Egri Erbstein Tournament 2019: Corinthian Casuals, Champions of Europe

After months of meticulous planning, what started out as a dream between Dominic Bliss and Bertalan Molnar, finally became a reality shared with the world over the weekend of 15th and 16th of June.  That dream, of course, was the inaugural Egri Erbstein Tournament, won in dramatic fashion by the world-renowned English amateur side Corinthian-Casuals.

The background of the Egri Erbstein Tournament (ETT) is fascinating.  Whilst researching for an article on the historic Il Grande Torino side of the 1940s, English football writer Dominic Bliss stumbled upon the hitherto untold story of Egri Erbstein, the Hungarian coach of that fateful Torino team.

With interest in Erbstein piqued, Bliss continued to research football’s forgotten pioneer long after completing his initial article, and would not stop until his book Erbstein: The Triumph and Tragedy of Football’s Forgotten Pioneer was published.  From here, the snowball effect began to take place.

Inspired by the story of Erbstein and the history associated with his now defunct first club, Budapesti Atletikai Klub (BAK), local businessman Bertalan Molnar re-established BAK after an absence of over 70 years.

Egri Erbstein: Football’s Forgotten Pioneer

A bond was created between Molnar and Bliss who, by chance, is also a follower of English amateur side Corinthian-Casuals which was formed after the merger of the original Corinthian and Casuals sides in 1939.  Prior to their merger, both Corinthians and Casuals had toured extensively, taking the game to, amongst other nations, Hungary. The legacy of the Corinthians visit was so positive that the Corinthian Cup was established and became an important part of the Hungarian football calendar; the 1907 edition even including BAK.

With stars aligned, Molnar and Bliss set about organising an event that would recognise the legend of Egri Erbstein, bring Corinthian-Casuals back to Hungary, and promote the increasingly popular amateur game in both Hungary and England.

Dominic Bliss (left) & Bertalan Molnar (right) pictured with John Forrest, the men behind the Egri Erbstein Tournament

To complete the line up for the tournament BEAC and Testvériség, two of Hungary’s most historic amateur sides were invited to compete for the Egri Erbstein trophy.  And, most incredibly of all, Viktor Kassai, referee of the 2011 Champions League Final, had offered to officiate Sunday’s final out of respect for Erbstein.

SATURDAY 15TH:

Corinthian-Casual Vs. BAK

The tournament opener was the game everyone wanted to see; Corinthians, the English visitors, against BAK, the romantic hosts, without whom there would be no competition.

Corinthians, in the pink and blue of the Casuals, started brightly but began to fade around the half-hour mark as the blazing midday sun took its toll on the players.  As the half wore on, BAK grew in confidence and carried a threat on the counter attack however neither side was able to break the deadlock by the interval.

The stalemate did not last long into the second half as Corinthians hit BAK with a quick-fire double within 15 minutes of the re-start, before cruising to an eventual 3-0 victory over a spirited BAK side who ran their more illustrious opponents close for long spells.

Testvériség Vs. BEAC

The second semi-final was a far more one-sided affair as Testvériség of BLSZ 1 cantered to an 8-0 victory of BEAC of BLSZ 3.  Tesi controlled the game from start to finish and, had it not been for some wayward finishing, could have ended the game in double figures.

BEAC for their part showed courage and despite the gulf in class rarely gave up the ghost and could even have nicked a goal at the end.  In truth, however, the scoreline did not flatter Tesi, who marched confidently into the final.

SUNDAY 16TH:

BAK Vs. BEAC – The Bronze Medal Match

After their mauling the previous day at the hands of Testvériség, few amongst the 100+ strong crowd at Sunday’s Bronze medal match would have given BEAC much hope against a BAK side who had proven themselves to be a well-organised unit in their defeat at the hands of Corinthians the previous day.

By the end of the first 45 minutes however, those in attendance were left asking where this BEAC side had been the previous day.  Looking comfortable in possession and holding a strong shape defensively, BEAC had controlled the opening exchanges and led 1-0 at the break thanks to the tournament’s first spot-kick.  At this point, BAK, who had been unable to create any meaningful openings were starring at the ominous prospect of finishing last and goalless in their own competition.

At around the midway point in the second half the heavens opened and torrential rain poured down on Szőnyi úti Stadion resulting in the game being stopped for 20 minutes to let the storm pass.

BAK used this time to regroup and was reinvigorated as the match restarted, taking the game to BEAC until they finally wore their valiant opponents down and levelled the scores with a penalty of their own.

From that moment on there only ever looked like one winner as BAK pressed and probed for a second goal.  Just as the game seemed destined for penalties BAK midfielder Barnabas Kantor smashed home a 20-yard curler, worthy of winning any game, to give BAK a hard-fought victory and seal third place much to the delight of the onlooking support; a large number of which had travelled out from England to make this special occasion.

 Corinthian-Casuals Vs. Testvériség – The Final

In front of a crowd approaching 200 spectators including the British Ambassador to Hungary, dignitaries from Torino, and members of the Erbstein family – not to mention the original Corinthian Cup – the Casuals faced off against Testvériség for the honour of lifting the inaugural Egri Erbstein trophy.

The Trophy everyone wanted to get their hands on.

What was to follow was nothing short of a perfect advert for the amateur game, the real beautiful game, as both sides battled to get their hands on the trophy.

After a cagey opening period where both sides sought to feel their way into the game, the match developed into an intriguing contest.  Both sides had their moments of being on top without being able to capitalise, and both were also wary of the threat posed by their opponents on the counter.

As with the first match of the tournament, the final match was scoreless at half-time.

In symmetry with the opening game, Corinthians started the second half much brighter than their opponents, however, this time they were unable to get the early nerve settling breakthrough.

Time after time Corinthians peppered the Tesi goal but met with defiant resistance on each occasion. 

With seconds left on the clock and penalties looming, Corinthians made one last venture forward and, in true comic book style, Harry Ottaway was on hand to knock home a low cross from the right with the very last kick of the tournament.

Corinthian-Casuals 1 Testvériség 0.

That moment when you lift a Trophy on foreign soil. Priceless.

The final whistle was met with chants of “Corinthian-Casuals, Champions of Europe” from the travelling support and the smile of a proud father on the face of Dominic Bliss who oversaw the organisation of the tournament from conception to perfect finale.

THE LEGACY

It is safe to say that the inaugural Egri Erbstein Tournament was a phenomenal success and it is hoped that this can be used as a springboard for future events.

The standard of football on show over the two days was of an extremely high and competitive standard and the turnout in the stands was equally impressive, demonstrating the genuine interest in the amateur game in Hungary.

Having spoken to Dominic on the subject, there is a clear intention to keep the Egri Erbstein Tournament in the calendar on an annual or bi-annual basis, and avenues to grow and expand the competition will be explored.

On a personal note, one of the great take-a-ways from the Tournament for me was the friendliness and openness I experienced from everyone I met over the two days.  New friends have been made, new club allegiances created (Corinthian-Casuals, I’ll be looking out for your scores on a Saturday evening from now on!), and a massive amount of respect generated for all involved in organising this wonderful weekend of football.

This is grassroots football.  This is why we follow the game, and I cannot wait for next year’s edition.

Hajra BAK. Vai Corinthians.