MTK Stadium 2006

THE MTK STADIUM in Budapest 2006.

By Nick Loughlin.

"STILL, if you're ever in Budapest, it may be worth a visit" so says this site.
Well, a long weekend in the capital of Hungary last month proved the ideal chance.
It's not every week you get the chance to visit a film set....

The MTK Stadium is a 20-30 minute walk from the centre of the city. Our hotel - the Atlas Hotel - was bang in the middle of Nepszinhaz.Looking at the many maps on hand in the hotel foyer, it was simple enough to find. Two streets along and bingo.

After getting from the airport to the hotel, perhaps our bus guide had designs on getting 20-odd lads to the usual Budapest delights - strip clubs, knocking shops, banquet nights and clay pigeon shooting. She was a bit flummoxed to hear a couple of drunks from Hartlepool trying to explain the merits of visiting the stadium where Escape to Victory was shot.
Bizaare, but the poor lass hadn't even heard of it. So Monday am arrived and here we go.

Nepszinhaz is a long-ish route out of the city centre towards the suburbs.You can get the metro or a tram from pretty much anywhere to where it links up with one of the many squares. As ever, the large Golden Arches could prove a decent starting point. So stroll along Nepszinhaz to the end. There's a petrol station on the left. Turn right at the end and a few hundred yards on the left is Salgotarjani - the street where the MTK is.

It's hardly the most salubrious walk. There's industry on the right and a massive graveyard on the left and a tramline through the middle of the road. Halfway along, there's even some authentic German Shepherds tied up to bark and growl at you on the way. All that's missing are the handlers dressed up in full Nazi uniform.
Towards the Stadium and the road disappears and it turns into a tram track.
From there, the MTK is a few hundred yards in front. Stroll along the well-worn path and there's another nice film addition - some nice rusty POW camp barbed wire.

The Stadium itself is a bit shabby from the outside - a broken sign above the main entrance, drab, grey concrete walls sprayed in graffiti and little signs of life.

In fact, the first shots you see of the MTK and it's outside (as the Nazi soliders arrive in their trucks and tanks) is pretty much how it is now.

Not being fluent in Hungarian, we tried to explain in English why we were
here to the kid in reception. Clueless, he waved us through.
And we were soon in the main stand, the one decked out in the film in Swastikas and large banners.
Taking up residence in the seats occupied by the Nazi officers and the likes of Karl Von Steiner, it's fair to say the old stadium hasn't changed much.

The sweeping oval shape remains, the open terraces to each end likewise. The main stand has had a bit of a facelift - must have been down to the benefits of some Hollywood cash 20-odd years ago - but that's about it. Clambering down from the steep steps onto the touchline, the pitch was open forum for all.

If we had a ball with us, we could have recreated the overhead kick, penalty saves and Ossie Ardiles overhead flick. It might have taken us more than one take though!

We headed straight for the goal - at the Hatch End if you like. Behind it is the big gate which was rocked open by the crowd and allowed the Allies side to make their getaway.
It's not as glam or ornate as it was - a big blue solid metal gate has replaced the arty version as seen in the film.
We allowed the statue behind the goal to wear the Allies shirt - god knows what anyone watching would have thought.....

Inside the ground - next to the main stand - there's a dog kennel. Surely not a leftover from the film where the German Shepherds used to head for during a break. If Stallone was such an egotistical individual during shooting, surely the dogs deserved some rest and a decent packet of Pedigree Chum.
Around there and the terracing is crumbling. Dropping to bits if you like - so if you see a couple of pieces of "Authentic Escape to Victory terracing" up for sale on eBay in the near future, you know they are genuine!

Going through the tunnel, there's stairs immediately heading up and the dressing rooms are situated in a corridor under the main stand. Alas, they were being used as there seemed to be some sort of junior football teams inside and we were unable to check the communal bath for an escape route into the sewers of Budapest.

Ten minutes stroll away from the MTK Stadium lies the Ferenc Puskas Stadium, the Hungarian National Stadium.
It's where Trevor Brooking scored in a 3-1 England win in 1981 when his shot memorably got stuck in the stantion - of stauntion if your name is Jimmy Hill.

It might be eight times the size of the MTK, with a full athletics track around the pitch and stand which sweep back into the city centre. But for all it's history and international record, the only international game ever played inside the borders of Hungary which counts involved Pele, Bobby Moore, Michael Caine and was played a brisk walk down the road.

Victoire. Here's to Victory.

Words and Photos copyright Nick Loughlin