Hungary | Ferenc Puskás dies, aged 79

Shrines in Budapest pay tribute to Puskás on Friday. Video at Hungarian websites shows passersby laying amaryllis blooms and lighting votives at Puskás Ferenc Stadion, rededicated in his honor in 2002 (see also a video montage of photographs, set to string music). (Meggyesi Bálint | Nemzeti sport)

Budapest | “The Galloping Major,” star of the Hungarian national team and Real Madrid in the 1950s and ’60s, has died of pneumonia. “The best-known Hungarian of the 20th century is gone,” said prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány on Friday. Ferenc Puskás had been living in a Budapest hospital for six years with a form of Alzheimer’s (see 30 Jun 05).

Tributes honored the left-footed goal-scorer for his humanist impulses, for accomplishments that came despite a 25-year exile from Hungary in the middle of his life and for guidance of a Hungarian team that, in winning a record 32 consecutive games in the early 1950s, set standards for possession and flair that Brazil and others later would imitate. His renown in football was such that tributes were worldwide. “You say Hungary, and people think Puskás,” said György Kárpáti, three-time gold medalist in water polo. “If you go to Venezuela, or Naples, or Australia, people know Puskás. Puskás is Hungary. Hungary is Puskás” (quoted in Jonathan Wilson, “My Life Is Like a Love Affair, I Loved Football at the Start and I Will Love It at the End,” Sunday Herald [Glasgow], 19 Nov 06). In Madrid, cellist Laura Bení­tez played a Pablo Casals arrangement of “Song of the Birds” as players linked arms at the center circle.

Puskás had a simple love for the ball, which he treated as a kabala, “lucky charm” (Márton Dinnyés, “Puskás, Hungary’s Greatest,” uefa.com, 17 Nov 06). His childhood friend and future international, József Bozsik, grew up in the same neighborhood in Kispest, outside Budapest. “We soon became friends and had a secret sign,” Puskás said. “If I knocked on the wall, it meant: let’s go and play football.”

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