand built in 1935, ten paces from MTK in what is Europe’s shortest groundhop, if not the world’s. It means visiting recent Hungarian Cup tryers ESMTK in furthest Pest, the crowd shouting ‘Tram, tram!!’ whenever the good old 52 rattles by. Ultimately, it means, to paraphrase Lydon, the side of Budapest that the tourists never see.

Admission is around 1,000 forints/€2.50, cash-only, with one stand to choose from. For all transport details, see the BKK website for the city-wide network.

1 III kerület

III Kerület match day/Peterjon Cresswell

A lower-league club with a completely new stadium, the Third District (‘III Kerület’) has a specific identity and is a strong political powerbase for prospective mayors of Budapest – hence investment in infrastructure. This hasn’t, however, translated into success on the pitch for the district football team.

Formed in 1887, before any of the Big Five including MTK, III Kerület came good during the first golden age of Hungarian football between the wars. In 1931, they beat recent Mitropa Cup winners Ferencváros to lift their one and only major trophy, the Hungarian Cup.

After a rare stint in the top flight in the late 1990s, the club hit hard times and collapsed, first reappearing as III Kerületi TUE, then TVE. The acronym stands for ‘Gymnastic and Fencing Club’, a reference to its activities of yesteryear. At the time of the 1931 cup win, the club was based at the Goldberger Field by the Danube, where Nagyszombat utca meets Árpád fejedelem útja. In 1942, this was knocked down and a new ground built at Hévízi út, in the district’s north-west reaches.

In 2016, the whole sports complex was rebuilt, including the football stadium, which now has a single main stand with seats in the club colours of white and blue. Built within it at the top, a bar (note the scarves!) serves beer and quality breaded-meat sandwiches.

Take tram 1 to its terminus at Bécsi út/Vörösvári út, crossing the main road for a drink at the attractive Ínyenckert restaurant. Turn right at the Martini bakery next door for Fehéregyházi út, stroll to the end, turn right into Kunigunda útja, then first left into Nagymihály utca. The stadium is at the end, on Kalap utca. Allow 15mins from the tram stop.

2 BKV Előre

Sport utcai stadion/Peterjon Cresswell

With their ground changed little since 1935 and its bar straight out of 1965, BKV Előre (‘Forward Budapest Transport!’) occupy a special place in all groundhoppers’ hearts, for this is the shortest one in soccerdom. BKV’s Sport utcai Stadion is so called because of the drab street alongside, Sport utca, that delineates that ten-pace gap between here and MTK opposite.

The narrow tram tracks lining it lead to a depot at the far end and link to BKV’s identity as the team that has represented Budapest’s transport company since the Titanic went down.

Like Budafok, BKV were founded in 1912 and like III Kerület, they reached a cup final in the 1930s – as did Soroksár (see below), who beat them. A recommended visit to the gorgeous club bar will reveal pennants from long-forgotten counterpart clubs across the Eastern bloc, from the days when the European Railways Cup was a going concern and regular finalists like Lokomotíva Košice weren’t the fifth-tier non-entities they are now. This isn’t travelling back in time, this is riding through it in a train carriage while a pocket transistor radio plays pre-match marching tunes.

To see BKV Előre fail yet again to gain promotion from NBIII, take tram 1 as you would do for MTK, to Hidegkuti Nándor Stadion. Sport utca is alongside. Alternatively, tram 37 from Blaha Lujza tér/Népszínház utca also runs to Hidegkuti Nándor Stadion, stopping on the high ground alongside MTK. Sport utca is on the other side of the MTK stadium.

3 Budafok

Promontor utca Stadion/Peterjon Cresswell

For surely the first time since 1912, Budafok have recently been making headlines, for all the right and wrong reasons. First, Budafoki MTE took advantage of a relatively easy draw to win at Iváncsa and then powered their way past top-flight Kisvárda to reach the semi-finals of the Hungarian Cup.

Their Promontor utca stadium will be lively again on April 5, not least because Budafok’s opponents are fellow Budapest side Vasas, whose fans last saw their team lift the trophy in 1986. Kick-off is at 8pm, a rare evening game at the 4,000-capacity ground usually dotted with a few hundred souls of a Sunday afternoon.

BMTE, as they are also referred to, are one of three teams from the capital in the current NBII, the second-division home of sleeping giants such as Győr (former Raba) ETO and Haladás. Comfortably mid-table, the hosts may well be welcoming relegation-threatened Honvéd or Vasas in the 2023-24 league season.

That is if they survive a bizarre crisis of ownership that also broke out as the players were scrapping for cup glory. In recent weeks, the József Zakariás Football Foundation – a name we’ll come to in a minute – bought the club from Australian company Care Park. Routine football news, you would think, except that the Hong Kong overlords of the Oz firm had no idea they owned it. This must surely be a first, but the executive of its Hungarian subsidiary, Hungaro-Australian Róbert Bélteky, had run the whole thing as if it were his own, making whoopee with the company credit card.

To be completely fair to the former minority shareholder of Melbourne Victory, splashing the cash also took BMTE to the cup semi-finals in 2017 and the top tier in 2020 after 74 years of trying.

József Zakariás bust/Peterjon Cresswell

What would József Zakariás have made of it? The first member of the Golden Team to die, at the age of 47 in 1971, this son of Budafok played at his local club from the age 12 before taking his defensive midfield skills to MTK. Winner of an Olympic gold for Hungary in 1952, a member of the 6:3 side in 1953, Zakariás threw it all away for the charms of a hotel maid at the team’s Hotel Krone in Solothurn the night before Hungary’s fateful World Cup final of 1954.

While the lurid details do not form part of István Szeidl’s otherwise wonderful Zakariás biography, Az Aranycsapat Szürke Eminenciása (‘The Éminence Grise of the Golden Team’, B-Humanitas Stúdió, 2002), available secondhand here, there’s lovely detail about this once vineyard-lined village in the 1920s.

You’ll pass a bust of the amorous Magyar as you walk past the BMTE sports hall, between the bus stop on Víg utca (Sporttelep) and the ground close by on Promontor utca.

The quickest way from Budapest is to take the frequent train from Kelenföld station to Budafok (5mins), walk ahead (and slightly to your right) along Városháza tér, then along continuing Kuruc köz towards the Promontor restaurant you’ll see. To the right on Kossuth Lajos utca is the Városháza tér stop for the 58, 158 and 250 buses. It’s 5mins to Víg utca (Sporttelep), either four or five stops.

Once you’ve found the ground on Promontor utca, the Ziccer at the main entrance is excellent, new management taking over from the former Tizenegyes Bisztró in autumn 2022. While smartening things up and focusing on food, they’ve kept the spirit of the place, including the plentiful archive BMTE photos.

4 Budaörs

Budaörs Stadion/Peterjon Cresswell

Officially in Pest County but close enough to Budapest to be on several municipal bus routes just beyond the city limits, Budaörs was originally a Swabian village, German-speaking settlers who worked the land after the Ottomans were expelled. Later exiled to Germany in the immediate aftermath of World War II, they left behind a thriving community and Budaörs SC, the local football club founded in 1924.

With money pouring into the suburbs to secure the electoral vote of the many young families moving away from the traditionally liberal city, so the club has received a sleek new stadium built on the site of the former Árok utcai Sporttelep.

With its elegantly curved stand and seats in signature green, the Budaörs Stadion will probably be the most impressive ground you’ll groundhop around Budapest. It’s also one of the least accessible: buses 88, 88A and 188 each run every hour from the bus concourse at Kelenföld. The quicker 188E runs every 15mins – try and get this one if you can.

All go to Lejtő utca around 20mins away – cross the main road after you alight, then head down Árok utca opposite. The ground is ahead of you to the right.

As for the team, it has fallen back into NBIII after a seven-season stint in the second tier that ended in 2022. You can gauge the mood in the functional bar behind that elegant main stand.

5 BVSC-Zugló

BVSC-Zugló/Peterjon Cresswell

‘Hajrá Zugló!’ shout the fans at the venerable Szőnyi út Stadion, just the other side of Budapest’s City Park, cheering on representatives of a residential district of elegant villas and tree-lined boulevards. This is BVSC, the Budapest Railway Sports Club, set up alongside Keleti station in 1911. Their first offices were actually inside the huge steam palace built during the golden age of rail. Founding members worked at the city’s stations.

At some point, the history isn’t clear, the club moved the short distance across to this part of Zugló and picked up numerous Olympic golds for fencing, as illustrated by the bust outside their headquarters of three-time gold-medallist Csaba Fenyvesi.

Football-wise, the Yellow-and-Blues were in their pomp in the 1990s, making two Hungarian Cup finals, finishing runners-up in the top flight and facing Barry Town and Betis in Europe. Soon afterwards, the football club collapsed, and a phoenix one emerged in 2012 to turn professional in 2018.

Promoted to the NBIII in 2020, BVSC came into the spotlight two years later during a press campaign to rename their 12,000-capacity stadium after all-time Újpest hero András Törőcsik who had died that summer. Although the genial forward started out as a boy here, his memory has so far not been preserved as a place name on Google Maps, as the club’s sporting director István Kisteleki felt that the ground wasn’t in the kind of condition to be worthy of such an honour. 

The rebuff, completely justifiable when considering the shabby state of the main stand, could also have been seen as an appeal for state funding to rebuild yet another stadium.

To see for yourself, take the yellow metro M1 to its terminus at Mexikói út, cross the busy main M3 Bevezető road via the underpass (do not attempt to cross above ground) and head for the convivial terrace Sport Bistro. Its light interior is decorated with images of legendary BVSC footballers and fencers.

6 Csepel

Csepel HÉV station/Peterjon Cresswell

Csepel is a large island in south Budapest whose northern tip houses a vast factory complex where up to 90,000 lived and worked in a Socialist paradise until 1989.

Thirty years before, Csepel SC won the last of their four national titles, but not with their most celebrated player, Zoltán Czibor. ‘Rag-foot’ was the mercurial left-winger of Hungary’s Golden Team, a chain-smoking gambler whose laid-back attitude rubbed Puskás up the wrong way. Both played for Honvéd as well as Hungary, after Czibor had had one season at Csepel while trying to dodge the army.

Staying abroad after the 1956 Uprising, he won two Spanish titles for Barcelona, having been bailed out of debt by his fellow Hungarian and soon-to-be clubmate, László Kubala.

He died in 1997. By then, rusty old Csepel was still producing bicycles but little else, and the local club finished bottom of the top-flight NBI, never to return. Despite its isolated location and downward economic spiral, Csepel didn’t wallow in sorrow for too long. Around the old-school ground at Béke tér, close to the last stop on the short HÉV train line from Boráros tér in Pest, artists began to create huge murals celebrating Csepel’s retro heritage.

Others, most notably Gábor Miklós Szőke, the sculptor responsible for the huge eagle outside the Ferencváros stadium, set up studios near the industrial complex. Then politicians starting sniffing around and before too long, Csepel became a battleground between rival factions from the same ruling Fidesz party, former district mayor Szilárd Németh and his former deputy Lénárd Borbély.

In this tug-of-love, Csepel vs Csepel story, the team got locked out of their own ground.

Csepel Stadion/Peterjon Cresswell

Right now, a confusing truce prevails. The newly formed, Borbély-backed Csepel UFC play at the Holland úti Sporttelep by the Danube. Still in the fourth-tier Budapest I. osztály division, after the previous Csepel FC lost out on promotion in 2022 by a whisker to Pénzügyőr (those pesky tax inspectors!), Csepel UFC are also in the same league as Csep-Gól Csepel, based at the main stadium on Béke tér, aka the Csepel Stadion

Whenever these two meet, such as in the quarter-finals of the Budapest Cup over the midweek of March 22-23, Béke tér it is. Csep-Gól now have a senior side that seems to have developed from the local children’s teams set up in 2002… The women’s team, Csepel FC, also play at the Csepel Stadion, its bar displaying the history of the club – when it was one club.

Meanwhile, the newly formed, Németh-backed Csepel SC (also referred to as TC – don’t ask…), are also based at Béke tér, which stadium owners Németh and his wrestling association, KIMBA, aim to overhaul.

Which division do they play in? Currently, they seem to be leading a double life as the senior side of Csep-Gól, whose name is the one used in official statistics, alongside the classic blue-and-red Csepel badge of Czibor yore.

7 esmtk

ESMTK match day/Peterjon Cresswell

If ever you needed a reminder of how cruel football can be, just be glad you weren’t at the ESMTK-Kisvárda cup game at the Ady Endre utca ground on a bitter February afternoon recently. Holding the top-flight side to 0-0 and even almost going ahead on 90 minutes, the hosts representing Pesterzsébet, Budapest District XX, withstood the odd Kisvárda attack as supporters’ toes froze during extra-time. 

As penalties beckoned, on 120 minutes, a fluke own goal sent the visitors back to the Ukrainian border happy. Chaos. Outrage. Fans, who had been alternating chants of support for Pesterzsébet (‘Hajrá Liza!’) with regular announcements of passing trams (‘Villamos! Villamos!’), launched themselves towards the celebrating Kisvárda bench.

Such is life in this forgotten corner of south Pest. Amalgamated into Budapest in 1950, this former separate village of Erzsébetfalva had its own team, formed in 1909. Twenty-one name changes and mergers later, most notably in 1973 when Erzsébeti Spartacus fused with the even older Erzsébeti TC, today’s ESMTK can also count on fierce local pride for league fixtures in the NBIII Central Division.

As local rivals Soroksár are one rung above, derbies only occur when the reserve teams of the big clubs pay a visit to Ady Endre utca, a 5,000-capacity stadium with an oversized wooden stand and an allotment garden behind. A standalone house by the main entrance on Klapka köz acts as a bar.

Tram 52 runs from Határ út metro station to Poltenberg utca, then Klapka utca, journey times 20mins, each a 5-10min walk to the ground. Tram 2B goes from Boráros tér to the same stops 30mins away.

8 Pénzügyőr

Pasaréti út Sporttelep/Peterjon Cresswell

‘Come on, you tax inspectors!’ is not a refrain you often hear on the terraces. Certainly not in Hungary, where employees of the Dickensianly onerous system act like their Italian counterparts on steroids, raiding cafés and restaurants as swiftly as Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition.

And yet, Pénzügyőr are that very team. And, if local transport workers have a first XI (BKV Előre, see above), station employees, too (BVSC, see above), why not the boys in grey? (Actually, green-and-white stripes…)

Such has been the club’s development in recent years that Pénzügyőr gained promotion to the third-tier NBIII in 2022 and currently sit somewhere between leaders BVSC and the middling but revered BKV Előre.

The current iteration of Pénzügyőr was founded in 1950, as confirmed by a plaque opposite the terrace of the Tax Inspectors’ Social Club. Previously, as illustrated by archive photos within the bar, they were the Pénzügyi Tisztviselők Sport Clubja, representing ‘Financial Officers’.

Pénzügyőr SE plaque/Peterjon Cresswell

This multi-part history is outlined in extensive detail on the club website. Here you can also read about Pénzügyőr’s 1958 tour of Outer Mongolia and North Korea, the first Hungarians to play there. A 1-1 draw with crack Lokomotiv Pyongyang still lives long in the memory, it seems.

These days, to their absolute credit, Pénzügyőr run youth teams from to the age of five, an old boys’ XI and women’s side, all based in the upscale residential area of Pasarét. 

To see the NBIII men in action, take bus 5 to its terminus at Pasaréti tér, an architectural curiosity, and walk the five minutes up Pasaréti út to the exclusive restaurant of Budapest’s most famous Chinese chef, Wang Mester.

Opposite, at Pasaréti út 124-126, is the ground. If the previously mentioned stadium bar, the NAV Club Étterem, is closed, you’ll find the finest Hungarian wines back at the Pasarét Bisztró built into the bus terminus.

9 reac

Budai II László Stadion/Peterjon Cresswell

REAC (‘Ray-Ats’) represent Rákóspalota, aka District XV, the club’s name during the 1950s when illustrious local boy László Budai was starring for Hungary’s Golden Team. The chunky inside-right, nicknamed Púpos (‘Hunchback’), also had to live with the Roman numerals II beside his name as there was another, older László Budai, presumably smooth-backed, playing for the same great Honvéd team at the same time.

Púpos lives on in the venue name where REAC play, the Budai II László Stadion, whose floodlights you see if you look to your right out of the window soon after your train leaves Nyugati station. The regular regional service runs to Rákóspalota-Újpest, the third stop 12 minutes away, but it’s bit of trek from there. Rather, take the equally regular 104, 104A or 204 buses from Újpest-központ metro station to Széchenyi tér six stops/7mins away, the ground is just ahead to the right.

Sadly, the football you’ll see there is not even third-tier but fourth, Budapest division (I. osztály). Closely linked with nearby Újpest (hence the station name), REAC welcomed all-time Lilac hero András Törőcsik for a few games in 1994-95 and Flórián Urbán as manager a decade later.

Promoted under the ex-Lilac centre-back, the club spent four seasons in the top flight, during which time it later came to light that several players were involved in fixing matches. Two days after their arrest in 2012, club director Róbert Kutasi killed himself. The most ominous word in Hungarian football is bunda, or fur coat, ie bribery. This particular fur coat has cloaked REAC in shame ever since, despite the loyalty and passion of the club’s fans, witnesses to district football since 2017.

The REAC Club Bar by the main entrance does the job, the plaque on the same building referring to the day the stadium took Budai’s name, on October 12, 1991.

10 soroksár

Szamosi Mihály Sporttelep/Peterjon Cresswell

While Soroksár’s modern-looking badge proudly declares the foundation date of 1905, this hints at their historic link with Soroksári AC, cup winners in 1934 and founded in… 1911. Whatever the detail, SAC folded back in 1968, and a new team representing Budapest XXIII, signature yellow-and-black colours and all, wasn’t formed until 1999.

Maybe the key date should be 2017, which was when former Ferencváros and Porto midfielder Péter Lipcsei took over as coach, to ensure that the club’s recent promotion to NBII wasn’t just a flash in the pan.

Sure enough, ‘Sori’ (‘Shori’) have stayed one rung from top-flight glory ever since, holding out against sleeping giants and NBIII upstarts while the Paulaner flows in the decent club bar and terrace behind the main stand.

It’s a pretty modern set-up at the Szamosi Mihály Sporttelep on Haraszti út, the name the ground is usually referred to, with its comfortable yellow seating stretching most of the way along the sideline.

Take the HÉV suburban rail line 6 from Közvágóhíd to Szent István utca five stops/20mins away. It’s still within Budapest’s borders, so standard tickets and passes are valid. The stadium is ahead on the right, taking the first right along Vágó utca then left down Vágó köz for the main entrance. Away fans enter via Haraszti út.