The Fifties: Friendly Floodlit Football   1 comment

In the ‘season’ following the Queen’s Coronation, 1953/54, undoubtedly the best football team in Britain were Wolverhampton Wanderers, from the ‘Black Country’ in the English Midlands. They were champions of the English First Division, the original name of what is  now known as ‘the Premiership’ and they had beaten Glasgow Celtic in a ‘floodlit friendly’ at their home stadium, ‘Molineux’. Although this was the first time they had won the Football League Championship since they had been founder members in 1888/9, in previous ten seasons, excluding the war break, they had finished second three times, third twice, had two other placings in the top six, and had also won the FA (Football Association) Cup. They had a deserved reputation as a fast-attacking and well-disciplined team of tremendous athletes. In the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, the Wolves captain Billy Wright also captained England, and two other players scored against the host team in their 2-0 victory, before the team lost to Uruguay in the quarter-finals, the team which the Hungarians beat in the semi-final to go through to the ill-fated 3-2 defeat in the final against West Germany. With their emphatic 6-3 win against England in 1953 at Wembley, Hungary had become the first team from outside the British Isles to defeat England on home soil, and they had followed this up with a 7-1 humiliation in Budapest before the World Cup.

Both these defeats were still fresh in the minds of English fans when, in December 1954, the ‘Mighty Magyar’ club team of the Hungarian Army, ‘Honved’, arrived in Wolverhampton. Their team contained many stars from the national, ‘Golden team’, including the legendary Lieutenant-Colonel Ferenc Puskás and his well-drilled fellow-soldiers, Bozsik, Kocsis, Grosics, Lorant, Czibor and Budai. Kocsis had been the leading scorer in the World Cup, so, following their own sensational win over Moscow Spartak a month earlier, the ‘Wolves’ were eager to welcome the tormentors of England to Molineux. The game was played under the new floodlights on a Monday night, 13th December, with 55,000 cheering fans watching at the ground and many more on the new phenomenon of TV. The BBC broadcast the game live, which pleased the National Servicemen who were allowed to watch it in their canteens, as well as on the radio, to which millions more tuned in, as not many people had acquired TV sets at this time. Just as they had twice led out their national teams in 1953/4, Billy Wright and Ferenc Puskás were again side-by-side. The visitors immediately began to play with fantastic ball-control and speed of passing. By half-time they were 2-0 up and in full control, their precision passing and speed of attack drawing gasps of appreciation from the crowd. The first goal came from a pin-point Puskás free kick which found the head of Kocsis and the ball flew past Bert Williams in the Wolves goal like a bullet. This was followed up by a second from the speedy winger, Machos, who was put through the Wolves defence by Kocsis. That was in the first quarter-hour! Williams pulled off a string of saves to keep the score down to two at the interval. As the teams left the field, the crowd rose to salute the Hungarian artistry, but were worried that the home team might be humiliated in the second half, just as England had been at Wembley year earlier.

In the second half, however, Wolves called upon all their reserves of fighting spirit and energy. They scored a penalty soon after the restart, and with fifteen minutes left, and the skilful Hungarians tiring on a very muddy pitch, Swinbourne scored twice to win the game 3-2. The crowd went wild with joy on a night on which it became good to be an English football fan once more. They were singing all the way home on the bus, and there were great celebrations in the canteens where the National Servicemen were watching. ‘Wolves are champions of the world’ was one of the headlines in the national newspapers the next morning. However, if this was seen a ‘revenge’ for the ‘dents’ in national pride which the defeats of the previous season had inflicted, this was a friendly, since the European Champions’ Cup had not yet come into being. For the great Magyar teams of that season, the events of October/November 1956 brought a premature end to their glory days. They were touring at the time of the conflict, and many of the players decided against returning to their homeland, preferring instead to use their skills in western Europe.

Almost exactly two years to the day after the match with Honved, on 11th December 1956, Wolves entertained ‘Red Banner’ or MTK Budapest at Molineux for another floodlit friendly at Molineux. Although not as great a match in footballing terms, the game was, if anything, even more significant. It was held as a benefit match and raised what was then a huge sum of £2,312.3s.0d., which was donated to the Hungarian Relief Fund. At the pre-match banquet, the Hungarians, who had expressed their wish to be known by their original name of MTK, rather than ‘Red Banner’, had promised to play the very best football they could in honour of their gracious hosts. Responding, the Wolves Chairman told his guests that the motto of both the town of Wolverhampton and its football club was ‘out of darkness comes light’ and that he hoped that very soon that would be the way in their native land.

The MTK team was packed with Hungarian internationals, three of whom had played in the humiliating victories over England two seasons  earlier.  They became only the second team to escape floodlit defeat at Wolves’ Molineux lair. The home team were not exactly howling at the Hungarians’ gates, however, and ‘the Molineux Murmur’ soon began as the crowd senses that they were holding something back. To be fair, they could not break down the visitors’ defensive system, one of the coolest under pressure ever seen at Molineux. The Magyars took the lead when Palotás whipped the ball past the diving Bert Williams after some world-class work by centre-forward Hidegkúti. Wolves drew level from a Hooper corner, which was palmed away by Veres, only as far as Neil who had drifted outside the goal area and was unmarked. His smartly-hit shot passed through the ruck of players and beat Veres on the line. The cool, calculating football of MTK sometimes became over-complicated. They were all too frequently guilty of playing one pass too many.  At half-time, the talented Hidegkúti was replaced by Karasz. After that, the game was far from dull, with both goalkeepers acquitting themselves well by making strings of acrobatic saves.

The solemnity of the occasion, set against the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian Uprising, meant that the fare served up on the night was not as tasty as that in the Honved game two years earlier. The day after the match, the Hungarians made their way back to Vienna, unsure of their future movements, given the course of events in their stricken country.

Main Source

John Shipley, Wolves Against the World: European Nights, 1954-1984.

ACTIVITIES: WWFC v MTK, 11th December 1956

MEANINGS: Find these words and phrases in the text. Rather than trying to translate them,  try to explain their meanings in English.

humiliating victories –

floodlit defeat –

lair –

to give the impression of holding something back –

’The Molineux Murmur’ –

customary ’roar ’ –

fairy-tale ending –

cool under pressure –

to palm away –

to drift outside –

smartly hit shot –

ruck of players –

cool, calculating football –

all too frequently guilty –

talented –

to acquit yourself well –

a string of acrobatic saves –

the solemnity of the occasion –

the fare served up –

the course of events –

stricken country –

 

QUESTIONS AND TALKING POINTS: READING ’BETWEEN THE LINES’

 

  1. Why might Wolves have been ’holding something back’ compared with the way they had played against Roumania CCA, (they had beaten them 5-0 in October)?

  2. What two other reasons are given for MTK leading at half-time?

  3.  How and why were MTK seen as being ’too clever’ by the Wolves fans?

  4. What three other reasons are given to explain why, in the second-half, the game was less exciting, though ’not exactly dull’.

  5. Why was the Hungarian team unsure about ’their future movements’ after the match?

 

 

One response to “The Fifties: Friendly Floodlit Football

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  1. Reblogged this on hungarywolf and commented:

    Reblogged for the Diamond Anniversary of Wolves 3 Honved 2

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