Előre, Sport Association of Békéscsaba, is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its foundation this year. For this occasion, Gyula Andrássy Grammar School [that’s our school, by the way – trans.] organised an exhibition in order to keep alive the memories of the best sportsmen of the town, and the zenith of the event was the official opening of this exhibition, attended by József Pásztor, coach of Békéscsaba 1912 Előre S. E., himself. Few could be called ’an indigenous Békéscsabaian’ more than him. His heart’s been beating for Békéscsaba throughout his life, both as a footballer and as a coach for the team. Also, he was able to put on the shirt of the national team no less then nine times. After the ceremony, I was lucky enough to catch him for this interview you can read below – I hope you’ll enjoy it.
When and how did football become your favourite sport?
We played all sorts of things when we were children, like ice hockey, table tennis, volleyball, but most of all, natually, football. Sadly, we couldn’t really practice football in the winter, so we did hockey and skating instead. I was lucky to live in the same area with lots of other kids, and we had a football pitch nearby too, where we could regularly go to kick the football around. Because I started playing football at the age of two or three, this sport kind of stuck with me. Interestingly, I was also very good at table tennis, beating NB1 players at school and things like that, but when they wanted to send me to competitions I turned them down, for I gave my mind to football and football only. The school system was different back then – I was at home by about one o’clock in the afternoon, so I could go and kick the ball with the others for four or five hours every day. When there were only two of us, we would just do a few headers, when there were four, we’d play using wickets, but when there were at least six of us, we’d use bigger, proper goals. This is how I gradually became a professional footballer.
When did you start coaching? Right after you gave up being an active player, or was there a gap between then and the time you started training the team?
I was still an active footballer here in Békéscsaba when I did the course to become an assistant coach, then a coach. I organised a camp for the then first-form pupils – there must have been about fifteen of them in the beginning. However, the number of attendees slowly grew until the point where I found myself surrounded by fifty children, which was obviously too much to handle for only one person. I asked the management if I could choose twenty of them with whom I’d carry on training – and this is where another problem started to emerge, who to choose. To top it all, parents started coming up to me wanting to see their children make it to the team on the basis of patronage. This was an option I could not accept, and for that reason I told them to give the job to someone else.
I became a professional coach when I came back from Belgium. I must have been around thrirty-seven years of age, and Békéscsaba asked me to take on the role just three days after my arrival. I said yes, of course. That year, Csaba had dropped out from NB1, but I led them right back in the next season. I had the most wonderful time with the club between 1991 and 1995, which was a very successful era for us, highlighed by the moment when we were able to stand on the third step of the podium in the end of the national championship. The team was great and lots of spectators came to see us play. We were doing well, but money had already become a problem in Békéscsaba with numerous factories having closed down. Thus they couldn’t support the team anymore, and because of that I said my thanks for the opportunity and resigned my job to have a little break. Since then, I re-took the position of coach at Előre twice, and I’m working on getting us back to NB1 again at the moment. It’s not easy, as we’ve got a much lower budget then the other clubs, but I have faith in my boys. It would be huge for us getting in NB1 because if we managed to do it, there’s a chance someone would buy the club and solve our financial troubles long term. Sadly, the saying is true in the case of this sport, where there’s money, there’s football and where there isn’t money, there isn’t football.
How long would you like to carry on being a coach?
At the moment, I love doing it. I look forward to the new challange every day – there’s always something to do when you have to look after twenty people. But to answer your question, I’d like to carry on doing it for as long as I enjoy it. If I get up one day feeling that football doesn’t excite me anymore, then I’ll know it’s time to retire.
It is said that motivation makes a person successful. How difficult is it to motivate footballers while training and during matches?
I don’t find it difficult at all. These kids are here because they want to play and prove how good they are at it, so that they can hear their name being read out as part of the starting line up.
Do you have a special method of motivating them?
No, I don’t. I treat each of them the same, there is no favouritism. Although everyone is different, which means some of them perform better if you shout your directions in their face while others need you to explain everything patiently to them.
Do you use your stick as a good Shepherd [pun – ’pásztor’ means shepherd in Hungarian – trans.] if your flock doesn’t do what you instruct them to?
(laughs) If you mean punisments, I don’t tend to be on bad terms with anybody, and I can’t remember punishing anyone in my whole career. However, if I can’t find the common ground with someone, I usually give them half a year, and if the situation doesn’t change, we wave each other a tearful goodbye in the transfer window.
Csaba drew in their last three matches. What could be the reason for this and what are your predictions about the next few games?
Unfortunately, as our boys are very young, their knees tend to wobble at crucial moments, and also there are days when simply nothing seems to work. I don’t want to mention the work of the referees, or I may end up being flogged like Mourinho. (laughs) My prediction is that we’ll win the matches coming up, though I wouldn’t advise you to put money on this on Tippmix [sort of like national lottery, only with betting – national bettery, if you please – trans.].
Shame, otherwise I’d definitely have paid a visit to the lottery shop in the afternoon. Do you think we can make it to NB1 this year?
By the end of the championship, only three teams are left with a real chance of making it: the leading Szolnok [this interview took place before round 24], Eger, who are becoming better and better, and Békéscsaba, of course. We hope to make the best of the remaining matches and finish the season in the top position of the table.
Have you ever accepted one ot two student cards before matches?
Of course not. Nothing is more important to me than fair play.
Do you have a role model as a coach or a favourite team, if yes who/which?
I don’t have one role model, nor one favourite team, but I do have footballers and coaches I like in every country. The way Ronaldo and Messi play always amazes me, and from time to time I find it hard to explain to my own boys that not everybody is capable of becoming so good as they are.
You daughter Zsuzsi goes to our school. How much is she interested in sport and football in particular?
She inherited her father’s sport-loving genes. Moreover, because she accompanies me to see games a lot, she’s strongly connected to football. On a few occasions, she wouldn’t be allowed to sit with me on the bench, but I’d stamp my feet and I’d state that she would sit with me, and that was my final word.
Finally, do you have a message for the fans?
You can’t have a good game without good spectators!
Can we take that as an implication?
You can take it as whatever you like, the important thing for us it to meet you at the next match and hear you…
I was going to say ’chant Go Lilacs!’, but you can sing that too, if you like. (laughs)
Thank you for the interview, it’s been a privilege to talk to you. I wish both you and the team the best of luck in the future.
Thank you for the invitation.
Békéscsaba finished the season in 3rd place and missed out on promotion to the top flight.
Many thanks to Roland Pangert for getting a great interview and to the ever hard working Enikő Vass for translating.