Cult Heroes: Ádám Balajti

In praise of Vasas’s ingenious, mercurial forward.

The Wizard of Eger (vasasfc.hu)

By Daniel Cochran

I move around a lot for work, and so – in the absence of my hometown team Middlesbrough – tend to pick a local team to follow. No-one too successful, but a club with a bit of history about them. First it was Al-Shabab (not that one) in Bahrain, then Tokyo Verdy in Japan. When I landed in Hungary I went with Vasas mainly because they were the ironworkers’ team back in the day. As a Boro fan with our “mined from the Eston Hills” mentality, it wasn’t a difficult choice.

The problem is that following a club that isn’t your own feels artificial. The connection often just isn’t there. There are barriers of culture, language and history that can seem insurmountable (although it’s easy to work out when someone’s calling the ref a c**t in any language), and a sense of being an imposter; assuming an identity that isn’t your own and to which you have no connection (a bit like being a Man United fan).

One thing that helps is a cult hero. And the player that finally made me a Vasas supporter, rather than a follower, was Ádám Balajti.

(photo by Jennifer Varga, vasasfc.hu)

Balajti joined Vasas in 2018 and made an immediate impact, not just with his goals (32 of them in his first season), but with his quality. A sublime first touch and an ability to keep the ball that was unrivalled in the league, a cockiness and flair for the unexpected, and shinpads so small you’d need a microscope to see them (a clear “no fucks given” to the league’s cowed defenders).

But mainly he brought goals, and lots of them. Bala delighted in putting opposing players on their arses, adding Zlatan-esque extra touches to sprinkle goldust on his strikes, even as the net was already gaping. He hit perfect arcing volleys, delicate chips and lobs, but mostly he twisted back and forth until the entire opposition defence couldn’t tell their arses from their elbows. Then he’d just pass it into the net like a Hungarian Lee Tomlin.

Balajti was the player I’d tell everyone about. It was his brilliance that led me to drag sportswriter and fellow Brit in Budapest Kevin McCluskie to the Illovszky Rudolf Stadium for the first time. Vasas won a penalty and I immediately launched into a “he never misses” eulogy, explaining that Balajti’s slow amble up to the spot invariably led to a goal.

He missed of course. He didn’t miss often.

In the first few years of my following Vasas, Balajti formed a formidable partnership with Botond Birtalan, with both names seemingly on the scoresheet every week. Bala set up 15 goals in his first season. Now it seems that Balajti, Birtalan and former captain Lóránd Szatmári will all be departing the club soon. The end of a little era.

While Balajti has never (and may never, according to rumours of his departure) played in the top flight with Vasas, he’ll be remembered as one of the few highlights of an otherwise depressing time in the club’s history. This might be the first ode to Ádám by a Vasas fan; it won’t be the last.

Ádám – if you ever happen to read this – cheers for the memories.

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