The history of football seems to have been truncated to the lifespan of the Premiership and the Champions League by a lot of pundits and commentators recently. They pay little attention to the previous one hundred plus years of top flight football in England or the long history of the international game. Wilson has no such short term vision. The Names Heard Long Ago points out that the modern game is what it is because of its past growth and development, an ongoing, lifelong process. Wilson tells us that the modern game owes much to a massive, hereto partly hidden, Hungarian contribution. Something that began long before the Hungarian golden era but finally came into its own in that period.

The story of the beautiful game is peppered with the stuff of legend, every once in a while there’s a leap forward. The Hungarian juggernaut came to Britain, specifically to Wembley, in November, 1953, they were already world beaters, Olympic champions heading into a World Cup the following year as one of the favourites. England had only lost once at home and that was to the Republic of Ireland in 1949. The Hungarian national team didn’t just beat England they annihilated the three lions; the score was England 3 Hungary 6. This was the England team of Ramsey, Wright, Mortensen and Matthews but all anyone left talking about was the Hungarians – Puskás, Hidegkuti, Kocsis, Czibor and Budai.

‘To me.’ Harry Johnston, the England centre-back, wrote in his autobiography, ‘the tragedy was the utter helplessness . . . being unable to do anything to alter the grim outlook.’

Hidegkuti with a free-roaming role behind the two strikers Puskás and Kocsis completely destroyed the English defence that night. English football was exposed as inferior, lessons had to be learned, Alf Ramsey and Don Revie altered their whole approach to football that night. Even though the result sent shock waves around the world, the bruising score still flattered England. The return fixture in May, 1954, saw England lose 7-1. This was the golden period for Hungary, a generation of players with superior technical skills, greater tactical invention, better fitness and mental strength and benefiting from state of the art coaching methods. For the first time this comprehensive history sets what developed in Hungary between May, 1950 and June, 1956 in its historical context. It wasn’t an anomaly, this fascinating story reveals where it all started and the influence of Hungarian coaching across the world in the interwar years, particularly South America and central western Europe, gradually building towards . . . The Names Heard Long Ago.

I expected to read about the story of the Hungarian masters who came to Wembley in 1953 but just as they influenced world football from that time onwards they were influenced by the forty years prior. Wilson tells the story of those decades and demonstrates that the Hungarian influence on world football began during the interwar years, it was an extensive influence, largely, until now, unacknowledged. Wilson has assembled an impressive array of research across two continents and created a coherent and cogent history.

During a conversation in Rio de Janeiro with Roberto Assaf, historian of Flamengo, coach Dori Kruschner came up, it was a name that didn’t mean anything to Wilson but Assaf claimed that Kruschner had revolutionised Brazilian football between the wars. Even contributing to Brazil’s first World Cup win in 1950. Wilson found that Dori Kruschner played for Jimmy Hogan at Budapest club MTK and succeeded him as coach when Hogan returned to Britain after WWI. So Wilson began looking at Hogan and MTK. He also discovered that Emerico Hirschl coached Gimnasia y Esgrima la Plata and River Plate in the 1930s in Argentina and changed the game there. It emerged that there were other Hungarian coaches in South America, some went there for the money but, sadly, many fled the persecution of the Jewish community in Europe. The history of football in Hungary up to and during the war itself is difficult to piece together because the Communists destroyed the pre-1945 records but Wilson got to the story. And it all began with an Englishman, Jimmy Hogan, in 1916.

Former Burnley and Bolton forward Jimmy Hogan was living in Vienna, he had coached the Austrian Olympic squad but was arrested and interned by the Austrian during the First World War. He was soon freed but he was unable to return to his job or come home to Britain and so he went to Budapest to manage MTK in late 1916. The history of mainland European football at this time was bound up with the persecution of the Jewish community, anti-Jewish laws, and in Hungary a process of assimilation called Magyarisation. Ferencváros, was a working class side and one third of its players were Jewish, MTK was more middle class and had fifty percent Jewish players. This part of the history is deeply sad, many of the men who made the game what it is didn’t survive the war and, of course, things did not suddenly change for the better under communism. Wilson points to a coffee house culture in Hungary that fostered an intellectual debate on football, maybe no more intelligent than pub talk here, but it seemed to influence the game more directly (tactics considered of greater importance). Before the purge that came in the run up to World War II many Hungarian coaches managed in Italy and Germany. The Hungarian ‘Aranycsapat’ (golden squad) period ran from May 1950 to June 1956, the side was coached by Gustáv Sebes. Notably they won the 1952 Olympics and two years later beat Germany 8-3 in the group stages before losing the World Cup final to the same team in a brutal match. The Russian crushing of the Hungarian uprising ended the era but not the influence on world football. Last word to Wilson:

‘Hungary taught the world to play; we’re all the protégés of Jimmy Hogan now . . . when the game is at it’s most appealing, we hear still some strain of old Budapest, of the game of the coffee houses and the grunds, of the most beautiful and tragic of footballing cultures.’

Paul Burke 4*

The Names Heard Long Ago by Jonathan Wilson
Blink Publishing 9781788702263 hbk Aug 2019