Euro Under-17s come to Hungary

Europe’s best young footballers compete at U-17s

The best young players from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales come to Hungary this May

Celebrating its 20th anniversary in Hungary, the Euro U-17 Championship also coincides with the phase in the country’s stadium building boom that allows it to put on showcase events of this kind. This month, Budapest also stages the Europa League final, in the same Puskás Aréna that witnessed four games at Euro 2020.

As outlined in the latest downloadable Libero Guide, the Euro Under-17s is being played across Hungary over nine match days from May 17 to June 2, bringing together the best young footballing talent from 16 nations.

Current holders France and record winners Holland are joined by England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland in a tournament arranged in the classic format of four groups of four, then two knock-out rounds to the final.

Teniszke/Peterjon Cresswell

Stadiums include MTK’s in Budapest, venue for that showdown on June 2, both main grounds in Hungary’s second city of Debrecen, and the Hungarian FA’s football centres at Telki and Felcsút. Apart from the Nagyerdei Stadion in Debrecen, all of these grounds have a capacity in the low thousands, including those in Budaörs just outside Budapest and Balmazújváros near Debrecen.

The last time that Hungary hosted an event of this kind, however, was in 1985. By chance, the final won by the USSR (that’s how long ago it was!) was also played at MTK, although both stadium and tournament were different back then.

The new Hidegkuti Nándor Stadion, named after the club’s most famous player, replaced the revered old ground where cult football feature Escape to Victory was filmed, five years before the Soviets lifted the youth trophy.

Welcome to Balmazújváros/Peterjon Cresswell

The tournament was then the European Under-16 Championship, which switched to Under-17s in 2002. Counting both iterations, Spain have won it the most times overall, Holland the later version. Current eligibility means that players have to turn 17 after January 1 of the tournament year.

Before the Euro Under-16s started in 1982, there was a a FIFA Youth Tournament, first staged in (and won by) England in 1948, for under-18s. Although Argentina were invited in 1954, this was for teams from Europe.

It was replaced by the UEFA Youth Tournament, that ran from 1955 to 1980, which begat the European Under-18 Championship (1981-2001). This became the European Under-19s the same year that Under-17s started in 2002, in a streamlining of the age categories.

Telki/Peterjon Cresswell

Karim Benzema was in the French side that won it in 2004, the same year that Cesc Fàbregas was voted Player of the Tournament. João Moutinho lifted the trophy in 2003, Mario Götze in 2009 and Memphis Depay in 2011. All these players went on to win World Cups, Champions Leagues and other major trophies, but perhaps what stands out most when looking at successful teams since 2002 is just how few names stand out. 

Yes, Dominik Solanke and Lewis Cook went on to bag a solitary senior cap each (both now play for Bournemouth), but how many of England’s winning squad of 2014 would anyone, apart from their family and former classmates, actually recognise?

Yes, Portugal’s Renato Sanches and later Ajax star Donny van de Beek also played in Malta that summer, but squad names suggest a litany of promising careers that went wayward for whatever reason or, in many cases, simply settled at the level they were always meant to be. The England coach needed left-back cover to take to Malta, say, or his Scottish counterpart had a tip-off from the Celtic scout.

Városi Sportpálya/Peterjon Cresswell

The Euro Under-17s, then, is not only the chance for a couple of thousand spectators to pick out a Benzema or a Fàbregas – which really do come along once every 20 tournaments. For surprisingly many on the pitch, the 90 minutes at Budaörs or Balmazújváros will be the peak of their careers. An earnest if uneventful 0-0 draw with their counterparts from Switzerland, hidden somewhere in the record books, will be what they look back on 50 years from now.

For parents, the unfamiliar surroundings of Telki or Felcsút will be the backdrop to one of their proudest moments, their minds drifting back to kickabouts in the back garden barely ten years before, washing his kit after another muddy afternoon banging in three for the school team.

The Euro Under-17s is also the perfect excuse for a holiday – the season’s over, the sun’s out, flights are cheaper than in high season and tourist hordes haven’t yet filled every spa and ruin bar in Budapest. There’ll be a modicum of patriotism – hey, it’s Wales v Ireland on May 20 – but no annoying communal renditions of the theme tune from The Great Escape.

Nagyerdei Stadion/Peterjon Cresswell

And in Hungary, the event has its perfect setting, accessible, affordable, hospitable and with a football heritage it’s only now managing to live up to.

A full schedule can be found on the UEFA site, where  where scouts and club representatives can apply for tickets. The general public should be able to buy on the day. Hungary’s main ticket agency is currently offering online sales via its Hungarian-only site – just click on the orange Jegyvásárlás button and a stadium map appears with a seating plan.

Group-stage tickets are priced at Ft1,000/€2.70 each, cheaper seats in Category II Ft500/€1.35. For the knock-out rounds, it’s Ft1,500/Ft1,000 (€4/€2.70), the final Ft2,000/Ft1,500 (€5.25/€4). A fee of Ft330/€0.90 is then added to the final bill. Szektor is the sector, sor the row, szék your seat.