After a Hungary shirt from 1953? Step this way. Bhutan, perhaps? You've come to the right place
If you’re after a Ferencváros football shirt or, indeed, one from Bhutan, the place to find both in Budapest is Lion’s Sport. This one-stop shop sits between Keleti train station and the main transport hub of Blaha Lujza tér, a five-minute walk from the busy, bar-lined Nagykörút.
This isn’t a direction many take unless there’s a train or their hotel involved. “When we first opened, Rákóczi út was lined with shops,” says Lion’s Sport owner László Droba, referring to his street. “Then malls opened around the city and many businesses closed down.”
But not this one. Originally operating from the Csillag centre nearer town, László moved into this former paper shop in 1997. Two years later, Chelsea fan Péter, a regular customer, was taken on as a shop assistant.
Both men are still here today. László also looks after another of his companies, providing special magnetic technology for top athletes in training – such the Hungarian Olympic team in Rio in 2016 – while Péter continues to build his own private collection of shirts.
Currently numbering 1,200, they include several seasons’ worth of Manchester United’s, Liverpool’s and, of course, Chelsea’s, among many others, filling the cupboard space of five rooms at home. Ask nicely and he’ll show you on his phone.
At the shop, the stock numbers some 800. “We built on a great relationship with Umbro,” remembers László, happy to provide a potted history of the Humphreys brothers and their workshop in Wilmslow, Manchester.
One pre-season in the early 1990s, Ferencváros found themselves without a kit and with three weeks to go to the big kick-off. Using his long-established club contacts and his fluent English, this savvy entrepreneur arranged for Umbro to kit out Hungary’s most prestigious football institution and begin a long-term connection between the store and the UK’s most revered sports brand.
Then came another family-run firm, Adidas, and pretty soon Lion’s Sport was roaring, especially when young Viennese would take advantage of cheap weekend rail tickets from Austria. Jumping on the train at Westbahnhof, arriving at Keleti – László tells it much better than this in Hungarian, a kind of East meets West skit – and call into his store either before or after a groundhop in the Hungarian capital.
This is a city reliant on personal contacts. Knowing that Ferenc Puskás’ favourite bar was the Prágai Vencel Sörház literally opposite his shop, and needing a personal appearance to help promote a new line of retro Puskás gear still on sale here today, László had a quiet word with the waitstaff across the road.
Within the two left-footed dragbacks, word had reached the great man and he was in a corner of the store, signing anything that moved. The same waitstaff, meanwhile, were tottering over in immaculate white gloves (“Rákóczi út wasn’t anywhere near as busy as it now,” says László, decrying today’s traffic-choked metropolis), carrying four of the master’s five favourite things: white wine, a soda syphon, an indigestible type of Hungarian pork crackling known as tepertő and fresh bread. The fifth, football conversation, soon followed.
After his death in 2006 – László still gives a sigh – the shop owner made an agreement with the footballer’s widow, Erszébet, to continue to stock the classic type of shirts the Hungary Golden Team wore in the early 1950s. These, of course, sported the Communist red star, and hammer and sickle, actually illegal to display in public places.
As László points out, however, reaching into just the right place on one of the many racks, until recently, the badge on the Austrian shirt also carried the same Socialist motif celebrating both factory worker and peasant, in the vice-like grip of eagle claws. (He may quiz you on this, actually, as he’s a veritable goldmine of football shirt trivia.)
While the store looks pretty much as it did back in 1997, only more of it, László worries for the future. Gone are the personal connections with the right marketing and distribution manager in Manchester or Munich, now in place are the vagaries of ordering online and supply issues. (The new 2023-24 Ferencváros shirt should be in today, Saturday, May 27, however.)
To illustrate his point, László remembers the customer coming in asking for an Argentina shirt with three stars above the badge, a few days after the third had been earned in such dramatic fashion in Qatar. Handing over the last one hanging up behind him, László quickly realised that it might be too small for the Messi fan across the counter. “Don’t worry, I’ll buy it anyway,” said the happy shopper. “You can’t get these at home.” “Oh, really?” enquired László, puzzled in a slightly professional manner. “Where is it you come from?” “Argentina,” came the reply.
Lion’s Sport, 1074 Budapest, Rákóczi út 64. M2/tram 4-6 to Blaha Lujza tér or M2-M4 to Keleti pályaudvar. Open Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 10am-2pm.