Posted: 11/19/2006


  One of my boyhood heroes died on Friday in Budapest,aged 79 years old, after a long illness. Ferenc Puskas, "the Galloping Major".  Born in 1927 he started with Kispest AC which was taken over by the Hungarian Army as Honved. All the players were given army ranks, he a major. Honved provided most of the national team, which went undefeated for 3 years, winning the Helsinki Olympic final in 1952 with a 2-0 victory over Yugoslavia. However it was the 6-3 upset at Wembley Stadium of England on November 25th 1953 that brought them world acclaim. 

   The game was played on a Wednesday afternoon, before the advent of floodlights. I listened to the match on a radio during a school physics lesson and got a copy of the match programme.  The crowd of 100,000 were amazed as the ' Magic Magyars', came out for a 15 minute pre match warm-up, with Puskas juggling the ball continuously, never seen before in the country that had never lost at home to a foreign team in over 75 years of history. England teams never considered warming up. The two teams marched onto the field, England in long, baggy uniforms and heavy boots, while the visitors wore cherry red lightweight shirts and soccer shoes like slippers. "They're wearing the wrong kit"  laughed captain Billy Wright to Stan Mortenson. After 45 seconds Hungary were 1-0 ahead.  Hungary's 3rd by Puskas was a fake on Wright, a draw back with the sole of his foot and then a flick with his left into the net past goalie Gil Merrick. 

    Writer Geoffrey Green of "the Times" stated that "Wright was like a fireman chasing after the wrong fire". So called striker Nandor Hidegkuti was lying deep. Centre half Harry Johnston was totally confused,  given the job of marking the roving Hidegkuti . "What shall I do Billy, shall I go-or shall I stay?" To show it was no fluke, the Hungarians won 7-1 in the return match the following summer in Budapest's NEPSTADION (Peoples Stadium). I also have that programme  Puskas scored 83 goals for Hungary in 84 matches, and 357 goals in 354 matches for Honved.

  At the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, Hungary beat West Germany 8-3 in the opening round where Puskas was injured. He missed the quarter and semis but came back in the final at the Wankdorf Stadium in Bern against the same opponents. He scored after 4 minutes and Hungary led 2-0 but the Germans fought back to a 3-2 victory, The Miracle of Bern.  In 1956 they lost 2-3 in the first leg of a European Cup match at Athletic Bilbao, just before Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest to crush the Uprising. The second leg was played in Brussels, Belgium and a 3-3 tie.  With the border sealed the team voted to go on a World Tour to Italy, Spain, Portugal and Brazil. The team then split up with some players returning home and Puskas going into hiding for months. He finally resurfaced in Spain and at 31 signed for Real Madrid for the next 11 seasons for Los Merengues, playing in 3 European Cup Final victories.

    Considered The Greatest Game of All Time, the 1960 European Cup Final at Hampden Park, Glasgow was witnessed by 135,000 fans. Real beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 with Di Stefano scoring 3 and Puskas 4.  In losing a European final 3-5 against Benfica three years later he scored a hat trick. In his first league season for Real he scored 4 hat tricks, and 9 goals in 2 league matches vs Elche. 512 goals in 528 matches for Real Madrid, following 357 goals in 354 matches for Honved. After gaining Spanish citizenship Puskas played 4 times for Spain at the 1962 World Cup in Chile, but didn't score. I watched him play many times on T.V. and on my first ever visit to Budapest a dozen years ago with friends, he arranged accommodation for us at the Hungarian Army Officers Club. I also got a signed photograph, although he spelt my name wrong.

After retiring as a player in 1966 he coached all over the world : Deportivo Alaves, San Francisco Golden Gate Gales, Vanvouver Royals, Panathiniakos, Real Murcia, AEK Athens, Al-Musry, Club Sol de America, Cerro Porteno, South Melbourne Hellas, and finally the Hungarian national team for one year in 1993. Five years ago the Nepstadion was renamed the Ferenc Puskas Stadium in his honour