Our European guru educates and enlightens
Willie McStay’s new employer, Ujpest, were very nearly immortalised in the Half Man Half Biscuit song All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit.
But football’s funniest troubadours once told Champions they weren’t sure how to spell or pronounce Ujpest Dosza (the club’s old name) so they settled on Dukla Prague.
That said, Dukla Prague does scan better.
McStay called the decision to move to Budapest to coach one of Hungary’s most famous teams a “no brainer.”
The ‘golden age’ that McStay, like every other Ujpest coach, will somehow have to come to terms with started in 1967, when Lajos Baroti arrived as coach, and petered out in the early 1980s, as the Hungarian game degenerated.
The Purple Monkeys could have won the 1969 Fairs Cup. Trounced 3-0 by Newcastle United in the first leg, they were 2-0 up in front of their own fans at half-time in the second leg in Budapest.
But Newcastle manager Joe Harvey made his legendary speech in the dressing room (“Get one goal and they’ll fold like a pack of cards”), Bobby Moncur scored within a minute of the restart and the Magpies never looked back.
In England, that is the extent of Ujpest’s fame. But from 1971/72 to 1973/74, Ferencvaros’s fiercest rivals always made the last eight of the European Cup.
In 1973, they only missed out on the last four on away goals (lucky Juventus) but in 1974, they reached the semis, losing to eventual winners Bayern..
In Hungary, Ujpest were utterly dominant. In 1968, they contrived to finish as runners-up despite racking up 102 goals in 30 matches.
In 1969, they won the first of seven consecutive Hungarian titles. After plummeting to third, they bounced back to win the league again in 1978 (banging in a mere 95 goals this time) and 1979.
In the cavalier/roundhead entertainers/winning ugly dichotomy that divides football, Ujpest were definitely cavalier entertainers.
Their success was built upon an astonishing front line.
Laszlo Fazekas scored 252 goals in 407 games and Antal Dunai was one of the most prolific strikers in Europe in the late 1960s.
While the greatest of them all, the dashing, skilful Ferenc Bene averaged a goal every other game for Hungary (despite being forced to play on the wing because Florian Albert was usually deployed as the central striker).
And his stats for his club were, as Motty might say, “quite remarkable”: 303 goals in 417 games. He won gold with the Hungarians at the 1964 Olympics but didn’t hang up his boots until 1979.
Bene was one of the unsung heroes of the 1966 World Cup, scoring in every game for Hungary (who were then managed by Baroti), twisting and dribbling past most of the Brazilian defence before beating Gylmar – just two minutes and 20 seconds into this clip – in a 3-1 victory that many pundits still describe as the game of the tournament.
If Bene hadn’t played for the country that gave us Puskas, Hidegkuti, Kocsis, and Kubala he’d have been even more famous.
Ujpests’s genetic predisposition to attack reflects, in part, the feats of such pre-World War II strikers as Ferenc Szusza (whose astonishing stats – 392 goals in 463 games – stand comparison with any goalscorer from any era and explain why the club chose to name its stadium after him) and Gyula Zsengeller who, in 1938/39, scored six goals in a match on three separate occasions.
Ujpest stars have been less prolific of late – and haven’t won the league since 1998 (they were runners-up last season, nine points behind Debreceni.).
Ending that famine would help McStay escape from Baroti’s shadow. His timing might just be immaculate.
Hungarian football looks livelier than it has for decades. The national team, guided by Erwin Koeman, are a surprising second in their 2010 qualifying group.
The league seems resilient, despite the credit crunch. Foreign investment (Sheffield United have linked up with Ferencvaros, Ujpest have links to Celtic and West Ham while Honved is owned by George Hemingway, an American businessman of Hungarian origin) and foreign coaching expertise have helped Hungarian football crawl back from the abyss.
Budapest even has a Scottish themed pub The Caledonian where the chefs occasionally deep-fry Mars bars.
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