As everyone settles down to watch the dramatic final matches of the 2018 World Cup, Budapest is planning for Euro 2020. One of 12 host cities, the Hungarian capital is building an entirely new stadium for the occasion. Opened before the 1954 World Cup that Hungary came so painfully close to winning, the original Népstadion was later named after the player who graced it back then, Ferenc Puskás. This revered arena also witnessed concerts by Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones and Queen. Before the Ferenc Puskás Stadium reopens in 2019, a new visitor centre has just been installed alongside, offering a drone’s eye view on how the 68,000-capacity arena is taking shape.
Free to enter, the Ferenc Puskás Stadium Visitor Centre occupies the floor above the Hungarian Olympic & Sport Museum, close to the Puskás Ferenc Stadion station on the M2 metro line.
As you enter, a friendly guide asks if you need any help or clarification, but the displays are pretty self-explanatory. At various points, including a screening area shaped like a retro football, a video loops shows Tamás Almási’s poignant Puskás Hungary film. With English subtitles and haunting piano, it covers the life of this legendary footballer, from Kispest to Madrid, Athens to Australia, and back to Budapest, seen through the eyes of his family, his fellow players and his main carer at Kütvölgyi Hospital.
It sets a sombre but inspiring tone as you move from 1953, when the original Népstadion (‘People’s Stadium’) opened, to Euro 2020, detailed models showing the features of each arena. With the Socialist-era landmark closed in 2016 then knocked down, the new stadium will open on the same site by the end of 2019.
Off to one side, a large table allows you to play gombfoci, a tiddlywink football game, the counters representing the same teams as faced each other at the Népstadion in May 1954. On that day, 92,000 gathered here to witness Hungary beat England 7-1, two goals coming from Puskás himself. A display case contains an original ticket from the game and the pennant the England captain gave Puskás before kick-off.
In another area, a large mural shows the pop stars who also entertained the crowds here – although the communal headphones only broadcast Hungarian bands such as Edda and Bikini rather than Michael Jackson or Robbie Williams.
Another feature is housed in the kind of cabin usually set up for ornithologists or tourists on the African savannah – three telescopes allow you to observe the new stadium slowly taking shape a few hundred metres away.
Pride of place goes to the interactive zone, where donning wraparound video glasses allows you to sit inside a drone as it takes off from pitch level to rise above the terraces, the workmen and the cranes to admire the new stadium from almost cloud level. It’s a journey of two minutes – but one that has so far taken 65 years to reach.
Ferenc Puskás Stadium Visitor Centre District XIV, Ifjúság útja 2 Tue-Sun 10am-5pm Admission: Free