In which I compare the US Open Final to a second division Hungarian football match (Vasas FC vs. Kaposvári Rákóczi)

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It’s been a month since I’ve been to a Vasas game due to a combination of holidays and away games (I love you Nyíregyháza Spartacus, but I’m not travelling 142 miles to see you play), and things have been slowly grinding to a halt on the Vasas promotion train. A run of 4 straight draws has somehow not precipitated a massive slide down the table due to the unpredictable nature of NBII results, but the 8 goals shipped in those games is a worry.

One team that are on a run are today’s opponents Kaposvári Rákóczi, who’ve been on a superb four-match winning streak and sit one place above our heroes in 4th place. Rákóczi are another newly promoted side, having comfortably won the Western Division of NBIII last year.

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Crowds are sparser now than in those heady, table-topping days of August. The delay in finishing the new stadium is clearly sapping the will of some supporters who still have to make the long, spine-jarringly bumpy bus journey to Újpest. Moreover, although they’re still unbeaten, there seems to have been a reevaluation of Vasas’s hopes of promotion. The disjointed nature of some of those early wins is easy to explain away when you’re top of the league, not so much when you’re sliding down it (and conceding three against the aforementioned Nyíregyháza Spartacus probably doesn’t help).

As soon as the game begins it’s clear that this isn’t going to be an easy afternoon. The referee is fussy and card-happy, Kaposvári look confident, and worst of all Vasas’s main tactic seems to be to launch cross-field balls towards, A) the linesman or B) a tiny, green space alien called Ozmodiar that only they can see.

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As the first half ticks by it becomes increasingly obvious that today’s referee is in Hollywood audition mode. The TV cameras are here. My personal checklist of “Attributes Crap Referees Have” reads thusly:

  1. Constantly disrupts the game.
  2. Talks at length to a player who’s just committed a foul to really make them understand where they’ve gone wrong and perhaps become a better person in future whilst said player nods vacantly and clearly couldn’t give a toss what he’s yammering on about.
  3. Rigidly applies pointless rules, usually to make a point about “who’s in charge”.

The combination of these things is a guaranteed game-ruiner, and today’s ref – a certain Tamás Bognár – has them in spades.

As a wise man once said, a good referee should know when to impose themselves and when to take a step back, and just as the umpire in the Serena Williams vs. Naomi Osaka US Open final has made a massive rod for his own back because of his fragile ego (and now has to give violations for every similar thing any male player does for the rest of his career – enjoy that one), Tamás Bognár’s persnickety posturing and pointless early bookings ensured that a pretty fairly-played game of football ended up with six bookings and two sendings off.

But before we get to that – Balázs Bese (Vasas’s 19-year-old keeper) – has developed into a proper keeper since I last saw him. He’s become commanding and confident and it seems that he’s been the only thing preventing even more goals in the last few weeks. Maintaining confidence after conceding 8 in 4 is impressive, especially when it’s clearly the lack of a solid defence that’s to blame. As Kaposvári attack again and again he’s an island of calm amongst a sea of lower-league cloggers. There is no composure in the Vasas defence. Attackers are left with free runs at goal, headers go uncontested. Vasas have scored plenty this season, but too often the defence have cost them.

Nevertheless, it’s Vasas who strike first thanks to the in-form Adam Balajti, who collects a pass from Martin and slots home his 4th in 5. It looks like Vasas will glide gracefully to half-time and a well-earned palinka, but no – enter referee Tamás Bognár – who books my hero Ádám Martin just before half-time and then immediately sends him off for standing in the way of the resulting free-kick. From my vantage it’s a nothing booking and a harsh sending off, and not the cleverest move for a referee who now has to walk off the pitch past a few hundred irate Vasas fans.

The second half somehow starts well for the home team and it’s not long before new signing Ádám Rokszin (so many Ádáms) receives the ball on the edge of the box, turns his man back and forth, and slots in the coolest of finishes to make it 2-0. It’s a cocky-as-hell way to score your first for the club and now all we have to do is hold on til the end.

But no, it takes just 7 minutes for Rákóczi to get one back and another 3 for them to equalise. Only another harsh red from the ref – this time to level things up – prevents Vasas from losing this one handily. Somehow they hang on (even having a goal rightly disallowed for offside) and it’s a fifth draw in a row for the Angyalföld boys.

In the end, a decent game despite the ref’s best efforts, but Vasas still haven’t looked overly impressive this year, and if they don’t start picking up wins soon promotion will be a difficult task. New manager Kis has yet to impose any sort of order on the defence and can’t keep relying on his team to score 3 or 4 goals to beat teams.

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Vasas FC 2-2 Kaposvári Rákóczi FC (Balajti, Rokszin. Attendance 2000)

League

Notes on other teams I’ve followed:

Tokyo Verdy are up to 4th in the J2 League in Japan, having won 3 of their last 4. Even better, their homegrown players are scoring and not just the two Brazilian lumps they have up front.

Middlesbrough have been on a good run but lost their unbeaten record against bogey team Norwich on Saturday. They’re still 4th (and one point off top) and visit Bolton on Wednesday.

The Bahraini Premier League is underway! Al-Shabbab were the team I followed when I lived there. They managed a draw on their first game of the season.

Hungarian football words learned: 1 (Könyv – which means book and I think can be used in the same way “book him” is in English)

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