Railwaymen back on track after shock relegation

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

it now seems a long time since the chant ‘Hajrá Loki!’ rang out to celebrate yet another title win for Debrecen. Once the dominant force in Hungarian football during the temporary demise of Ferencváros, the Railwaymen (‘Loki’) from the nation’s second city claimed seven crowns in ten seasons, from 2005 onwards.

For the last one in 2014, DVSC timed their title run to perfection, the 3-1 win over Újpest the official curtain-raising game for the new Nagyerdei Stadion. This gave Loki the lift they needed to carry them over the line and wrest the crown back from Győr on goal difference.

With a full house at the new, 20,000-capacity arena for Hungary’s game with Denmark two weeks later, it seemed that there was nothing but blue skies over the rolling Nagyerdő park north of town that lends the stadium its name. 

But the fall-out from a match-fixing scandal associated with the club’s one appearance in the group stage of the Champions League, ownership struggles and the return of Ferencváros to the top of the NBI table saw Loki slip down the league. 

In late June 2020, the season extended due to the pandemic, the unthinkable happened and a home draw with fellow strugglers Paks ended Loki’s near 30-year stay in the top tier. The pitch invasion afterwards was a shameful bookend. Loki only needed one season to bounce back, persuading all-time hero Balázs Dzsudzsák to curtail his ill-advised globetrotting and return home to see out his career.

Both club and player have enjoyed a modest revival, Loki challenging for a European place in 2022-23, Dzsudzsák gaining one last cap for the national side he captained on so many memorable occasions.

Pre-2005, Loki had hardly figured in the record books. Founded in 1902, becoming the Railway Sports Club ten years later, ‘Vasutas’ were Debrecen’s flagship team until the formation of professional club Bocskay FC. Losing their key players to their higher paying counterparts, Vasutas lost their way until their city rivals folded in the 1940s.

Taking seventh place in the top flight in 1946, Vasutas swung between divisions until a regular place upstairs from 1993. The club left their modest ground at Vágóhíd utca south-east of town and moved into the equally old-school Olah Gábor utcai Stadion in the parkland where their later contemporary home, the Nagyerdei, also stands. 

Promotion also coincided with key forwards Tamás Sándor and Tibor Dombi breaking into the first team from the club’s youth set-up. With midfielders Csaba Szatmári and Csaba Madar, DVSC gained third-, fourth- and fifth-placed finishes before winning the Hungarian Cup in 1999.

DVSC narrowly missed out on the title amid a season-end near riot at Ferencváros in 2004, before Tamás, Dombi, Szatmári and Madar starred with Péter Halmosi and a young, left-sided forward Balázs Dzsudzsák when Loki easily outpointed the title-holders the following year. The arrival of ex-DVSC half-back Attila Supka as coach at the winter break proved decisive.

The same side under Supka made a dramatic debut in the Champions League with a shock 8-0 aggregate win over Hajduk Split, followed by a plum tie against Manchester United, and a successful defence of the league title.

By the title win of 2006-07, Dzsudzsák had come into his own but Supka had been fired after a disastrous defeat to Rabotnički of Skopje in the Champions League. Halfway through 2007-08, Dzsudzsák left to carve out a successful career at PSV Eindhoven, and DVSC let the title slip to MTK.

Loki came back to win titles in 2009, 2010 and 2012, the latter two thanks to goals from French striker Adamo Coulibaly. Only once, though, did they make it through it past the qualifiers to become only the second Hungarian club to play in the Champions League. Memorably beaten Levski Sofia to get through, DVSC made the group stage of the 2009-10 campaign.

Narrow defeats to Liverpool and a high-scoring game with Fiorentina later became subject to investigation when Vukašin Poleksić was found to be liaising with match fixers. The Montenegrin goalkeeper, and defender Norbert Mészáros, later received substantial bans.

Despite an inexplicably poor campaign in 2012-13, Loki kept faith with coach Elemér Kondás in the neck-and-neck race with Györ in 2013-14. Kondás had been a defender in the 1993-94 side that also featured stalwart Tibor Dombi. Remarkably, the 40-year-old flank player made ten appearances in the successful title run, his seventh. 

Defender Csaba Bernáth matched his record. Former team-mate Sándor Tamás, now assistant coach, also joined in the celebrations at the newly opened Nagyerdei Stadion for the 2014 title win. These Loki legends took part in the all-star game that opened the new arena.

Debrecen’s domination of the Hungarian league rivalled that of Honvéd in the 1980s, Újpest in the 1970s and MTK in the 1920s. Then everything petered out, illustrated by the departure of Elemér Kondás at the start of the 2016-17 campaign after five mainly successful years in charge and 15 involved with the club where he had also been a player.

Behind the scenes, too, things were far from rosy. Club owner Gábor Szima, the local millionaire who had made his fortune in casinos and sunk much into DVSC since 2002, began to get cold feet by 2015. With few victories in Europe and little exposure on the international stage, long-term Israeli pharmaceutical company Teva pulled out of their collaboration and no new major sponsor was found.

A managerial merry-go-round, along with the departure or retirement of key players, saw Loki sink to the lower half of the table. Average gates hovered below 4,000. After the club’s dramatic relegation in 2020, Szima pulled out and the city council stepped in.

With aims more modest – gain promotion out of NBII, win back the crowd – Debrecen achieved the first and set to work on the other by attracting back golden boy Balázs Dzsudzsák. Now in his mid-thirties, his career a maze of unwise transfers after his golden spell post-DVSC at PSV Eindhoven, the captain of Hungary’s successful Euro 2016 squad sparked back into life.

Wearing the armband for the club he had played for as a teenager, Dzsudzsák provided assists and scored all season in 2022-23, helping Loki recover from a slugglsh start to challenge for Europe once more.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Unveiled on May 1, 2014, the 20,340-capacity Nagyerdei Stadion is Hungary’s most impressive football arena outside Budapest. Partly doubling up as the national stadium while the Puskás Aréna was being built, the Nagyerdei cost around €40 million to create.

Its history, though, dates back 80 years, when the original venue was opened before local Bocskai FC’s Mitropa Cup game with Bologna. Also home ground for DVSC, the Nagyerdei fell into disuse long after Bocskai folded and top-flight DVSC needed the more suitable premises of the Oláh Gábor utcai Stadion nearby.

The idea for a new stadium here, one suitable for the stricter requirements of European football, was first mooted when Hungary applied to co-host Euro 2012 with Croatia. Although the bid failed, a new design, by Dezső Zsigmond, was presented in 2010.

State funding was agreed, and old ground knocked down in 2013 and the new arena built during the 2013-14 season. A gala match followed the opening ceremony on May 1, 2014, in the presence of football-mad prime minister Viktor Orbán, before the first league game with Újpest ten days later. 

On May 22, Hungary played the first international match here, against Denmark. A full house was registered on each occasion. Estimates for the average crowd over 2014-15 are around 10,000. The title-winning campaign of 2013-14 attracted fewer than 5,000.

Keeping the original statues from 1934, the new arena comprises four stands of one tier, west for press and VIPs, south the home end, sections of the north for the away end depending on demand. Sections D3 and D4 are usually earmarked for visiting fans.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

Main tram 1/bus 1V (weekends) runs from Debrecen station, up through the town centre to the Nagyerdei recreational zone at Aquaticum, 15mins and ten stops away. Trams run every 6-10mins. From Aquaticum, the stadium is signposted past the Debrecen selfie spot, to the right as you alight. 

To walk from town, past the Great Church up Péterfia utca and straight ahead, takes about 15-20mins. If you’re flying into Debrecen, the Airport 2 bus calls at the train station and then runs on to the terminus at Doberdő utca (20mins), near the university and Nagyerdő park where you’ll find the stadium. The previous stop, Kartács utca, is slightly closer to.

Coming back after the game, walk down to Medgyessy sétány for the citybound tram service.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

The ticket outlet at the DVSC Shop (Wed & Fri 2pm-6pm) on the tram side of the stadium. Online tickets can be bought from the Hungarian-only club website. Availability is never an issue. You can also easily buy on the day, the windows behind the home end, the B Stand, to the right at you walk round from the shop.

For all enquiries, contact

Prices change according to when you purchase. Up to two days before match day, you pay Ft1,500/€4 for the home end (B-közép, sectors B4-8), Ft2,000/€5.30 before during the two-day run-up, and Ft2,500/€6.60 before kick-off. The online price stays the same at Ft2,000/€5.30.

In sectors C2-C6 in the sideline C Stand, it’s Ft2,000-Ft3,000/€5.30-€8, online Ft2,500/€6.60. For the best seats in main Stand A, it’s 3,500-Ft4,500/€9.30-€12, online Ft4,000/€10.60.

Away fans pay Ft1,500/€4 a few days before the game, Ft2,000/€5.30 nearer kick-off, and Ft2,500/€6.60 in person on the day.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The DVSC Shop (Wed & Fri 2pm-6pm, match days) behind the main stand of the Nagyerdei Stadion carries first-team shirts in signature red and away tops in white with adidas stripes in red, both with the classic Loki badge of the winged wheel to indicate the club’s railway heritage.

There’s also DVSC-branded wine and pálinka, Hungarian grappa, T-shirts and hoodies, plus a Christmas jumper that’s just begging to be won on winter fun runs. 

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

By the main tram junction at the gateway to the Nagyerdei park, the Pálma Pub has long been a popular pre-match meeting place, even in the old Oláh Gábor utcai Stadion days when there were signed Balázs Dzsudzsák shirts on display. Now it’s art, and this is more a restaurant with a decent drinks selection best enjoyed on the raised terrace. Across the street, the Hotel Divinus has its own pub and pleasant terrace, ideal for a pricy draught Bitburger.

Round the corner and past the Hotel Nagyerdő, if you’re paying a visit to the old Oláh Gábor utcai Stadion, you might want to pop into the Viktória Étterem next door, an old-school restaurant recently renovated along with the Sport Hotel it’s attached to. Find a seat on the sunny terrace or inside, with its archive photos of Debrecen.

Back on the other side of the tram-lined main road, a handful of leafy terraces is tucked around the Aquaticum hotel and spa. Attached to the Villa Hotel, the Krúdy Étterem is a classic Hungarian restaurant, named after a famous writer and serving the kind of wines he would have appreciated. Beer, too, of course.

Closer to the Aquaticum tram stop the Régi Vigadó is similar in offer and historic feel, a vintage restaurant soon to reach its 200th anniversary. Its large beer garden usually operates in summer – although neither terrace nor main building was working in 2022. 

Nearby, a great pre-match option, the Grande Bosco (‘Great Wood’ or Nagyerdő) serves Med favourites and hefty burgers on a pretty terrace bookended by a sport-tuned TV. It prefaces a row of little terrace eateries hugging the tram line, from the Hungarian dishes at the Rakpart Bistro to the beer and burger-focused Rednekk BBQ & Bar

In summer, they cater to the families using the pool complex behind and football fans heading to the stadium just across the main road.

Before you get to the ground, you’ll see a large water tower, the Nagyerdei Víztorony, with deckchairs and bar tables spread around the base and spritzers flowing on warm afternoons.

At the stadium itself, by the DVSC Shop, Red & White operates match days and through the week, the terrace busy, the interior a squeeze but large enough for a TV to show sport. Hungarian Soproni, Heineken and Strongbow are the draught options, with Krušovice in bottles, decent Hungarian wines from the Gere and Nyakas stables, and superb pálinka brandies from Rézangyal also available. 

Domestic beer is also sold within the ground at Büfé outlets, with TV screens showing the action as you queue for draught Soproni or bottled Heineken beer.