Two events focusing on Ferenc Puskás, former captain of the Hungary national team and worldwide football legend, took place in England and Northern Ireland earlier this month as the ’Discovering Puskás’ series of events started its journey around the United Kingdom.
Firstly, a display highlighting the incredible story of one of international football’s greatest goal-scorers opened at the National Football Museum in Manchester on 2nd September, the unveiling of which took place alongside a one-hour lecture on the former Honvéd and Real Madrid forward featuring former England captain Jimmy Armfield and English Professional Footballers’ Association head Gordon Taylor in the presence of Hungarian Ambassador to the UK Péter Szabadhegy. Another participant in this captivating discussion was György Szöllősi, head of the Puskás Institute and author of the definitive new biography of Puskás which was originally published in Hungary in 2005 and being launched in English at the same event.
Ferenc Puskás was and still is regarded as a superstar. Indeed, he was one of the very best footballers ever, both in his ‘first’ 13-year career with Honvéd and as a World Cup runner-up with Hungary and his ‘second’ 9-year period with Real Madrid and Spain, who helped everyone he could; homeless people or those who needed a break, any Hungarians he met abroad…etc.
The striker was captain of the team which humbled England in two epic matches in the 1950s. He became player of the tournament at the 1954 World Cup before going into exile after the Hungarian uprising of 1956 and, at the age of 31, joining Real Madrid where he became Spanish champion five times, European Cup winner three times and was the inspiration behind Real’s victory in the first ever Intercontinental Cup in 1960.
The display of objects, a first for the country of England, was been brought together in collaboration with the Puskás Institute in Hungary. It includes Puskás’ gold medal and final-game-worn boots from the 1952 Olympics, a football from the 1954 World Cup Finals and his match-worn Real Madrid shirt, along with many other awards and trophies from his career as a player and a manager, most famously with Panathinaikos. The Institute and the National Football Museum dedicated the display to the memory of Mrs Erzsébet Puskás, widow of Ferenc, who died earlier this month aged 83.
The Puskás Institute was established together with Mrs Puskás to support and launch initiatives which help preserve Puskás’ legacy and also curates the Puskás personal collection, having already exhibited some of this wide range of memorabilia in the Santiago Bernabéu stadium in Madrid in 2013 and in Athens in 2014.
David Pearson, Deputy Director of the National Football Museum commented “This is the best collection of one of the true greats of world football ever assembled for display in the UK. We are delighted to be able to unveil it. It will be a real treat for football fans.”
Mr Szöllősi, also director of the Puskás Institute, said: “We are delighted that Ferenc Puskás, not only a Hungarian national hero but also an example for all professional footballers and one of the first real global football stars, is being honoured in this way through an exhibition at the National Football Museum in England.” To coincide with the opening, György Szöllősi launched his new biography of Ferenc Puskás, co-published by Backpage Press and Freight Press, as part of the Manchester Football Writing Festival being held that week.
Five days later in Belfast, Mr Szöllősi’s biography entitled ’Puskás’ was launched in Northern Ireland at an afternoon press conference at the Wellington Park Hotel in the presence of Hungary’s Honorary Consul in Northern Ireland Ken Belshaw; soon-to-be Head of the Hungarian Cultural Institute in London Eszter Pataki; MLSZ vice-president Sándor Berzi and Freight Press director Adrian Searle. The event, taking place just hours before the important 2016 European Championship qualifier between Northern Ireland and Hungary, saw Mr Berzi recount some of his own thoughts and experiences of the great man having worked with Puskás for many years at MLSZ and heard stories from his father who played football with him.
„Unfortunately I never saw him play but I grew up hearing about him from my father and I trust his professional judgement: I knew that he really was the greatest. Today, I also know that Puskás brought fame to Hungary in ever the most far-flung places. My first meeting with him was in 1990 when I participated at the FIFA Congress in Rome. The evening programme was punctuated by everyone whispering to each other that ’Puskás has arrived, Puskás has arrived. Everything went silent – life stopped and all eyes were searching for him. The a miracle happened; he really did step into the room. It was a magical moment…”.
Mr Berzi then reminisced over a moment at the UEFA Champions League final in Vienna in 1995 when he was seen with Puskás and which exemplified Puskás’ greatness as a person. „Afterwards, we were late setting off home by car – I was driving. The queue was huge at the border and we stood there for hours – by the time we’d crossed and driven the rest of the way home it was already 6am in the morning! We had a function to attend that morning so there was to be a car arriving for him just one hour later at 7am. I said to him that he should tell the organisers he has to withdraw because a 68-year-old shouldn’t stretch himself so far. Naturally he wouldn’t hear of it; he was ready showered, shaved and dressed to leave at 7am because he didn’t want to disappoint the football fans who would be attending…”
Just before this, Mr Belshaw had talked of Puskás’s greatness on the pitch. „George Best was a legend, as were Pelé, Cruyff, Maradona and Eusébio , but Puskás was the first and the greatest legend. He changed football just like Hemingway or Shakespeare changed literature. Whoever lived with them in their times knew who they were and what they had achieved.”
Events such as the ones in Manchester and Belfast, planned events in Glasgow and London next month and the annual FIFA Puskás Award for the goal of the year all help keep fresh in the minds of football fans the memory of Ferenc Puskás, officially the greatest goalscorer of the 20th century worldwide according to the International Federation of Football Statisticians in 1997.