Legendary Hungarian referee Károly Palotai has died, aged 82, after a long illness. He was hospitalised in Győr in December 2017 and passed away earlier today, Saturday 3rd February, 2018.
Born 11th September 1935, in Békéscsaba, he started playing professional football in 1950 in his home town youth teams before making his debut in the first team in season 52/53. He moved to ETO FC Győr at the start of the 55/56 season, spending a season there before heading to Freiburger in Germany at the start of season 56/57. He returned to ETO FC Győr at the start of the 59/60 season and during his second spell at the club was part of the Championship winning team in 1963. He played in 7 of their 8 appearances in the European Champions Club Cup, reaching the semi-finals, where they lost 4-1 on aggregate to Benfica across the 2 legs. During that time he was also a part of the team that won the Hungarian People’s Republic Cup.
During his playing career, he also played for the National team during a turbulent time in Hungarian footballing history. The National Team were still reeling from the breakup of the Mighty Magyars in the late 1950’s. He captained the team during their Olympics gold match medal win in Tokyo in 1964, when Hungary beat Czechoslovakia 2-1.
He retired from playing at the end of the 65/66 season and having already qualified as a referee took up the whistle full time. He had combined his early refereeing career with his playing career and was considered a rising star in the refereeing community, he reached the FIFA list of referees in 1970, just 4 years after retiring from playing. He remained on the FIFA list until his retirement in 1984, taking charge of 143 International matches.
During his very distinguished career he refereed a group stage match in the European Championship in 1980, various group stage matches during the 1974, 1978 and 1982 World Cups, appearances at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics, where he took charge of the quarter final match between Brazil v Israel and an appearance in the Inter-Toto Cup, he took charge of the following finals:
- UEFA Cup (now Europa League) Final (1st Leg): 07.05.1975 – Borussia Mönchengladbach v Twente at Rheinstadion, Düsseldorf
- European Champions’ Cup Finals (now Champions League) : 12.05.1976 – Bayern Munich v Saint-Étienne at Hampden Park, Glasgow
- UEFA Super cup final – 4th December 1978: Anderlecht v Liverpool.
- Cup Winners’ Cup final: 16.05.79 – Barcelona v Fortuna Düsseldorf at St. Jakob Stadium, Basel.
- European Champions’ Cup Finals (now Champions League) : 27.05.1981 – Liverpool v Real Madrid at Parc des Princes, Paris.
As a referee he will be most remembered for his masterclass performance in the Argentina v Brazil match in 1978, which passed without incident.
Following his retirement as a referee he remained very involved in Hungarian football as a Referee Assessor and coach. He served on the MLSz JB (Hungarian FA Referees Department) as Vice President between 1990 and 2006 overseeing the many successes of Puhl Sándor during his spell as a FIFA referee and the early successes of Hungary’s current top referee Kassai Viktor. He also served as a UEFA referee observer between 1985 and 2005, as well as enjoying a spell as a member of the FIFA Refereeing Committee between 1990 and 1994.
He has received numerous domestic and international awards for his contributions to football. In 2012 he became an honorary citizen of Győr, and won the Prima Primissima Prize in 2014. UEFA recognised his contributions to football in 2016 during their congress held in Budapest. His most recent award was in December 2017, which will now be more remembered for being his last public performance.
Károly Palotai was prominent figure in Hungarian football and football in general. He was a successful player, an extraordinary referee and a great leader. He is the only person in the world to achieve International success both as a player and as a referee. Historically he will always be Hungary’s highest achieving top referee. The word Legend is used way too often but in Károly Palotai case, it is true. He was and always will be a legend and his loss will be felt across the entire footballing world.
Nyugodjon békében uram