Game of the People found itself on the frontline on a grey October Sunday afternoon in Budapest. Around 3,000 football fans, drawn from various clubs, including Ujpest, MTK, Honved and Ferencvaros, demonstrated their anger at the proposed introduction of biometric scanning of supporters’ hands as they enter a game.
The Hungarian FA (MLSV) is introducing tough security measures that include palm scanning and greater surveillance. It is discouraging the die-hard fans from attending games (Hungarian crowds are already pitifully low). Imagine introducing this in a country like England or Germany – comments like: “Fans have no privacy and no freedom of movement,” have some relevance.
It’s a radical and worrying development for the game. “Big brother is watching you”. Orwellian it is, and contradictory to the event that is commemorated in front of the Parliament building where the demonstration took place – the Hungarian uprising of 1956.
Hungary does have problems with football hooliganism and games between the two top Budapest sides attract a high level of violence. This is a country where the police are very visible, and there were legions of them dotted around central Budapest on the afternoon of the protest. A waspish helicopter buzzed around the River Danube, forming great circles of surveillance that scanned the Buda hills to the majestic Parliament. Quite what the hundreds of Viking River Cruise passengers, most of whom seemed to be elderly Americans, made of it is anyone’s guess.
Around 2.45pm, the first real signs that something was happening emerged. Some deep, throaty chanting could be heard east of the Parliament. A few flashing lights could be seen, indicating that the Police were moving. If you stood in the centre of the square, the scene was a little menacing. To the south, Ferencvaros fans were moving forward behind huge banners, from the North, it looked like a mixture of fans, and to the east, Ujpest fans were marching behind banners. Part of me worried that club rivalries might spill over, but they all had a common cause, and enemy.
When they arrived, all chanting the same slogan, smoke bombs filled the air with acrid green (Fradi) and reddish (Ujpest) smoke. It was peaceful but forceful and amid all this, the number 2 tram, which circumnavigates Parliament square, kept running.
The fans wanted to submit a petititon to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, but as these can only be handed in on a workday, they were unsuccessful in their attempt. Worryingly, a spokesperson for the Ferencvaros Green Monsters, who shall remain nameless, said that this would be the last peaceful protest. This may only play into the hands of the government and FA, but it does show the depth of emotion over this issue.