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Viszlát Öcsi bácsi, Goodbye "Little Brother"!
On Friday, November 17th, Ferenc Puskás passed away after a long bout with Alzheimer's. One of the all-time greats and a true sportsman, Puskás (as with George Best, who passed away last year) was one of those very few footballers who deserved the tag "legend". For us North Americans, Ferenc was the Babe Ruth of footy. Short, chubby but a brilliant footballing mind.
Puskás, which fittingly means "Rifleman" in Hungarian, was arguably the best pure striker and one of the top footballers of the 1950's, leading a Hungarian national team that was known as the "Magical Magyars" to preeminence as the best country in the World. The Magyars were the Brasil of their era, making the top national sides look pedestrian on their good days (see Wembley thrashing below). Since the bums at the BBC took it upon themselves to remove the last Puskás video-clip from YouTube, here's another: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llu6prrd3d8
For those not familiar with the "Galloping Major," Puskás's was a phoenix like tale. He was a Budapest street urchin who rose to the pinnacle of world soccer against the austere backdrop of an Soviet communist state system before fleeing to the west and starting a second career with one of the world's most glamorous clubs, Real Madrid.
His football fantasy life, interwoven with drinking sprees, rebellions and off-field antics which would make present-day coaches cringe, evokes nostalgia for a golden era when the name of the game was goals galore and caution was left blowing in the wind.
Puskás has a unique place in soccer folklore as the only man to play in what were perhaps the two most famous games in history - Hungary's stunning 6-3 victory over England at Wembley in 1953 and Real Madrid's 7-3 demolition of Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 European Cup final.
Indeed, prior to the kick off of the 1953 Wembley game, one of the England players mocked him and said "Look at that little fat chap. We'll murder this lot". In the long and inglorious annals of great British sporting disasters, few judgments have been wider of the mark.
Just as Diego Maradona was to do some two decades or so later, he used his low centre of gravity to devastating effect, scoring an amazing 83 goals in 84 games for Hungary. The vast majority were with his ferocious left peg. The right, it was always suggested, did little more than guarantee he did not have to hop around the pitch. The ever impish Puskás almost revelled in this, saying: 'If you kick with both feet, you fall on your arse'.
Hungary's then tactically advanced 4-2-4 formation and the brilliance of Puskás, Joszef Bozsik, Nandor Hidegkuti and Sandor Kocsis made the team virtually unbeatable. Olympic champions in 1952, they became the first continental team to vanquish a supposedly invincible England at Wembley, bewildering the sport's inventors with tactical and technical brilliance. Puskás scored two of Hungary's six goals.
England suffered a 7-1 humiliation in Budapest the following year and Hungary were hot favourites to lift the World Cup in Switzerland that summer.
That they did not was always the greatest regret of Puskás's career. Injured in an earlier round 8-3 drubbing of Germany, Puskas returned for the final, again with Germany, and scored as his side took an early 2-0 lead. But luck seemed to desert them as Germany went 3-2 ahead and, after the team had failed to convert numerous chances, a Puskás equaliser in the dying minutes was belatedly ruled out for offside. (read: match fix) 'Of course, it was disappointing for me that we did not win the World Cup,' he said. 'I have nothing against the Germans or my team-mates, who did their best. But maybe a little bit against the referee...'
Following the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian uprising in 1956, he defected to the west and, after serving a FIFA ban, signed for the Real Madrid side led by Alfredo Di Stefano. Most people thought he was fat and finished. He emphatically was not and his second career turned into one of the finest comebacks in sports and earned yet another nickname from adoring Real fans, 'Canoncito Pum', 'the booming cannon'. On the pitch he and Di Stefano came close to a perfect understanding, their zenith coming in the 1960 European Cup final victory over Eintracht when Puskas scored four and Di Stefano three. It was Real's fifth successive European title.
Though Puskás was already 33 then, he went on to score a ridiculous 35 goals in 37 European Cup games for Real, including a hat-trick in the 5-3 defeat to Benfica in the 1962 final and four in one match against Feyenoord in his final season when he was 38. His overall tally of 36 European Cup goals (one for his original club Kispest Honved) was only bettered by Di Stefano and Benfica's Eusebio before the expansion into the Champions League gave modern strikers many more opportunities for scoring.
Ever the gentlemen, Puskás refused to be drawn when asked whether Hungary were better than the Brazil team of 1970 or whether Real were really superior to the Ajax Amsterdam side of Johan Cruyff in the 1970s.
But he left no doubt where his heart lay as he fondly recalled the Hungarian team based around his Honved club side, containing many childhood friends, like Bozsik. 'We were all friends, we just knew each other so well and worked for each other all the time,' he said. A simple love of the game was his genius.
Enclosed is a nice, brief highlight reel: http://www.soccerblog.com/2006/11/video_tribute_to_ferenc_puskas.htm
Puskás's passing symbolizes a dark hour for Hungarian football as the national program is in shambles (see historic Malta loss) and the country's most famous club, Ferencvaros, is on the brink of collapse amid the current social and political unrest. Puskás's burial on the December 9th will be for all intensive purposes, a state funeral. Similar to Best, Puskás was one of the great unifying figures in his country and his final send-off should reflect that fact. Hopefully, Hungary can draw inspiration from Puskás's magic and begin the journey towards revitalizing a proud footballing tradition.
Visontlatasra Öcsi bácsi aka "Little Brother"!
Times obituary: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,27-2458913.html
I get there Saturday expecting no-one with a clue to be able to work the TV like most footy pubs in America - instead I am greeted by the best sight ever. In front of me is Arsenal on big plasma screen - to my left another screen showing Man United live and to my right a big screen showing Chelsea. All live and the best part is - its me and 2 other lads and they are watching Chelsea on a 4th TV at the other end of the bar. It was my own secret evil command center and I even had a nice Aussie bird waiting on me who brought me a lovely Irish breakfast.
So i now have found the place I will die in - they even do a fun trivia night on Mondays so I am delighted - my ITVN box is broke right now so this is a great alternative. If only we hadnt come up against Shay Given on Saturday who was out of this world to hold us to a draw. Everyone needs to move to Silver Spring, Md - footy heaven awaits. The best part is the ABC channel was hosting some Thanksgiving Parade which i had to cross twice to get there on Saturday; I found myself on one side of the street and had to run across the Redskins marching Band to get into McGintys as kickoff had just started and I was late; wasnt goign to wait 15 minutes for them all to pass. Anyone watching ABC in DC Saturday morning would have been treated to a disrespectful wanker running across the marching band to get to the pub. Love it.