In a small corner of Budapest…

AS WE have often insisted on Game of the People, football is a global language. It doesn’t matter where you are, if you’re stuck for a conversation, turn the subject around to the beautiful game and borders come tumbling down. If politicians were truly smart, they would settle all differences on the football pitch over 90 minutes.

Off of one of Budapest’s main drags, in one of the many courtyards that sit behind the often ornate facade, you can find all sorts of unusual shops and services, some of which don’t need much explanation. For some years, a small, crowded shop which calls itself by a very unpretentious name, has hidden in one of these courtyards, but beyond its padlocked door, there lies a treasure trove of footballing memorabilia.

I first discovered it some 20 years ago, but it was closed when I visited it, then in 2014, I finally got to see inside, much to my delight. I returned this week to see how the Football Shop had fared during the pandemic. I had to wait, though, because opening times are inconsistent and you never quite know when the owner will arrive. I wasn’t the only one looking to plunder the shop’s contents. A tall Frenchman and his long-suffering partner turned up, eager to find out what was inside. He was from Marseille, so we struck up a brief chat on his club, OM, and whether he would be safe attending Ferencvaros’ game with Monaco in the Europa League. Once our friend from Marseille left, vowing to return, a young man from Derby and his Stoke-based girlfriend came in search of replica shirts. “I’ve heard they’re cheaper here,” he said, claiming he was very keen on getting a Fradi shirt.

When the owner opened the shop, it wasn’t the guy I had seen eight years’ earlier, but I sensed his father used to run it. “I am a Vasas fan, like my Dad. We’re not doing well this season, in fact, we are bottom of the league,” he told me with a grimace.

I had a list of pennants I was looking for: Red Star Belgrade and Partizan; Saint-Etienne; Slovan Bratislava; Borussia Dortmund and a few more. I also wanted a Chelsea pennant, which may sound strange, but it has proved difficult to obtain a decent version. Moreover, when I visited the Stamford Bridge Megastore, the two people serving didn’t know what a pennant was. They are definitely old school, as they say.

To anyone keen on football junk (not my words), a visit to the Football Shop at 23 Vaci Utca in Budapest is a must. The Hungarian capital is also full of clubs that have a story to tell.

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