Hungarian Football: the fall and rise of the Mighty Magyars?

magyar foci

By Ming Huang

The fall of the Roman Empire, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Stock Market crash of 1929, and the sinking of Hungarian football. Reading through this list, it is not difficult to determine the single outlier: Hungarian Football. However, there can and should be a level of parallelism drawn between Foci (what Hungarians call Soccer) and these major historical events. In fact, the very same omission ultimately caused the demise of all these powerhouses; namely the inability to acknowledge failure and see beyond their pride. The process through which Hungarian soccer went from dominating the world to now being overshadowed by dull sports such as Handball domestically is difficult to determine. Perhaps the Hungarians themselves explain it best with a saying which has almost become an national slogan in many sense. The slogan is as such: “Back in the day we Hungarians used to teach the world how to play, now the world is teaching us.” At first sight, this statement sounds rather implausible, seeing the current state Hungarian soccer is in; which makes it all the more important to start at the very beginning.


When talking about Hungarian soccer, there is one name that will virtually always come up; and that is the name of Ferenc Puskas, who is widely regarded as the greatest Hungarian soccer player to have ever lived. Puskas, nicknamed the “Galloping Major” as he played for the army team Honvéd, scored a remarkable 84 goals in 85 appearances. He also netted 512 times for Real Madrid in 528 matches.

Although Puskas was the leader of the pack, the 1950’s team was far from a “one man show”, beating England 6-3 at Wembley and then 7-1 the following year back in Budapest – the latter remains England’s heaviest ever defeat. Although Hungary lost to underdogs Germany in the 1954 World Cup final after beating the Germans 8-3 earlier in the same competition, Hungary continued to belong in the group known as “Europe’s Elite”, all the way up until the 1990’s. During the 1990’s, Hungary failed to qualify for any international tournaments, a first in the rich history of Hungarian football. Little did they know at this time that 25 years later this would still be the case. While the 2000’s produced some magnificent football players who are still very much involved in Hungarian football until this day, the national team itself completely failed to live up to expectations.

Fast forward to the present day, October 2015; and here is perhaps Hungary’s best chance of qualifying for a major tournament. Due to the circumstances, Hungary is forced to play in the playoff round whereas they should have qualified directly by snatching up the “best 3rd place team” position. But, what now seems like more than a superstition, the so called “Hungarian curse” struck once again when Turkey beat Iceland at home with a 88th minute 30 meter free kick goal. That night a nation cried out in disbelief that they would yet have to miss another international tournament. Yet, a few days passed and there was a common belief of optimism within the Hungarian football fans, as they awaited the result of the Playoff draws. As it turns out, Hungary will be playing Norway, first in Oslo and then in Budapest on November 12 and 15th, respectively. If one takes a look at the other potential teams Hungary could have drawn, suddenly this particular draw seems extremely generous. Hungary would have essentially had little to no chance of even competing with the likes of Bosnia-Herzegovina (Muhamed Besic, Edin Dzeko, Miralem Pjanic), Republic of Ireland (James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman, Shane Long,) or Sweden (Zlatan Ibrahimovic). Now there is nothing left for the fans to do but to purchase your tickets for the 2nd leg and cheer for Hungary to finally grab this golden opportunity and began restoring the pride of Hungarian football. Now it is time for us to “teach the world how to play, instead of the world teaching us”. Hajra Magyarok!!!


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