Wednesday 3 September 2014

Hungary, Football and Goulash - so near and yet so far

Zsolt Nemeth greets the Bridgwater cupholders (sic)

Neville Chamberlain once described Czechoslovakia as a far away country of which we know little. Well Hungary is a bit further  on still, cross the Danube and then take a hard step to the right. Hungary’s political solutions are all somewhere in the past. The Fidesz Government of Viktor Orban is blindly chasing some Thatcherite vision of unbridled capitalism as the country teeters on the brink of becoming another Greece and the second largest party Jobbik are an unlovable bunch of uniformed Empire revivalists whose symbol is a map of Hungary expanded to include chunks of neighbouring countries. And of course there’s elections coming up.

This was pretty obvious when when our little group of about 40 Czechs and Brits turned up for an Internationalist football tournament. Every year Bridgwater International and Uherske Hradiste based stairlift manufacturers Altech do a joint trip somewhere to promote International Friendship via the medium of football. This year it was the Hungarian partner town of Sarvar.

Castle of the Bloody Countess
Clear as mud

Sarvar-translating romantically as ‘city of mud’, also was the hometown of 17th century mass murderer Elizabeth Bathory who  bathed in the blood of peasant girls to maintain her eternal youth. Today there’s a wellness spa and fitness centre. But these things seem very popular with Hungarians. That’s, er, the wellness centres I mean…

The centrepiece of Sarvar is in fact Bathory’s castle which is centrally located,in a park where the former moat would have been, and accessible by a bridge. Inside during our visit there were plenty of Hungarians in varying degrees of National folk costume ranging from leather boots and hunting garb to 19th century military chic, again largely leather and the occasional medieval man at arms in chain mail and plumed helmet. Presumably with an element of leather somewhere beneath.  Adorning the occasional medieval jerkin and Habsburg Huszar chic, a surprisingly large number of Jobbik symbols. It’s nice to have a hobby.

Goulash roasting on an open fire
The 'other Hungary'

Beyond the old city walls and through a covering  of trees  we find the other Hungary.  On the edge of the city park is an area of communist era tower blocks with a smattering of parked Ladas and Trabants amidst an array of community facilities such as children’s play grounds, sports areas and a boating lake. Again nostalgically evocative, but compared to the other philosophies on offer, decidedly more modern. 

It was here that our football tournament was held. An alliance of left leaning parties  (and it wasn’t hard to fall into this category considering how far right the 2 main parties were) had organised a festival for the more internationalist minded people of Sarvar featuring dozens of gigantic pots of goulash cooking in the open air over kindling, street entertainment for the kids plus beer and palinka made more desireable by helpings of chewy bread covered in lard.

SmedHeadGoalNet Bridgwater v Czechs
Footballing grates

But the highlight of this festival of the people was the international football. That was why we were here. A 6 a side tournament featuring 5 local teams and 2 foreign teams.

The Brits and the Czechs had already played each other the day before in Uherske Hradiste  and Bridgwater had won 4.3 in a hard fought game which turned on a penalty brought about by one of the Czech players literally standing on striker Steve Miles and putting his right foot out of action  for the rest of the weekend . Two classy goals from the Arthur Mullard of the footballing world, cllr Smedley, one bouncing in off his  glasses-less head, and a winner from Jason ‘Crouchy’ Mantyk turned the tables on the increasingly desperate Czechs.

Bridgwater (in bibs) v MSZP
The football was looking good and so it was with that air of confidence that we set off next day on the Czech coach, with a slight stopover in the Slovak capital Bratislava, to take on the Hungarians.


But then things went wrong. Ah England was it ever thus. Miles’ foot had not improved, yet with teams of 6 required and with a squad of, er, 6, the brave Captain Oates  had no option but to sacrifice himself for the team. And so went in goal. Smedley went off to goal hang, but without his glasses was last seen somewhere in the vicinity of Ljubljana  and regular keeper Ian ‘Stoner’ Stone was given an unwanted outfield role, the momentum of his first fearless run at the opposition taking him not only clean through the penalty area and the goal net but across a gravel path and into a tree  before crashing down to earth on a bunch of innocent picnickers. 

Brits head for the Goulash and lard
Our first game, against the MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party) set the tone. Despite an early Smedley goal the team went down 3.1. 

By game two the Brits had recovered some composure and playing against a local village team of mere youths we held them to a 2.2 draw. 2.0 down for much of the match , Bridgwater pulled back a goal through Jamie Reade and finally a brilliant through ball from the energetic Phil Rogers set up Crouchy to get the equaliser.

The final game came around and the opposition were all over us. Losing 4.1, and possibly distracted by their goalkeeper constantly adjusting and re-adjusting his hair style throughout the game, Bridgwater signed off.

Charitable bottom

Czechs on the sidelines
The Czechs fared even worse losing every single one of their games  despite having a squad of almost 20 to chose from and finishing a charitable bottom of the tournament.

The MSZP went on to deservedly win the trophy (and hopefully the election in October) although the Brits did have a go at showing them how to pose with it before anyone noticed…

The Sarvar project was organised by Zsolt Nemeth and Lajos Szabo and both made speeches of internationalistic goodwill at the social held at the Nadasdy restaurant afterwards. Altech boss Antonin Machala brought 2 barrels of the best Czech beer, Mr Nemeth handed round the Palinka (his home made brandy) and the Hungarian chefs appeared to try to fit 2 entire meals onto each plate

Phil takes the ice bucket challenge
The Brits decided to devote much of the tour to drowning themselves in ice cold water. 50% of the group were taking part in the viral ‘ice bucket challenge’ to raise money for charity and Phil, Jamie and Ian all helped add to that mystique of Brits abroad being a bit bonkers by  having people pour icy water onto them in broad daylight in public places. 

When Sarvar was over we tried to find some other places between there and the airport at Vienna. A gigantic Tescos was the first Sunday morning stopover. The sleeping city of Szombately the next. And finally the attractive medieval fortified town of Koszeg  before venturing into the Hapsburg capital itself.

Sarvar, population 16,000, is  officially twinned with Uherske Hradiste and is on Bridgwater’s list for consideration. It’s not as far away as you might think, apart from maybe historically and ideologically, but with a bit of a swing away from the failed ideologies of chauvinistic division and a move into the bright sunny (left-leaning) uplands  it could get a bit closer. 
All friends together

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