Danube Institute
Batthyány Lajos Alapítvány
www.budapost.eu
Polgári Magyarországért Alapítvány
Friends of Hungary Foundation

Subscription

Hungarian Review annual subscriptions for six issues, including postage (choose one):

 
 
 

 

23 July 2012

Gold Medal Glory Days

Hungary's Football Team at the Olympics Between 1952 and 1972

I really thought our name was on the winners’ medals.

Everyone said we threw it all away in 1972,

but I told them, it wasn’t a failure,

you never know when we will go so far again.”

(Rudolf Illovszky, Hungarian football coach)

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

At half-time in the Olympic football final in Munich 40 years ago, Hungary were 1-0 up against Poland and 45 minutes from their third gold medal in a row. A double strike in the second half from Polish legend Kazimierz Deyna denied Hungary the hat-trick of golds in 1972, but the silver medal added to a remarkable and to this day unmatched haul of Olympic medals in football history.

Between 1952 and 1972, Hungary were by a distance the number one Olympic football nation. They chalked up wins at the Games in Helsinki (1952), Tokyo (1964), and Mexico City (1968), as well as a silver in Munich (1972) and a bronze in Rome (1960). It is a record that places Hungary at the top of the medal stable in the sport, yet few people are familiar with the story. The reason lies in the tournament’s status as poor relation to the World Cup. In almost all other Olympic sports, a gold medal represents the pinnacle of achievement in that sport. Not so with football, in which increasing professionalism between the wars resulted in a growing gap in quality between the Olympic tournament, nominally for amateurs, and the World Cup for pros which was launched in 1930.1

It was a set-up which after the Second World War loaded the odds in favour of the Eastern European nations whose “amateur” players were in reality full-time elite footballers, albeit with state-sponsored “jobs”, such as Ferenc Puskásposition as Major in the Hungarian Army. In the eight Olympic Games between 1952 and 1980, all the football golds and 20 of the total of 24 medals on offer were wonby teams from the Communist bloc. It was at the first of those Olympics that the greatest of the Eastern European sides would announce its arrival on the world stage: Hungary’s Aranycsapat (Golden Team).

1 Since a 1984 change in regulations, teams competing in the Olympic football tournament can field professionals as long as all but three of the players are under 23 years old.

 

I really thought our name was on the winners’ medals.
Everyone said we threw it all away in 1972,
but I told them, it wasn’t a failure,
you never know when we will go so far again.”
(Rudolf Illovszky, Hungarian football coach)

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

At half-time in the Olympic football final in Munich 40 years ago, Hungary were 1-0 up against Poland and 45 minutes from their third gold medal in a row. A double strike in the second half from Polish legend Kazimierz Deyna denied Hungary the hat-trick of golds in 1972, but the silver medal added to a remarkable and to this day unmatched haul of Olympic medals in football history.

Between 1952 and 1972, Hungary were by a distance the number one Olympic football nation. They chalked up wins at the Games in Helsinki (1952), Tokyo (1964), and Mexico City (1968), as well as a silver in Munich (1972) and a bronze in Rome (1960). It is a record that places Hungary at the top of the medal stable in the sport, yet few people are familiar with the story. The reason lies in the tournament’s status as poor relation to the World Cup. In almost all other Olympic sports, a gold medal represents the pinnacle of achievement in that sport. Not so with football, in which increasing professionalism between the wars resulted in a growing gap in quality between the Olympic tournament, nominally for amateurs, and the World Cup for pros which was launched in 1930.1

It was a set-up which after the Second World War loaded the odds in favour of the Eastern European nations whose “amateur” players were in reality full-time elite footballers, albeit with state-sponsored “jobs”, such as Ferenc Puskásposition as Major in the Hungarian Army. In the eight Olympic Games between 1952 and 1980, all the football golds and 20 of the total of 24 medals on offer were wonby teams from the Communist bloc. It was at the first of those Olympics that the greatest of the Eastern European sides would announce its arrival on the world stage: Hungary’s Aranycsapat (Golden Team).


1952 (HELSINKI)

The Aranycsapat actually began its four-year winning streak two years before Helsinki in 1950, but due to its absence from the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, the team was relatively unknown going into the Olympic tournament.

The Soviet Union decided not to send a team to Brazil and the other members of the new Bloc followed suit, including Czechoslovakia and Hungary, runners up at the World Cups in 1934 and 1938. The MLSZ (Hungarian Football Federation) also argued that according to the regulations top players would miss out on the Olympics if they played at the World Cup.

The post-war economics of austerity across Europe as well as the distance to Brazil were undoubtedly factors as well, although Jenő Buzánszky, the right-back in the Aranycsapat, adds another reason for the absence of Hungary and the other Socialist countries. “The authorities simply didn’t trust the players”, he says. “They were afraid that they wouldn’t come back.”

Between the end of the war and the completion of the Communist takeover in 1949, dozens of top-class footballers including László Kubala, Gyula Zsengellér, and István Nyers decided to get out of Hungary while they could. In the run-up to the Helsinki Olympics, Péter Gábor, the head of the ÁVH (State Security Authority) at the time, objected on state security grounds , albeit in vain, to 323 of 342 of the names on the travelling list. Throughout his career in the Aranycsapat, Buzánszky remembers the presence of the ÁVH on foreign trips. “We could spot them by the make of shoes they wore. If any of the athletes were seen talking to the same foreigner more than once it caused suspicion.”

Despite the post-war haemorrhage of talent, Hungary still possessed an incredible pool of players. Buzánszky remembers watching a national team practice match organized by the coach Gusztáv Sebes at his home club Bányász in Dorog in March 1949. “Sebes put out two teams of similarly high-quality. The management had a real dilemma who to pick. Great players like Ferenc Szusza, Ferenc Deák, and Ferenc Rudas played alongside the names that would soon become world-famous, Puskás, Hidegkuti, Kocsis and the others.”

How Hungary would have fared if they had sent a team to the 1950 World Cup is one of the many imponderables that litter the country’s football history. From a defeat to Austria in May 1950 to the 1954 World Cup Final in Berne, Hungary would remain unbeaten. Buzánszky, who was called up by Sebes to the Aranycsapat in November 1950, insists that at the time there were no hard feelings among the players about missing out on Brazil.

We didn’t really know what we were missing. The matches weren’t on the radio, and the reports only got a few sentences in the newspaper. Knowledge of the outside world didn’t reach further than Hegyeshalom. At that time, the Olympics were the only thing we were focused on.”

Helsinki would be the Aranycsapat’s coming-out occasion. Many of the team’s matches before then had been friendlies on foreign tours or games with other Eastern European sides. “Before the Olympics, the West didn’t know much about us, just as we didnt know much about them”, Buzánszky says.

Their toughest game in the whole tournament turned out to be their preliminary round 2-1 victory against a Romanian side of which more than half were ethnic Hungarians. Their captain József Perényi-Pecsovszky, known as the Szôke Csoda (Blond Wonder), won the Hungarian championship in 1944 with Nagyváradi Atlétikai Club (NAC),2 and also played for Hungary three times between 1943 and 1944.

He didn’t stop shouting to his teammates for the whole match, sometimes in Romanian, sometimes in Hungarian”, Buzánszky recalls. “After four years in the Hungarian league, they knew our football, so it was difficult to beat them”.

Hungary then eased past Italy 3-0 and thumped first Turkey 7-1, and then reigning champions Sweden 6-0. Against Sweden, Hidegkuti scored after 25seconds, a foreshadow of his goal after 45 seconds against England in the 6-3 “Match of the Century” the following year in Wembley. After that game, his teammates teased him asking why he had taken so long to score.

Vittorio Pozzo, coach of the Italian World Cup winning teams of 1934 and 1938 as well as the Olympic team in Helsinki said of Hungary that “I could quite happily watch that team play for the rest of my days”. Respected German football magazine Kicker called Hungary “undoubtedly the best post-war team”.With 16 goals in 3 games and an awestruck world’s press, the Aranycsapat had arrived.

In his biography, Buzánszky describes the secret of their success. “Sebess genius was that he methodically put together the perfectly functioning whole. He found for everyone their set of tasks which would get the best out of them as a part of the whole. Without a doubt, Bozsik, Hidegkuti and Puskás were the brains trust. Something like a computer worked inside each of them. They knew instantly what to do even in the most complicated situations. Without the rest of us though, nothing would have come together. We made this incomparable machine together.”

Waiting in the final wereYugoslavia, a formidable team including players such as Branko Zebec, Zlatko Čajkovski, and the goalkeeper Vladimir Beara, and Hungary’s biggest rivals at the time, certainly in the Eastern Bloc. The Yugoslavs almost came unstuck themselves in the first round though, barely squeezing past the Soviet Union in a torrid match which went to a replay, the result going unreported in the Soviet press until after Stalin’s death the following year.

The final had its own political spice. In the early 1950s a series of skirmishes between border guards on the Hungarian–Yugoslav frontier had led to escalating tension between the two countries and even troop movements on both sides to the border. Mátyás Rákosi3 was loath to lose the Olympic final to the team of Tito, portrayed in Hungarian Communist cartoons as the “imperialists’ dog on a chain”. Shortly before the game Rákosi put a call through to Sebes in the Olympic stadium telling him to remind the players of the glory they should bring to Hungary.

The game was predictably tense. Puskás missed his first ever penalty for the team just before half-time. The deadlock was broken only in the 70th minute, when Puskás made amends for his earlier miss. Two minutes before the end Zoltán Czibor received the ball out on the left wing. Buzánszky remembers teammates screaming at Czibor to kick the ball out of play to run down time. “Instead, he cut back inside and hammered the ball home. Jogging back to the centre-circle for the restart to cheers of ’Unkari, Unkari’ (Hungary in Finnish) from the stands, he told us: ‘That’s the best way to run down time’”.

The footballers won Hungary’s 15th gold medal in Helsinki, and the next day the players went to see László Papp win the first of his three boxing gold medals and the country’s 16th gold. The haul of 42 medals in total, (16 golds, 10 silvers, and 16 bronzes) remains Hungary’s largest ever and produced a third-placed finish in the medals table behind the US and the Soviet Union, a feat which equalled their similarly remarkable performance in 1938.

Helsinki was both the debut of the Aranycsapat on the world stage and its high watermark in terms of silverware if not world recognition. That would come later after Stanley Rous of the English Football Association invited Hungary to play England in Wembley on the strength of what he had seen in Helsinki, setting the stage for the team’s ultimate masterpiece on 25 November 1953.

The three years between the 6-3 in Wembley and the next Olympics in Melbourne contain the well-known narrative of how the Aranycsapat rose to the summit of world football only to fumble when planting its flag in the earth. After the dramatic failure in the 1954 World Cup Final in Berne, the team’s performances gradually dipped, and although they would not lose again until February 1956, the Magyars had lost their magic. Sebes was fired soon after, and a few months later when the Revolution broke out, Puskás, Czibor, and Kocsis left the country for good, to play in Real Madrid and Barcelona.

 

1956 (MELBOURNE)

 

When the Melbourne Games began in November 1956, Hungary the defending Olympic champions were a conspicuous absentee. The dust had still not settled from the Soviet invasion and the MLSZ thought it prudent to withdraw their football team. Inevitably, it was the Soviets, with Lev Yashin in goal and the bulk of the team that would win the inaugural European Championships in 1960, who won the title the Hungarians chose not to defend.

The next World Cup in 1958 came too soon for Hungary. The MLSZ poached Lajos Baróti, coach of 1957 league title winners Vasas, to take over the national team. Baróti patched together a team including Aranycsapat veterans Grosics, Hidegkuti  and  Bozsik,  emerging  talents  such  as  Lajos  Tichy,  and  the  best players from his former club Vasas. It would be a miserable tournament for the Hungarians though, knocked out in the group stages by a John Charles-inspired Wales side as ‘56 émigrés in the stands protested against the MLSZ and the regime in the wake of Imre Nagy’s execution the day before the game. Swedish sports newspaper Aftonbladet’s verdict damned the Hungarians as “a pale shadow of their predecessors”.

 

1960 (ROME)

 

Barótis rebuilding continued at pace and by the following year a new team led by the young Ferencváros sensation Flórián Albert had incredibly climbed back to number one in the European rankings after a run of good results. Baróti was able to take a powerful squad of fresh players to the Rome Olympics including Albert, János Göröcs, and Gyula Rákosi, all eligible for the tournament due to not having played in the 1958 World Cup.

The strength of the squad made the defeat at the semi-final stage to Denmark all the more surprising, Pál Várhidi missing a penalty late on to tie the game, although they managed to salvage the bronze medal with a 2-1 win over Italy.

Guided by Baróti, the new generation led by Albert joined the remnants of the 1958 side, Tichy, Sándor Mátrai, and Ferenc Sipos, to make a stirring challenge for the 1962 World Cup in Chile. Again Hungary under achieved when they were thwarted in the quarterfinals by an inspired Czechoslovak goalkeeper, a catastrophic blunder by his Hungarian counterpart and sole remaining survivor from the Aranycsapat, Grosics, which led to the winning Czechoslovak goal, and a notorious Russian referee who disallowed a strike from Tichy which came off the crossbar but appeared, at least in the newsreel of the game, to have crossed the goal line. Even the opponents admitted their good fortune. “The Hungarians were faster and superior technically than their opposition”, said Československi Sport the day after.

Back in Europe, more evidence of the robust health of Hungarian football came thick and fast. The Honvéd side on which Sebes had built his Golden Team had disintegrated in 1956, but a revitalized Ferencváros led by Albert had risen to fill the vacuum, winning domestic titles in 1963 and 1964, and the Fairs Cup in 1965, to this day the only European trophy won by a Hungarian club. In 1964, Gyôr were beaten in the semi-finals of the European Cup by Eusébio’s Benfica, while MTK reached the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final the same year.

 

1964 (TOKYO)

 

With optimism on the rise, and a tilt at the second European Championships looming, the irascible but respected coach Károly Lakat was put in charge of the Olympic team preparing for the Tokyo Games in 1964. The side was effectively a B team as the World Cup players from Chile were ineligible, but it still included the young Vasas star János Farkas, and the Ferencváros wunderkind Zoltán Varga as well as several of the 1963 title-winning Győr side.

As was the custom, the coach had to present his squad to the board of the MLSZ in advance of the trip. Lakat had also picked a promising 20 year-old Újpesti Dózsa striker, Ferenc Bene, but his name was crossed out by board member Rudolf Jeny. “What do you want with this Bene kid”, Jeny asked. “All he does is stand around for 20 minutes, score a goal, and then stand around for another 20 minutes, then he scores another one”. Lakat replied: “Well what do I know, I’m just an uneducated football man, but I’ll be happy with a goal every 20 minutes.”

With that, Lakat took Bene to the Olympics where he ended the tournament as top scorer with 12 goals in all, including six in the opening game against Morocco. The feat so impressed the King of Morocco that he invited Bene and his Újpest teammates to Morocco for an exhibition game the following year.

The Yugoslavs double-marked Bene in the next game restricting him to a single goal but could not prevent him setting up four goals for his teammate TiborCsernai. He would then notch another four against Egypt in the semi-finals before rounding off a stunning tournament with a twelfth in the final against Czechoslovakia.

Bene’s Olympic record haul of 12 in a single tournament still has not been beaten although another Hungarian, Bene’s Újpest teammate Antal Dunai, claims the record for most goals scored in Olympic history, with six in Mexico City and seven in Munich. Dunai was also part of the squad in Tokyo but did not get a gold medal as one of the five squad members who did not get any playing time.

In those days, there were no substitutes and if you didn’t play you didn’t get a medal. No Olympic medal and, to many players’ regret, you don’t get a pension from the Hungarian state when you retire”, explains Dunai.

While he would go on to win two Olympic medals, the other four missed out, including Benô Káposzta, also of Újpest. Káposzta would later be an important member of the team that reached the last eight of the 1966 World Cup in England. On his return from Japan, Bene was immediately drafted into the national team squad who had made it through to the last four of the European Championships in Spain. The team was in upbeat mood by the time he joined.

The shadow of the Aranycsapat was not at all a theme with us, rather the defeat against the Czechoslovaks at the World Cup in Chile”, he would later say in his biography. “It was a truly new team. We went to any stadiums at the time thinking we could get at least a draw, and usually we won.”

In a titanic semi-final struggle with Spain in a heaving Santiago Bernabéu stadium in Madrid, Bene scored Hungary’s equalizer which brought the game to extra- time but then missed two clear chances which could have won the tie.

Third place was a failure”, Bene said, “I still think of those missed chances in Madrid.” Hungary began the 1966 World Cup as one of the dark horses to go far in the tournament but were promoted to potential winners after demolishing reigning champions Brazil 3-1 in the group stage. It was one of the great games in World Cup history, including a supreme display of playmaking from Albert in the middle, thrilling goals from Bene and János Farkas, and a penalty from Vasas’s Szőke Szikla (Blond Rock) Kálmán Mészöly.

For the second consecutive World Cup though, they were felled by a lesser- talented team in the quarter-finals. This time it was the Soviets, who neutralized Albert and ruthlessly punished two calamitous defensive errors. A goal from Bene came too late to save the game. The match report in the Times the day after lamented: “The best team in the tournament has just been knocked out”. After a meteoric rise to fame, Bene, one of the stars of the World Cup, would not get the chance to play in another major tournament.


1968 (MEXICO CITY)

 

Disappointed as the nation was after England, Hungary were undoubtedly sat at the top table of European football. Albert won European Footballer of the Year in 1967, and Ferencváros again reached the Fairs Cup Final in 1968, this time losing though to Leeds United after the English side took a one goal lead to the return leg in the Népstadion and doggedly held out against waves of Hungarian attacks.

On their way to that final, Ferencváros came up against Liverpool in January 1968 in Liverpool’s Anfield stadium. The Reds were so technically and tactically outclassed on that snowy night that the Kop terrace applauded Ferencváros off the field at the end. One young player in particular had stood out, the slender fair-haired 23 year-old Zoltán Varga. It was hailed as one of the greatest displays from an away side and an individual that the Kop had ever seen.

A few months after bewitching Anfield, Varga travelled with the Olympic squad to their base in Guadalajara to prepare for the Games in Mexico and a bid at successive gold medals. Varga had played a supporting role behind Flórián Albert in Ferencvárosemergence in the 1960s as Hungary’s top club. He also picked up a gold medal in Tokyo, and had 12 international caps to his name before the Olympics. For once out of the long shadow of the masterful Flórián Albert, the apprentice Varga was expected to anchor the team to a victory it was also hoped would build confidence for the approaching qualification stage for the 1970 World Cup.

It was not to be. During an afternoon of sightseeing with the team in Guadalajara, Varga cried off complaining of stomach cramps. When he failed to come down for dinner at the hotel, the coach Lakat sent one of the team up to knock on Varga’s door. The room was empty, the suitcase gone. Varga telephoned later that evening from New York saying that his wife was pregnant and waiting for him in Germany. Varga had defected (disszidált), and Hungarian football had lost its brightest young star and the natural heir to Flórián Albert.

He told no one about his plans”, Antal Dunai recalls. “Varga was a wonderful footballer but also a difficult and withdrawn character. We were shocked and felt that he had let us down just before the tournament was about to begin. While we understood in a way, we were all conditioned by the system to demonize dissidents”.

Lajos Kű, another footballer who defected, remembers the reaction of the head of the MLSZ at the time when Kű hinted he was thinking of seeking a contract abroad: “You’ll never play in Hungary again; you will be wiped from the map of Hungarian football.” The 27-year old Ferencváros midfielder and member of the 1972 Olympic squad had been capped 12 times when he decided to leave Hungary in 1975 to sign for Club Brugge in Belgium with whom he played in the 1978 European Cup Final. The Hungarian sports press had reported before that final in Wembley that Kű had been arrested for brawling and was sitting in a Belgian prison. When Magyar Televízió broadcast the game, won by Liverpool thanks to a Kenny Dalglish strike, the commentator referred to Kű not by name, but as “the Brugge winger”.

Lots of us thought about leaving”, Dunai says. “But if you left, there was a big price to pay. You’d probably be banned for at least a couple of years, and most or all of your family would still be stuck back in Hungary. It wasn’t an easy decision to make”.

In the wake of Varga’s exit from Mexico, the shell-shocked squad decided to regroup and pull together. For once luck was on Hungary’s side. Surprise packets Japan and Bulgaria knocked out the big guns Spain, France and Mexico, before Hungary easily dispatched the Japanese in the semi-final. In the final against Bulgaria, Hungary went a goal down before Iván Menczel and Dunai clawed them back in front by half-time. After a ruckus following Dunai’s goal, Bulgaria had three men sent off and folded in the second half. Dunai again and István Juhász made it 4-1 to seal the gold medal.

In the end, things did not work out for Varga. From New York, he travelled on to Liège where an agent had promised him a contract with the local side Standard. The Belgians reneged on their promise though when the MLSZ put pressure on UEFA to impose the heaviest possible ban. Varga would eventually restart his career only two years later with the German side Hertha Berlin. In 1972, he was implicated in a match-fixing scandal, banned for two years in Germany, and left to take up a succession of short-term contracts with clubs around Europe before retiring in 1977. “Varga had so much more in him”, Dunai says. “It was a waste of talent.”

According to Dunai, football agents, many of them Hungarians who left the country in 1956, were always in the background, approaching players before or after games abroad. “They would tell us to stay out and that we’d get good deals. Of course it was business for them too. We would have stayed but you needed a permit from the authorities which you had no chance of getting.”

The closest Dunai came to leaving was when Barcelona came calling. Silver Boot winner in 1968 for scoring the second highest number of goals that year in Europe and Bronze Boot winner in 1969, he was approached the following year by Barcelona legend László Kubala, the Hungarian émigré who left in 1948 to become one of the Catalan club’s greatest heroes. After a summer exhibition game Újpest played in Spain, Kubala, at that time coach of the Spanish national side but always on the lookout for goal scorers, promised three year contracts with his beloved Barca for both Dunai and Bene. Both said no.

Looking back now at the age of 70, I regret that I didn’t go”, Dunai says. “You only get one shot in life to use whatever talent you’re given. That was it, no one asked me again.”

 

1972 (MUNICH)

 

Qualification chores for the Mexico World Cup in 1970 had been complicated by an unnecessary switch of coach midway through the campaign. The new boss Károly Sós had successfully managed the East German national team for seven years but back in Budapest, he was a stranger who struggled to remember the names of his players and had a habit of making damaging substitutions.

Then, four days after Bene and Dunai’s Újpest lost to Newcastle in the first leg of the 1969 Fairs Cup Final – Újpest by then had taken over from Ferencváros as the backbone of the national side – a lethargic Hungary went down to Denmark in a shock qualifier defeat. More worrying still, were two serious injuries in the game suffered by Albert and Dunai.

Without two of their talismans and hampered by an inept manager, the team continued to squander their lead in the qualifying group. 3-1 up at half-time away to Czechoslovakia, the home side, roared on by a hostile Prague crowd firing missiles at the Hungarians in fury at Hungary’s involvement in the recent Warsaw Pact invasion, pulled two goals back for the draw.

All would be settled in a fateful play-off against Czechoslovakia in neutral Marseille that December. Shortly before the game, one of the MLSZ officials had to be taken to hospital with food poisoning delaying the team’s departure from the hotel. Then the team bus got caught up first in horrendous rush-hour traffic, then in a traffic accident. The players were forced to change on the bus and made it to the pitch just before kick-off. It was no contest. “The Czechoslovaks are coming”, was the anguished refrain of the radio commentator György Szepesi throughout the game as Hungary slumped to a 4-1 defeat to miss out on the World Cup Finals for the first time since 1950.

Marseille took its place that night in the hall of infamous place names in Hungarian football history alongside Berne (1954) and later Irapuato (1986). Several of the 1960s stars promptly called it a day including Mészöly and Göröcs who turned to each other in the dressing room after the game and said: “That’s it, our time is up.” Back home, a stunned public boycotted the next round of domestic club fixtures in sullen protest at the calamity. As the new decade dawned, instead of looking forward to a team at the peak of its powers challenging for the World Cup, the future for Hungarian football began to look bleak.

There would be one last hurrah. Back in as coach came Rudolf Illovszky, the manager swapped by the MLSZ for Károly Sós in 1968. Before the ill-fated arrival of Sós that year, Illovszky had guided Hungary to the brink of the last four of the European Championships and the top of their World Cup qualifying group. Almost as if the Sós era had not happened, four years later Illovszky took up where he had left off and steered Hungary this time all the way to the 1972 European Championships semi-final.

Facing the old enemy the Soviets, Hungary laid siege to their opponent’s goal, but could not score. Bene, Kû, and Miklós Páncsics all missed clear chances before the Soviets scored against the run of play from a speculative shot that was deflected past the goalkeeper István Géczi.

With five minutes to go, Hungary were awarded a penalty. Dunai, who was watching from the subs bench that day, winces at the memory. “Sándor Zámbó had been scoring a few penalties in training and stepped up to take it. He thought if he kept his back to the goalkeeper, he would hide his intentions of where he’d place it. But when he turned, there was no power in his kick and he  chipped the ball into the keeper’s hands.” There was little time for recrimination as Illovszky soon joined coaching veteran Lakat and the team for the Munich Olympics later that summer.

It was a Games that were overshadowed by extreme violence. Dunai, at his third consecutive Olympics, recalls watching the German commandoes attack the Palestinian “Black September” terrorists who had stormed the Israeli quarters of the Olympic village. “We all peered over the edge of our balconies for hours, not really knowing what was going on, but hoping they weren’t going to cancel the tournament”.

After the bloody end of the hostage drama, the Olympics were suspended but just for one day, by which time Hungary had come through six games to reach the final against a Poland side that had never reached a major final before. Hungary’s last defeat in the Olympics was way back in 1960 to Denmark in the semi-finals. Since then they had won 16 games and drawn two and were on the brink of a record three-in-a-row. Before 80,000 spectators in the Olympic Stadium, Hungary took a first-half lead through Béla Váradi but were eventually overcome 2-1. Poland, who included the outstanding Kazimierz Deyna, Grzegorz Lato, Robert Gadocha, and Włodek Lubański in their ranks, would soon after take effectively the same team to the 1974 World Cup where they finished third behind Beckenbauer’s Germany and Cruyff’s Holland.

At the time, the Hungarian public considered the fourth place in the European Championships and the Olympic silver medal as disappointing failures. The press questioned the wisdom of Illovszky’s decision, against Lakat’s wishes to leave out Ferenc Bene, by then one of the older players in the squad. “I really thought our name was on the winners’ medals”, Illovszky said in a TV interview over three decades later. “Everyone said we threw it all away in 1972, but I told them, it wasn’t a failure, you never know when we will go so far again.” In the 40 years since, Hungary have failed to reach 10 European Championships finals in a row, and their sole Olympic finals tournament appearance in 1996 ended in elimination in the first round.

Despite his Olympic medals, Olympic goals record, and European Silver and Bronze Boot awards, Antal Dunai never did get to play in a World Cup, or indeed play club football abroad. “The Olympics were always wonderful experiences though”, he insists. “There was always the feeling of the whole world’s athletes coming together in a spirit of peace and friendship. It makes me proud that Hungary has this incredible Olympic record in football and that I was part of it, with the medals at home to prove it.”

 

 

NOTES:

1 Since a 1984 change in regulations, teams competing in the Olympic football tournament can field professionals as long as all but three of the players are under 23 years old.

2 Following the Second Vienna Award and return of Northern Transylvania to Hungary in 1940, NAC, from Oradea (Nagyvárad), played in the Hungarian championship until 1945.

3 The Stalinist dictator of Hungary until 1956 and Prime Minister until 1953.




You have to log in or registrate for writing comments.



HUNGARIAN REVIEW is published by BL Nonprofit Kft.
It is an affiliate of the bi-monthly journal Magyar Szemle, published since 1991
Publisher: Gyula Kodolányi
Editor-in-Chief: Gyula Kodolányi
Editorial Manager: Ildikó Geiger
Editorial office: Budapest, 1067, Eötvös u. 24., HUNGARY
E-mail: hungarianreview[at]hungarianreview[dot]com
Online edition: www.hungarianreview.com

Genereal terms and conditions