Ferenc Puskás is arguably the best Hungarian footballer that has ever lived. For us Hungarians he is our national hero, everywhere we go around the world when someone finds out we are from Hungary their first reaction is “Oh yes Puskás?”. He will never be forgotten we still talk about his success even though it was over 50 years ago. He could always produce something special with a little trick or a fantastic shot from 40 yards out, off the pitch he was a very humble man and he was loved by everyone who knew him.
Puskás was born on the 1st April 1927 as Ferenc Purczeld in Budapest. His father changed the family name to Puskás when Ferenc was 10 years old. At a young age Puskás’s father encouraged him to play football and taught him a lot. In Puskás’s autobiography he described how he used to race the trams everyday when he was going to school because he wanted to become a better footballer. His house was right next to a football pitch where he played every day with his friends on bare foot.
This is where he started to impress and his father realised how good he was. His father was also the one who signed him for Kispect Ac where used to play as a player and at that time he was a coach at the club. Puskás made his debut for the club in 1943 when he was only 15-years-old, but it was obvious he was a special player. During his early years he was very fast with the ball and he would make defenders look silly.
Unfortunately the world war soon disrupted his life as the matches had to be stopped because of the air raids in the capital. When the war ended Hungary was taken over by communists. After the war in 1945 Puskás made his national team debut at the age of 18 against Austria, making an instant impact as he scored the first goal of the match Hungary went onto win 3-0 at the end with Puskás producing a fantastic performance. After that game Puskás soon became very famous and more people started to look out for him as he scored some very important goals for the national team.
He was soon named the national team captain and also the Kispest captain. In 1947 Puskás played very well for the national team against the Italians in Torino, and as a result he was offered a contract at Juventus which he turned down as he wanted to stay with his family. The following year he was crowned as Europe’s top goal scorer with 50 goals. A remarkable feat in its own right but even more astonishing when you consider he only played 32 games that season. With all these fantastic records all ready achieved by him one thing he hadn’t done is win a league title.
This was soon completed too when Kispest was taken over by the Hungarian Ministry of Defence meaning that they had to change their name to Budapest Honved and they soon signed all the best Hungarian footballers at that time. These footballers were given military ranks for the Hungarian army. Puskás was given the rank major this is where his nickname comes from “The Galloping Major.” In the 1949/1950 season Puskás’s long waited dream was finally achieved when newly named Honved won the league title, he scored 31 goals in 30 matches.
However even with all this success Hungary wasn’t a great place to live in under the communists as the people were living in a very poor conditions and treated very harshly by the communists. Due to this a lot of footballers fled the country to play abroad. The communists wanted to stop this and they tricked one of the Ujpest players Sandor Szucs to move abroad but he was stopped at the border and sent to prison. At the end he was sentenced to death and executed in 1951. The communists did this to scare the other footballers like Puskás so they wouldn’t move abroad because if they would the same thing would happen to them too.
Meanwhile the Hungarian national team was preparing for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. The tournament was considered as a huge success for Hungary as they went onto win the Olympics beating Yugoslavia in the final. In the game against Yugoslavia Puskás missed a penalty before scoring in the second half to give Hungary the lead. Just before the end of the game Czibor scored the second goal for Hungary and this made them Olympic champions. This was one of the greatest success for Puskás at international level.
A year later Hungary visited England at Wembley. Before this game England were unbeaten at their home ground and the Hungarians weren’t really known that much around the world despite their Olympic success. This is probably the game Puskás is most remembered for in England as he produced a fantastic performance scoring twice. For his first goal he produced a fantastic skill when he back heeled the ball sending the English captain Billy Wright sliding away before slotting the ball into the back of the net. The final score was 6-3 to the Hungarians. This result surprised everyone it was a fantastic performance by the whole Hungarian team playing a style which was very much ahead of their time and England just couldn’t cope with it.
The win at the Olympics and the win against England at Wembley made Hungary go into the 1954 World Cup as favourites. The tournament started out great for Puskás as he scored twice in the 9-0 demolition of South Korea in the opening game. Then he scored once more in the second game against Germany. An injury mean he missed the next two games which were a 4-2 win against Brazil and a 4-2 win against Uruguay in extra time. This meant that Hungary were in the final and there was a massive argument whether Puskás should play or not. Some players argued that Puskás shouldn’t play, not because they didn’t want him to just that they thought it would be a ten men team with Puskás and that he only wanted to play to lift the trophy.
In the end Puskás started as captain for Hungary and scored in the final but he wasn’t as affective as he was before and you could see that he was still suffering with his injury. So the Hungarian team lost 3-2 this is considered as one of the biggest disappointments in the country’s history. Every Hungarian thought it would be them winning the final. Due to this loss after the game thousands of fans demonstrated first about the loss and then about the government. Life started to get worse in Hungary for Puskás as the leaders lost interest in football and decided to focus on other things.
In 1956 when the communists protest broke out in Hungary, the country was in turmoil and it wasn’t safe for Puskás and his family to stay. Initially reports suggested that Puskás was killed in the fights during the protests but he turned up alive and well in Austria for a warm up match. Later on the 24th of November he played a friendly match against Athletico Bilbao then a few days later Honved drew 5-5 with Real Madrid. This is where Puskás saw the terrible images of Hungary in the newspaper and he was distraught by them. After seeing these pictures and hearing about what was happening back home Puskás decided not to move back. At first he trained with Inter Milan for a year or so but the club wasn’t allowed to sign him due to political reasons. During that time the communist government decided to block any news of Puskás and the national newspapers weren’t allowed to write about him.
Because Puskás wasn’t allowed to sing for Inter he went to the Spanish capital Madrid where he signed for the Spanish giants Real Madrid. It was a surprise to see Real Madrid sign him and many doubted the signing as he was overweight and hadn’t played professional football for nearly two years. Soon Puskás proved his doubter’s wrong as he was a phenomenal for Madrid. He worked the extra hours in training to lose that extra weight and soon he was thin again and playing well. It was at Madrid where he became considered as one of the best players in the world due to his excellent performances in not just the Spanish league but the European Cup too. Real Madrid were the best team playing in Europe at the time and they had won every European Cup since the competition began in 1955.
Puskás missed out on the 1959 final which Real Madrid won too. However in the 1960 final Puskás played and he scored four goals as Real Madrid won 7-3 against Eintracht Frankfurt. He is still the only player in history to score four goals in a European Cup final. One of his best attributes at Madrid was his ability to score a goal from anywhere and when he got the ball inside the box it was a certain goal. His shots weren’t just really accurate they were very powerful too which made it impossible to save for the goalkeepers.
In 1961 Puskás was given a Spanish citizenship which enabled him to play for the Spanish national team. Unfortunately he was unable to perform for the Spanish national team as he did for the Hungarian one which meant that Puskás only played four times for Spain scoring no goals. Puskás eventually retired in 1966 at the age of 39. He left Real Madrid with huge success winning the Spanish league six times , the Copa Del Ray twice and the European cup three times. He was also the top goal scorer of the Spanish league four times. In 1969 he was given a testimonial by Real Madrid .
In 1981 he returned to Hungary for a visit. He was greeted by thousands of people wanting to see the legend himself. During the visit he played in a friendly match in the national stadium of Hungary where the whole stadium was full and they were all cheering for Puskás. The Hungarian people loved Puskás, he was their hero, having scored 84 goals in 85 international games. In 1993 he took a brief role as the national coach of Hungary as he managed four games. Towards the later part of his life he was suffering with Alzheimer’s disease which is a common form of Dementia and it’s a disease that has no cure. He was admitted to hospital in September 2006. He eventually died on the 17th November 2006 at the age of 79. Hungary mourned the loss of a true national hero. His funeral brought the country to a standstill which proves what a massive hero he was and for the Hungarians he will always be remembered as the greatest football player in the 20th century.