The soccer chant is a peculiar specimen. In the world of club football, supporters’ chants are often tongue-in-cheek and defiant (see Millwall F.C.’s exquisite “No one likes us, we don’t care”), as well as endless in variety and number. National team chants, however, tend to get to the point—repeatedly. U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A.
A few days after Hungary’s national team beat Austria in their opening match of Euro 2016 (for the uninitiated, a tournament among European nations occurring every four years), their fans’ chants are still ringing in my ears, invading every moment of silence with their plodding rhythms and borrowed melodies. Ria, Ria, Hungária.
I squeezed in with a few thousand fairly plastered Hungarians to watch the match in Budapest’s Szabadság Square, where an enormous projection screen had been erected. Hungary, huge underdogs even to eke out a tie, struck first with a toe-poke from Ádám Szalai. Beer cans flew like graduation caps, and the crowd launched into a new, mocking song: Hajrá, Hajrá, Magyarország! (All this means is “Come on, Hungary,” but the effect is very much “Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey Goodbye.”)
After Austria went down to ten men after a red card and Hungary extended their lead late in the game, the chants only grew louder. As the game ended, it became clear to me that the celebration was just beginning. An impromptu parade of exhilarated Hungarians made its way down the streets of Budapest, eventually spilling into the streets around my room in Erzsébetváros. A few people clambered up onto the roofs of bus stops, waving the Hungarian red-white-and-green and leading the growing crowd in an endless cycle of Ria, Ria, Hungária and Hajrá, Hajrá, Magyarország! It was like a pep rally with actual pep.
I’ll be heading to Szabadság Square to watch Hungary take on Iceland tomorrow afternoon, and this time I’ll know the words.