Friday, 20 March 2009

Ferencváros - Newcastle, 1996

I remember the hype around this game really distinctly, for some reason. I also remember absolutely despising Newcastle at the time and really, really wanting Fradi to win. All the attention before the game focused on the home team's prodigiously talented young midfielder Krisztián Lisztes, who some pundits were painting as the great new hope for Hungarian football. Sadly, Lisztes's career has been dogged by a series of injuries and, while he's won plenty of trophies in the Bundesliga with VFB Stuttgart and Werder Bremen, there seems to be a sense that he might have become a real star. As is sometimes the case, the Czechs ended up with publicity at the expense of the Hungarians, and the most famous midfielder to come out of Central Europe in the mid-1990s was the great Pavel Nedvěd, who is still going strong at 36 for Juventus.

A few things came out of this video for me. Firstly, the extent to which Hungarian football has declined over the last decade. When FTC's name came out of the hat as Newcastle's draw, they were genuinely considered a threat to Shearer et al's chance of progressing. Nowadays, Huungarian sides are looked upon as soft touches: when Zalaegerszeg-based ZTE sneaked a 1-0 first leg victory against Manchester United in a 2002 Champions League qualifier (before being thumped 5-0 in the return at Old Trafford) it was considered an upset of almost implausible magnitude. The result was so unusual that, according to some of my (non-football-loving, female) students, Béla Koplárovics, scorer of the winning goal in Zalaegerszeg, attained overnight fame throughout the country.

Secondly, of course, is the decline of Newcastle over a similar period. Given some of the players they've fielded since the unpleasant sacking of Bobby Robson in 2004 (not to mention some of those that Robson himself chose to deploy) it's probably surprising that they've lasted this long without being relegated. This year, their number might well be up, and my guess is that it's only the plight of semi-local rivals Middlesborough, the subject of internet rumours regarding imminent administration (rumours, I'd best stress, on the internet), that's acting as any kind of comfort for them at the moment. Just seeing the short clip above brought back memories of how good that Albert - Lee - Ginola (left on the bench that night in Budapest) - Ferdinand - Shearer side could be. Srnicek's early error, however, is an augury of how the next thirteen years were to turn out.

Thirdly, there's a lovely moment in the video where Rob Lee sees a slightly-scuffed shot hit the post and then trickle teasingly along the line before the Fradi goalkeeper comes to his senses and jumps on it. Various Newcastle forwards raise their hands as if they're about to begin celebrating, but as soon as the referee signals 'no goal' they're back to business. There's no John Terry-esque referee-harrassing here. Have we really got this bad this quickly?

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