IFHOF Where football lives
Hall of FameVotingWorldview NewsFun Zone
The ShopFeedback
Hall of Fame
Inside IFHOF
Why England

endorsed by
Vote NOW

Ferenc Puskas
Born: 2 April, 1927. Budapest, Hungary

International Caps Hungary 84, Spain 4
International Goals Hungary 83
Teams Kispest Honved, Real Madrid
Team Honours European Cup: 1959, 60, 66.
World Club Championship: 1960
Spanish Championships: 1961, 62, 63, 64, 65.
Spanish Cup: 1962
Hungarian Championship: 1950, 52, 54, 55.
Olympic Gold Medal: 1952
Individual Honours -
"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.

"Fat and little" were as close as those remarks, from an England player, got to anything resembling the truth as he sized up the opposition.

Ninety minutes later Hungary had slaughtered England 6-3. They were the first foreign team to inflict defeat on England at Wembley. And what a defeat. It wasn't just the score. The style of football played by the Magnificent Magyars might as well have come from another planet. England, self-styled masters of the game, were humiliated.

The "little fat chap" was Ferenc Puskas, the Hungarian captain. Indeed, he was an odd looking footballer. He was short, stocky, barrel-chested, overweight, couldn't head and only used one foot.

Yet no one in Britain had seen ball skills like his as he inspired a performance that completely demolished England's reputation as a world football power.

Puskas was known as the Galloping Major, a reference to the fact that he was an army officer playing for an army team. Later, when he was exiled in Spain, he became known as the little canon. For that one foot, his left, packed such a thunderbolt shot that he scored 83 goals in 84 internationals and he remains the only player to have scored four goals in a European Cup Final.

Tom Finney, who watched England's woe from the Wembley stands, spoke for everyone when he said: "I came away wondering to myself what we had been doing all these years."

A few months later he found out the hard way. Finney was selected for the team to play the return match in Budapest. Puskas and Co did it again . . but this time they inflicted a 7-1 drubbing on England.

Puskas was born in Budapest in April 1927 and had been something of a boy wonder, making his debut for his father's old team Kispest at the age of 16. At 18 he was an international, appearing for Hungary against Austria in 1945.

Hungary had been a significant soccer nation before the war, losing 4-2 to Italy in the 1938 World Cup Final. But as the Soviet Union grabbed land and colonised peoples under the Communist banner in the aftermath of war, even football was not unaffected.

Military teams, emphasising the might of the Soviet way of life, sprang up all over Eastern Europe. Hungary was no exception. Basically the authorities took the Kispest club and all their players and in 1948 turned them into Honved, the team of the Hungarian Army.

Using national service as a pretext to annexe talent, Honved became the most successful club in Europe in the days before the European Cup and that club side was to form the basis of the national team.

That first season, Puskas scored 50 goals as he won the first of his four Hungarian Championships with Honved.

Of course, Communist sports teams were technically amateurs. Consequently they could compete in the Olympic Games. Puskas was captain of his country when they took the soccer gold medal by defeating Yugoslavia in the final at Helsinki in 1952.

The Hungarian team was essentially built around five remarkable players. Grosics in goal, Bozsik at half-back, and forwards Kocsis, Hidegkuti and Puskas. But they began a revolutionary development in attack. While inside forwards Kocsis and Puskas were the main thrust of the attack, centre-forward Hidegkuti played deep.

England's captain and centre-half Billy Wright, a man of formidable international experience, had no idea how to cope with it during the Wembley massacre. The tactic confused England and turned their defence inside out.

The third goal, scored by Puskas, had them completely bewildered as he changed direction by rolling the ball back with the sole of his feet, swivelled and hit the ball past the hapless goalkeeper, Birmingham City's Gil Merrick.

By 1954, Hungary were the hot favourites to win the World Cup in Switzerland. They hadn't lost for four years and scored 17 goals in their first two games when the finals began.

First they beat South Korea 9-0, them handed out an 8-3 hammering to West Germany - one of the more fancied teams in the competition. However, Puskas was injured by the West German centre-half Werner Liebrich and missed the quarter-final against Brazil, a shameful match that became known as the Battle of Berne.

Apart from the ferocity of the tackling, the Brazilians invaded the Hungarian dressing room after the match claiming that Puskas, a spectator on the touchline, had attacked and wounded their centre-half Pinheiro. Fighting broke out, bottles were thrown and players hit each other with football boots. Mayhem apart, Hungary were 4-2 winners.

Puskas's damaged ankle kept him from the semi-final against Uruguay, which Hungary won 4-2 in extra time. And so to the final - against West Germany, the team they had annihilated in the early rounds.

Captain Puskas declared himself fit, but it was a controversial decision. According to Brian Glanville in his book, The Story of the World Cup: "Puskas, clearly hampered by his ankle, was unwontedly heavy and slow."

Nonetheless, Hungary led 2-0 after just eight minutes, the second goal coming from Puskas. But their game began to go awry. Germany pulled back to 2-2, then took the lead through Rahn.

The turning point came when Puskas found a gap and slid the ball past the German keeper Turek. Welsh linesman Mervyn Griffiths had his flag up. The goal was disallowed for offside.

West Germany had won 3-2 and caused one of the football upsets of the century. Hungary, having conquered all before them, had lost the one that really mattered - the World Cup Final.

Back at Honved, Puskas became even better known in Western Europe as his club travelled abroad playing exhibition matches. In December 1954 they came to Molineux where they were beaten 3-2 by a Wolverhampton Wanderers side in its prime. The victory led the Wolves manager, Stan Cullis, to announce that his team were "champions of the world."

Changes in Eastern Europe, however, were soon to see the break-up of that great Hungarian side. They were on a par with the magnificent Brazilians who succeeded them as the world's best team. But by the next World Cup, Hungary had disintegrated and were never to achieve their rightful status as World Champions.

The cause was the Hungarian uprising of 1956, when the rebels revolted against their Soviet masters. There was bitter fighting, with tanks and bloodshed on the streets.

Puskas was with the rest of his Honved team-mates in Spain when the revolution took place. They had been playing a European Cup tie against Bilbao and Puskas, along with Kocsis and Czibor, defected to the West.

Puskas spent a year in Austria, but failed to get a playing permit. He wanted to play in Italy, but he piled on weight as he drifted aimlessly around Europe and having turned 30 he was considered too old and too fat.

He was rescued by his old Honved manager Emil Oestreicher, now in charge at Real Madrid. The famous "royals" in their all-white strip had been turned into a club that dominated Europe by the vision of their president, Santiago Bernabeu.

They had won the first European Cup in 1956 and had retained it the following year. Among their star players were centre-forward Alfredo Di Stefano, a naturalised Argentinian, and Francisco Gento, the flying winger.

In 1958, 31-year-old Puskas joined them, receiving a 10,000 signing-on fee. Overweight? Maybe. A has-been? Hardly.

The player rejected by the Italians struck up a sensational partnership with Di Stefano and was four times the leading scorer in the Spanish Championship. The climax of this outstanding Real side was the 1960 European Cup Final played before 135,000 at Hampden Park.

In one of the truly memorable matches, Real beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3. Di Stefano scored a hat-trick. Puskas went one better, getting four goals. Real had won the European Cup five times in a row.

Their period of supremacy was coming to an end, however. In November that year they eventually lost their first European Cup tie - going down 4-3 to deadly rivals Barcelona. It was the beginning of the end of a remarkable era.

Puskas was to play in one more European Cup Final, for Real Madrid against Benfica in 1962. Benfica won 5-3 . . . Puskas, aged 35, scored all three goals for Real! In 39 European matches for Real, he scored an amazing 35 goals.

The same year he was picked to play for Spain in the World Cup Finals in Chile. The team was packed with talent. Apart from Gento, there was Luis del Sol and Luis Suarez. It made little difference, Spain won just one of their three matches and finished bottom of their qualifying group.

Puskas continued to play for Real until 1966 when he retired to concentrate on coaching. He had only mediocre success until 1971 when he took the Greek Champions Panathinaikos to the European Cup Final where they lost 2-0 to Ajax at Wembley.

But perhaps the sweetest moment was in 1993 when Puskas, the star who had defected to flee the uprising, was allowed back home to became caretaker manager of the Hungarian side during the World Cup qualifiers.

The Hungarians didn't make it to the finals in America, but a great national hero had been forgiven.

back to Hall of Fame

back hometop of page
©2000 IFHOF West, LLC