George Hemingway is the chairman of Honvéd, and has been since 2006. Honvéd have a rich history, not just within Hungary, but in the World. Their side in the 50’s contained the nucleus of the ‘Aranycsapat’ (the Magical Magyars) including Ferenc Puskás, Sándor Kocsis, József Bozsik and Zoltán Czibor, and probably would have gone to win a European Cup if it wasn’t for the Hungarian revolution in 1956. They have had limited success in Europe since then with a few 3rd round appearances in the UEFA cup, the only performances of note. They currently have won the fourth most Hungarian titles with 13, behind Ferencváros, MTK and Újpest.
Since Hemingway took over, Honvéd have won two Hungarian Cups but are still looking for that elusive league title which has escaped them ever since 1993. From the USA, Hemingway (who is part-Hungarian) chairs “The Hemingway Group” where he worked as a lawyer and a senior counsel with major Los Angeles firms. He also owns many Pizza Hut and KFC branches across Eastern Europe and can speak fluent Hungarian.
How did you get into the sport of football in a recreational sense?
Of course as a kid I played football. When I stopped playing, I stopped for the best of reasons: a lack of talent. While playing, starting at the age of 15 I also became a referee, a hobby I am maintaining until this very day. I still referee games every Sunday.
Do you like to keep up to date with football around the World, or just Magyar Foci?
Other than Honvéd I am only interested in Spanish and English football. My favorite teams are Real Madrid and Manchester United. That is one of the reasons why I was so pleased when our U17 team both last year and in 2011 beat Real Madrid to win the Puskás-Suzuki Cup.
What first attracted you to the position of Honvéd, and how did the opportunity come about?
It was a crazy thing. In 2006 we sold our Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken holdings. Then an acquaintance who is a big Honvéd fan approached me about buying Budapest Honvéd FC which has been in financial trouble, I thought: „I could afford this”. Little did I know…
How many Honvéd games do you like to attend each year, and do you ever go to see the Hungarian National Team play?
I see all Honvéd games whenever I’m in Budapest and all games of the Hungarian Football Academy whenever I have time. I never saw the Hungarian National Team play live.
Whose decision it is to have such a high turnover of players at Honvéd every year?
Certainly no one’s “decision”. It is a combination of bad judgment and the quality of players one can afford at this level.
What changes will you need to make to win the title within next few seasons?
I need to have the kids from the Hungarian Football Academy to mature. If they will be as strong as I think they will be, then we can do it.
Are you willing to invest to buy new players to make it happen or use the wonderful youth system you have to develop players?
No, I’m not willing to invest to buy new players for the championship. I want to rely entirely on players developed by the Hungarian Football Academy.
What does the average Hungarian footballer make in NB1 or more specifically, at Honvéd?
Players’ salaries at Honvéd are private information. I cannot state with certainty what they make at other teams.
Do you look back and think it was a bad decision to ban the Ultras, and what do you think is the best strategy to improve crowds within Hungary for league and cup games?
It was absolutely the right decision to ban misbehaving people from the stadium. Without that decision I would have left Honvéd a long time ago. I do not wish hooligans, nazis, racists at our stadium. We never banned ultras because we very much need fanatical fans. Unfortunately it is very difficult to direct our actions toward criminals in such a way as to not alienate fans who do not always understand our motivations. We are working on that. I have no real recipe for bringing back the crowds to Hungarian football. But I do have a few observations. Modern stadiums, family-friendly hooligan-free environment, good catering, comfortable environment, and above all, good football. The present government is going a long way to help the clubs in financing. Let’s give a try to do the things I mentioned above.
Do you plan to stay at Honvéd for a number of years to build the club back up the great times of the past, or sell it on as soon as you can gain profit?
I would like to make Honvéd once again proud and powerful. On the other hand I have learned in my business career that you never know what tomorrow brings.
Part of your three year plan since taking over was to win the championship by 2009. Do you regret any decisions you have made in this time?
I was overly ambitious. Now I know how hard it is to become a champion. I regret not having been able to get more sponsors during my first few years.
What are your ambitions for the new season?
Get some of our academy players engaged in the first team and have a good season.
And last of all, why hasn’t Hungary been able to produce another Detari, or even Kiprich, in last 25 years?
Bad organization, bad coaching, dishonest management, dwindling number of players, hostile government environment, lack of general interest in football on the part of the population.