Please don’t look at this forthcoming series of blog posts and just think “I don’t like football” and then go on your merry way. All of these blog posts are about much more than football. In particular they concern the eternal battle between sporting genius and cream cakes. Go on, give it a go….
There is one football match that I wish I had seen. It took place just a few months after I was born. It was England v Hungary, played on a cold, dull, misty afternoon on November 25th 1953 at Wembley Stadium in London. This game would later be called the “Game of the Century”:
Kick off was at 2.15 pm because there were no floodlights. Hungary were the greatest team the world had ever known. They were Olympic champions and were undefeated since 1950. In fact, they would go on to register 42 victories, 7 draws and just one defeat, which came in the World Cup Final against West Germany in 1954. Between that World Cup Final and February 1956, the “Mighty Magyars” played 19 more games, with 16 victories, 3 draws and no defeats.
A final record then of played 72, won 61, drew 10 and one defeat. The Hungarian Uprising against their Soviet guests and protectors brought the team to an end in 1956.
The Hungarians played the revolutionary 4-2-4 system, and their team that grey misty day was Grosics, Buzansky, Lantos, Lorant, Zakarias, Bozsik, Budai, Czibor, Puskás, Hidegkuti, and Kocsis.
In England they became known as the “Mighty Magyars” and elsewhere as “The Golden Team”. In Hungary they were the Aranycsapat.
Ferenc Puskás, nicknamed by the Hungarians “Öcsi” and by the English ‘the Galloping Major’, was their star player and he would go on to finish with 83 goals in 84 internationals and 514 goals in 529 matches.
Puskás became an Olympic champion in 1952 and he would eventually finish his career with an Olympic Gold Medal from 1952, a runners-up medal in the World Cup in 1954, where he was named the tournament’s best player, three European Cups, (1959, 1960, 1966), 5 Hungarian championships and 5 Spanish championships with Real Madrid, as well as 8 top individual scoring honours.
Puskás, however, was a martyr to Hungarian cream cakes, and always looked a little on the chubby side.
Legend has it that before the two teams kicked off in the “Match of the Century”, one of the England players, none of whom had ever heard of Puskás, said to Stanley Mortenson, “Look at that fat bloke, Stan, he won’t give us any trouble.”
He was wrong. Hungary won 6-3 to inflict England’s first ever defeat on home soil. Puskás scored one of the sport’s legendary goals, avoiding the carthorse tackle of Billy Wright by dragging the ball back with the sole of his boot before tucking it into the roof of the net.
And English coaches realised that as far as the continentals were concerned, it was as if Hungary were from another planet. Indeed, if you watch the match on a DVD you will see that in the first half Puskás scores a goal which the Dutch referee disallows for offside. In actual fact, it is onside by about two yards so the result might have well have been 7-3. That would have spoilt things for Hungarian speakers, because 6-3 in Hungarian is “Hat harom” and the phrase has now passed into the Hungarian language. Just google “Hat harom” and see how many things turn up…unfortunately all in Hungarian:
One of the best journalists to write about the match was Geoffrey Green of The Times . He famously described England as “strangers in a strange world.” His description of one of Puskás’ goals has passed into legend. It is, in fact, the goal that I described above:
“Centre half Billy Wright rushed across to tackle him, but Puskás pulled the ball out of his path as the defender barged past like a fire engine going to the wrong fire”.
The following year, 1954, foolish England went to Budapest to see if they could repeat Hungary’s shock victory. In fact, they lost by 7-1, still now their biggest defeat. Puskás only scored two. “They were such a wonderful side” said Sir Tom Finney who played in the match.
Let’s finish by torturing myself. Here’s the ticket to the game I bought 60 years too late. Alas, the old Wembley has now been demolished and you would struggle to find the South Terrace seating, let alone Row 3 Seat 41. But that doesn’t stop this ticket being the best 10/6 you could have spent in the history of sport:
One final point I would like to make is that I had a minor operation on my hand recently and for that reason I will not be able to reply to any of your comments in the immediate future. If you do want to make a comment, by all means please do so, but I will not be able to write any replies until after December 6th as a minimum. After this date, with luck, I should be back in business.