LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Honvéd

New stadium, new owners for club of Puskás legend

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

Forever linked with the great side of the 1950s – their new stadium is Bozsik ArénaHonvéd are based in the sleepy, former separate, suburb of Kispest in the far south-east of Budapest.

It may seem hard to imagine the likes of József Bozsik and Ferenc Puskás playing here – in fact, they later used the national Népstadion after opening it with a game against Moscow Spartak in August 1953 – but the modest club of Kispest is the one the Hungarian Army (‘Honvéd’) took over as its sporting arm in December 1949.

Formed as Kispest Sport Club in 1904, becoming Kispest Athletic Club with a football section in 1909, KAC made the top flight in 1916. Though no match for the likes of MTK or Ferencváros, Kispest won the cup in 1926.

A year later, Ferenc Puskás began playing for his local club, the same year that his son of the same name was born. Puskás junior learned his ball skills by playing for hours at a time with rolled-up rags or stockings, usually with his best mate from next door, József ‘Cucu’ Bozsik.

Making the first team at 15 with his father as manager, ‘Öcsi’ Puskás quickly established himself. The ‘Galloping Major’ under renamed Honvéd (‘National Guard’), he and Bozsik were joined by Sándor Kocsis and László ‘Púpos’ Budai from Ferencváros, then Gyula Grosics, in 1950.

Honvéd won two titles that year, another in 1952 with Gyula Lóránt, and another in 1954 with Zoltán Czibor. All but four of the Hungary team that famously beat England 6-3 in 1953 were Honvéd players.

After the World Cup defeat a year later, Honvéd continued to dominate at home, their championship win of 1955 gaining them entry to the European Cup of 1956-57. After the first round, first leg tie in Bilbao, revolution broke out in Budapest. Playing the second leg in neutral Brussels, and an unofficial tour abroad to raise survival funds, Puskás, Czibor and Kocsis found success in Spain.

Honvéd never lost their cachet but, despite the goals of Lajos Tichy from the Puskás era to 1971, fans had to wait until 1980 before another title win. With Tichy as coach, Mihály Kozma, Márton Eszterházy and Imre Garaba featured in a new Honvéd side that would dominate the new decade. 

The star was Lajos ‘Döme’ Détári, arguably Hungary’s last world-class player of the 20th century, who helped Honved to three consecutive titles in the mid-1980s before a $2 million transfer to Eintracht Frankfurt.

Honvéd continued winning titles, four between 1988 and 1993, when the now Kispest-Honvéd gave Manchester United a game of it in the Champions League.

With Honvéd’s continuing financial problems, key players István Pisont and Béla Illés left in 1995. Relegated in 2003 after several poor campaigns, the now named Budapest Honvéd bounced straight back before being taken over by US-Hungarian entrepreneur George F Hemingway, who revamped the ground.

Honvéd then performed as well, if not better, than other Budapest clubs, gaining third place in 2013, and winning the cup in 2007 and 2009. First coached by ex-Sampdoria defender Marco Rossi, then his former teammate,  Pietro Vierchowod, then Rossi again, Honvéd again began to pick up in 2016-17. 

Spearheaded by another returnee, former Perugia forward David Lanzafame, and his Hungarian strike partner Márton Eppel, Rossi’s side surged to the top of the table in the spring of 2017 and stayed there. 

A winner-takes-all last game at home to Videoton ended in a tight 1-0 win for the hosts and memorable scenes as Honvéd lifted their first league title for 24 years. Ever-present midfielder, Bosnian Đorđe Kamber deserved an equal share of the limelight for his tireless work all campaign.

The respected Rossi headed to Hungarian-owned DAC in Slovakia as Honvéd relied upon the goals of Lanzafame and Eppel to gain a European spot in 2018. The bullish Italian striker then left for Ferencváros, Rossi returned to Budapest to become a national hero in the Hungary job while a rudderless Honvéd continued to qualify for international competition.

With a new stadium in the planning stage and the Bozsik József Stadion demolished, George F Hemingway offloaded the club to Hungarian company MetalCom in 2019. Its director, incoming club chairman Zoltán Bozó, is also a leading politician for ruling party Fidesz based at the company HQ in Szentes.

Playing home games at MTK, whom Honvéd beat on penalties to qualify for the 2020 Hungarian Cup Final, the Kispest side claimed the first silverware under their new ownership at the recently opened Puskás Aréna, 10,000 fans granted entry during the pandemic. Fittingly, it was Bosnian midfielder Đorđe Kamber who scored both goals and stalwart Honvéd man István Pisont who coached the team, the first of several interim stints in south Budapest as coaches came and went.

Its unveiling continually postponed during lockdown, the new-build Bozsik Aréna was officially opened with a friendly against Villarreal in July 2021, the kick-off given by Ferenc Puskás’ grandson. The stadium had been used a few weeks before, however, to co-host the Euro U-21 tournament, Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier in the French side that lost the quarter-final to Holland here that May.

As the Honvéd bench became a revolving door, former Dundee United manager Tam Courts warming it for two short months, the club slipped down the table and out of European contention.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Named after the club’s iconic half-back, the Bozsik Aréna stands near where the original Kispest Athletic Club pitch lay, now a cemetery. Modernised in 1926, the first KAC ground burned down in 1935.

A new one was built at the current site, and opened in 1938, a stand added a year later. This was where Puskás and Bozsik first played top-level football.

After the war, a training pitch stretched as far as the cemetery. Floodlights were added, before extensive improvements in 1990, four years after the stadium took the name of the club’s captain of the golden era.

New owner George F Hemingway then set about complete renovation in 2006-7, with 6,000 new seats installed, as well as modern press and changing facilities.

The ground then became part of the government’s vast stadium redevelopment programme across Hungary and beyond its borders. Following new builds at Ferencváros, MTK, Vasas and, of course, the national Puskás Aréna itself, the Bozsik became the last in a long and financially onerous series, its completion strung out by the pandemic.

Fans and former players bade farewell to the club’s home of 79 years with a gala match in September 2018, owner George F Hemingway the referee as István Pisont, Márton Esterházy and Kálmán Kovács starred before thePuskás-Tribün, 1909-Szektor and hard-core Északi Kanyar (‘North Curve’). 

While Honvéd played home games at MTK, a new arena took shape in 2019-21, its all-seated capacity 8,200, around 2,000 down on the overall size of its predecessor, 2,000 up on the seats. Used for the Euro U-21s in late spring 2021, the Bozsik Aréna was officially opened in July that year. As is the current trend at Hungarian stadiums, sculptor Gábor Miklós Szőke created a leaping creature installation outside, a somewhat enthusiastic lion.

The home end (sectors B1-B7) remains the Északi Kanyar by Puskás Ferenc utca. Away fans access the Vendégszektor opposite, half the other end in sectors D4-D7. Neutrals are best placed in sector C, cheaper seats towards the corners in C1-C4 (overlooking the home end) and C6-C10. Spots in C5-C6 are over the halfway line.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

There are two ways to reach the Bozsik Aréna. One is to ride the 42 tram the entire length of its short journey from Határ út, on the blue M3 metro line, to its southern terminus at Kispest, Tulipán utca six stops/8mins away. The stadium entrance is about 100 metres ahead to the right. Trams run every 15-20mins. 

The only problem is that the blue M3 metro line is still under major construction and this southern section of the line only runs from/to Kálvin tér, near the city centre, and only then on weekdays. Otherwise, it’s a replacement bus.

The other option is to take the hourly train from Nyugati station to Kispest 20mins away, from where it’s a 7-8min walk, following the rail tracks or parallel Hengersor utca, to the stadium. Trains currently run every day at 18mins past the hour, standard Budapest transport tickets and passes valid as you’re within the city limits. The last one back to Nyugati is 10.20pm.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Tickets can be booked online through main agency jegymester or in person at the stadium pénztár (Tue & Fri 3pm-8pm, 3hrs before kick-off). 

For an average league fixture, the cheapest seats are in the home end, Ft2,450/€6, with places along the sideline ranging from Ft3,650/€9 to Ft4,850/€11.75, depending on how close to the halfway line you are. 

For all enquiries, contact jegy@bhfc.hu.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The club shop (Mon & Thur 9am-2pm, Tue & Fri 2pm-7pm, 1hr before kick-off) sits by the stadium, stocking the current home top of red-and-black stripes with a lion image ghosted over the midriff, the much simpler pre-war version with a ‘Kispest’ club badge, ie before the name change to Honvéd, and black Puskás-era pullovers with ‘BP HONVÉD’ across the chest.

The white round-neck T-shirts with Budapest Honvéd across them in red look pretty cool (or red with white writing) but shouldn’t be worn around Ferencváros. Other presents include logo’d wine glasses, beach towels and, going cheap, T-shirts celebrating the opening match of the Bozsik Aréna against Villarreal.

club Museum

Explore the club inside and out

Opened in 2014, the Kispesti Futball Ház (Mon-Thur 4pm-7pm, match days, Ft300) is overseen by ex-Honvéd star László Gyimesi, who played for the club in the Détári era of the late 1980s. Set behind the church on Templom tér halfway between Hátár út metro station and the stadium, at Fő utca 38, the museum occupies a bucolic house and garden where Gyimesi plans to organise barbecues, inviting former team-mates and other Honvéd legends. 

Inside, the club history is told (Hungarian documentation only) in chronological order. Highlights include a match programme for the Wolves-Honvéd game of 1954 (which led to the setting up of the European Cup), a photo of a Kispest line-up from 1929 featuring Ferenc Purczeld (father of Ferenc Puskás) and tasteful murals of key figures in the club’s development.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

If you’re getting to the game early or fancy a post-match drink, the nearest bar of any merit is the Corleone Sport Pub (Reviczky Gyula utca 76), a good 10min walk along Darányi Ignác utca from the ground. It’s worth it, though, for the prime collection of shirts on display, Honvéd mural, TV sport and football chatter.

if you’re coming into Kispest station, and walk along the tracks in the opposite direction to the stadium, pretty soon you find the Sorompó Söröző on Üllői út, an old, few-frills Hungarian bar named after the level crossing it stands near. 

At the stadium end of the rail tracks, a short walk from the ground, the kiosk selling beer and Hungarian snacks is the Kis-Sorompó, the Little Level Crossing.

The Bozsik Aréna is blessed with a friendly, themed bar on the cemetery side of the stadium. Named after the first ground where Kispest played, the Lipták Grund Pub displays a few photos from the golden days, alongside a bar counter where draught Borsodi, Staroprament, Hoegaarden and Belle-Vue Kriek are dispensed. 

The food isn’t shabby either, goulash, duck leg and chicken stew, although you’ll have to work out the Hungarian words from the chalkboard menu. Outside, a scattering of tables beneath Pepsi umbrellas overlooks trendy sculptor Gábor Miklós Szőke’s leaping lion statue in front of the stadium.

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