MISKOLC - Two Hungarian entrepreneurs have proposed a novel solution in Hungary's struggle to wake national soccer from two decades of slumber: slot machines.
Hungary, once unbeatable under Ferenc Puskas's "Golden Team", have not qualified for a major international tournament since the 1986 World Cup.
There was even a sigh of relief last month when they managed to beat Malta, 137th in the Fifa rankings, and take revenge for a humiliating defeat last year.
Lajos Marton and Gabor Csendes, two businessmen in the eastern Hajdu-Bihar county, thought rebuilding should start with young players, many of whom do not have adequate training grounds or kit, especially in poorer eastern Hungary.
They have installed hundreds of soccer-themed slot machines in pubs around the country and donate part of the proceeds to youth teams.
"More and more teams have got in touch saying they want to take part in this," Marton said.
The machines, can be played with feature photographs of players from the local team in each town, arranged in two concentric circles on the front of the machine.
Punters can win small prizes such as ashtrays or tickets to games if they get lights to flash next to the same player on both circles. They can win an additional prize of one to four beers depending on which number lights up on the display.
"Since a normal tradition of sponsorship has not developed in this country yet we must be thankful for every penny," said Balint Nagy, spokesman of Hajduszoboszloi SE, a county league team which has received 20 soccer balls from the scheme.
The Hungarian Football Association (MLSZ) said it welcomed the project though it was not officially taking part in it.
The national team has started to recover slowly since coach Peter Varhidi took charge last year, partly because the trainer bravely uses young players, mainly based abroad, a tactic which has brought back the interest of supporters. - Reuters