As England head off to the next European Championships on top of their table unbeaten and with Wayne Rooney breaking Bobby Charlton’s International goals record it’s looking really healthy for The Three Lions. But as we know when it comes to major competitions England always flatter to deceive and fall short leaving us fans sobbing into our beer as usual. The national press don’t help either in the run up to big competitions as they’ll convince almost everyone that this could be the one for England and by the time it gets going you think to yourself maybe just maybe? And so it was even way back in the 50’s when England were invincible at home and seeing as no overseas team had ever beaten them at Wembley you could probably understand their total belief in the national side. So when they played Hungary in 1953 the papers had it down as a nice and easy win against lesser opposition.
The World Cup was a year away but this was seen as a nice warm up match against Hungary who for some reason were written off by the press even though they were unbeaten in twenty games, which shows just how arrogant they were and even the England players went into the match with the mindset that this was going to be a comfortable ninety minutes.
The Magyars had Ferenc Puskas leading them out onto the Wembley pitch who didn’t have what you could call having a slim athletic build but was of a podgy stature which led to him being called a “fat little chap”. By the end of the game the media and the England players wished they hadn’t ridiculed the Hungarian genius, as he produced one of the best individual performances ever seen at the home of football.
Hungary showed that this wasn’t just a friendly match to them by going one up in the very first minute and by 27 minutes they were 4-1 up and playing the kind of football never witnessed before by the open mouthed spectators at a packed Wembley stadium. The crowd of 105,000 were treated to a master class by the Hungarians who played a puzzling 2-3-3-2 formation and passing the ball in short quick bursts with each player going forward and backwards at speed which confused the England team who were left bewildered by this new type of play. This new formation was the prototype for the later 4-2-4 system copied from the Magyars but tweaked a little here and there.
Although England scored three goals one of which was a penalty converted by future manager and World Cup winner Alf Ramsey, they were totally outplayed by the Magyars who banged in six goals and ran the English defence ragged with their clever football. It ended up as a magnificent show piece and the words Total Football were coined for the first time.
The Hungarians had shown the England team that their style of football was stale and dated and that even though the likes of Stanley Matthews, Billy Wright and Stan Mortenson were gifted footballers, they were individuals, whereas the Magyars were a side who had eleven players playing together with each one knowing what was expected of them. Puskas once said when asked what was so special about that team, was that they all attacked together and defended together and due to the innovative coaching methods they felt fitter and stronger than their opponents.
Six months later and another warm up match took place betwen England and Hungary who were preparing for the 1954 World Cup Finals. They played this time in Hungary and England saw this as a chance to revenge their Wembley hammering. But once again they were put to the sword and suffered a humiliating thrashing as the Magyars showed no mercy winning 7-1.
But going back to the previous game at the Twin Towers, Hungary used a tactic to baffle England and that was to play the dangerous Hidegkuti, the deadly centre-forward, in a deep lying position, confusing the English defence who were used to seeing a centre-forward upfront competing for crosses and corners. This enabled the likes of Puskas and Kocsis to push forward at will as the England centre-half would go and mark Hidegkuti leaving a nice gap open for the Hungarians to weave their Magyar magic. Kocsis although marked down as a defender had a free role in the team and knew where the net was and another thing that England got wrong that day was the myth that foreign players although good on the ball, weren’t good at shooting especially from distance. Hidegkuti put them a goal up in the first minute with a tremendous drive that Merrick the English keeper could only stand and admire as it whistled past him into the net.
But although the Magyars had a team full of star players it was Puskas the “fat little chap” who stood out as he was a goal machine with great ball skills who did Cruyff turns long before the Dutchman. In the 6-3 game he left Billy Wright on his backside as he dragged the ball back from a tight angle as Wright went in to tackle smashing the ball into the roof of the net in the process. Puskas didn’t possess great speed and was poor in the air and was one footed. But what a left foot it was and it was said at the time that when he had the ball at his feet it was as if it was glued to it and coupled with his ball skills he was a nightmare for opponents. His record of 83 goals in 84 games is a truly amazing statistic so no wonder he goes down in history as one of the greatest ever players.
The mighty Magyars were Olympic champions in 1952 and the following year were crowned Central European Champions – a competition that was the forerunner to today’s European Championships. So going into the World Cup in 54 in Switzerland they were named the best international team in the world with the South American sides of Uruguay and Brazil just behind them. And they lived up to that title by getting into the final where they were up against West Germany who were surprising finalists, seeing as they were then not the powerhouse they are now. They had amateur players in that side and in their group match against Hungary they were smashed 8-3, so the Magyars were red hot favourites to lift the trophy.
But just like England were at Wembley in 1953 maybe Hungary were a bit too confident and underestimated the Germans, because even when they went 2-0 up with an early goal from the one and only Puskas they ended up losing 3-2. That resulted in this final becoming known as the ” Miracle of Bern” which it truly was as Germany never gave up and although it was said that some of the decisions given in the game against Hungary were somewhat dubious (like a perfectly good looking goal and a stonewall penalty being turned down) they won the World Cup and became the first side to beat Hungary in 50 matches, ending the Magyars impressive total of won 42 with 7 draws, a then world record at international level.
But all good things come to an end and in 1956 came the Hungarian Revolution and it resulted in political upheaval and infighting which resulted in Puskas moving from his native country to Spain to play for Real Madrid where he became yet another legend. Kocsis went to rivals Barcelona and Hidegkuti eventually went into management in Poland, Italy and Egypt.
So although they never won the World Cup the Magyars will go down as one of the greatest ever national teams. They changed the way football was played and inspired coaches worldwide to copy their style, leaving a lasting legacy. They most definitely were the Mighty Magyars!