LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

MTK Budapest

New stadium, successful academy but relegation rife

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

MTK (Magyar Testgyakorlók Köre or ‘Em-Tay-Ka’) are one of Hungary’s most venerable clubs. Founded in 1888, ‘Hungarian Fitness Activists’ Circle’ was comprised of Budapest’s mercantile and Jewish community, with whom the club has always been associated.

Initially focusing on fencing and gymnastics, MTK set up their football section in 1901. Within three years, the blue-and-whites had won the first of 23 championships. In fact, between 1903 and 1929, every title went to MTK or pre-war rivals Ferencváros, just across Népliget park. This is Hungary’s eternal rivalry, or Örökrangadó.

Under the presidency of Alfréd Brüll, murdered at a place unknown by Fascists in 1944, MTK became a powerful force in Central Europe. Star of the day was Imre Schlosser, who moved from Ferencváros to MTK in 1916. From 1917, MTK won nine consecutive titles, their passing game and close control coached by Jimmy Hogan, the influential English trainer of the pre-war era.

Tactics remained at the fore in the immediate post-war period when coach Márton Bukovi returned from Zagreb. Under the management of the Secret Police (ÁVH), the club changed names, from Textiles to Bástya (‘Tower’) to Vörös Lobogó (‘Red Banner’). Bukovi worked with forwards Péter Palotás and Nándor Hidegkuti to create a 4-2-4 system that Brazil would adopt in the 1950s.

It also provided the foundation for the great Hungarian national side of the day, Hidegkuti the deep-lying forward, Palotás an important squad player. Bukovi led the club to three titles. MTK were Hungary’s first representatives in the European Cup, in 1955, and first European finalists, in 1964. A crucial goal against Celtic by Bukovi-era Károly ‘Csikar’ Sándor, in his last season, sent MTK to the Cup Winners Cup final. A freak corner by João Morais won Sporting Lisbon the trophy in a play-off.

Sándor later lent his name to MTK’s football academy, founded in 2001. Players that have come through the ranks include centre-back Roland Juhász, József Kanta and Ádám Szabó, title winners in 2003 or 2008. 

In between, MTK set up a nursery arrangement with Liverpool, sending over talented prospects such as Krisztián Németh, later a successful striker in MLS, and Péter Gulácsi, Hungary’s No.1 keeper after the retirement of Gábor Király. Neither played a first-team game for the Reds but both were loaned out to further their careers in foreign parts.

Wily manager József Garami led MTK’s youngsters after 2004, his second spell at the club after winning the championship in 1997. He then repeated the feat in 2008, breaking up the Debrecen monopoly in the absence of Ferencváros. The club’s then did little to improve their dismal European record of recent decades.

In 2010, shortly after the party he co-founded, Fidesz, won the first of four consecutive elections, former sports minister Tamás Deutsch became club chairman. In 2014, he was able to use his considerable political influence to have the government invest more than half of the construction costs of a new Hidegkuti Nándor Stadion to replace the venerable built a century before.

During this time, MTK, whose gates usually hover below 3,000 in any case, set various negative records when playing at Honvéd, Vasas and particularly Dunaújváros, 80km south of Budapest. With the main stand demolished in 2015 and with it, the last remains of the Escape to Victory film set, news began to leak out about the ground that would replace it.

Excitement at the unveiling of the new stadium in 2016 was tempered by its strange appearance, the de facto reserve team sent by Sporting Lisbon to play the opening showcase fixture with MTK and, later that season, relegation. 

This would soon become a habit, MTK also going down in 2019 and 2022. Beaten in consecutive semi-finals in the Hungarian Cup, in 2020 and 2021, MTK at least managed to keep stalwart midfielder József Kanta in the fold, the 17-season man now in charge of the U-19 side. 

But Kanta knows more than anybody just how quickly young talent flies the nest at MTK, a prime example being later Hungarian international striker Roland Varga, neglected at Brescia before he had even played a first-team game for his alma mater. Varga did return for half a season in 2021, when he became equal top scorer and a regular in the national squad. 

Soon Varga, too, was off, bound for the UAE, his strike partner and fellow international Szabolcs Schön heading in the opposite direction to Dallas. Within a season, MTK were relegated once more.

On the plus side, plans are afoot to move the club’s successful academy from Agárd, some 50km outside Budapest by Lake Velence, to the long-abandoned train station of Józsefváros, close to the MTK stadium. Six pitches, three of them grass, a gym and a video analysis centre will comprise the complex, that should ensure a brighter future for this venerable institution.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Built in 1912, the sparsely frequented Hidegkuti Nándor Stadion often felt a century old. Named after the club’s most famous player, the ground comprised two facing stands, the main one (A) vertiginously steep-sided. Away fans were placed alongside Sport utca and the BKV Előre stadium. Each end was left empty.

Though it usually attracted fewer than 1,000 spectators per game (capacity was 12,700), the stadium was seen by millions on film. This was where Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Bobby Moore, Pelé and sundry British footballers did battle against the war-time German team in John Huston’s version of Zoltán Fábri’s Two Half Times in Hell: cult movie Escape to Victory, known as simply Victory in the States. MTK’s stadium doubled as 1938 World Cup Final venue, the Paris Colombes.

After 2013-14, now under incoming chairman, co-founder of Hungary’s ruling party Fidesz, Tamás Deutsch, MTK started on a complete rebuild. Few were happy with the outcome, unveiled in 2016. Two sideline stands are lined with skyboxes, while each end is little but a sheer wall and a scoreboards. A local five-a-side court springs to mind. And all turned at 90 degrees to the previous revered incarnation.

For the curtain-raiser, MTK lined up Sporting Lisbon – MTK’s opponents in the Cup Winners Cup final of 1964. Outside the new stadium stands a statue of Károly ‘Csikar’ Sándor, scorer of two goals when the two sides met in Brussels at the height of Beatlemania.

Capacity is 5,000, but that includes an ambitious 500 seats in skyboxes and 260 places for VIPs. Spectators in sectors A1-A5 and A6-A9 sit either side of them along one stand, facing those in B1-B9 opposite. 

Visiting supporters are allocated four sectors, V1-V4, beside B9. Entrance is through Gate 3 at the corner of Hungária körút and Sport utca.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

The Hidegkuti Nándor Stadion stands halfway between the national arena and Ferencváros, with its own stop on the frequent 1/1A tramlines three stops from Népliget (blue M3 metro), two from Puskás Ferenc Stadion (red M2 metro). 

Alternatively, it has its own stop on tramlines 37/37A on Salgótarjáni út overlooking the stadium, six from M2 Blaha Lujza tér (setting off from tram-lined Népszínház utca alongside McDonald’s), five from M4 II. János Pál pápa tér.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

MTK tickets are available online (Hungarian-only) around two weeks before the game but gates are so modest, only derby games with Ferencváros bring the attendance figure close to the 4,200 capacity for regular punters. 

The ticket windows behind the Károly ‘Csikar’ Sándor statue on Hungária körút open around two hours before kick-off. 

You pay Ft1,500/€3.70 for a seat on the Sport utca side of the ground, sector B, Ft2,000/€4.90 for a place in the outer sections of the main stand, sector A, along the opposite sideline, Ft3,000/€7.35 in the inner sections nearest the halfway line.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The club shop beside the ticket windows near the Károly ‘Csikar’ Sándor statue on Hungária körút only opens on match days, from around 3hrs before kick-off to the final whistle. Club mascot Gedeon the goose features on mouse mats, souvenir socks and children’s tattoos, while a stylish range of merchandise includes cardholders, engraved hip flasks and seat cushions.

The current first kit is blue with a white sash – the inverted version has often been used in recent seasons – and among the T-shirt collection you’ll find a street map around the stadium with the proud message ‘est. 1888’ across it.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Either side of the number 1 tram stop on Hungária körút stand two modest drinking spots. By the supermarket, the Netovább (‘Go No Further!’) is a betting bar where a revered landlady pours Czech Krušovice, a better bet than local Soproni. Terrace tables appear in summer. On the stadium side, the cellar Satyó (Hungária körút 10) attracts budget-conscious regulars in need of cheap wine and beer amid photographs of long-forgotten boxers.

Round the corner on Sport utca, if the bar at the BKV Előre stadium is open, you’re in luck – it’s retro heaven with bells on. BKV is the Budapest transport company and various visiting Lokomotivs and Dynamos of Socialist times left a wealth of pennants. It’s eleven paces between BKV and MTK, the world’s shortest groundhop.  It only opens weekdays and for matches involving this old-school third-flight club, usually on Sunday lunchtimes. 

Within the main stand at MTK, a functional bar at the back serves standard Hungarian beer, the couple of random trophies and Hidegkuti photos passing for décor. Don’t forget to get your deposit back on the glasses.

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