Budapest was once the epicentre of Hungarian football but the times they are a'changing.
Over the course of the Nemzeti Bajnokság I’s 110 year history, the league has been dominated by teams from Budapest. Only 12 teams from outside of the capital have won the title compared to 96 from it and the five most successful teams all reside from Budapest. But now the tide seems to be turning.
Since the turn of the century only four teams from Budapest have claimed the title compared to seven champions outside of it. A pretty remarkable feat when you look at this history of the league, and currently three out of the four Budapest sides occupy the bottom four in the top flight.
So what is the reason for this decline in Budapest football?
Well one of the reasons is down to lack of funds. Ferencváros, Hungary’s most successful club, have been blighted by financial problems of late which ultimately resulted in their relegation back in 2007. They were saved from going bust by Kevin McCabe, the Sheffield United chairman, and are now back in NBI but they are far away from being the club they once were, and are miles off putting in a real challenge for the title.
Last year Fradi finished a respectable third, but they were along way adrift of eventual winners Videoton (from Szekesfehervar). But this year they’ve failed to win their first six games in the league and also crashed out of Europe to Norweigan outfit Aalesund. It could be a few more years till Fradi can claim that elusive title once again.
But for MTK Budapest, financial problems are the last of their concern. MTK are Hungary’s second most successful club winning the title 23 times, and are the most recent Budapest side to have won the league, claiming the NBI title in 2008. However they were relegated last season due to some very poor decisions by the MTK hierarchy where they sold their best players off for a pittance so the owner could increase his personal bank balance
This all came after a poor Champions League qualifying campaign in 2008 where owner Gabor Várszegi had finally gave up on getting into Europe and lost complete interest in the club. He sold players like, Gosztonyi and Lencse to rival Hungarian clubs and MTK started to plummet down the table. When they were relegated chairman Domonyai didn’t exactly seem bothered, “Well someone has to get relegated.”
MTK also suffer from persecution around Hungary as they are known as a predominantly Jewish club, and last season they received the lowest average attendance in NBI – below 2,000. Even when in their glory days they never had big crowds but while Ferencváros and Újpest are attracting 8,000 people, MTK are lagging way behind and in modern football the deserted stadia is distressing for the players.
MTK’s luck may be turning because as recently as yesterday, Tamas Deutsch MEP has become the majority shareholder of the club and he has already stated his intent to take MTK back to the top flight as soon as possible.
The other two big Budapest clubs are Honvéd and Újpest while Vasas are also in the top division, but don’t challenge very often.
Honvéd are Ferenc Puskás’ team, the Army team, the team that pretty much formed the Magical Magyars. Back when they were known as Kispest FC they had greats like Sandor Kocsis, Zoltán Czibor, Jozsef Bozsik and Laszlo Budai along with the galloping major himself, Puskás.
Unfortunately, for Honvéd this team never got to compete properly in the European Cup because, even after qualifying for the tournament and competing in their first game vs Athletico Bilbao, they had to re-arrange the return leg to be played in Brussels due to the Hungarian revolution and were dumped out of the competition 6-5 on aggregate.
That meant the end for the great Honvéd team and they’re a long way off that now. Their last title came back in 1993, and have only won the title 8 times since the great team of the 50’s (Puskás and co won the title 5 years in 60 from 1950-55).
I think it’s fair to say Honvéd never really recovered from the Hungarian revolution and the loss of all their talented players. Ever since the 50’s they have been a mediocre side in NBI and only rarely do they ever challenge for the title.
Újpest, Hungary’s third most successful club, have also had a real slump of late and they haven’t won the league since 1998. Újpest were the team in the 70’s. Their playing style was expansive, they were free-scoring and during the 70’s, they won an incredible seven league titles.
Now Újpest sit on 2 points from the first 6 games and even though we’re only early into the season, Lilak look like they’re going to have another troublesome season.
Their squad is reasonably strong but with a lack of experience in the side, when the going gets tough, Újpest usually wince out of the battle.
When we compare the Budapest sides to teams like Videoton and Debrecen, the teams from the capital just seem so disorganised and poorly well run. Videoton have superb facilities down in Szekesfehervar and a fantastic playing surface which makes for proper football. Even their website puts teams like Ferencváros and MTK to shame. It’s the little things like that, that make the club seem much more professional.
Teams from outside of Budapest also seem to blood more young Hungarians into the side. Last season Andras Gostonyi and Laszlo Lencse were a real part of Vidi’s title success last year, and at the time they were both playing for Hungary’s Under 21 side. But if you look at Ferencváros’ squad you rarely see more than two Hungarians start the game.
A lot needs to be done by the Budapest sides if they are to take over that mantle and become the city in the league once more, but as we look at NBI after 6 games, it’s the teams from Debrecen and Gyor who are leading the way.