Landing on Hungarian soil in 2020, it’s about time Budapest was ushered forth to host the UEFA European Football Championship. Not only is Budapest a haven of history, gastronomy, culture and photogenic vistas that make an attractive backdrop to the competition; it’s also the birthplace of one of the greatest footballers of all time. Ferenc Puskás, who died in 2006, scored a dazzling 84 goals in 85 international matches for Hungary, and 514 goals in 529 matches for the Hungarian and Spanish leagues. In honour of the striker’s unrivalled skill on the field, the FIFA Puskás Award is presented each year to the player who has nailed the ‘most beautiful’ goal of the year.
Ferenc Puskás was born and raised in a suburb of Budapest, and his legacy is plain to see throughout the city. There are streets, football clubs, sports bars and Metro stations named after him, with one of the world’s most cutting-edge football stadiums currently being constructed in his honour. From the dazzling Puskás Aréna to the beautiful cathedral in which the player was laid to rest, here’s where to find Ferenc Puskás’ lasting legacy in Budapest.
Not merely a world-class sports centre, Ferenc Puskás Stadium stacked up its fair share of blockbuster entertainment during its time, hosting the likes of Queen for one of Freddie Mercury’s final concerts, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones and Depeche Mode, with audience numbers topping 80,000 and pushing the stadium beyond its capacity. Big-name bands aside, the stadium was used mainly for football matches – it was here that the English team suffered their worst defeat ever in 1954, with a dismal score of 7-1. Following a good 60-year run, the stadium was demolished in 2016 for a bigger, brighter installation – Puskás Arén – in lieu of the UEFA European Football Championship 2020.
The construction of the cutting-edge Puskás Aréna is predicted to finish towards the end of 2019, in good time for the UEFA European Football Championship the following summer. Having already received awards and accolades for its state-of-the-art design, anticipation for its completion competes with excitement about the upcoming football tournament. The sports arena has been pegged by Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Mihály Orbán as a likely contender as a future host to the Olympics Games, with capacity to seat nearly 70,000 spectators. Access to the arena is via Puskás Ferenc Stadion Station on the Budapest Metro – the legendary Golden Team striker has a Metro station named after him, too.
One of the most rewarding ways to explore Budapest is on foot. With its sleepy cobbled lanes, charming architecture and tucked-away bars, restaurants and cafés, it’s on these exploratory forays that the real treasures of the city are discovered. One such jewel is a bronze statue in Buda of a man in a suit teaching a group of children how to play football. After his prolific career on the pitch, Puskás went on to coach – although with not as much success as he had as a striker. The statue of Puskás is surprisingly stout, a nod to the striker’s short, stocky stature at 5ft 7in.
An earnest tribute to Hungary’s sporting idol comes in the form of a lively sports bar filled with paraphernalia, illustrations, posters and souvenirs of the famous footballer, with a range of large-screen televisions tuned into various sports channels and local beer served on tap. There’s no shortage of sports enthusiasts within these well-frequented walls in Kolosy Tér, and there’s little reason to visit other than for a cold beer while you watch a match – preferably one that involves Puskás Akadémia FC to guarantee an emotional game. The menu serves what were supposedly Puskás’ favourite foods – a simple line-up of Spanish quesadillas, fried bread soaked in egg and cabbage pasta that was allegedly compiled with the assistance of his wife, Erzsébet. Gimmicks aside, Puskás Pancho Sport Pub is a fitting nod to the city’s favourite footballer and it’s likely that this buzzing bar will be the venue of choice to cheer some inevitably high-octane matches during UEFA Euro 2020.
Ferenc Puskás was born in 1926 in a working-class district in the south of Pest. He later went on to join its football club, Kispest FC, in which his father was a coach. Kispest might be a little more developed and populated than it was in Puskás’ youth, but it still maintains the timeless laid-back vibe that has no doubt endured through the decades. Not much happens in these sleepy streets (it’s mainly residential), but football fans will appreciate a glimpse of the striker’s humble home town. Legend has it that Puskás’ father could only afford to buy his son one shoe, which he wore on the right foot. In order to protect it from being scuffed while kicking the ball about with his friends on the street, Puskás learned to play solely with his left foot.
The third largest church in Hungary, St Stephen’s Basilica rivals the Hungarian Parliament Building as one of the tallest buildings in the capital. Beyond its stunning Neo-Classical façade lie jewel-coloured mosaics, soaring frescoes, gilded domes and vivid stained glass windows. Certain acclaimed members of Hungary’s famous Golden Team, namely Gyula Grosics, Sándor Kocsis, Jenő Buzánszky and, of course, Ferenc Puskás, have been laid to rest within these grand interiors. Puskás’ funeral in 2006 was attended by the highest echelons of the football elite, including Sir Bobby Charlton and Franz Beckenbauer, along with Hungary’s President and Prime Minister and thousands of mourners who gathered outside to pay their respects.