“We want to become a world class club with fans and followers from all over the globe and beyond, even from space and the Heavens,” outlandishly proclaims Victor Nelson, Chairman of Inter CDF, without the slightest hint of irony.
“We want to be ‘The Desired Club’ for all kids, players, families and corporate bodies. A great Hungarian club that will be prominent in European competition in the near future, bringing back the old memories of Hungary's glories in world football.”
Established in the summer of 2006 as Afrique Internationale Club de Football Sport Egyesulet, Afrique Inter FC, as they were nicknamed, quickly became the hub of Budapest football for young African players who found it a struggle to be accepted by Hungarian clubs and Hungarian society itself.
“We wanted to organise the young Africans in Budapest and Hungary for integration and to keep them away from those people and places that might want to explore their situation for criminal purposes,” says Nelson, who captained and coached the club in its formative years. “Most of the boys loved and played football in their home countries but they just weren’t given the chance by clubs in Hungary.”
Sprinkled with players from Nigeria, Sudan, Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Liberia, Inter romped away with their first two league titles; dropping points in just five games over the two seasons, whilst scoring over 200 goals in the process.
In the summer of 2008, the club dropped ‘Afrique’ from the club name to celebrate its inclusivity and subsequently began to welcome more Hungarians into the side alongside players from Latin America, Asia and other areas of the European Union.
“We do not discriminate or reject anyone but our selection is based solely on merit. However, I confess that it's hard to find a Hungarian player at this level without serious financial demand,” says Nelson, who cites his club’s international all-welcoming philosophy as a reason for their lack of funding.
“Finding sponsorship for the team programs is a big challenge. Our club seems to be the only club in Budapest that is providing free training and kits to kids and youth regardless of their nationality, race or religion. Our youth teams are mainly made up of Romani kids.”
Inter again cruised to the league title in 2008/09, winning 21 of their 26 games in Hungary’s sixth tier, though that would spell the end of the back-to-back promotions as the club had to wait four more years for their next promotion; eventually they secured 2nd place in the 2012/2013 season after two third place finishes in the three years previous.
The following season, however, would be a dark one in Inter’s short history. A 17-point deduction for falsified medical papers regarding Nigerian Emmanuel Oyedeji coupled with a five-point deduction for failing to field sides at youth level was enough to relegate Inter back to the 5th tier of Hungarian football by eight points.
“It was a case of the powerful against the powerless,” Nelson protests, “Inter have been given record points deductions especially if there were signs of us winning promotion.”
“The 22 points reduction was the one that Inter seriously protested but then we realised that truth cannot prevail because Inter is too small and powerless.”
Inter, though, hit back with a vengeance. They won every single game of 2014/15 season, conceding just 15 goals in 30 games. Their fine form continued into Hungary’s fourth tier where they finished this year in third place, narrowly missing out on promotion.
With the riches of modern football detaching clubs further and further from their social responsibility and role in the local community, for Inter it lays at the heart of their philosophy and this has culminated in the club assisting with the recent refugee crisis, which engulfed Hungary at the end of 2015.
“We advised our players to assist whoever they can in their own personal ways which some of them did. I personally went to Keleti train station to find out the refugees immediate needs and I passed the information to the players.”
What makes Inter’s rise all the more impressive is that it is in complete contrast to Hungary’s continuing and potentially growing problem with racism and anti-semitism.
Within Hungarian football alone there have been a number of alarming incidents: a full ground closure for the national team in 2013 for anti-semitic abuse in a match against Israel was followed by a full ground closure for Ferencvaros after their fans were charged with racism against Sliema Wanderers in 2013/14’s Europa League. There was also a fine and partial closure for Disogyor and two further separate partial closures for the Hungarian national team – both for racist incidents.
Monkey chanting and the like is quite commonplace at Hungarian league grounds across the country too, but very, very rarely is it ever dealt with by the MLSZ (Hungarian FA); instead the onus is on the players to ignore the abuse and just carry on with the game.
This is not in contrast with Hungarian society, which has seen a wave of racially motivated attacks across the nation, including a boy at a school in Budapest holding a knife to the throat of a half-Nigerian boy; these incidents have been fuelled in part by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s harsh anti-immigration rhetoric and the Hungarian radical nationalist party Jobbik, which has sprung to real prominence in recent years.
Yet the Inter players remain bullish in the face of the abuse they have encountered. “I think there is more racism in Hungary,” says former Inter right back Azeez Saheed. “But I don’t mind. I have experienced it in many other countries too, so it’s nothing to me because I know how to control the situation.”
“It is a rare occurrence it happens at games, but it does happen occasionally,” explains goalkeeper László Skadra, a native white-Hungarian. “The idiots don’t only take aim at the African players but at me also. We know they are trying to put us off our game so our best coping method it is to score 3-4 goals and then they shut up pretty fast.”
“I'm against the idea of putting all eggs in one basket,” says Nelson. “Of course there are incidents and some that are racist or that exhibit its tendencies ,but it not everyone I must say. The problem does exist and needs to be dealt with by those in authority and the good majority.”
Though the slightly controversial nature of the club hasn’t stopped fans turning out in their relative droves, and hasn’t stopped former professionals like Azeez Saheed joining the club. Saheed is a Nigerian defender who has represented MMC from Nepal in the AFC Champions Cup and was at Al-Ahli in Yemen, before he fled to Europe following the outbreak of the country’s civil war in March 2015.
“My plan is to play in a top tier in European football, but when I first moved to Hungary it was hard for me because I needed an agent so I joined Inter until the transfer window reopens,” explains Azeez, who has recently moved to the Bahraini second tier. “I really liked it in Hungary.”
Azeez’s situation, which Nelson highlights, appears to be the norm for the club.
“Personal development and progress of the players is our number one priority. Making them engage-able so that they can support their families and communities. However, most of the players stay with us until they are able to get a professional contract. We are not worried about the departure of good players because that's our primary aim. We do have weekly request from players, agents and agencies that want to send us their players from all over the globe. Many pro-clubs outside Hungary are also beginning to turn to us for players.”
But for the likes of 42-year-old goalkeeper László Skadra, just being able to be part of a great team and something culturally significant is good enough. “Before matches, it is like a big parade in the dressing room. There is African music blaring and a big party ongoing. It is a great feeling.”
That great feeling is not only being felt by the African community in Budapest - which has been defragmented thanks to Inter - but also being reflected on the pitch. This season, Inter became the first non-league representative in the Hungarian Cup last 16 since 2012, securing their place in the Amateur Cup final at Szolnok’s new stadium as a result.
Inter went on to lose their final 2-1, but after just ten years of existence this close-knit community club seem to be really going places. Maybe Viktor Nelson’s ambitious plans don’t seem too outlandish after all.
Tomasz is @TMortimerFtbl.