Ferenc Puskás was born in Budapest in 1927 and made his debut for Honvéd in the Hungarian national league at the tender age of 18. He went onto to become an Olympic gold medal winner in 1952 and a runner-up at the 1954 World Cup held in Switzerland. Now recognised as one of the all-time great Real Madrid players it was in the Spanish capital where he attained the nickname ‘Pancho’ the name chosen for the Pancho Arena in Felcsút.
Felcsút is a very small village of 1800 people in the Váli Valley and sits just 40km west of the capital city Budapest, very near to the much larger town of Bicske. Since 2004 the town has hosted the largest education centre for aspiring young footballers in Hungary and was home to a small team Felcsút FC who are now Puskás Akadémia FC. The football training centre was officially inaugurated on the 80th birthday of the legendary player Ferenc Puskás on April 1, 2007, when a foundation stone was laid in the presence of FIFA and a host of former Hungarian football stars.
The stadium now serves as the main venue for international matches of the Hungarian national youth teams and as a temporary venue for a number of Budapest sides as older stadiums in the capital are reconstructed into modern theatres. At the same time, the Pancho Arena serves as the home stadium to the Hungarian League side Puskás Akadémia FC.
The 3,400 seat arena strikingly features nearly 1,000 tonnes of wood around 80 percent of which was manufactured by an Austrian timber manufacturer and which were finished skilfully at a Hungarian timber mill. The architectural form of the arena is extremely rare but the facility meets all major UEFA regulations being it has under-soil heating, floodlighting, conference facilities, restaurants and media zones.
For all its distinct character a corresponding infrastructure was needed for the stadium. The training centre that surrounding the stadium initially provided 9 full-size playing fields but 2 of these were sacrificed in 2012 to make way for the stadium. Moreover, a local mansion that once housed a sewing factory was transformed by pioneering architect Imre Makovecz into modern living facilities for football students.
The construction of a library, a museum and a research institute amongst the campus plans all stand towards nurturing the legacy of Ferenc Puskás. Football, however, is central to the site and the number of football pitches adjoining the stadium is continually on the rise.
The Pancho Arena was arranged to fit into the large campus plans designed by the famous Hungarian architect Imre Makovecz. A Kossuth award winning architect Makovecz was the father and chief proponent of the Hungarian organic architectural movement. The stadium was inaugurated on Easter Monday 2014 and (as the architectural style suggests) the building attempts to work with the natural surroundings rather than triumph over them. It stands as a modern form in complete contrast to the brutalist architectural style that typified the Hungarian communist era.
Boasting numerous beautiful timber fan vaults that spread out like tree branches the 130,000 square foot arena harmonises with the natural environment and has a striking visual appeal. The stadium interiors resemble that of a cathedral structure with concrete and wood combined. The grass pitch gives the neat stadium the air of being a natural clearing sitting in a forest. The sports facility is beautifully incorporated into a nostalgic small town setting which gives a unique appeal to the structure.
The Pancho Arena project was designed, funded and constructed by Hungarian firms and, to the visiting outsider, there can be no doubting the main purpose of the Puskas Ferenc Football Academy. Hungarian football lost its way internationally for many years and the need for a recognised facility to train on and provide a focus for putting Hungarian football once again on the map was urgently required.
But construction of the stadium has caused a great divide in public opinion given its creation was commissioned by the current Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
Procurement projects were said to have been funded alongside government agency patronage. Amongst its detractors, the shape and style of the Pancho Arena have not been to everyone’s taste. Instead, it has been tagged a ‘monument to corruption and political megalomania’ and a ‘dark hole’ in modern Hungary given its creation next to the personal Felcsút estate of Orbán.
Football wise spectator interest in the home games of Puskas Academia FC have been poor, although this is not unexpected given the town has a population of 1,800 and the stadium has only 3,800 seats. Moreover, the stadium sits 40km outside Budapest and public transport connections are sparse. The roads leading to the stadium are narrow and in a poor state of repair.
Despite the aesthetics, the stadium earned huge criticism over its construction costs. With a budget set at the outset of HUF 3.8 billion (€12.4 million / $17 million), the stadium costs were more expensive than average compared to other such facilities. The cost per seat was almost double that of the nearby Groupama stadium which was constructed at the same time out of the older Flórián Albert home of Ferencvaros.
Rather than noting its organic concept, some Hungarians have called it a ‘Rudolf Steiner style creation’ and a corrupt ‘pet project’ given the town of Felcsút was the childhood lodging of the Prime Minister.
You can see images from the Pancho Arena here.