Six decades ago, Hungarian football, led by Ferenc Puskás, set the pace, technically and tactically, of the European game. While the national association remains proud of its rich past, it is laying the foundations for a new chapter in the country's football history.
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By the early 2000s, participation levels in Hungary's revered national sport had declined drastically, viewing figures for professional matches were among the lowest in Europe, stadiums and facilities were poorly maintained, while the national team had not qualified for a major tournament since the 1986 FIFA World Cup.
Over the past 10 years, the Hungarian Football Federation's (MLSZ) 'Decade of Revival' strategy has transformed the state of the game, with the number of registered players rising from 127,000 to 300,000, including 30,000 female players. Several tactics have contributed:
- Ensuring a football pitch is never more than 10km away
In total, the MLSZ has built over 1,200 grassroots pitches, including 100 in the country's poorest areas, and renovated another 2,700 small/semi-sized pitches – in villages and cities.
- Modernising Hungary's stadiums to attract more fans
All 32 of Hungary's leading professional clubs have new or renovated stadia, while Budapest's state of the art Puskás Aréna was inaugurated in 2019 – it hosted the UEFA Super Cup and EURO 2020 matches in 2021.
- "Everybody on the pitches!"
To ensure its new football fields are filled with players, the MLSZ encourages everyone to adopt football as their main leisure activity. Sports programmes target kindergartens and schools, universities and colleges, amateur and veteran championships as well as people with disabilities.
- Inspiring a nation
Recognising the importance of a competitive national team to inspire people to take up the game, the MLSZ has invested in nurturing elite young players. It is paying off with the national team performing well at all levels in the male and female game, while the senior men's team has now qualified for the last two EUROs. The nation also took pride in hosting Hungary's EURO 2020 group stage matches at the Puskás Ferenc Aréna – the first major international tournament finals to take place in the country.
- Raising coaching standards
The federation is developing a dedicated online platform to help coaches at all levels – professional and amateur – exchange best practice and share knowledge, both on technical knowledge of football and sports health.
Introducing football to children – boys and girls – and involving their parents as early as possible, both in kindergartens and schools, lies at the forefront of the Hungarian Football Federation's efforts to increase participation levels across the country.
UEFA's HatTrick development programme, which channels EURO revenue into football development across Europe, has facilitated this approach by investing in a series of MLSZ programmes. These include:
UEFA Foundation for Children in Hungary
Set up in 2015, the UEFA Foundation uses football as a vehicle to help improve children's lives by supporting hundreds of campaigns and projects across Europe and around the world.
Oltalom Sport Association (OSA) partnership
In 2021, the UEFA Foundation for Children partnered with the Oltalom Sport Association (OSA) which helps vulnerable children in Hungary at risk of exclusion. The UEFA Foundation for Children awarded OSA €50,000 for a project which aims to Enhance physical and mental well-being, reduce school dropout, foster social skills development, encourage entry and re-entry to education and promote social inclusion of at-risk groups (e.g. unaccompanied migrants and refugees).
Case study: Hanya Mirzai
Additionally, the UEFA Foundation for Children and the OSA together made a young girl’s dream come true in 2020 when they secured her tickets for the 2020 UEFA Super Cup match between FC Bayern München and Sevilla at the brand-new, 68,000-seater Puskás Arena. Up until this point, Hanya Mirzai, a refugee originally from Iran had never been inside a football stadium. She left Iran at four years old and went to Iraq. At the age of 16, Hanya started to play football in Budapest and fell in love with the game.
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National team history
Date of birth: 20 March 1953
Association president since: 2010
Date of birth: 4 October 1962
Association general secretary since: 2010