The Pancho Arena in Hungary drops jaws of global football fans every few months on Twitter, where images of this most beautiful stadium are regularly shared. The common aim? To visit and marvel at this unique piece of sporting architecture.
But where is the Pancho Arena, who plays there, when was it opened, can you visit easily, what is the thinking behind its remarkable Cathedral-like design and why was and is its construction so significant in global politics? Football Ground Guide reveals all below…
The stunning architecture of the Pancho Arena
We need not describe it in too lyrical a fashion. Great architecture should evoke feelings individual to the viewer, so take a look yourself.
It really is a Cathedral of football with an arcing wooden forest hugging the edge of the pitch, supported by concrete pillars and supporting the slate roof, which took seven months to complete.
Where is the Pancho Arena?
The stadium is a small village – yes, that's right – west of the Hungarian capital, Budapest. The village's name is Felcsút and it is the home to the country's national footballing academy, which, next to the Pancho Arena, has seven full-sized pitches for training purposes. It used to have nine, but two were sacrificed to allow this stadium to be built.
The location in Felcsút is part of the reason for the controversy around this stadium, which you can learn more about below.
Who plays at the Pancho Arena?
The primary purpose of the stadium is to serve as the home to Hungary's youth national teams and to local side Puskas Akademia FC, who play in the country's top-flight.
In 2023, Hungary hosted the U17 European Championships and the Pancho Arena was one of the stadiums chosen. It was given three group games and both semi-finals.
In 2014, the Pancho Arena hosted three group games and one semi-final during the U19 European Championships.
The ground has also hosted a variety of other notable youth games, including the Puskás Cup, a club U17 tournament which Real Madrid appear in, and some significant senior fixtures.
Why is it called the Pancho Arena?
The name is a tribute to Hungary's greatest footballer, the inimitable Ferenc Puskás (1927-2006).
Puskás scored 84 goals in 85 games for the Hungarian national team, leading the Magical Magyars – as they became known – to the 1954 World Cup final, where they were unfortunate to be beaten by West Germany.
After playing for Budapest Honvéd, Puskás made his name globally-renowned with his performances for Real Madrid, with whom he won three European Cups (1959, 1960, 1966) and five Spanish titles. The IFFHS named him the greatest top-flight goalscorer of the 20th century in 1995.
There are few things in Hungarian footballer not named after Puskás, to be honest. The 2019-opened, 67,215-capacity national stadium in Budapest is called the Puskás Aréna. And global football is regularly reminded of his legacy with the annual ‘Puskás Award', for the best goal of the year, decided by FIFA.
But why Pancho, then? Well, it was the nickname for Puskás at Real Madrid.
Inside the Pancho Arena, fans will be able to find a great deal of Puskás memorabilia, including matchworn shirts from Real Madrid, newspaper cuttings, programmes, trophies and more.
How to get to the Pancho Arena
Felcsút is a tiny village with fewer than 2,000 residents. It is 40km west of the Hungarian capital of Budapest.
So tiny is Felcsút that there is no train station, but groundhoppers interested in visiting this unique stadium can get on bus services from Budapest's Nepilget bus terminal – right next to the Groupama Arena, which can be another to tick off easily. The bus journey takes an hour, and there are as many as ten options a day by Volanbusz.
If you're determined to take the train, you can get to the Bicske in 40 minutes from Budapest-Deli. Walking from Bicske station will take 50 minutes or so, or there are sometimes buses available, and maybe even a taxi.
In essence, this stadium was not designed for large crowds and the public transport infrastructure very much reflects that.
If you're driving, the address is Rákóczi u., 8086 Felcsút but when you try and park, mind you don't take the spot of Hungarian President Victor Orbán, who has a space reserved. The stadium is right next to his house. More on that in a second.
Tickets for games at the Pancho Arena
Matches at the Pancho Aréna are rarely sold out, so you can just walk up to the ticket office in the two hours pre-match and get your spot. You shouldn't have to pay more than a few quid for a ticket.
How much did Pancho Arena construction cost, and was it worth it?
This was a significant construction project. Around 2,000 cubic metres of wood was layered and glued to form the stunning roof design, while the slate roof itself covers an enormous 12,000 square metres. That size is the equivalent to some national monument buildings in Hungary. The stadium's foundations are far-reaching, covering a space twice the size of the pitch itself.
There is 31km of piping to include undersoil heating, 100 fuse boxes and 135km of cable.
All of this, combined with the detailed, ambitious and unique architectural plans by the famous Imre Makovecz and his successor – Makovecz died in 2008 – Tamás Dobrosi cost around €12m. That's a huge amount for a stadium that can fit fewer than 4,000 people.
Controversy around the Pancho Arena
In short, the Pancho Arena has been criticised for being a vanity project for the dominant Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. It is not a stadium built for locals, nor truly is it a ground built for the legacy of Puskás, who barely ever visited Felcsút. Who did visit Felcsút? Well, Orbán did. He spent some of his childhood in the small, sleepy village and played semi-professional football for a local fourt-division side. He did so while he was Prime Minister in the late 1990s.
Orbán is a massive football fan who wants to restore the Hungarian game to the top of the world stage. The Pancho Aréna is one part of that, being linked with the nearby academy and being the home of the country's national teams, but its lavish design was not essential.
On matchday, the Pancho Aréna becomes a meeting place for Orban and anyone who wishes to discuss politics with him. Hungarian oligarchs park up, some with reserved parking spots, as well as journalists and campaigners seeking an audience with the much-criticised world leader.
There has been great concern over the manner in which contracts are handed out for stadium construction in Hungary, and the associated costs and lack of transparency. There is further dismay at the focus on sport given the poverty in the country. In February 2017, a petition against Orbán's government's bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games in Budapest received 266,000 signatures and forced the Hungarian bid to withdraw. Its argument was that healthcare, education, rural infrastructure and housing deserved more government attention and funding that sport.
All of this makes the Pancho Aréna as controversial as it is beautiful. It is a stadium of great contradictions.