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.
16 responses to “Look at that fat bloke, Stan (1)”
In the middle of his goal fest Hungary lost a game against Czechoslovakia and Puskas was suspended for life by the National Football Association, for “laziness on the pitch”. How dumb. He was pardoned just a couple of months later.
A bit of a shame that he didn’t get one more goal for a 100% record and at 98.8% I suppose that is very similar to Don Bradman,who retired with an international batting average of 99.94%. Now that, it seems to me, is just about as close to perfection as it is possible to get.
I saw this statue of Puskas when I visited Budapest…
An interesting statue I thought, a footballer playing kick about in his suit and tie!
I hope the hand is getting better!
Thanks very much for your good wishes but even more for the photo. I absolutely love it! As regards Don Bradman, I have never been able to work out why they didn’t just bowl him an easy ball and let him have his 100% average. Eric Hollies couldn’t manage to do this and now he is remembered as very much the villain of the piece.
My dad always told me that he had tears in his eyes because of the standing ovation and reception that he got on walking to the wicket and on account of that he couldn’t see the ball properly!
A handful of world famous names whose talent and skills outshone the ridiculous salaries of today. But I won’t start on that one!
Whatever you might say about today’s footballers, I am totally in agreement with you. I would just like to see the present day Arsenal side playing the Leeds United of the Don Revie era or even the Arsenal of the early 1970s. On a field made of mud, and not the snooker table they apparently need to perform on nowadays.
Me too! Today’s game is a different world.
Dear Sir, I love reading your posts. Hope your hand gets better soon. Regards, Lakshmi Bhat
Thank you very much, Lakshmi. I like your posts a lot as well. Germany must be a very different country to India, but the people are all very friendly and polite, even if the weather is a bit cold from time to time.
Great article, John. I have seen highlights of the match and they were men against boys. The world’s first total football. On a sour note though, the Hungarians were robbed in the world cup final. Puskas equalised late on. The goal was initially given then the British referee disallowed it unfairly. The team were threatened with repercussions when they returned to Hungary and the goalie was actually arrested. A large crowd of hundreds of thousands protested against the result, but in reality were protesting against the harsh communist regime. Didn’t Puskas also play for Spain after taking Spanish citizenship after leaving Hungary in 1956?
Thank you Simon. You are quite right that the Puskas goal was onside and quite valid. I have slowed it down over and over again and while the angle is not ideal, I don’t see how he could have failed to be onside. I have the sickening feeling that one day we will find out that the referee and linesmen were all told by the CIA that “no goddam bunch of commies are going to win the World Cup”.
Puskas did go on to play for Spain, perhaps four or five caps, but I think we all know where his heart was. In a cream cake shop in Budapest.
Fantastic story from a time sport was still sport. Sports science and big money has driven out the cream cakes and heroes.
I haven’t watched the Olympics for more than 10 years for all the reasons that you have listed. And I have a fear that the Paralympics will start going the same way sooner rather than later.
I was saying to Julia a couple of weeks ago that I’m already getting a bit fed up with the increased profile of the paralympics.
How’s your hand now?
Thanks for asking. The stitches are out and I can use it but not for anything heavy. The palm aches occasionally but it is winter here at the moment. Last night it was supposedly minus 10 or 15 even though that is exceptional by British standards. I have a final check up on January 22nd. And then, on to the left hand!
By the way, your most recent review will probably attract at least one spectator to the film. My daughter loves this kind of film! I don’t suppose you get a bonus for every person you bring in?
If only, I do this work out of love. 🙂 I’m glad you liked the Top 5 and hope your daughter enjoys the movie. I’m hoping to do more work for Heavy soon. Hot and humid here in Australia but not as bad as it gets. You’re probably freezing and all I can think is I wish was there. Haha. Hope its good news on the 22nd and glad to hear its coming along.