Romanian-Hungarian match

Football and its fans: The Romanian-Hungarian game

Today I will talk about two related topics: the Romanian-Hungarian football match in Bucharest and the group of Hungarian fans who on the way to the Romanian capital just happened to stop in a village close to the Romanian-Hungarian border. The fans paid an unwelcome visit to the elementary school in Konyár (pop. 2,000).

As for the game itself, I don’t want to dwell on it. The Hungarian national team suffered a humiliating defeat that more or less precludes it from advancing in the preliminary rounds for next year’s World Cup game. Prior to the match, one of the players, Zsolt Korcsmár, who plays full time for the German Greuther Fürth, predicted that the Hungarian team would come back with three goals. Well, they did but not exactly in the manner Korcsmár imagined. They lost by three goals.

The right-wing fans who were already pretty drunk at the beginning of their journey explained to the reporters on hand that they were looking forward to the game because “for ninety minutes Transylvania will be ours.”The pre-game hype was extraordinary. Even the coach described the match as “historic.” (The original Hungarian that belies translation is something like “an event that will greatly influence our fate.”) It became practically an answer to Trianon. It was also intended to put an end to the extreme frustration of the Hungarian football fans. The last time that the Hungarian national team won against the Romanians in Bucharest was 55 years ago!

That the fans thought that by winning at soccer the Hungarian national team could somehow avenge the loss of Transylvania was one thing. But what was most likely truly injurious to the psyche of the players was that the coach himself fed this notion of a war by other means, a war of football. Sándor Egervári, the coach, kept calling the team’s attention to the “history of these two countries.” I guess he was trying to inspire a mediocre team by making the players feel as if their actions on the field would shape the destiny of the country.

Article after article assured football fans that the players were feeling optimistic and were not overwhelmed by the task. But the media also reinforced the game’s extreme importance. Almost as if Hungary’s national honor had to be defended in this one game. One of the Internet sport sites claimed that it was the most important game ever for the Hungarian national team. Egervári called the Romanians “the Hungarian team’s greatest rivals” not because of the prowess of the Romanian team but because of factors that have nothing whatsoever to do with football. Rather, they stem from the enmity that has existed between these two nations for at least a hundred years. On the Romanian side, I’m almost certain, there were similar feelings. Some Romanian fans held up signs reading “1918,” the year the Romanian National Council declared Transylvania to be part of Romania.

Although most Hungarian football fans admit that Hungarian football is lousy and refuse to attend the games, this time they watched the match intently. More than two million people were glued to MTV’s live broadcast. Normally, serious Hungarian aficionados watch foreign matches, but this game was different. And when the devastating 3-0 loss was reported by hatharom.com, an Internet site devoted to football, the article began with a reference to “the 15 million Hungarians who have been waiting for months for this very important game.” The nation is getting bigger and bigger, it seems. Apparently this 15 million also includes the non-existent two million Hungarian-Americans.

And now a few words about the most ardent fans. All told, about 2,800 Hungarian fans traveled to Bucharest. Eleven hundred of them went by chartered train. The trip by train was organized by a group that calls itself the Carpathian Brigade. Eight hundred eighty left Budapest and 250 joined them in Brasov/Brassó in Romania. (Apparently they trashed the train’s fourteen cars on the return trip.) Others went by chartered buses. We will follow one of these that made a side trip to Konyár.

The bus whose passengers stopped in Konyár originated in Debrecen. The superhighway to the border from Debrecen is still not finished on either side, so vehicles have to travel southward on a secondary road through Sáránd, Derecske, Berettyóújfalu, and from there to Oradea/Nagyvárad in Romania. However, at Derecske, the bus left the highway and turned left onto a  small road leading to this heavily Roma inhabited village and parked in front of the local elementary school.

According to Jenő Gyöngyös, the head of the Roma community in Konyár, the twenty or so rowdy and already slightly drunk “fans” began to yell obscenities and threatened to enter the school. Some of them for good measure urinated on the wall of the building. The teachers locked the doors and the frightened staff ordered the first-graders to hide under their desks. Some of the older pupils hid in the toilets. Eventually someone called the police. The police arrived and simply asked the guys to get back on the bus and depart.

And how do the police now describe the incident? They claim there was no incident. The rowdies just stopped to relieve themselves and to have a cigarette. The only thing they did was to sing the Szekler national anthem.

Konyar

If you look at the Google map you will immediately realize that this stop in Konyár was not happenstance.  It was planned. But why? Because in January a young history teacher at the school, Szilárd Vígh, was caught talking disparagingly about his Gypsy students and boasting about how he disciplines them by beating them. By that time it was the Klebelsberg Center that was the “employer” of the school’s teachers, and after an internal investigation Vígh was fired, in spite of a demonstration organized by Jobbik in defense of the history teacher. The fired teacher was one of the passengers on that bus. Simple enough! The police and the principal can deny the facts till doomsday.

I think one day I should spend some time on the changing behavior of the police. They seem to have recognized that they can do practically anything in pursuit of their vision of law and order. The minister of the interior, the former police chief, will defend them to the very end. And the population is defenseless against their excesses.

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Hungarian attitude toward losing: The Romanian-Hungarian football game

No, just to clarify the title of this post, the Hungarians didn’t really lose (they tied), but since they were so convinced that they would win, they considered the game a loss–and an unfair one at that.

As you all know by now, I don’t care about football and know next to nothing about it. Therefore today’s post is not going to be about the fine points of the match between the Romanian and the Hungarian national teams last night. This was the game that had to be played within closed gates as a punishment by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) for the Hungarian Football Association’s inability to discipline the unruly Hungarian fans whose favorite occupation is chanting antisemitic and in general racist epithets. This behavior is nothing new, but the Hungarian Football Association has never even tried to control the situation. Finally FIFA’s patience ran out. The occasion was a “friendly” meet between the Hungarian and the Israeli teams last August. I detailed the event and in the post embedded a video taken on the scene. In January of this year FIFA fined the Hungarian Football Association 35,000 euros and ordered a closed-gate game between Romania and Hungary. The Hungarians appealed and were turned down. They even attempted to have the case tried in a court that adjudicates controversies within the world of sports, but they were also turned down there.

So, the match took place in an empty stadium and the final score was 2:2. A great disappointment for the Hungarians because they were certain that they would win over the Romanians, whom they considered to be a weak team. I don’t know where this optimism came from because in the last thirty-two years the Hungarians were unable to win a single game against the Romanian national team. But as I said, I’m no expert; I know next to nothing about the strengths and weaknesses of these teams. What I would like to talk about here is the attitude of Hungarian commentators to the tie. I think it may explain a few things about the Hungarian psyche.

The Romanian-Hungarian football game, March 22, 2013In the background the empty seat / nb1.hu / photo Tam'as Sóki

Note the empty seats in the background / nb1.hu, photo Tamás Sikó

I should mention a few facts about the game itself. If I understand it correctly, there were two penalty kicks, one from the Romanian and the other from the Hungarian side. The match went into overtime, and the final Romanian goal was kicked in the ninety-second minute of the game.

Here are some comments from Hungarian sports journalists and the players themselves.

One of the first detailed analyses appeared a few minutes after the match was over. The title is telling: “It was in the ninety-second minute that the Romanians stole two points.”  A few minutes later: “We were unlucky: Instead of victory it is a tie against Romania.” The article itself reports that the Hungarian team played very well, but the Romanians “with fantastic luck in overtime managed to tie the game. It was a fluke!” So, the Hungarians were excellent, the Romanians were incredibly lucky, and the last goal was a fluke.

One of the players, Vilmos Vanczák, who actually scored the first goal, told the journalist of Nemzeti Sport that “we were very close to victory but unfortunately that little plus is still  missing in becoming a really great team.”  He belittled the opponents. He claimed that “we dominated the game all along. The two goals scored against us were the result of inattention. We led all through, but at the end victory slipped from our hands….. I expected a much better Romanian team…. At the next game in Romania we have a chance.” So, they were much better than their opponents but victory somehow eluded them.

The goalie, Gábor Kiráy, blamed the lack of an audience and the chanting of the fans in the stadium. “If we had had an audience, they would have helped us over the tipping point.” Coach Sándor Egervári said: “We lost two points after a game that had been won.” In my opinion, one either wins a game or doesn’t. You can’t have it both ways. Király admitted that he didn’t even see the ball when Alexandru Chipcio scored the final goal of the game. Yet he tried to find excuses: it was windy and the ground was wet. Mind you, the opponents played under exactly the same conditions.

By this afternoon some of the Hungarian players came to the conclusion that neither Romanian goal was legit. Both had been preceded by misconduct. So, the Hungarian team should have won 2:0. Molcsapat.hu intimated that the referee was partial to the Romanians. The journalist talked about the “friendly disposition” of the German Wolfgang Stark that allowed the two Romanian goals.

The Romanians seem to be more generous toward their opponents. Adrian Mutu, who kicked the Romanian penalty goal, was very satisfied. “We must be satisfied with the results because we played against a very good team. … It will be difficult to win against the Hungarians in Bucharest.” HVG wrote that, according to Romanian sports reports, the Romanian national team was very lucky not to lose to the Hungarians. Romanian sports journalists, in fact, sharply criticized Coach Victor Piturca. Gazeta Sporturilor called the last goal “miraculous.”

Perhaps the Romanians were simply lucky, perhaps objectively the Hungarians were the better team. But, on the day, the Hungarians couldn’t pull it off. And that, in sports, is all that counts. That and, oh yes, sportsmanship.

The Hungarians will be going to Istanbul to play against the Turkish national team that just won against Andorra. The general Hungarian attitude toward this game is optimistic. Nemzeti Sport claims that “for the Turks Hungarians will pose the real challenge.” It will be during this game that the true strength of the Turkish team will be tested. On the website readers can vote on what they think the outcome of the game will be. Over 50% of those who voted are certain that the Hungarians will win. And here we go again.