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Testimonials | Puskás and Honvéd FC both ailing


Puskás helped Hungary to the Olympic gold medal in 1952.

Budapest | Real Madrid will play a testimonial match August 14 to help pay for Alzheimer's treatment for former Madrid and Hungary forward Ferenc Puskás. The "Puskás All Stars" will provide the opposition, and Alfredo di Stéfano and Francisco Gento—with whom Puskás formed a holy trinity at Real in the late 1950s and '60s—are scheduled to attend. Puskás has been ill at least since 2000 (Duncan Welch, "The World Wishes Puskás Well," Budapest Sun, 26 October 2000). Now 78, he has been living in the capital's Kútvölgyi Hospital. Typical for a player of his prowess and physique, he had many nicknames: "Galloping Major," "Cañoncito Pum" (Little Cannon Bang) and, in Hungarian, "Öcsi," for Little Brother. Following the Soviet suppression of 1956, Puskás played his football abroad and remained itinerant as a manager, coaching the Vancouver Royals of the North American Soccer League, Panathanaikos and AEK in Athens, and Colo Colo in Chile.

His career started at Budapest's Kispesti Athletikai Club, renamed Honvéd with its military affiliation in 1948. According to Honvéd FC's own figures, 92 of its players, including Puskás, have represented the national team. Yet in January of this year it launched a plea on its website announcing its imminent demise: "For several years now, the Hungarian government has been deliberately trying to ruin this club," read the press release, titled "Honved in Extreme Peril!"

The change of regime in Hungary is still not complete: the chaotic financial and economic environment keeps investors away, the majority of football clubs and stadiums are proprieted [sic] by local governments or, in the case of stadiums of the capital, are state property."

No further information on the club's plight has been forthcoming.

Update: On revelations that Real Madrid left town with the lion's share of the cash following the testimonial match for Puskás, multiple parties stepped into the breach with promises of relief. FIFA, Real Madrid, match organizers and a Hungarian casino owner—by purchasing Puskás memorabilia that had been tagged for public auction—stepped in to secure Puskás's long-term finances. Puskás's wife, Erzsebet, now may have sufficient funds to establish a Puskás medical foundation (Gareth A. Davies, "Puskas' Financial Future Secured," Daily Telegraph, 1 November 2005).

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Fehér's jersey is displayed at his funeral procession in GyôrGyôr, Hungary, and Guimaraes, Portugal, 4 Feb 2004 | That Miklós Fehér died as he did, during a live television match for his team, Benfica, recalled the similar-seeming death of Marc Vivien Foé the previous summer in FIFA's Confederations Cup. Fehér, 24, who had played 25 times for Hungary's national team, died on 25 January after his heart "simply stopped beating" (Rob Hughes, "A Death Brings Fear to the Field," International Herald Tribune). "Feher, by all accounts a placid and pleasant man," Hughes writes, "had come on the field as a late substitute. The seconds were ticking away when Feher was shown the yellow card by the referee. Feher smiled, then bent over with his hands on his knees. He tumbled back." Fehér's death, without any other explanation, also becomes linked with the intense physical demands placed on professional footballers and related abuses. Hughes continues:

[T]here is, surely, cause for someone in overall authority to offer more than the condolences that came rapidly enough from FIFA. . . . With the interminable inquiry into supplements used by Italian clubs such as Juventus [see gleanings entry for 19 December 2003], with the highly suspect coincidence of unexplained deaths of several soccer professionals in Romania, there must be urgency among the medical committees and the administrators who increase the number of tournaments and the profits of the global game.

Budapest, 25 Nov 2003 | Today marks the 50th anniversary of Hungary's famous 6-3 victory over England at Wembley, England's first home defeat to a continental opponent. The Times (London) and the UEFA website provide extensive coverage, much of it focusing on the tactical innovations of Hungary coach Gusztav Sebes, who, in turn, was indebted to former Legendary left-footer Ferenc Puskas, who Real Madrid teammate Alfredo Di Stéfano called "the big gut"Tottenham manager Arthur Rowe (Ben Lyttleton, "Hungary 1953," footballculture.net) and Aston Villa, Fulham and Celtic gaffer Jimmy Hogan (Norman Fox, "How Total Football Inventor Was Lost to Hungary," The Guardian, 22 November).

The game's outcome is memorialized in the name of a Budapest bar, 6:3, but no one questions that football in Hungary has been in decline for some years. Current 6:3 tap puller Marianna Toth tells the Times's David Powell, "The reason I'm not so keen on Hungarian football is that it is of poor quality." Water polo has become more popular than football. Remembrances of the 6-3 victory appear to be sparse: The Budapest Sun reports it could find no evidence of a government-sponsored commemoration (Tamás Kiss, "6-3—Is Anniversary a Net Loss?" 20 November). A recent change in government has arrested support for Hungarian youth football; meanwhile, legendary Ferenc Puskas, who scored 240 goals in 260 appearances for Real Madrid, now lives in a hospital suite paid for by the state, the Times reports. Perhaps the Times offers the best tribute, reprinting Geoffrey Green's 1953 matchday coverage, in which he writes, almost liturgically, "Here, indeed, did we attend, all 100,000 of us, the twilight of the gods." It continues:

[H]ere, on Wembley's velvet turf, [England] found themselves strangers in a strange world, a world of flitting red spirits, for such did the Hungarians seem as they moved at devastating pace with superb skill and powerful finish in their cherry bright shirts.

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