Saturday, April 4

Hungary 's golden squad History today

England played against Hungary at Wembley in 1953 © Hulton Getty Images

When Hungary visited Wembley in 1953 to play a friendly game, some of the English players thought that they would take an easy game. This impression lasted for 45 seconds when the Hungarians scored their first goal in the famous 6-3 win. Hungary, led by the great Ferenc Puskás, confused and dominated England with its technique, teamwork and innovative tactics. Half a year later, Hungary defeated England 7-1 in Budapest, confirming that the first drubbing was no accident.

The Aranycsapat – Golden Squad – won the 1952 Olympic Games, remained undefeated for four years and narrowly lost the 1954 World Cup final. It was the culmination of the great age of Hungarian football, which dates back to the interwar period. In his new book, Jonathan Wilson argues that many of the ideas that shape football today – in all major football nations – were developed in the 1920s by a generation of brilliant, but little-known, Hungarian coaches across Europe and America as well as in the all over the world "taught the world how to play".

Wilson digs up their stories, but this isn't just a football book: the background of war, the Holocaust, and political oppression is great. Many of the best Hungarian coaches and players of the era were Jews. The vibrant Budapest coffee house culture at the beginning of the 20th century often made cerebral and revolutionary football theory possible, but the Hungarian game was also cultivated at the rough level of Budapest in principlefree plots of land due to the rapid expansion of the city, in which a generation of Hungarian children demonstrated virtuosic skills and teamwork.

Hungarian football was also triggered by a class difference at the time, which was expressed in the rivalry between the working class Ferencváros and the middle class MTK, in which the English coach Jimmy Hogan – blessed with great players – for the first time a radical, technology-based football culture introduced. Passing and speed of thought.

In precise prose, Wilson deepens and extends strands and figures from several of his previous books. He argues that the ideas that Izidor & # 39; Dori & # 39; Kürschner instilled in the 1930s, sparked a revolution that led Brazil to win the World Cup in 1958, Great Secrets of World Football ”- whose innovations in tactics and training methods have shaped the games in Argentina and Uruguay. The restless and angry Béla Guttmann, who signed for MTK in 1921, became perhaps the most respected and successful Hungarian coach ever. Football in Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the USA and the former Yugoslav countries is largely thanks to Hungarian coaches. The Hungarian influence on Italian football was particularly strong: 60 Hungarians coached in Italy between 1920 and 1945. At Turin, Ernő Erbstein forged one of the greatest Italian teams of all time and introduced a proto version of "total football".

But when war and the horror of genocide set in, many Jewish Hungarian coaches and players fell victim to the Nazis. Some of the most frightening passages in the book tell of desperate attempts to survive the extermination camps by playing soccer at the whims of the guards. Some survived the war before being subsequently involved in the Soviet repression.

While acknowledging his guilt towards various other writers and researchers, Wilson collects an astonishing amount of detail to explain his arguments. There are moments when the narrative stalls and dries up, but it will soon pick up speed again. Measuring influence is sometimes difficult, but this is an important book that closes the blatant gaps in football history.

Wilson argues that Hungary has forgotten many of its heroes, but the contemporary resonance of these exceptional coaches doesn't just lie in the debt of modern football. Their stories are also an implicit reprimand against the ahistorical, booric and racist nativism emerging in Hungary and elsewhere, which often uses football as a political tool.

With the brutal Soviet suppression of the 1956 uprising, the golden age of Hungarian football came to an end. But, Wilson argues, the influence continues to live on:

And in a precise pass or moment of improvisation, maybe when the game is most engaging, we still hear some tension in the old Budapest, the game of The coffee houses and the reason, the most beautiful and tragic football culture.

The names heard a long time ago: How the golden age of Hungarian football shaped modern game
Jonathan Wilson
400pp £ 18.99

Patrick Keddie is the author of The passion: football and the history of modern Turkey (I. B. Tauris, 2018).

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