Things We Do For Love: following Sunderland to Le Budapesti Vasas

Image taken from page 104 of 'An illustrated guide of Budapest ... First annual edition'

All the lads and lasses of Budapest out on the town to celebrate a Sunderland win

Pete Sixsmith is not a man without romance. However, his idea of how to make perfect a romantic wedding anniversary weekend in Budapest – a choice of football games – is not necessarily one Madame Salut would share and risks being overlooked. There is certainly romance in the idea of our beloved club whizzing over to Hungary for a major European cup competition. We did it once, way back in 1973, and our Pete was there, breezing through the Iron Curtain to witness splendid goals from Billy Hughes and Dennis Tueart. Let him set the scene for some powerful memories …

While perusing Sunday’s 16-page Observer Special
on “Why The Donald Was Able To Seize The Hearts And Minds Of Millions Of Americans” I was disturbed by the phone. Fearing someone trying to convince me that installing solar power was a good idea (in Shildon? Really?) I answered it with a certain amount of trepidation.

Fortunately it was Monsieur Salut, always a welcome caller at Sixsmith Towers, informing me that he and his good lady were heading for Budapest this weekend and he would be missing the delights of a home game with Hull City in order to sample coffee and cake in the Hungarian capital.

Jermain Defoe's superstrike vs the Mags
Jermain Defoe’s superstrike vs the Mags; a choice of prints like this – from our kind sponsors at the Art of Football – is the prize in our SAFC v Hull City Guess the Score competition

Should he be so inclined, he will be able to take in at least one game on the Saturday. At 2.30pm, just as the atmosphere is building up at the SoL – and the wretched clapper things are being dumped – MTK, the club that the Hungarian Secret Police attached themselves to after the Communist takeover in 1946, are playing provincial team Debrecen.

At 5pm, just as we are wildly celebrating/trooping disconsolately (delete as applicable) across the car parks, there is a seriously important Budapest derby between Vasas and Ferencvaros, 1st and 3rd in the league respectively.

Both clubs resonate strongly for me. Ferencvaros boasted the wonderful Florian Albert who played for them for his whole career.

He also played many times for Hungary, including the 1966 World Cup, where he gave a master class as the Hungarians beat Brazil 3-1 at Goodison Park. I saw that game on a black and white Ferguson and remember oohing and aahing at his touch and his masterful control of the ball. There is a grainy clip on YouTube which shows his touches in that game and the number of outstanding passes that he made.

The Brazilians were so demoralised by him that they resorted to the kind of tactics that one would expect to see at the bottom end of the Brandon and Byshottles Sunday League Division Three, but Albert had the last laugh. He set Ferenc Bene away and the Ujpesti player crossed for Janos Farkas of Vasas to score what is one of my Five Favourite Goals and then he galloped through the Brazilian midfield to set up Bene, who was brought down in the box. Meszoly (also of Vasas) stepped up to convert the penalty and Hungary were home and dry – as we say.

The Goodison crowd, who had gorged on players like Alex Young, Roy Vernon and Colin Harvey, took a real shine to him and he was cheered off the park; one Scouse wag (there are so many!!) said: “If I came home from work and Florian Albert was in bed with the missus, I’d go downstairs and make him a cup of tea.” He was that good.

Vasas are the home team on Saturday, although they have begun to demolish their stadium, the Rudolf Illovszky, and I am unable to direct M Salut to their temporary home.

With it being a top of the table clash, it could well be played at The Ferenc Puskas Stadium, once the Nepstadion (People’s Stadium), home of the Magical Magyars of the 40s and 50s and the only foreign ground where Sunderland have won a competitive European game.

And I know, because I was there.

Jake: doesn't mind who scores the winner - Hughes, Tueart, Defoe, Watmore, PVA, Anichebe
Jake: doesn’t mind who scores the winner – Hughes, Tueart, Defoe, Watmore, PVA, Anichebe

The game was in the European Cup Winners Cup, the second most important trophy in the European canon and,unlike the Fairs Cup, a trophy competed for by teams who actually won something.

We were there by virtue of our win over Leeds United at Wembley in May while Vasas qualified by beating Honved, a team then associated with the Hungarian Army. Their final had taken place on May Day, four days before our glorious victory and Vasas had won 4-3 in front of 10,000 spectators at the Nepstadion.

When the draw was made and it was an exotic trip, I made up my mind to go. I negotiated a day off from my teaching duties (without pay and an assurance that I would be there the next day come hell or high water) and, along with a good friend called Don Coupland, reported for duty at Ponteland International early on the morning of September 19.

It was my first trip abroad, the passport was pristine and the weather was grim. Photographs were taken with Don hiding away as he did not want the Labour Exchange to see that he was away to Hungary and we climbed aboard the Dan Air Comet that took us across the North Sea and then behind the Iron Curtain.

Hungary was a relatively prosperous Communist dictatorship. After the 1956 uprising, Khrushchev and his successors Kosygin and Brezhnev had made sure that the Hungarians were pacified by a relatively comfortable life style; comfortable by East German or Soviet standards but not by those of the West. The leader of the Party, Janos Kadar, ran a fairly easy going regime and he was a keen Vasas supporter, often standing on the terraces to cheer his team on.

It poured down all day in the city. From getting off the plane to getting back onto it, the heavens opened and the goodly number of Sunderland fans were wet. No Goretex in those days; we were wet through and squelched around a city that was still showing signs of the 1956 Uprising.

There were bullet holes in the tenements and huge lumps of concrete missing from the edges of the buildings.

The coffee was different, thick, black and very sweet, a long way from the instant that most
English people drank at that time. Street food was sausages and bread and the beer was weak and not very tasty. However, plum brandy was taken by some of the travelling fans and for at least one member of the party, it was to be their downfall as they slept through the entire game.

It kicked off at 7pm after Ferencvaros had played Legia Warsaw in the European Cup. The Nepstadion had no cover save for a flimsy canvas tent that was for the protection of the Party leadership and their apparatchiks so, in true Orwellian style, everybody got wet apart from the so-called “brain workers”.

This was the last time that the FA Cup winning side played a whole game together. Ritchie Pitt was injured in the next game at home to Luton and never played again. Ended up as a teacher, poor sod. But he played in the club’s sole away win in Europe and I can’t see that record being challenged for quite a while.

We won comfortably with Billy Hughes opening the scoring with a flicked header from a Dick Malone cross. With two minutes left, Dennis Tueart slalomed through the Vasas defence and scored the finest goal ever scored by a Sunderland player in Europe. YouTube recorded a mere 2,407 views for this clip at the moment M Salut downloaded it …

There was a dinner for us in The Fisherman’s Castle overlooking the Danube and the city with its fine suspension bridge and magnificent Parliament building. Food and Bulls Blood were taken before we were ferried back to Budapeas Airport for the flight home. The Comet resonated to many songs and the sounds were as joyous as any I have known over the 53 years I have watched Sunderland.

Work the next day was a blur. Students did not believe that I had made the trip and the passport, complete with photo and Hungarian visas had to be produced the day after. Few knew where Hungary was; foreign travel was not widespread in the industrial areas of South West Durham.

I missed the trip to Lisbon and have waited patiently for another opportunity to see competitive European football at Sunderland.

Judging by this season’s performances, I may never see it again.

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9 thoughts on “Things We Do For Love: following Sunderland to Le Budapesti Vasas”

  1. The things we do for love. Being unfaithful, getting revenge.

    Mrs Wrinkly knew I was being unfaithful. In fact, with that damned female intuition, she had known all along, since the late 1970s.

    That’s when we moved home from Bristol to Solihull (or Birmingham as I prefer to think of it) and I hung up my boots. I had then planned to watch top flight football, coming as I had from the backwaters of the football scene. In the event, what with the hooliganism present at top games and not having much money, I took to following non-league football, abandoning my lifetime love of Sunderland!

    Moor Green was the team I followed who were a semi-professional Birmingham club with a distinguished history as an amateur side, having been one of the first clubs to play in Europe and the winners of the Verviers trophy, the forerunner to the European Cup, no less. I have proudly followed the club ever since through its rise from the Midland Combination to the Southern League and now, having amalgamated with its once local rival Solihull Borough, to the National League North and finally, last season, winning that division to join the National League.

    Last night, I was present with another 1,471 lucky souls to see Solihull Moors come from behind in extra time to secure a draw and then win the penalty shoot out comfortably, 4-2 against Yeovil Town of Sky Bet League Two. See what I mean about revenge? To my mind that black day in January 1949 has now been avenged.

    All I need now for a perfect week is on Saturday to witness the Stadium of Light and our players display the same spirit, with or without the clackers, to put Hull City to the sword.


  2. I was recovering in Sunderland General hospital after an appendix operation when we played this game, in those days you had a week in hospital to recover.

    I was 16 and the rest of the ward contained me, another teenager, and 18 older gents who spent most of the time trying to grope the nurses as they took them down to their operations. That night there were no ops, just 20 lads with earphones on and hot chocolate or ovaltine for us two…. and 18 older blokes with smuggled-in cans of McEwans Export.

    It was hilarious to see everybody punching the air when we listened to the commentary of Tueart’s mazy run and goal, everyone simultaneously punching the air with one arm and pushing down at their wounds with the other to stop the stitches from breaking….a sort of silent Roker sore roar.

  3. WOW I’ve never seen that footage before! Brutal foul at the start of the clip and brilliant from Tueart at the end….wish I’d been there.

  4. I didn’t go to Liege Eric. Had I done, I would have sorted out the Mags in the cast once and for all.
    It was the Fisherman’s Bastion, Pam. What a great day that was. What would I give for it to be repeated. The chances are just about nil. Maybe we should join the Welsh Premier League to have another crack at Europe – although knowing us we’ll end up in the annual relegation battle.

    • There’s always hope Pete. I told myself I would never go to Wembley unless Sunderland were playing but I eventually gave in and went on a works outing to The Three v The Six on the 3rd Jan 1973, never did I think that I would be back a few months later!

  5. I was on that Budapest trip. I have only just thrown out the photos I took; the picture of the match referee in the restaurant after the game (the Fisherman’s Bastion I thought it was), the amazing amount of bottles of wine on the table (some of which we managed to slide over to the band), the photo of a Danube that was anything but blue, a football stadium with cold, concrete seating.

    My Hungarian friend had primed me so I knew if we wanted a drink we should ask for Palinka at the airport, which we did. Drinking paint stripper (plum brandy) before we even got into the city centre was not the best start. We had lunch in the local co-operative where the Russian female soldier told us we only needed to know one thing on the menu and that was ‘fish and chips’. We all chose goulash as we could translate that but it was not what we were expecting – goulash in Hungary is a soup. My attempt to buy a vinyl record of Hungarian folk music was met with a resounding no! The young shop assistant told me that only Russian folk music was sold under the Russian regime. We were pestered constantly by the Vasas fans as they were desperate to get our scarves, rosettes, badges – in fact anything football related they could lay their hands on.

    Dan Air, having heard that we had travelled up from London by bus, very kindly said we could board the plane in London for the next trip.

    The Customs men were on a work to rule when we returned and consequently the most amazing amount of alcohol was brought through customs.

    To top it all – Sunderland won!! A 25 hour trip that was the best.

  6. By no means as exciting as your trip, but I took my good lady (a Sunderland fan no less) to watch Honved at the Ferenc Puskas Stadium – to the end of the metro line and then on a tram – during our trip to Budapest on a freezing January afternoon.

    Although she appreciated the Puskas murals around the ground, she wasn’t impressed by the freezing cold, the black tea served in a plastic cup or the quality of the football. To top it off, the small crowd (the fans were banned from the proper ground because of hooliganism, so we were sat on wooden temporary seats next to an all-weather training pitch) was predominantly ultras and one was wearing a Toon hat.

    She demanded we leave at half-time, and went to one of those aforementioned coffee shops where she was much more at home.

    Still, we saw Honved whom had mythical status for me because of HMHB.

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