On a beautiful sunny morning in Budapest the Euros squad dragged themselves from the luxury of their beds in the Ibis hotel for a midday start - well, it was April 1st - to the match against their Hungarian hosts.
The venue was a very well appointed stadium with raised seating along one side and adjoining catering and accommodation facilities. Thanks to Krisztian’s brother Richard (aka Ricsi) the home side had a sizable squad, and as the pitch was particularly spacious it was agreed to have twelve players a side, and Euros had a loan player (no English league side is ever without one), who had a positive effect on the average age of the team. In case anyone doesn’t get an honourable (or, more likely, dishonourable) mention in the following account of this special fixture, the visiting squad was as follows:
Chris Cook, Ross Dunbar, Steve Grange, Duncan Hepple, Kieran Innals, Martin Innals, Kevin McMeeking, Nico Maretto, Paul Ruddock, Philip Smith, Paul Webb, Richie Willmott and the two guests Krisztian Kohari and Balazs Szigeti. They will hereafter be referred to by their first names, apart from Webby, to distinguish him from the other Paul, and Philip, who will be called Meat. The players were accompanied by goalkeeping coach Neil Webb and Man. City scout Glen Dunbar. I apologise to the home side for not mentioning their players’ names, but I didn’t have a team sheet and would in any case probably have spelt them wrongly. But Euros are very grateful to them for fulfilling the fixture.
Euros had an early escape when a break down the right led to a shot from close to goal that flew over the crossbar. They countered this with a move involving Ross and Balazs that forced a corner producing a chip from the loan player just wide of the far post. After the home side had again threatened their goal Euros’ next corner was crossed invitingly by Paul, and Meat soared above the defence with a firm header to open the scoring. The ensuing passages of play were in the Magyar half, but their defence repeatedly cut out passes that reached their penalty area, and shots from Duncan and Paul flew over the crossbar. When they did break out, the home side should have equalised but a fluent passing movement was let down by an unlikely miscue in front of an open goal. They were forced back on defence soon after, when Chris’s diving header from Krisztian’s cross was just kept out by their goalkeeper, who was also alert when a diagonal ball from the right wing from Balazs drifted towards the top corner of his goal. They finally conceded a second goal when Martin won a free-kick on the edge of their penalty area and his chip was converted by Paul.
The home side missed another chance to score in a goalmouth scramble, before Martin released Paul down the right and Chris met his square pass with a shot that the keeper did well to finger-tip over the bar. The Reds put together some neat passing moves but the goalkeeper continued to thwart further efforts on goal.
Euros were probably just worth their two-goal lead at half time, but were a little fortunate to go further ahead after the restart when an innocuous looking challenge on Balazs gifted them a free-kick that dropped nicely for Kev to get on the scoresheet. This had the effect of galvanising the opposition and they produced the best shot so far, a bullet from twenty-five yards that whistled low into the corner of Kieran’s net. He then had a busy spell as the Euros back line had to repel some determined attacks. Having survived this the visitors created a number of chances, but Kev, Chris and Paul kept losing track of the target or of the ball, which finally disappeared over the trees behind the goal they were aiming at. A promising run down the right by Duncan should have put them further ahead, but this time it was Balazs who missed when it looked easier to score.
There followed more feeble efforts from the visiting attackers and at this point it looked as if the big pitch and its artificial surface that was clearly more grass-like than their home astroturf was rapidly wearing out their legs. The Budapest team now countered with more purpose, and it was as well that the Euros defence had something in reserve. Webby matched the pace of their dangerous runners, supported by Richie and Nico also in picking off long balls down the middle, and Kieran made a series of vital saves. Steve came on to play his usual Beckenbauer role.
Just as it looked as if the game might swing in favour of the home side, the Reds rediscovered the opposing goal. After Kev hit a post, Balazs intercepted a clearance and finally found the target. A cross from Paul was then nudged in (by Kev, or a defender?). Krisztian joined the shooting gallery but the keeper made a good save, then Balazs hit the crossbar before Duncan beat a defender to give himself room to score number six. In what I made the ninety-fourth minute Kev rounded off the scoring.
This result, which was somewhat flattering to the visitors, should of course have been subject to them taking usual drug test, which would no doubt have shown their blood to be above the legal limit of local beer.
After the game we adjourned first to the stadium’s bar, where we were treated by Krisztian’s parents to snacks and their own splendid schnapps, which only doctor’s orders prevented me from sampling to excess.
The evening meal was followed by the customary election among those present of the player of the season, and not surprisingly the Phil Webb Trophy was awarded to Kieran, who fulfilled the promise of his previous, rookie season with another consistent display between the sticks.