Founded in 1850, Larousse is one of France’s most prestigious publishers of dictionaries and encyclopaedias, moreover of the concept that what Larousse claims is authoritative. Which is why it should be pointed out that the introductory part of the Encyclopaedia of Football, published at the time of the 1998 World Cup in France, deals with the initiation and rules of the sport, and then directly afterwards, jumping ninety years forward in time, is followed by the chapter on the Hungarian ‘Golden Team’. It is a well-known fact that the French are not terribly sensitive towards the Hungarians, even the highly qualified for the most part stand aloof in relation to our culture and especially our history; they do not want to hear about Trianon, and if our wine comes up, they have the strongest lobby in the EU, they look down on what’s in our glass from behind the bastions of French agricultural interest enforcement.
I should quickly point out that I’m a Francophone, working for many years as managing director at the helm of a French-Hungarian joint venture.
Therefore, I also live with due empathy for framework of this relationship. Before phylloxera (1875-95), which destroyed the vast majority of the world’s vineyards, France and Hungary ranked almost the same on the world market in terms of volume and quality of wine produced. Following replanting up to the disintegration of the monarchy, these two countries accounted for more than forty percent of the world’s wine production. The French have managed to retain their position until this day, whereas our share of the world’s wine production totals just half a percent. Meanwhile, a series of tragedies has brought us to the point where Tokaji Aszú, which for centuries was the king of wines, namely an extremely expensive luxury product, has now become a mass-market product selling for just a few thousand Hungarian forints.
Tokaj’s István Szepsy, the Hungarian winemaker, genius of both the Ballon d’Or and Golden Boot, said to me not long ago that we need to ensure that Tokaj plays in the Champions’ League once again. Because its players (the Mád vineyards) are only able to prove their value in that medium. Szepsy wants to raise Tokaj’s premium wines from the €10-20 to the €2-300 category, wines whose collateral has been dealt a blow by the low purchase price and compromise-ridden wine-making in Hungary. If our wines are on the top shelf, says Szepsy, “communication becomes simpler and performance comparable. We need to realise that we cannot build the brand further in Hungary, we have reached the limit of our possibilities. Our task is to continue to build our brands on the world market, to make them accepted and successful. We have to tell the world that Aszú production is the world’s most expensive technology. If Messi is a hundred, then this is three hundred. Even taking a Sauternes or an Egon Müller-style Trockenbeerenauslese, there is no more complex wine in the world than our Aszú. That’s why we need to position it at a similar price, which is in the interest of the whole wine region, indeed of all Hungarian wine-making.
Anyone with ears, listen up.
Hungarian wine, including the world’s most special, beautiful and mysterious, hence most valuable, wine, Tokaji Aszú, has suffered capital loss five times in the last hundred years. With Trianon, when some of Hegyalja’s outer (extraneus) estates ended up on the other side of the border, we lost two-thirds of the wine-drinking population and the peace treaty forbade any exports (to protect French interests!). Then along came the first global crisis, when millions fled to America, including hundreds of thousands of vine-growers and hardworking farmers. Afterwards, the Second World War, which brought terrible destruction to land and property, to the cellars and condition of barrels. The fourth major capital loss was caused by the pitiable quality exacted by collectivism, which resulted in the fifth blow, the loss of the capital of confidence.
Hungarian football has trodden a parallel path. From the beginning of the thirties to the end of the seventies, so for half a century, we were at the forefront of the world. Meanwhile, in the West, the game was turned into a professional spectacle, business logic invaded the world’s most popular sport and its capitalisation began. Here in Hungary, one point in the NB I (the National Championship) was worth 800 forints and some kind of falsehood in his ID concealed the professionalism which was alien to the system and at the end of his career, Zsiguli was stuck in the garage of a small flat on a housing estate, whilst over there, the best players earned enough in their ten-year-long career to stand them in good stead for a lifetime and built brands worth a pretty penny with their names.
And whilst here in Hungary, every area (training, supply-training, stadium quality, professional competence, public opinion) began to deteriorate, in the West, football became an organised, valued and well-paid profession, and itself grew into an international network. The ten thousand footballers (including Puskás, Kocsis and Czibor) who left our football scene in 1956 were the first capital loss, then came the period of the sixties and the seventies, when we still had our football players, even club teams and well subscribed to as well, but we couldn’t take part in the accumulation and redistribution of capital. The third loss of capital was the nihil, the age of match-fixing, with the appearance of the all-explanatory attitude and the attendant actions that went along with it. This period is part of the transformation of more than a thousand football pitches into petrol stations, housing estates and shopping centres. The first capital loss came when university-level coaching training was crushed under the MLSZ licensing, self-administration system. At this time, a mass of functional illiterates flooded the system. In the home of Lajos Baróti and Károly Lakat! This led to the fifth blow, the loss of the capital of trust.
European Cup semi-final, 10 April 1974: Újpesti Dózsa vs Bayern Munich at the National Stadium. The two team captains were Ferenc Bene and Franz Beckenbauer. Bene was 29 years’ old, three years previously he had been voted tenth in the Ballon d’Or, sixth in the World Cup, third and fourth in the European Cup, and had scored more than 200 goals in the still strong NB I. Beckenbauer was one year younger, world and European champion, a much-admired genius. Bene was a goal scorer, the German rather a defensive player, a sort of sweeper. Bene was a genius, so was Kaiser Franz. If the German was worth a hundred points, Ferenc Bene was worth at least ninety. But the distribution system named socialism, did not allow Bene to do his worth justice in terms of his price. Because Bene was not for sale.
In the East, the Southern Slavs alone could and can now also express the value invested in a player’s training in the transfer fee. Because they’ve been part of the market since the seventies. Neither a Bulgarian, a Romanian, a Czech, a Ukrainian or a Slovakian can match a Southern Slav. With perhaps a few Polish exceptions. Čukarički is not the largest club in Serbia. In the stadium’s hallway, there is a big photo as a memento to all players involved. Kolarov. The guy went to Lazio for one million Euros, then Manchester City took him for nine (this is perhaps Vasas’s budget today). A good professional, an excellent football player. But not a Bene, not an Albert, not a Farkas, everyone!
I’m reading Johny Kreuz’s writing on Horse Jeu. He writes that although everyone talks about the wonders of the Golden Team, the 1966 Brazil vs Hungary game was their zenith. What the Hungarians have introduced to the world of football, although they have suffered a lot of damage, did not change anything in 1966: a strong, constructive team game, which gets the ball to the opposition’s goal in short, quick passes. The author compared Albert to Pirlot and Zidane, and recalls Bene and Farkas as the world’s best strikers. He writes of Farkas’s goal: “it’s not worth looking in the FIFA collection, as there has been no other such wonderful goal. After passing up, Albert under pressure, almost free of the ball, sets off running with Bene next to the line, who assesses Altair’s position in the blink of an eye, senses Farkas ahead of him, who arriving sprinting into sight, bombs it into the net. What brilliance to the game! Unforgettable! The stadium in Liverpool is raving!”
Two values, two important Hungarian entities: wine and football.
But it would be good, if we could think about them with love, expertise and responsibility...
This article was published first in Hungarian in the Nemzeti Sport magazine.