Thursday, September 12, 2013

I Was a Teenage Armchair Ferencváros Fan

Amongst the current reading/browsing/inspiring material being indulged-in is a volume entitled ‘Cover Versions’, dedicated to the genius of Steve Hardstaff’s music-related & other graphic design, & lavishly illustrated throughout with fine examples of. One of these, the sleeve of the legendary Half Man Half Biscuit’s ‘Back Again in the DHSS’ LP, features, as well it might, front & back, with the track listing on the reverse reminding one of the album’s contents & thus serving to motivate the following.

The song title ‘I Was a Teenage Armchair Honved Fan’ chimes rather with my personal interest in & following of European & other overseas football in addition to the domestic game, & also, of course, an enduring, simultaneous passion for music. I must admit to being seduced by the glamour of the names of continental football teams & players from the off, perhaps a consequence of my first proper exposure to football being the 1974 World Cup, which had no other British presence than Scotland’s brief involvement in the tournament. Then, I recall one of the earliest editions of Shoot! magazine which came into my possession, during the autumn of ’74, featuring, amongst its ‘Results’ pages, records of recently-played European club competition fixtures featuring British clubs & of course their intriguing-sounding opponents, including Norway’s Stromsgodset, capitulating 0-11 to Liverpool, & Hungary’s Ferencváros, who were in the process of eliminating Cardiff City from the Cup-Winners’ Cup before going on to do likewise to Liverpool, on their way to that season’s final, where they sadly lost to Dynamo Kiev. Add in a name such as Belgium’s RWD Molenbeek, busy hitting Dundee for four on the Scots’ home turf, & it became obvious that Europe offered a veritable treasure trove of clubs it would prove to be impossible not to adopt amongst those to be followed & favoured, as indeed are those three clubs to this day, even if Molenbeek have gone through many a fresh start & rebranding during the intervening years & long ago ceased to exist as such (they appear this season to be plying their trade in the second tier of the Belgian league structure as RWDM Brussels): in the fantasy football world that prevails at least within the confines of TOoT Towers, they’re among the much-loved powerhouses of European football.


Ferencváros, circa 1967 (love those green shirts with the white sash, a most interesting take on the club's traditional colours)

RWD Molenbeek

Our beloved Ferencváros are by no means the only club in Budapest, let alone Hungary, to be vicariously supported – the fabulous-sounding Vasas &, to a slightly lesser extent, MTK (particularly in an earlier incarnation as MTK/VM) also feature strongly on the radar, as do some of the provincials, most notably Raba (as they once & most sexily were) ETO Gyor, Videoton of Szekesfehervar (who couldn’t love a team who eliminated ‘Newton Heath’ in a UEFA Cup penalty shoot-out?) & other ineffably romantic names. Curiously, in the light of the genesis of this post & unlike HMHB, I’ve always remained pretty much ambivalent to the charms of Honved, although, having said that, they’ve always been more tolerable than Ujpest Dozsa, to whom I’ve never been able to warm for whatever reason. Of course, it’s not only the names that attract & excite – aesthetics play a significant role too, & in the context of those Hungarian teams, Ferencváros’s & Gyor’s green & white colours, Vasas’s & Videoton’s red & blue & MTK’s white with blue sash are irresistibly stylish combinations. Such allegiances, whilst existing in the here-&-now, also allow the space to dream – a recent spot of browsing a volume of historical football results revealed a the fact of a Second Round UEFA Cup tie during 1975-76 between Vasas Budapest & Sporting Lisbon - another very favourite team, not least for their green & white hoops with black shorts outfit - a fixture that in the world of TOoT could reasonably & happily constitute the Champions’ League Final in any given season, such is the romance those names conjure in one’s heart & soul. It’s strange how fantasy takes one, how one muses upon what could/would have been a more ideal world – only the other day I was idly considering how the 1975 European Cup Final would have seemed so much more attractive had it been contested between Atletico Madrid (who should have qualified for the tournament as holders, having beaten perennially unlovely Bayern Munich in the previous year’s final rather than being thwarted by a cruel last-minute equalizer against them) & Borussia Monchengladbach (who would have won the 1973/74 Bundesliga), perhaps having beaten either Saint-Etienne or Sporting Lisbon & Barcelona respectively in the semi-finals, in thrillingly close-fought ties that could, indeed, have gone either way – let’s be honest, Barca v Saint-Etienne or Sporting would be a glorious aesthetic spectacle too (especially considering the reality was a grim, riot-afflicted battle between Bayern - midway through the nadir of their terrible reign of dominance of the Champions’ Cup - & Leeds United, sporting unimaginative all red & all white strips).

Vasas Budapest

Atletico Madrid

Mention of Atletico Madrid & Barcelona accounts for the Spanish & Catalan contingent numbered amongst the very forefront of the European ‘armchair favourites’, which also includes Ajax of Amsterdam; KRC Genk (particularly of quite a few Belgian teams & some of their numerous rebrandings – names such as Mechelen, Westerlo, Lommel & Mouscron, for instance, have a charm all their own - & an affection for their League in general, as, indeed, also applies to Holland); the aforementioned Saint-Etienne in France & Sporting Lisbon in Portugal; Prague bears similarities to Budapest in that I seem to be quite keen on a number of its residents, however conflicting that might appear, including Slavia, Sparta, Dukla & Bohemians – Dukla Prague, of course, are another legendary east European team to famously feature in the title of a Half Man Half Biscuit song, in a Subbuteo-related context; Red Star Belgrade & Hajduk Split endure from the former Yugoslavia; Rapid Vienna in Austria; Grasshoppers Zurich & FC Basel in Switzerland; our especially beloved Internazionale in Italy; Werder Bremen, the Borussias Dortmund & Monchengladbach, & Dynamo Dresden in Germany (where, in the old East - & we do suffer a little from ‘Ostalgia’ – we also had a bit of a soft spot for Dynamo Berlin, in spite of the Stasi associations); Dnepr Dnepropetrovsk & Karpaty Lvov in the Ukraine (whilst retaining a preference for the Soviet-era Russian spellings, the English transliterations of the Ukrainian devotion to ‘i’s being a little too harsh for our eyes & ears); Dynamo Minsk in Belarus; Spartak Moscow in Russia; Galatasaray & Trabzonspor in Turkey; Panathinaikos in Greece; there’s Valkeakosken Haka & always another team or two – usually including whoever from Oulu - & the late, much-missed Kuusysi Lahti in the oft-shifting landscape of Finnish club football, though never HJK, & there’s always scope from a few new clubs scattered across the continent to pop up on the list, to which, expanding horizons beyond the continent, should be added Penarol & Boca Juniors in South America.


KRC Genk

Saint-Etienne, circa 1976 (the almost-great European days - "Allez les Verts!")

Sporting Lisbon

Slavia Prague

Galatasaray (kits of course being a serious deciding factor in favouritism, this wonderful historical compendium coming courtesy of Wikipedia)

Coincidentally, the 2013/14 edition of the always-essential European Football Yearbook (newly-formatted!), replete with stats, reviews, all our favourite teams & many more fabulous names from all of Europe’s continental & domestic competitions, has just arrived through the post: it’s time to go & lose oneself within its pages…