Eit was actually the perfect day for Peter Gulacsi. The Hungarian had fulfilled every goalkeeper’s dream: won, kept a clean sheet, kept tight. But if his face could speak, it would have said: Unfortunately, there are also zeros that are not completely dense.
“Boooo!” the stadium rumbled dully.
It happened before kick-off. From the deepest abyss of the throat, opponents in Budapest’s Puskas Arena were whistled at, shouted at and insulted. The English didn’t do anything bad, just what they always do: they fell on their knees briefly to send a clear signal against racism.
In such moments, Peter Gulacsi feels more like an Englishman. The Hungarian goalkeeper, who is one of the best in the Bundesliga at RB Leipzig, is also almost invincible in the fight against hate and intolerance. “Everyone has the right to equal rights,” he says, “regardless of the color of their skin, who they love or what they believe in.” Gulacsi was repeatedly footballer of the year in his country, and his voice carries weight. But as soon as he raises it and, for example, criticizes the restrictions on the rights of sexual minorities in his homeland, he quickly gets caught in the eye of the hurricane or in a shitstorm.
“Why are we being booed?”
Like the English now. Stunned, Gareth Southgate, her trainer, asks: “We get on our knees to teach people something and raise their awareness. Why are we being booed?”
Gulacsi has now got into the habit of apologizing to Hungary’s opponents afterwards. When Portugal’s star striker Cristiano Ronaldo was homophobically insulted from the stands during the game in Budapest last summer, the Hungarian goalkeeper went to him after the final whistle and hugged him. The European football association Uefa published the photo the same evening and enthusiastically wrote: “Respect”.
Respect is a big word, it’s easy to say and doesn’t cost anything. But it can also be a damn hollow word that many people laugh at, at least the Hungarians pull the supposedly powerful Uefa through the arena like a toothless bear by the nose ring. A bewildering number of boos and whistles were heard against England – considering that there were actually no spectators. Because after the disgusting fan gaffes at the 2021 European Championship games against Portugal, France and Germany, Hungary was sentenced to two home games without spectators. In plain English: to ghost games, in front of empty ranks.
But, oh wonder: 30,000 fans were there.
Hungarian children can roar like their fathers
Hungarians are good at finding loopholes. Uefa regulations allow children up to the age of 14 to enter the stadium if they are accompanied by an adult. Since the game against England on Saturday, we now know that Hungarian children can shout like their fathers. In any case, Herbert Grönemeyer had imagined the matter to be more romantic when he sang his song “Children to Power”. It’s going ok:
“Give the kids command
They don’t charge for what they do
The world belongs in children’s hands
An end to the gloom.”
Somehow this concept didn’t work in the Puskas Arena. England coach Southgate fears that Grönemeyer has overlooked a tiny detail: “The children are obviously influenced by adults.”
It was a farce. An embarrassing smear comedy. Theater of the absurd. Europe is struggling with Viktor Orban, the boss of Budapest, he is dancing on the nose of the EU and Uefa. He had his Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto scold the latter as a “pathetic and cowardly” squad after the home game penalty, but Uefa doesn’t want to be a villain, and to Orban’s delight they banned the city of Munich from the Allianz Arena at the European Championships Let Hungary shine in rainbow colors against Germany.
“Personally, I would like it if it were colourful,” said Hungary’s defense chief Willi Orban at the time, and where there is a Willi there is usually a way – but the Prime Minister Orban is more important, at least Uefa insisted on their right to sex-political Neutrality. “Respect,” Viktor must have thought.
Elsewhere, the respect is meager, and the English in particular feel the lack again and again. Last September, Jude Bellingham, their Dortmund talent, and Manchester City striker Raheem Sterling were insulted with monkey roars in their World Cup qualifier in Budapest. The world association Fifa punished the “disgusting behavior” with two ghost games and a fine of 200,000 Swiss francs – at the risk that the Hungarians would consider the judgment cheap.
Does Gulasci have to apologize after every game?
What is Uefa doing now?
The European association has a lot on its hands right now. He is dealing with the turnstile chaos at the Paris stadium ahead of the Champions League final and has a serious investigation under way led by former Portuguese Environment Minister Tiago Brandao Rodrigues. The question is whether the staff is now sufficient for investigations into Budapest, possibly even for an update on the Hungarians.
They were originally sentenced to three ghost games, the third was suspended for two years on probation. Is this probation now lost? Is Uefa going through? Is she sending a signal? Or does she prefer to continue to rely on goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi – that is, on him hugging the opponent afterwards and apologizing?