First Touch

Honved Of Budapest In The 1950s

It is a measure of the genuine majesty of Honved of Budapest that the team from the early 1950s still attracts such feelings of warmth. After all, they were essentially an Hungarian Army side at a time when the grip of Soviet communism meant that eastern European armies were pretty savage beasts.

So many of the sporting triumphs of the Iron Curtain nations in the post-war, pre Berlin Wall fall period have been discredited because of the methods by which physical supremacy was won, and by the way in which the games were played. But not Honved.

honved soccer team logo

By Dave Bowler 

Hungary was a little different to some of those Soviet satellites, certainly in the immediate post-war years. Budapest itself was occupied by the Germans in 1944 before, in December of that year, Soviet and Romanian troops laid siege to the city. From frying pan to fire went the capital city and the country as a whole, but in spite of the occupation and oppression, a sense of identity and even intellectual resistance persisted.

And ironically, Honved were to offer an outlet for that, for from the roots of that side grew the full flowering of the mighty Magyars, the national side that bestrode world football and ultimately inspired the Brazilians and the way in which they revolutionised football with Garrincha, Zagallo, Pele and all.

Born in 1949

It’s all the more surprising since Honved did not exist until 1949 when Hungary became a communist state. It grew from Kispest FC, a club side which already included the genius of Ferenc Puskas and Jozsef Bozsik, but it came into being under the auspices of the national team coach Gsztav Sebes who, drawing on the experience of the pre-war Austrian wunderteam, realised it was wise to draw the national side from just a couple of sources rather than a dozen disparate teams.

In a communist state, creating an army team and conscripting any player you wanted made that perfectly possible, and so Honved was born, the word meaning defender of the homeland, a role they figuratively took up for the next few years, the Hungarian nation being as much a state of mind as a piece of land in those repressive days.

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First Title In 1950

Success took little time to arrive, Honved carrying off their first league title in 1949/50, the first of five titles they were to collect by 1955. To the ranks were swiftly added Sandor Kocsis, Gyula Crocsis, Zoltan Czibor, Laszlo Budai and Gyula Lorant, names that echo down the years.

Sebes’ theories quickly came to fruition, for as Honved bestrode the national game, their players grew to know one another as well as they knew themselves. To employ the cliche, the team functioned like clockwork, except that is to do them an injustice.

The team played with fluidity, with intelligence, with verve, with wit. The football field gave them a release from the realities of Hungarian life, gave them a chance to express themselves, to express the fact that they were not all part of the drab uniformity of the communist state, that they were not as unthinkingly obedient as, for instance, the East Germans.

Olympic Gold 1952

The Hungarians carried off the Olympic gold medal in 1952, they ended England’s long unbeaten home run in 1953 and were within a whisker of winning the World Cup which was truly their just desserts in 1954.

At the beating heart of it all was the Honved combination, the irony being that such was their charisma that these representatives of the workers utopia became celebrities, became the side that everyone wanted to see.

As football embraced two new innovations “television and floodlights“ Honved were the team the world wanted to see. The flickering black and white images that remain show a team that played a new kind of football, a world away from the powerhouse, kick and rush style so prevalent in this country.

Nándor Hidegkuti and Ferenc Puskás in 1954
Nándor Hidegkuti and Ferenc Puskás in 1954

With Puskas scheming, with players talking up unorthodox positions on the pitch, with the team using a scientific, possession football approach, they gave us a new conception of the game and, though they were ultimately beaten 3-2 by Wolves under the lights at Molineux in that first TV game in December 1953, they were the moral victors.

That game not only changed how football might be played, it changed how and where we might play it for it played a huge role in the establishment of the European Cup, which came into being in 1955/56. Honved missed the inaugural season, but were in the mix for 1956/57 when they were drawn to play Athletic Bilbao November 1956. Events were then to change the course of history for Honved.


They slipped to a 3-2 defeat in Spain but before they could return home, the Hungarian revolution had been crushed by Soviet tanks. With the borders still open, the players summoned their families and refused to return, playing the return leg at the Heysel Stadium. Their goalkeeper was injured, Czibor had to go between the posts and they drew 3-3 to go out of the competition and all but end their story.

The team as it was constituted went on a brief fundraising in Italy, Portugal and Spain, thrilling crowds with their last hurrah. FIFA in its typically infinite wisdom swiftly outlawed the team while they were playing in a tournament in Brazil, so there was to be no future for them as a footballing version of the Harlem Globetrotters. Returning to Europe, some found new clubs and defected to the west, others chose to go back home.

The majesty of the Magyars was a thing of the past, but in the end, only tanks could stop them.

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