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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #14 - Gusztáv Sebes

Having started on a mitteleuropa trail that began with Meisl and continued with Hogan, Erbstein and Guttman, it is inevitable that the last Hungarian to feature in this series is Gusztáv Sebes, the man who coached the magnificent Magyars of the 1950s and changed football forever.
The son of a cobbler, Sebes was born in Budapest, and spent time in Paris working as a fitter for Renault, playing for the works team Olympique Billancourt. However he spent the bulk of his playing career with MTK Hungaria winning three League titles.
Following retirement he was put in charge of the national team as the Deputy Minister for sport. Influenced by the great Austrian and Italian national teams of the 1930s he aimed to draw the majority of his players from one or two clubs. This was made easier following the nationalisation of sports clubs under the post war Soviet regime. The ministry of defence took over Kispest, renaming it Honved. Already containing Ferenc Puskas and Jozsef Bozsik, the team was augmented using conscription, with Sandor Kocsis, Zoltan Czibor, Laszlo Budai, Gyula Lorant and Gyular Grosics. As the army team Honved could become the training camp for the bedrock of the Hungarian national team.
Back at his old club MTK, coach Marton Bukovi pioneered the use of the 4-2-4 or M-M formation, using a deep lying centre forward. With this team providing the rest of Sebes eleven, he then layered on his philosophy of what he called socialist football, and what is now known as total football.
Essentially this required every player to have equal responsibility in attack and defence, and thus able to play in any position on the pitch. In practical terms this meant developments such as overlapping full backs and a false nine. The stage was now set for Hungary to rock the world of football.

Their rise to prominence began at the 1952 Olympics staged in Helsinki. Hungary cruised to the final scoring twenty goals and conceding just two, beating defending champions Sweden in the semi-final. The gold medal was won with a 2-0 win over Yugoslavia, and the watching head of the FA Stanley Rous was moved to invite Hungary to play England.

The fixture was to be played in November 1953. In the meantime Hungary won the Central European International Cup. Sebes planned meticulously for the England game, using the heavier ball favoured by the English, and a training pitch which matched the dimensions of Wembley. He also played training matches against teams using the English style.

With rising star Nandor Hidegkuti scoring a hat-trick, Hungary stunned England with a 6-3 win, the first time England had lost to a non British team on home soil. Also to the fore was the brilliant Puskas, scoring one of his two goals with an amazing drag back to leave captain Billy Wright flat on his back before firing the ball into the back of the net. The fact that the match was important not just for the result but also its introduction of a radical exciting way of playing the game was symbolised by the commentary “here’s the number five and he’s not playing centre half”. A few months later Hungary emphasised their superiority by winning the return match 7-1 in Budapest.

By the time of the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, Sebes’ team had been unbeaten for four years. They sailed through the group stage and beat 1950 runners up Brazil 4-2 in a quarter-final which became known as the Battle of Berne due to a post match brawl in the tunnel. 

In the semi-final they overcame defending holders Uruguay 4-2 leading to a final tie against West Germany who they had already beaten in 8-3 in the group stage. Puskas had broken his ankle in this win and was absent from the following two matches but returned for the final.

Playing in heavy rain Hungary were two nil up in eight minutes but the Germans had levelled the score only ten minutes later. Hungary threw everything at the Germans hitting the woodwork twice and having two shots cleared off the line but went behind with six minutes to go. Puskas thought he had equalised in the dying minutes only for his goal to be disallowed for offside. In a match mired with controversy there were post match allegations that the Germans had taken performance enhancing drugs.
Back in Hungary the first defeat of the Golden team since 1950 triggered demonstrations which goalkeeper Grosics believed sowed the seeds of the 1956 uprising. Grosics ended up under house arrest whilst Sebes himself came under severe criticism. He carried on in his post for two more years before being sacked. The Soviet invasion of 1956 led to the defection of the team’s stars and by the time of the next World Cup only four players remained.
The spirit of the mighty Magyars lived on in the performances of the players in club football, most notably Puskas at Real Madrid, and Sebes’ place in history is assured as the man who drew together the threads spun over thirty years to produce one of the most exciting teams the world has ever seen. Its fluid and flexible philosophy endured most notably through Holland in the 70s and Brazil in the 80s before finally finding the ability to synthesise the aesthetic of style and a winning ruthlessness in the modern day Spanish team.

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