Old Gold, ‘Golden Team’ & Ballon d’Or: The Globalisation of Football & The Legendary Career of Flórián Albert, 1953-93.

The ‘Magical Magyars’:

As I was born in June 1957, I have no personal recollection of the Hungarian national ‘Golden Team’ (Aranycsapat) of the early fifties that began a new era of football with their famous 6-3 and 7-1 victories over England, never before beaten at home in the ninety years of the Football Association. Nor was I at Molineux, the home of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Billy Wright’s club team, for the friendly floodlit visits of the ‘Mighty Magyars’ of Honvéd and MTK (‘Red Banner’) of 1954-56. Nevertheless, as soon as I was able to go to matches with my father, I heard all the legends from him and from my uncle and cousin who were ‘present’ for these games and either watched them at Molineux, the Wolves’ stadium or live on the NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes) Canteen television during National Service. By the 1966-1967 season, following the enthusiasm generated by England’s World Cup win, I became both a fan of the Wolves and ‘football mad’ in general. It was then that I became familiar with the name Ferencváros FC and of their star player, Flórián Albert (pictured below), who won the coveted French award of the Ballon d’Or for that season.

Spanning Revolutions – Hungarian Football, 1954-1989:

The two matches of 1953-54 were results and performances that radically changed everything the world of football in general and England in particular, the home of football, had until then thought about the game. This was a time when the former colonies of the British Empire were undergoing national awakenings and becoming independent and they were therefore delighted with the outcome. The Eastern bloc countries were also exuberant, celebrating it, at first, as a victory for socialism over imperialism in the early years of the Cold War. Ironically, for many Hungarians, however, Stalin’s death that spring and the resultant thawing in Soviet policy towards its satellites meant that the Hungarian leaders could no longer ignore or resist the calls for greater fraternisation with western associations and clubs. These, they knew, were controversial and even dangerous developments, running alongside the political changes that were already taking place in Hungary. When these changes were ended abruptly in 1956, the footballing contacts continued, despite the worst efforts of the restored Stalinist régime, until they re-emerged with the demands for a more liberal society and state in the 1980s.

These pendants were presented to Ferenc Puskás by his club Honvéd after his 75th goal for the team in 1955.

When Hungary began to emerge from behind its iron curtain twenty years later, these sporting links were among the first to be recalled and revived. As a boys’ football coach and player for the Binley Park teachers’ team in Coventry in the mid-1980s, when I was asked to develop an ‘East-West’ educational exchange programme, it was natural to look to Hungary. On arrival in Kecskemét, Coventry’s twin town on the Great Plain, I was interviewed by the local press and asked what ordinary people in the Midlands of England now knew about Hungary. I was surprised when my answer was used as the paper’s next front-page headline. Hungary was now ‘Not just goulash, Puskás, and 1956’. Compared with other countries in the ‘Eastern Bloc’, the roles of football players, sports people and other international artists were instrumental in maintaining a continuity of contacts throughout the Cold War. Ferenc Puskás’s autobiography in English became a bestseller in Britain in 1955 and was translated into various other languages.

The season 1953-54 was the zenith of success of the Aranycsapat, and I have written about the matches in other articles, listed below… But what is not so well known is that, behind the scenes, team unity had come undone for the first time, although supporters knew nothing about it at the time. The day before the second match at the Népstadion (the newly-built national stadium), the team management, led by the communist state-appointed Gusztáv Sebes, had handed out bonuses at the team’s hotel on the city’s Margaret Island.

The well-established players received substantial, but strongly differing amounts, which came to light almost immediately. The reason for the difference was the result of ill-judged political discrimination. The former Ferencváros players – Budai, Czibor and Kocsis received the smallest and disproportionate amounts, even less than the squad players, while the two long-serving Kispest Honvéd players who held the highest military ranks, Puskás and Bozsik, received the most. Of course, they themselves could do nothing about the injustice, and it was left to Czibor and Kocsis to let their feet make their protest in the match against England. When they stepped on the pitch, they played with a kind of “we’ll show them” determination. But the management had already begun what became a divide-and-rule strategy towards the players, facilitating the formation of cliques within the team.

After the final, Puskás congratulated the winning captain, Fritz Walter.

Following the dramatic 6-3 and 7-1 defeats of England in the 1953-54 season, the Mighty Magyars began their magical progress to the World Cup final in Bern, Switzerland, the following summer, where they were unlucky to be defeated 3-2 by the West Germans. People took to the streets of Budapest to vent their dissatisfaction at the defeat of their ‘Golden team’. There was no TV in Hungary at the time, but the final was broadcast on the radio from the Népstadion, and it was from there that thousands marched together towards the centre of Budapest. Shop windows were smashed and streetcars overturned before finally, the angry masses reached the building of Magyar Rádio, the state broadcaster, where they handed in a petition stating that the team ‘manager’ Gustáv Sebes shouldn’t dare return home after the ignominious failure. The spontaneous demonstration was quickly dispersed, the ringleaders arrested, and the press silenced over the whole event. But a huge grandstand being erected on Hősök tér (Heroes’ Square) had to be rapidly abandoned. And in one night, the State Security apparatus destroyed two million postage stamps the post offices were due to receive on the following Monday morning. They had ‘commemorating the victory achieved at the Fifth World Cup Finals’ printed on them.

Puskás in action v West Germany in the Bern final.

But something of a ‘football revolution’ began in 1954-56 in Hungary. For the first time under the harsh régime of Mátyás Rákosi and Gérő, the anger of the terrorised, destitute and starving Hungarians turned upon their political leaders, who had beforehand and for years basked in the successes of the footballers. These footballers, coaches and players also felt the disappointment and loss of confidence, and police kept a precautionary eye on Puskás’s flat for a couple of weeks just in case. Despite the loss in the final, however, FIFA had chosen him as the player of the tournament, and there was no apparent threat to his safety or that of his family from the people of Budapest. They did not blame him for the defeat, but rather the team’s communist party ‘managers’. As the historian, Tibor Fischer put it recently:

‘Hungarians don’t mind dictatorship, but they hate losing a football match.’

T. Fischer, Under the Frog.

The communist leaders of Hungarian sport: Gusztáv Sebes (speaking) and István Kutas.

The 1954 World Cup final result really did constitute a turning point in the history of both Hungarian football and society at large. This was the first time that ‘ordinary’ Hungarians could test out when and how they could express raise their heads above the parapet. But the devastating effects of this single sporting event were more palpable over a prolonged period than they were in the short term. Indeed, the régime no longer wished to employ its misfiring political musket and the sport itself fell out of favour. In addition to this, the football-supporting party leaders also fell from grace and, as János Kádár rose to power, especially after the Soviet-backed counter-revolution in 1956, Hungarian football went into a slow decline. But in the two seasons of 1954-56, the Aránycsapat soon found their form again and followed up on their four-year undefeated run before the Bern débácle by going on another magnificent stretch over the next eighteen months. In the autumn of 1954, they beat Romania 5-1 and then, after a 1-1 draw with the USSR in Moscow, defeated the Swiss 3-0 and Czechoslovakia 4-1, both in Budapest, before taking on the Scots in Glasgow, beating them 4-2.

Anglo-European Club Nights & International Friendlies, 1954-58:

The defeats of 1953-54 were still fresh in the minds of English fans when, in December 1954, the ‘Mighty Magyars’ club team of the Hungarian Army, ‘Honved’, arrived in Wolverhampton. Their team contained many stars from the national, ‘Golden team’, including the legendary Lieutenant-Colonel Ferenc Puskás and his well-drilled fellow soldiers, Bozsik, Kocsis, Lóránt, Czibor and Budai. Kocsis had been the leading scorer in the World Cup, so, following their own sensational win over Moscow Spartak a month earlier, the first-time English Champions ‘Wolves’ were eager to welcome the tormentors of England to Molineux. It was good news for Wolves that ace goalkeeper Grosics, though named in the pre-match line-up (see below), was not available for selection by Honvéd, but they were probably unaware that this was because, as a soldier, he had been disciplined, ‘banned’ and ‘exiled’ from the club by the communist authorities in Hungary. The team was well-chaperoned by officials, which was symptomatic of the political cloud that had hung over Hungarian football ever since the team’s surprise defeat by West Germany in the final in Bern in the summer of that year and their victimisation of Grosics was meant to send a clear warning shot to both the Honvéd soldiers and the rest of the national team.

The game was played under the new floodlights on a Monday night, 13th December, with 55,000 cheering fans watching at the ground and many more on the new phenomenon of TV. The BBC broadcast the game live, which pleased the National Servicemen who were allowed to watch it in their canteens. Millions more tuned in to the radio, as not many people had acquired TV sets at this time. Just as they had twice led out their national teams in 1953/4, Billy Wright and Ferenc Puskás were again side-by-side (pictured below). Wolves came out in their specially-made satin shirts while Honvéd wore their traditional tracksuits. But it was Puskás’ team that first began to ‘dazzle’ under the lights.

Honvéd visiting Molineux

The visitors immediately began to play with fantastic ball control and speed of passing. The press reported that ‘despite being a bit on the chunky side, Puskás was surprisingly very quick’. However, ‘it was his mesmerising skill with the ball that was so wonderful to see’. By half-time, Honvéd were 2-0 up and in full control, their precision passing and speed of attack drawing gasps of appreciation from the crowd. The first goal came from a pin-point Puskás free kick which found the head of Kocsis and the ball flew past Bert Williams in the Wolves’ goal like a bullet. This was followed up by a second from the speedy winger, Machos, who was put through the Wolves’ defence by Kocsis. That was in the first quarter-hour! England keeper Williams pulled off a string of saves to keep the score down to two at the interval. As the teams left the field, the crowd rose to salute the Hungarian artistry but were worried that the home team might be humiliated in the second half, just as England had been at Wembley a year earlier. What happened, however, was more like a repeat of the Bern final between Hungary and West Germany.

Bert Williams, England and Wolverhampton goalkeeper, in training.

In the second half, the Wolves called upon all their fighting spirit and energy reserves. Johnny Hancocks scored a penalty soon after the restart, walloping the ball past Farago’s left hand, and with fifteen minutes left, the skilful Hungarians were tiring on what had become a very muddy pitch. Dennis Wilshaw combined well with Roy Swinbourne, who scored twice to win the game 3-2. The crowd went wild with joy on a night on which it became good to be an English football fan once more. They were singing all the way home on the bus, and there were great celebrations in the canteens where the National Servicemen were watching. Their morale had also been boosted by this victory. Wolves’ archivist Graham Hughes recounted:

Billy Wright in action for the Wolves.

The shadowy Hungarian Vice-Minister for Sport who attended the match said that the game had been a clean-spirited fight and praised Wolves’ fighting qualities. Apparently, he did not mention Grosics’s absence and the political ‘cloud’ hanging over the club, or that many of its players were tired from playing for the national team against Scotland only five days earlier. Other Hungarians complained about the pitch, which was far from dry at the beginning of the match and was further watered at half-time at the request of Stan Cullis, the Wolves head coach, who later admitted this. This had the effect of slowing down the play, favouring the Wolves’ long-ball tactics. ‘Wolves are champions of the world’ was one of the headlines in the national newspapers the next morning. However, if this was seen as ‘revenge’ for the ‘dents’ in national pride that the defeats of the previous season had inflicted, this was also a friendly match, since the European Champions’ Cup had not yet come into being. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and others would have something to say about that claim in future seasons. Certainly, for the time being, at least, the club’s prestige had been taken to a higher level than ever before as Wolves gave English football a much-needed boost. Meanwhile, Hungarian football continued to be manipulated by its communist ‘handlers’.

In the spring of 1955, after a 2-2 draw with Austria in a European Cup match in Vienna, the Hungarian national team undertook a tour of Scandinavia, handing out thrashings to all four, concluding with a 9-1 victory over Finland. Then, when the Scots paid a return visit to Budapest in May, they were beaten 3-1 by their hosts. In the second half of the year, they came from behind in Lausanne with two late goals from Puskás to beat the Swiss 5-4 in the European Cup and won three more cup matches in the year, including a 6-1 thrashing of Austria in Budapest, the hundredth meeting between the two neighbouring national teams.

The official programme for the hundredth match between Hungary and Austria at the National Stadium in Budapest; the cover picture is from the match in Vienna the previous April.

Puskás shoots against Austria; on the right is a celebration menu for the after-match supper.

They finished the year with an impressive 2-0 victory over Italy, but then, on 19th February 1956, in terrible winter conditions, they suffered an unexpected 3-1 defeat at the hands of Turkey in Istanbul. In those days, Turkey was not highly respected as a footballing nation. Although Puskás scored the consolation goal, he was no longer the Puskás of 1953-54, already struggling with weight problems. There was a good deal of speculation that he would soon be dropped from the national team and might even retire. The team continued to suffer unexpected defeats in the first half of the year, and produced more unacceptable performances, drawing 2-2 with Yugoslavia in Budapest in a European Cup game and losing to Belgium in Brussels. Gusztáv Sebes had been becoming increasingly unpopular since the Bern disaster and had also been losing political influence. He was ousted after the 2-2 draw with Portugal in Lisbon and replaced with Márton Bukovi, an excellent, expert coach. He was the MTK coach and a member of Sebes’s coaching staff.

A postcard picture of the Népstadion to mark the hundredth match with neighbours Austria.
A photograph which appeared in the Wembley programme for the FA’s November 1953 international.

The completion of the half-finished Népstadion did not come to pass until 2006, fifty years after the Uprising. It became a symbol of Hungarian football’s loss of prestige, and the Party reached a decision which led to much criticism that instead of spoilt footballers the hardworking athletes of other sports should be supported. In reality, this implied ‘pampering’ consisted of a humiliating system whereby, despite being among the finest players in the world, ‘élite’ footballers didn’t receive any official income other than the paltry bonuses which topped up their basic workplace wages. To keep them from defecting to the West, the authorities turned a blind eye to them bringing back goods from their international sojourns which could be sold for a tidy profit on the black market. In many cases, the players were positively encouraged in this smuggling by politicians. Customs checks were regularly omitted by border guards in return for petty bribes. However, at the first sign of failure, the fickle leaders began blackmailing the players who had become accustomed to such ‘solutions’. They ordered arrests of players, including house arrests, banned them from playing, and in some cases instituted internal exiles, such as that of the Honvéd and national team goalkeeper, Gyúla Grosics, who was sent to the mining town of Tatabánya in 1954.

Although the national team continued its winning streak in these seasons, partly out of the financial imperatives facing its players, behind the scenes the players were losing real motivation under this system. Even Puskás was subject to this since he bought his first family house in the Zugló district of Budapest shortly before the 1954 World Cup. He could only keep up the mortgage payments if the team kept winning and he was therefore able to earn his win bonuses. The increasingly anti-football dictatorship continued to humiliate the footballers, whose popularity they envied. As long as they and their families continued to have a better standard of living than the average person in the country, the footballers did not rebel openly.

Ferenc Puskás with his daughter, Anikó

The second half of 1956 began with a fantastic five-match winning streak, Bukovi bringing Grosics back into the team from ‘exile’ and giving Puskás an ultimatum to slim down or be left out. After beating Poland, Yugoslavia, the USSR, France and Austria, the team was preparing for their next match against Sweden at their training camp in Tata in late autumn when a student demonstration became an armed uprising in Budapest. The players returned to Budapest to be with their families and Zoltán Czibor became directly involved in the revolutionary cause. The Honvéd sportsmen elected him as president of the army sports club’s revolutionary committee. The Honvéd players were due to play Athletico Bilbao in the European Cup on 22nd November, and Czibor arranged the squad’s passports with Imre Nagy’s government once, after a few days, the ‘revolution’ seemed to have been successful. On 1st November, the squad set off to prepare for their match.

Following in the wake of MTK, who had participated the previous year as league champions, Honvéd were competing for the first time. Accompanied by the solidarity and compassion of western Europeans, the team played matches across the continent for charity and to cover their own expenses. They donned black armbands and tore out the red star from the Honvéd (army sports cub) badges on their shirts. Then, on 4th November, more than a thousand tanks streamed into Hungary across the eastern border from the USSR to replace the ones already neutralised or destroyed by the revolutionaries. The Honvéd players did everything they could to get their families out of the country to join them in the West, including Puskás’s wife, ‘Bözsike’, and his four-year-old daughter, Anikó, who managed to escape across the border on 1st December. They were reunited with Ferenc in Milan, where they spent Christmas with the rest of the team and their relatives. Because of the volatile situation in Budapest, the return leg of the match against Bilbao took place in Brussels on 20th December. The first had finished 3-2 to the Basques and the second ended in a 3-3 draw, an aggregate of 6-5 to them. Honvéd were out of the cup, but a lucrative tour of South America awaited.

Puskás in his Honvéd Sports Club colours, complete with a red star on the badge, which the players tore out on their 1956 tour.

For Kispest Honvéd, the ‘Golden’ club football team of the mid-fifties, the events of October-November 1956 brought a premature end to their glory days. They were touring at the time of the conflict, and many of the players decided against returning to their homeland, preferring instead to use their skills in western Europe. Almost exactly two years to the day after the match with Honved, on 11th December 1956, Wolves entertained ‘Red Banner’ or MTK Budapest, as they preferred to be known from now on, for another floodlit friendly. Although not as great a match in footballing terms, the game was, if anything, even more significant. It was held as a benefit match and raised what was then a huge sum of £2,312, to be donated to the Hungarian Relief Fund. At the pre-match banquet, the Hungarians, who had expressed their wish to be known by their original name of MTK, rather than ‘Red Banner’, had promised to play the very best football they could in honour of their gracious hosts. Responding, the Wolves Chairman told his guests that the motto of both the town of Wolverhampton and its football club was ‘out of darkness comes light’ and that he hoped that very soon that would be the way in their native land. They had to wait forty years for the light to shine through the gloom at home. Nevertheless, the match was a worthy contest, as the report below demonstrates.

MTK’s team was packed with Hungarian internationals, three of whom had played in the humiliating victories over England a few years earlier. They became only the second team to escape floodlit defeat at Wolves’ Molineux lair, demonstrating a brand of top-class individual football artistry. In the game itself, the Wolves gave the impression of holding something back. Certainly, they didn’t unleash the kind of power we had witnessed on previous occasions…. The rather subdued Molineux crowd, sensing this, produced what can only be described as ’the Molineux murmur’ instead of the customary ’roar’. The biggest cheer came when Johnny Hancocks replaced Jimmy Murray eight minutes from time. Everyone was looking for the little magician to provide a fairy-tale ending, but the winger only touched the ball three times… The wolves couldn’t break down the visitors’ defensive system, which was one of the coolest under pressure ever seen at Molineux.

The Hungarians took the lead in the sixth minute, Palotás whipping the ball past the diving Bert Williams following some excellent work by world-famous centre-forward Hidegkúti. Portsmouth schoolboy Pat Neil, making his debut for Wolves, saved their blushes and their proud unbeaten record under the Molineux floodlights. He scored the equaliser after Veres palmed away a corner. Neil was unmarked, having drifted outside the goal area: his smartly hit shot passed through the ruck of players to beat Veres to his left.… The cool, calculating football of MTK saw them too frequently guilty of trying one pass too many… At half-time, the talented Hidegkúti was replaced by Karasz. The game wasn’t exactly dull; there were chances at both ends. Both goalkeepers acquitted themselves well, making a string of acrobatic saves, but the solemnity of the occasion, set against the backdrop of the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian Uprising, was really responsible for the fayre served up that night.

The day after the Molineux match, the MTK players were on their way to Vienna, where their future movements would be dictated by the course of political events in their stricken country. Meanwhile, the Honvéd players decided to accept the offer of travelling to Brazil in a deal negotiated by Emil Östreicher, the club’s technical director, in which Honvéd would play ten matches for $10,000 each match, plus travel and accommodation expenses. The Kádár government and the Hungarian Football Association did their best to stop the tour, sending Gusztáv Sebes to the team hotel to persuade the players to return to Hungary, but they decided to travel and, despite the threat of international sanctions, the Brazilians staged several games, which attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators.

The majority of the players returned to Hungary, as promised, in February. But Puskás, Czibor, Kocsis, coach Jenő Kalmár, and Östreicher, together with most of the Hungarian youth team, which had also been touring in the west, chose to remain abroad. Puskás chose emigration because, as captain, he would face at least a one-year ban when got home. In the end, he was banned for two years anyway, by FIFA, which was then dominated by many Eastern European associations. What was more of a concern to him, however, was that as an army officer he could be charged with absconding from his post, an offence punishable by death under Hungarian military law. The military tribunals had already tried refugee officers ‘in absentia’ and given sentences which the communist secret services had already carried out summary executions abroad.

Puskás and Kubala, friends since Kispest’s schoolboy matches in 1941, were now both exiles from their native land.

Puskás was, of course, protected to a certain extent by his fame and popularity, but with constant surveillance from the Hungarian secret service and his relatives remaining in Hungary, he couldn’t ‘rest at ease’. He rode out the ban for a time in Vienna, where he was allowed to train with Wiener SC. Still, he had no income and the only person to help him financially was the great Hungarian forward László Kubala, who had played with Puskás in a Schoolboy XI in Kispest in the early 1940s, and was a settled favourite at Barcelona. When Santiago Bernabéu, Real Madrid’s legendary president, invited Emil Östreicher to be his advisor in Madrid, Östreicher persuaded him to sign Puskás, despite his coach’s concerns that the Hungarian star was ‘over the hill’, unfit and conceited. Eventually, Puskás was given a four-year contract and a signing-on fee of $100,000 after he had lost sixteen kilograms in two months.

In October 1957, Wolverhampton Wanderers met Real Madrid in another floodlit friendly at Molineux. This was in the years when Puskás was banned from playing by FIFA, so he was not yet playing for the Spanish Champions alongside their mouth-watering mix of players from South America and France as well as from Spain. The Spanish giants had already dominated the first two years of the European Champions Cup, and would therefore be a stern test for Wolves. Real Madrid had already developed into a huge club by Santiago Bernabéu, whose vision had transformed a club with just sixteen thousand supporters into a footballing colossus. He had spotted the vast money-making potential of a premier European Cup competition and set out to develop the financial clout to buy the best players in the world.

In one of the most thrilling games ever witnessed at Molineux, Real’s footballers unveiled their artistry with the ball, giving a display of controlled athleticism and intuitive running off the ball to create space for their fellow players to move into. However, the Wolves came from behind to beat the maestros with their own display of long-range precision passing together with rapid attacking and approach play. Wolves went into the match in a confident mood after their recent victories over foreign opposition. But as with Honvéd, they allowed the Spanish team to get into the game; they probed away at the Wolves’ defence and finally got their reward when Marsal scored with a bullet-like header. But seven minutes after the break Broadbent equalised when Finlayson punted an enormous kick at the Madrid penalty area, which Murray headed on for Broadbent to lob home. On the hour, Wolves took the lead from a Norman Deeley corner from which Murray scored with a downward header. Then followed a nervy final twenty minutes when after Marsal scored again for Real, but then Dennis Wilshaw calmly lifted the ball over their keeper from Mullen’s corner with ten minutes left.

A Real Madrid Rosette from the late fifties.

So the Old Gold team ran out 3-2 winners again, as they had done against Honvéd, having beaten the pride of Europe, enhancing their own reputation once more as one of the world’s greatest club sides at that time and subduing, in the process, the great Argentinian Alfredo di Stéfano, though he went close with two shots, one of which brought out a fine diving save from Finlayson. The return match against Real Madrid was played under the fantastic Bernabéu floodlights on 11th December 1957, a year to the day since their match with MTK at Molineux and about three years since Honvéd had visited Wolverhampton. In those three short years, so much had happened in the lives of these four clubs.

Wolves produced another fighting performance, withstanding both heavy rain and heavy pressure from the Real players, who were set on revenge. However, it was the home team who were in danger of losing their five-year unbeaten record in Madrid. The only goal of the first half was scored by Bobby Mason for the Wolves, putting the visitors ahead on the half-hour mark with a powerful header. Mateo equalised for Real twenty-five minutes after the restart and in the seventies minute, Di Stéfano put the Spanish team ahead after running into a gap in Wolves’ defence to slot home from Kopa’s defence-splitting cross. But Wolves grabbed an equaliser when Jimmy Mullen’s cross was turned in by a defender’s boot. It finished as a 2-2 draw, but unhappy with some decisions, the Wolves fans felt they had scored a moral victory.

World Cups and European Champions Cups, 1958-62:
John Charles, pictured in 1954 at the match between Wales and Scotland at Ninian Park, Cardiff. (2023, February 8).
In Wikipedia.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Charleshttps://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/ce/John Charles

In the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden, England’s team were defeated in the group play-offs by the USSR. The English side had been weakened by the Munich air disaster on 6th February, which killed three internationals on the books of Manchester United, including England’s young star Duncan Edwards. It was a tragedy which hit the whole country and the entire footballing world. However, Wales had qualified for the first time, with a strong forward line. The group match between Hungary and Wales in Sandviken became the northernmost World Cup match in history. It finished 1-1, with John Charles, then playing for Italian giants Juventus, scoring for Wales and Bozsik for Hungary, who were no longer the force they had been after in the previous tournament. The Hungarian team had been dealt a blow by the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 after which star players like Sándor Kocsis and Ferenc Puskás fled their homeland in the wake of the failed uprising against the communist regime.

From the 1954 ‘Golden’ team, only goalkeeper Gyula Grosics, defender József Bozsik and forward Nándor Hidegkuti remained. But the latter was by now thirty-six years old and, although named as captain, was nowhere near his previous form, and was dropped to the substitutes’ bench for two of the four matches. But in spite of Hungary’s recent travails, they were still considered a strong side and were expected to advance from their group. The success of Wales was a surprise, but they drew all their group games and beat the Hungarians in a play-off match, with Ivor Allchurch scoring the first goal, equalising Lajós Tichy’s 33rd-minute strike before Terry Medwin scored the winner in the 76th minute. The Welsh were beaten by Pelé’s first World Cup goal in the quarter-final. This was the Welsh team’s first appearance at the FIFA World Cup and they would not qualify for another sixty-four years. This tournament also marked the debuts of fellow United Kingdom side Northern Ireland, as well as the Soviet Union.

Di Stéfano pictured with Puskás after the latter began playing for Real Madrid in 1958.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid had managed to persuade FIFA to shorten Puskas’s ban by six months so that he was able to begin the 1958-59 season alongside Alfredo di Stéfano, beginning his second career, which lasted until his retirement in 1966. In the course of this, besides his three winners’ medals in the European Cup, he came second in the 1960 Ballon d’Or competition, which he would probably have won had his own native country’s representatives and the other Eastern bloc FAs not voted against him as a ‘defector’ to the West.

Meanwhile, in 1958-59, the Old Gold of Wolverhampton had finished English First Division champions once again, qualifying them to compete in the European Champions Cup for the second time the following season. They hoped to recapture some of their devastating league form against foreign opposition. However, after their disappointing performance in the 1958-59 competition, losing on aggregate in the second round to FC Schalke, Wolves had to play a preliminary round against ASK Vorwaerts of East Berlin, winning 3-2 on aggregate at the end of September 1959. In the first round, they went on to beat Red Star Belgrade 4-1 over two legs. But then they came up against two of the most brilliant Hungarian exiles in the quarter-final against Barcelona, László Kubala and Sándor Kocsis, who between them scored five of the nine goals Barca netted against them over the two legs, Kocsis getting four of the five in the second leg in Wolverhampton. Czibor didn’t play in either leg, perhaps a sign of how talented the team was.

Billy Wright had retired at the end of the previous season and the new Wolves and England backline trio of Clamp, Slater and Flowers proved powerless to halt the fantastic flair of the Hungarian pair, especially Kocsis, in what was the last time Wolves played in the premier European competition. In a wonderful exhibition of running off the ball to create space for others to move into, the Catalan team out-thought and out-played the best team in England. There is no doubt that a huge doubt existed between the tactical sophistication of the top continental teams and their English challengers. In the two legs against Barcelona, Wolves’ traditional long-ball game had been exposed by intelligent defending behind inventive counter-attacking. Patience was now required when probing for an opening, and guile was more effective than bravery and enthusiasm. In the semi-final, the Catalan team was beaten 6-2 on aggregate by their great rivals Real Madrid, the eventual winners.

Wolves attacking the Blackburn goal in the 1960 FA Cup Final

By winning the 1960 FA Cup, beating Blackburn Rovers 3-0 in the final, Wolves at least ensured that they would be competing in Europe again in 1960-61, this time in the newly-created Cup Winners’ Cup. They lost 3-1 on aggregate in the semi-final to Glasgow Rangers but still finished third in the league behind Tottenham Hotspur, the first double winners.

Bill Slater is on his teammates’ shoulders holding the FA Cup.

Perhaps Puskás’s greatest club performance came in the 7-3 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 European Cup final in which he scored four goals, a record for a club final. It was called Club Football’s Match of the Century and brought Real Madrid their third cup in as many years. After retiring as a player in 1966, and a third career as a coach, he was welcomed back to Hungary in 1981 as an honoured guest, but didn’t feel secure enough to return permanently until after the régime change of 1989.

Puskás with the 1960 European Cup winning team.
Kubala (centre) with special guests Alfredo di Stéfano (left) and Ferenc Puskás in a match held in his honour in 1961

Meanwhile, in the 1961-2 season, the wheels finally came off the ‘Wolverhampton omnibus’, as Wolves slipped to eighteenth in the First Division, their first time outside the top six in ten seasons. By the summer of 1962, the talented multi-trophy-winning Wanderers’ squad had all but broken up. In the summer of 1962, it was World Cup time again, in Chile. England lost their opening match 2-1 to Hungary, with their new star, Flórián Albert (see below). The newly naturalised Ferenc Puskás followed in the footsteps of Kubala in playing for his adoptive country (Kubala, pictured right, was included in the Spanish squad but was injured).

Puskás in action for Spain in the 1962 World Cup finals.

Spain had beaten Morocco 1-0, in Casablanca, in Puskás’ first match the previous November, but after losing to Czechoslovakia in their first group match at the World Cup, the Spanish team was eliminated by Brazil, 2-1. Ron Flowers was England’s only Wolverhampton representative at the tournament, and, after recovering from a 2-1 defeat to Hungary in their opening match, the English team were also, eventually, beaten 3-1 by holders Brazil in the quarter-finals.

The Return of Honvéd to Molineux, December 1962:

Wolves kicked off their 1962/63 season in fine style, thumping Manchester City 8-1 at Molineux. Ted Farmer, their number nine, scored four of these goals, and the Wolves were unbeaten after their first eleven fixtures. In that time they scored thirty-one goals and conceded only thirteen in a sequence of eight wins and three draws. Farmer scored eight goals in nine games, missing only two matches until received an injury in September. At that time, the Wolves were topping the First Division table, but Farmer only recovered in time to play in the final three matches of the season. By then, the tide had turned against his team and the title had been lost. Wolves finished a disappointing fourth, given their remarkable start to the season, but it was a lot better placing than they had achieved in the previous season. One of the highlights of the season was the 7-0 thrashing of Black Country neighbours West Bromwich Albion on 6th March 1963. In December 1962, Wolves once again entertained Honvéd at Molineux, completing ten years of floodlit friendlies from September 1953 onwards. There was no clamour for tickets this time like there had been eight years earlier when Wolves had defeated Honvéd 3-2.

Admission for this match played on 3rd December 1962, was ‘pay on the night’. The Hungarian teams, both local and national, were no longer the pride of Europe, due largely to the exodus of their players after the Soviet Union’s crushing of the October 1956 Hungarian Uprising. Gone were the likes of the legendary Ferenc Puskás, Sándor Kocsis, and their talented countrymen, among hundreds of thousands of more ordinary citizens who became refugees at that time. But Honvéd were currently second in Hungary’s top division and so would provide robust if friendly, opposition. Újpest Dózsa occupied the top place in the Hungarian league, with MTK (‘Red Banner’) in third. Flowers, Slater and Broadbent were happy to renew old acquaintances. Two of the members of the 1954 Honvéd team had returned to Molineux: József Bozsik was now the club president and Gyula Lóránt was the club coach. Lájos Farago, who as the understudy goalkeeper to the great Grósics, had played such a storming role in his previous appearance at Molineux, would be in goal again.

The teams were:

Wolves: Davies; Showell, Thomson; Kirkham, Slater, Flowers; Wharton, Crowe, Murray, Broadbent, Hinton.

Honvéd: Farago; Levai, Morosi, Dudás; Perecsi, Kotasz; Nagy, Komora, Nógrádi, Tuschinger, Vági.

Attendance: 13,914.

The game bore little resemblance to the classic encounter of 1954. Many of the fans had stayed at home, perhaps anticipating this, but also because it was a bitterly cold night. Farago was once again magnificent, earning the accolade of Star of the Show. He stopped everything Wolves threw at him, except one effort from Wednesbury lad Alan Hinton, who could easily have had a hat-trick by the hour mark. Other Wolves’ strikers missed a hatful of chances before Honvéd’s speedy winger Vági broke away dangerously. He fluffed his chance, but the omens were not good for the Wolves. Next, it took an excellent, headed, off-the-line clearance by Bobby Thomson to keep the visitors out. Then, with only five minutes left, Komora chipped the ball over magnificently for György Nagy to score what he must have thought was the winner. Fortunately, Hinton crashed home a terrific equaliser with only three minutes left, thus earning a 1-1 draw. After the match, Bozsik announced that he wanted to make this fixture an annual event, and a year later the two teams met again in Budapest.

At Molineux in this decade from 1953 to 1962, Wolves had played a total of seventeen games against teams from other European leagues, winning thirteen and drawing four. They also played in six home ties in European competitions, winning three, drawing two and losing only once, to Barcelona. In the following season, Wolves travelled to Budapest to play the promised return friendly against Honvéd on Wednesday 6th October 1963, this time losing 2-1 in the Népstadion. In fine weather, a crowd of nearly thirty-one thousand witnessed a quiet game that the Wolves were lucky only to lose by the odd goal. Tuschinger and Komora netted for Honvéd before Ray Crawford pulled one back for the Wolves. Wolves clearly missed a number of players from the previous season, including Bill Slater and Peter Broadbent.

In the rest of that season, there were many other changes at the club, and ultimately Wolves plummeted to sixteenth place in the First Division. They had to face the obvious fact, like Honvéd, that their current team without their old stars was just not good enough to challenge for the Championship or even the European qualifying places. In particular, although they kept scoring in the early sixties, they had not compensated at the back for Billy Wright’s retirement in the 1959-60 season and they were leaking goals. Then, despite new signing Crawford’s twenty-six goals from thirty-eight games, they managed only seventy in total in 1963-64. The team’s performance worsened the following season, resulting in relegation from the First Division in 1965.

‘Fradi’ &The Wanderers Return to Europe, 1971-72:

Derek Dougan

The ‘Old Gold’ had to wait another decade to shine again against continental opposition under the lights at Molineux. In the interim, they suffered relegation from the First Division and spent two seasons in the Second Division, until finishing second to Coventry at the end of the 1966/67 season, winning promotion back to the top flight. Wolves had acquired some brilliant attacking players, including Derek Dougan, ‘the Doog’, Peter Knowles and Dave Wagstaffe. In January 1968 they were joined by Frank Munro, to play in midfield at first, but then in the centre of defence where he was outstanding for both Wolves and Scotland. But with floodlit friendlies now a thing of the past, it was not until finishing fourth in the First Division in the 1970/71 season that they were able to qualify for the UEFA Cup, renamed from the Inter-City Fairs Cup.

Frank Munro

The fans looked forward to being back in Europe and in this competition, Wolves took on and beat some of the most illustrious teams, starting with the Portuguese club Academia Coimbra in the first round. They then went on to beat FC Den Haag and Carl Zeiss Jena, before meeting Juventus in the Quarter Final. They beat the Italian giants 3-2 on aggregate. In the Semi-final they were to play the Hungarian aces Ferencváros and their great centre-forward Flórián Albert. The first leg was played on a beautiful, sunny late afternoon in April 1972, in the Nepstadion where they had last met Honvéd. The attendance was 44,763 and kick-off was at 5.30 p.m. Wolves managed to maintain their excellent away form in the competition, drawing a hard-fought game, 2-2. They showed a determined effort after their brilliant young striker John Richards had put them ahead after nineteen minutes. Derek Dougan cleverly drew the defenders away before back-healing the ball back to Richards, who didn’t miss.

John Richards

Ferencváros came back strongly, however, scoring two in eight minutes. István Szőke got the first on the half-hour from the penalty spot, and then the Magyars took a two-goal lead. Flórián Albert netted from open play, shooting past Phil Parkes following Szőke’s tempting cross, making it 2-1 to ‘Fradi’ at half-time. At seventy-four minutes, the home team was awarded another penalty, but this time Parkes magnificently saved Szőke’s shot with his left foot. The Budapest team went close again when Kű headed just over. The Wolves then rallied and won a corner. Dave Wagstaffe swung the ball in and Frank Munro was perfectly placed to nod home the equaliser. After that, Kenny Hibbitt and Jimmy McCalliog smacked in powerful shots, but they didn’t result in a winning goal. The Wolves had almost three times the number of efforts on goal as the home team but the two sides went into the return leg on equal terms. The two teams in Budapest were as follows:

Ferencváros: Vörös; Novák, Pancsícs; Megyesi, Vépi, Bálint; Sőke, Bránkovics, Albert, Kű, Múcha (Rákósi). Subs: Rákósi, Fusi, Hórváth, Géczi.

Wolves: Parkes; Shaw, Taylor; Hegan, Munro, McAlle; McCalliog, Hibbitt, Richards, Dougan, Wagstaffe. Subs: Arnold, Parkin, Daley, Sunderland, Eastoe.

Phil Parkes in action at Molineux.

Front cover of the programme for the second leg at Molineux.

The second leg was held at Molineux a fortnight later on 19th April 1972 in front of a disappointingly small crowd (for a European semi-final) of just over twenty-eight thousand. The Wolves were determined not to lose this semi-final as they had their last in Europe, against Glasgow Rangers in 1961. Phil Parkes (pictured above) was once again outstanding, Alan Sunderland came in at right back for the suspended Shaw, and Steve Daley, aged eighteen, made his European debut in place of the also-suspended Dave Wagstaffe. New boy Daley’s dream came true when he put Wolverhampton ahead in the first minute. Goalkeeper Vörös missed Sunderland’s high floating cross, the ball falling to Daley. Just before half-time, up popped Frank Munro as he had in the away leg to put the home team 2-0 up. Lájos Kű pulled a goal back for ‘Fradi’ two minutes after the interval and then Phil Parkes saved another penalty from Szőke with his leg. It was a very entertaining game, worthy of a final, in which Daley and Hibbitt went close, Dougan hit the bar and Sunderland sent in a thirty-yard screamer before Taylor cleared a József Múcha effort off the line. Wolves won a close match 2-1 and tie 4-3 on aggregate.

Sixty-four clubs had initially set out to contest the competition, so it was testimony to the strength of English football that two First Division clubs reached the final. Unfortunately for Wolves, the other team was Tottenham Hotspur, one of their cup bogey teams. Wolves lost their home tie 2-1, Martin Chivers scoring both goals for the visitors, and the second leg was drawn 1-1, so the cup went to Spurs. Wolves should have won their first European trophy, and the 3-2 aggregate score over the two legs was not a fair reflection of the games, according to many media reports the day after the match at White Hart Lane. Dave Wagstaffe’s equalising goal in the forty-first minute was one of the greatest goals ever scored by a man in the golden shirt. It was said by those present to be better than the one he scored in the 5-1 thrashing of Arsenal at Molineux the previous November which had won the BBC’s Goal of the month competition.

Memorabilia from the UEFA Cup Final versus Tottenham Hotspur. on display in the Wolves trophy cabinet.

Although the Wanderers’ 1971-72 European Campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, it seems curious that it is not remembered at least as favourably as the floodlit friendly matches of 1953-54 against Honvéd in the club’s annals. In many ways, the Wolves’ victory against Ferencváros in the semi-final of the UEFA Cup, a real competition, can be seen as the pinnacle of the Old Golds’ distinguished history. Their team that season was perhaps as great as the one that faced Honvéd in 1954, especially in its forward line, though Billy Wright’s defence will always be remembered as the finest ever to take the field for his club and for England. In what was their first European cup final, the fact that their opponents were Tottenham, though a star-studded team themselves, made it seem less of a European final. The game against Ferencváros had been much more of a transcontinental clash, with Florián Albert and other stars in the ‘Fradi’ team.

The Emperor – The Career and Legacy of Flórián Albert, 1959-74:

On 24 September 2021, the Ferencvárosi Torna Club (FTC Budapest) organised an interactive exhibition in honour of their great striker at the FTC stadium. Albert’s career-long contribution to Fradi and Hungarian football has been somewhat under-rated compared with that of Puskás and his Arany Csapat (‘Golden Team’) at Honvéd. Still, the exhibition of ‘the Emperor’s’ most valuable artefacts covered an area of almost three hundred square metres. The main attraction was of course the Ballon d’Or, which he won in 1967. The objects of the exhibition and career of Albert have been recorded in the book, Albert 80: The Legacy of the One and Only Hungarian Ballon d’Or Winner, published in a bilingual edition in Hungary for what would have been his eightieth birthday. I have attempted to highlight and summarise some of the main points of this below.

Flórián Albert was born on 15th September 1941 in Hercegszántó, a village in the south of Bács-Kiskun county, close to the then Yugoslav border, and died seventy years later on 30th October 2011 in Budapest. From 1959 to 1974, he played 540 times for Ferencváros, scoring 395 goals. Fifty-eight of these matches were international, in which he scored thirty-five goals. He won four Hungarian championships with Fradi, between 1962 and 1968, and the Hungarian Cup in 1971-72, scoring the winning goal in the eighty-fourth minute. Before that, he was a member of the 1962-63 Inter-City Fairs Cup semi-finalist team, the 1964-65 winning team and the 1967-68 finalists, besides the 1971-72 UEFA Cup semi-finalist team. He also played seventy-five times for the national eleven, scoring thirty-one goals. He was an Olympic bronze medallist in 1960, and a World Cup participant in 1962 (three matches, four goals) and 1966 (four matches). He also played two matches for Hungary in each of the 1964 and 1972 European Championships, finishing third and fourth respectively. Besides these achievements, he was given a string of honours and awards, though none to match the Ballon d’Or as Best Footballer of Europe in 1967.

Flórián started primary school as a half-orphan; his mother had died in his early years and he was raised by his father. Growing up in multilingual Hercegszántó, it was natural for him to learn Serbo-Croat in addition to Hungarian. He then left his village, feverish with Slavic ‘buzz’, together with his family, in 1952, to live in Erzsébetváros in the capital city. For an eleven-year-old boy from deeply rural Hungary, this was a huge shift in location and culture. After finishing his primary education, he attended Imre Madách Grammar School (gimnázium) in the seventh district of Budapest. He joined the Ferencváros youth team at the time of the 1954 World Cup Final in Bern, and two years later he could see that the key players, many originally from Fradi, but then playing for Honvéd, had already left the country after the Soviet invasion. In the late fifties and early sixties, it was not an easy thing to wear the Hungarians’ cherry red jersey. It was only a few years earlier that the Kocsis team had appeared, and ultimately disappointed, in the 1954 World Cup final. The Aranycsapat had then disintegrated after the Soviet invasion of 1956, with several members, including Ferenc Puskás, emigrating. The legendary Golden team was over for good and the national team lost a lot of respect at the 1958 World Cup tournament in Sweden.

Albert, on his introduction to the Hungarian national team in 1959.

By the end of the fifties, Flórián had matured into a forward at Ferencváros and with the Hungarian national team. He passed the secondary school matriculation exam which he needed in order to join the senior Hungarian national team. He was not even eighteen when he could claim, without arrogance, to be “one of the best forwards in the world.” But Flórian Albert was still known as little Flóri when he made his début for the national team against Sweden, not even yet eighteen, but awarded a place in the national line-up next to Gyula Grosics and Károly Sándor. Lajos Baróti’s team won 3-2. Albert did not score in that match, but goals came in his third appearance for the national team when he netted a hat-trick against Yugoslavia.

Before Albert’s début for Ferencváros. Flórián is in the centre of this group of FTC players with Horváth, Győri-Kiss and Mátrai on his right and Kiss III, Vilezsál and Berta to his left. Fradi beat DVTK 3-1, with two goals from Albert and one from Rákosi (out of the picture).

Flórika became a player at Ferencváros Torna Club during one of the most difficult times in the Club’s history, when it was called Kinizsi, and had been abandoned by its most influential footballers, under duress from the Kádár régime to move to the army team, Kispest Honvéd. Those who remained kept Fradi alive in a period when it became a team of ‘the people’. Talent made its way, as ever, under any circumstances, and even in the enclosed Hungary of these difficult years, when it was still licking its wounds after the events of 1956, it was suddenly enlightened by a bright new star, who went on to light up the old, tired continent, and then the whole world. But Florika never forgot the difficult times his club and its fans had endured, and never left it. Neither money nor power could alter his mind and drag him away. Although he would not have been out of place in the 1950s ‘Golden Team’ and foreign clubs would have given anything for him, he played only for the fans of Ferencváros.

In November 1958, Albert was introduced to the senior Ferencváros team.

The 1960 Rome Olympic Games were Albert’s first major adult world competition, then still ahead of his nineteenth birthday. The Hungarian team beat India 2-1, Peru 6-1 and France 7-0. In the semi-finals, they were beaten 2-0 by the Danes, but in the bronze match, they defeated the Italians 2-1, returning home with a medal. The young Albert played in all five matches, from start to finish, scoring a goal against India and a double-brace against Peru and France, thus finishing the five games with five goals.

Playing for the national team in Rome, in 1960.

The 1960 Rome Olympics Bronze medal

Two years after Rome, Albert appeared in his first World Cup in Chile, where the Hungarian team played four matches, of which Albert played three from start to finish. He scored in the 2-1 defeat of England and took his fair share of goals in the 6-1 win over Bulgaria, scoring a hat-trick. He didn’t start in the last group match against the Argentinians but was again in the line-up in the quarter-final when the Magyars were beaten by Czechoslovakia. With four goals in the tournament, he became its joint top scorer.

His 1964 gold medal was for Albert’s second league championship title with FTC. Fradi won the championship with forty-one points, ahead of Honvéd with thirty-eight (when a win resulted in two points being added). He ended the season with twenty goals, third in the leading goalscorers behind Ferenc Bene (Újpest Dózsa) and Lájos Tichy (Honvéd). The Inter-City Fairs Cup was the predecessor of the UEFA Cup and today’s Europa League. Victory in 1964-5 was the greatest success for Fradi to date. They defeated Juventus in the final, 1-0, with the winning goal scored by Máté Fenyvesi from a chipped cross. Just before the goal, Flórián had been pushed to the ground with both hands by one of the Italian defenders. The Fradi No. 9 could not see that the ball had fallen into the net from the head of Fenyesi. Albert would have questioned the referee, but his friends told him ‘no worries, we’re ahead!’ The joy of scoring could come later. As long as his bones were able to withstand the relentless kicking of opponents, he always stood in battle in many great matches, with an eccentric but easy-going style.

At the 1966 World Cup in England, the name of Flórian Albert was unmissable; he was on the field for all four Hungarian matches. After a 3-1 defeat by Portugal, the team bounced back to beat Brazil 3-1, making the whole world pay attention, once more, to the Mighty Magyars. However, after defeating the Bulgarians 3-1, the team lost to the USSR in the quarter-finals, 2-1. Despite not scoring in this tournament, Albert impressed the crowds and television viewers with his fantastic skills. Proof of this was his selection in the World Cup ‘dream team’ alongside Gordon Banks, Franz Beckenbauer, Bobby Charlton and Eusébio. After the World Cup, Flamengo of Brazil left no stone unturned to sign Albert on loan. Albert was given the opportunity to play as a guest for two weeks in January 1967, the customary break in the Hungarian league programme, but he was warned by the state authorities that if he stayed there with his wife (he had married a well-known actress, Irén Bársony, in 1963), his daughter would be taken into care. Albert scored two goals in four matches at the Brazilian club, where he was adored by the fans. The press paid him the ultimate compliment of likening him to Pelé.

During their league success of 1967, Fradi were eight points ahead of Újpest Dózsa, and Albert was the second top league scorer with twenty-eight goals, behind Antal Dunai II, who had scored thirty-six. At the end of the year, he was chosen as footballer of the year in Hungary and Europe. Managed by Károly Lakát, FTC went on to win their twentieth title at the end of the season. Újpest, with Fazekas, Göröcs and Bene in the team, and coached by the legendary Lajos Baróti, finished as runners-up. The fans had been attracted to the terraces by Albert and these other star players, with the Budapest Derby matches between Vasas and Újpest, and MTK and FTC, with over eighty thousand fans attending. Fradi also won the championship in 1968, their last championship before Újpest overtook them the following season. Flórian Albert, with nineteen goals, finished third in the leading scorers’ list, behind Dunai II and Bene of Újpest (32, 22). They had to wait until 1976 to win the First Division Championship again, by which time Albert had retired.

Albert in his FIFA tracksuit for the 1968 Brazil-World XI match.

According to contemporary reports, the Brazil-World XI match began on 6th November 1968, at 10:30 p.m.; alongside Flórián Albert, his compatriots, Lajos Szűcs and Dezső Novák also took part in the starting line-up. The two defenders played throughout the match and although Albert was replaced at half-time, János Farkas from Vasas came on for the second half. In the twentieth minute, Rivellino (of 1970 World Cup-winning fame) put Brazil ahead, but Albert levelled in the 33rd minute. The South Americans finally won the match in the 89th minute with Tostao’s goal. Four days after the World XI team match Flórián Albert was back to earth in Hungary, playing against Dunaújváros and scoring a brace of goals in Fradi’s 3-0 win.

The 1972 European Championship bronze match against Belgium was the last national team match to feature the legendary striker for a full ninety minutes. He was already struggling to overcome a knee ligament injury sustained three years earlier. In a 1969 World Cup Qualifier against Denmark, the Danish keeper had slid onto his foot, which twisted, rupturing a knee ligament. He was no longer able to perform at his former level. But he battled on for five more years, helping his club to win more trophies and reach the two-leg UEFA Cup semi-final against Wolverhampton Wanderers in April 1972 and scoring the opener in the first leg at the Népstadion in Budapest (as described in the reports above).

This pendant was awarded for Albert’s 75th and last international appearance.

Sadly, in 1974, Albert was forced to retire from the national team he had represented for fifteen years, making seventy-five appearances. He retired, aged thirty-three after it became clear that his knee could no longer bear the strain of top-level competition. His last match, appropriately, was against Yugoslavia, the team he had scored his first three goals for the national team against. In the friendly match played at Székesfehérvár, he was in the starting eleven and led the team onto the pitch as team captain. However, he had to leave the field after fifteen minutes to a standing ovation. The Yugoslavs, who had already been attacking strongly before that, seemed to have been waiting for the moment. As soon as Albert left the pitch they scored two quick goals, but the Magyars fought back with two goals from János Máté and a third from László Fazekas, winning 3-2. Albert played his last match for Ferencváros on 17th March 1974, at the Népstadion. During the farewell match, Albert replaced Lajos Kű in the 54th minute, scoring in the 78th to set the seal on the 3-0 victory. At the end of the match, it was reported that the whole of the People’s Stadium was sobbing, not only Albert himself, his teammates and the adoring Fradi fans.

The Népstadion (National Stadium) where Flórian Albert played many times both in the colours of the national team and Ferencváros (against Wolves in 1972, for example). It was finally renovated and completed in 2006 and renamed the Ferenc Puskás National Stadium.

Although his professional playing career ended in 1974, ‘the Emperor’ continued to play football and was issued a new playing license in 1978. He played several times for Fradi’s ‘Old Boys’, continuing to display his never-ending genius. Foreign readers eagerly read the results of the Hungarian championship, of the fight between the five Budapest ‘giants’: Ferencváros, Vasas, Honvéd, MTK and Újpest. It was as if football, although invented in England, had been made for this ‘loner’ nation, hiding behind ‘the iron curtain’, hardened by centuries of oppression and speaking an exotic language. It seemed enough for the people of Pest to go out at the weekend to any of the capital’s stadiums and watch their ‘little Messiahs’ of which there were two or three in each of the top teams. They were the ones who wrote the history of Hungarian football, and as important as the hot gúlyás (‘goulash) soup or pörkölt (paprika) pork stew they enjoyed once a week, particularly in winter after the savage pig-slaughtering. The rivals of these teams in the freedom of the West knew little of what it took to be a football player with Ferencváros and the other Budapest teams, waiting for the doorbell to ring, nor did they see much of the ‘sports washing’ of the Communist régime by its leaders’ cynical political manipulation and financial exploitation of the players of the Hungarian national team.

By staying at Ferencváros, Albert became a subtle symbol of resistance, a specialist sniper with a silencer on his rifle, featured in the pages of nearly all the football history books with his knowledge of the game. Born and nurtured in the age of the Cold War and the Space Race, Albert’s genius and goals became even more valuable, longed for, and adored over time, like a classic, future-proof poem or painting. After his retirement, he worked as a coach in Africa, with Al-Ahly Benghazi of Libya between 1978 and 1982 and again, briefly, in 1985. He then returned to Ferencváros in the mid-eighties to work alongside his good friend Gyula Rákosi as his assistant, mainly coaching Fradi’s youth team, but also helping Rákosi with the first team.

Coaching the Fradi youth players, and first team as assistant coach to Gyula Rákosi, FTC Head Coach.

It was a journalist from the MTI (Hungarian Telegraphic Office) who told the Albert family the great news of the award of the Ballon d’Or over the phone. That was when his wife, Irén Bársony, first heard of it. The Hungarian national newspaper, Népszabadsag (‘People’s Freedom’) did not even put this sensational news on its front page, as would have happened on other national newspapers. Even the sports paper, Népsport, only included it in a small space at the bottom of the front page. It could already be felt that the authorities would not handle Albert’s recognition as it deserved and would do their best to ensure that no real people’s celebration would take place in Hungary to mark his success on the international football stage. In fact, he received the award almost in secret. Initially, it was intended that the presentation would be made before the national team’s match against the Soviets but, just eleven years after their brutal putting-down of the 1956 Uprising, the communist politicians in power feared that such a celebration might lead to a spontaneous demonstration for freedom. So Flórián received the accolade at the post-match banquet at the Gundel restaurant in the city centre, in near complete secrecy. This was the first time in the history of the Ballon d’Or that the prestigious award had not been presented prior to a big match. Albert never spoke publicly about this treatment, but he admitted privately to being hurt by the leaders’ lack of respect.

In 1966, Flórián Albert played at the level of the world-class players on show in the World Cup finals. It became clear at the tournament that he had matured into one of the best footballers in the world. A year earlier he had won the Inter-City Fairs Cup with Ferencváros, beating Juventus in the final. In 1967, he scored twenty-eight goals in twenty-seven games in FTC colours in the Hungarian Championship, so his position was beyond dispute: Albert’s sixty-eight points were followed by Charlton with forty points and Johnstone with thirty-nine points. In 1997, on the thirtieth anniversary of the Ballon d’Or presentation, Albert received a beautiful ‘golden boot’ from Adidas.

Wolves’ Final European Matches of the Century, 1973-93:

Wolves made their next European appearance in the second round of the UEFA Cup against the East Germans, Lokomotiv Leipzig, in October 1973. In the first leg, in Leipzig, the Wolves were without their midfield king-pin Mike Bailey and strikers John Richards and Dave Wagstaffe. But no one in the Wolves camp could quite believe the result, a 3-0 defeat, and their first away defeat on their UEFA Cup travels. Not since meeting Barcelona in the Quarter-final of the European Champions Cup in 1960 had a side put three past Wolves in a competitive European game. The Old Gold tried to rally and rescue the tie in the second leg at Molineux, in a match that the fans who went to see it felt privileged to witness. They had scored the four goals they needed by the 83rd minute, but Locomotiv had scored the all-important away goal in the 72nd minute. So the tie finished 4-4 on aggregate, but the Wolves went out on the away goals rule. The half-coloured picture below features two of the Wolves’ frustrated goalscorers, Steve Kindon and Derek Dougan, kneeling and sitting on the ground after another Wolves attack came to nothing.

It was some compensation that in March 1974 Wolves won the League Cup, beating Manchester City 2-1 in the final at Wembley and so qualifying for one more season in the UEFA Cup. Man City had one of the best forward lines in the business from Mike Summerbee on the right, through Colin Bell, Francis Lee, Denis Law and Rodney Marsh. But the Wolves also had an impressive striking pair in Derek Dougan and John Richards. Richards scored the winning goal at Wembley but didn’t play again that season, while the ageing ‘Doog’ was now restricted to the substitutes’ bench.

In their first season together, 1971-72, they scored forty goals in the League and the UEFA Cup. I remember watching them in action at the Hawthorns, against West Bromwich Albion, and at Molineux. The duo scored a total of 125 goals in 127 games in their partnership in two-and-a-half seasons. Dougan played his last six full games in 1974-75, two of them in the UEFA Cup when Wolves went ‘one worse’ than their performances in previous seasons by losing in the first round to FC Porto, albeit to a team packed with world stars, including the Brazilian World Cup star, Flavio. Wolves went down 4-1 in the away leg but again came back at Molineux on 2nd October, winning 3-1, with Dougan scoring one of the goals. But his team lost 5-4 on aggregate.

Picture: Steve Daley after scoring the second against Porto

Wolves were relegated to Division Two at the end of the 1975-76 season, and after a brief return and another ‘Indian summer’, again at the end of the 1981-82 season. During the period between relegations, they qualified for the UEFA Cup for a fourth time in 1980-81. But Dutch masters PSV Eindhoven pretty much put an end to the Wolves’ hopes in mid-September by beating them 3-1 in Holland. Although Wolves won the second leg with a goal from Mel Eves (above), they lost the overall tie 3-2 on aggregate. This was their last appearance in a major European competition for thirty-nine years, as they slumped to the Fourth Division and almost went bankrupt.

Mel Eves attacking on the Wolves’ left. From the cover of the Match Magazine for Wolves v PSV Eindhoven, Wolves’ last European match of the century.

Lifelong fan Jack Hayward stepped in to purchase the club in 1990 and immediately funded the extensive redevelopment of a, by then, dilapidated Molineux into a modern all-seater stadium. With work completed in 1993, Hayward redirected his investment onto the playing side in an attempt to win promotion to the newly formed Premier League, which took another ten years, into the twenty-first century.

To mark the official opening of the new stand and the renovation of the Molineux stadium, the Hungarian side Kispest Honvéd was invited to play Wolves. On Tuesday 7 December 1993, a capacity all-seater crowd of 28, 245 watched the visitors hold the home team to a 2-2 draw. For the first time in nine years, Molineux was once again a proper four-sided stadium, all four having black and gold seats.

Interestingly, in this third match against Honvéd at Molineux, thirty-nine years after the first, there was a short delay because of problems with the floodlighting. But compared with some of the darker days of the previous fifteen years, this was not a major issue since, as Wolves fans knew, Out of Darkness Cometh Light.

A Gallery of Artefacts & Additional Photographs from the FTC Exhibition in Honour of Flórián Albert, 2021:


Pál Czigányi, et. al. (2021), Albert 80: The Legacy of the One and Only Hungarian Ballon d’Or Winner. Budapest: Ferencvárosi Torna Club.

György Szöllősi (2015), Ferenc Puskás: The Most Famous Hungarian. Budapest: Rézbong Kiadó.

György Szöllősi, Zalán Bodnár (2015), Az Aránycsapat Kinceskönyve (‘The Golden Team Treasure Book’). Budapest: Twister Media.

Bán Tibor, Harmos Zotán (2011), Puskás Ferenc. Budapest: Arena2000.

John Shipley (2003), Wolves Against the World: European Nights, 1953-1980. Stroud (Glos.): Tempus Publishing.

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