Saturday, 5 May 2012

Cup Final Day - Watching Football with Dad

 The opening of the Népstadion 1953 (Hungarian commentary)

Népstadion, 1954. Hungary 7: 1 England

The first time was in the Népstadion in Budapest. I must have been about six or seven. I didn't fully understand the game but it was spellbinding. The stadium was uncovered and full. If it was 1954 or 1955 it was still the Stalinist era and the crowd was very well behaved, or so I assume, because I felt no threat. Besides, I was with my father. What could be safer? One team played in lilac - it would have been Újpest Dózsa I think - the other might have been my father's favourite team MTK, the team of the textile workers and therefore supported by a good many Jews from the 30s onwards. What I didn't then know is that the team had been taken over by the secret police, the ÁVH in 1949. I also think they would have been called Vörös Lobogó or Red Banner at the time. Such things were well beyond me. The great rivalry was between Ferencváros, the team of the working class in the IXth District and MTK (and still is), much as say Liverpool versus Everton, or probably more appropriately now, Spurs and Arsenal. MTK had the great Hidegkúti (literally Mr Coldwell to you) and a few other members of the great national team.

It was the heraldic aspect that grabbed me then I think, and the sense of the crowd. I had never seen so many people, mostly men of course, together in one place. Perhaps MTK were playing Dózsa. What was the score? I can't remember. I don't think dad shouted much. He watched, much as I often watch, with a certain excitement and tension if my team is playing.

After we came to England he took me to Spurs, but really to see the great Tom Finney who was playing for Preston North End - Finney, like dad, had a background in plumbing which seemed to constitute a spiritual bond. I expect dad had seen Finney play for England in Budapest. My father was rather shocked by the violence in the game and he felt Spurs were guilty of most of it, especially Dave Mackay. He couldn't bear violence generally. The month we arrived in England in 1956 he was invited to interpret for the Hungarian wrestler Tibor Szakács on his UK pro debut at the Margate Winter Gardens. He took me with him, but was so disgusted by the show of pain and savagery that he insisted we leave after Szakács's bout twas over.

After that we went to a few matches. He eventually settled for Spurs as being the nearest equivalent to MTK and though he rarely went to White Hart Lane he followed the results, even then denying he was really a 'supporter', even of the armchair kind. 'I support the team that plays the best football,' he said.  In 1962 he took me to Fulham to see them play Manchester United. By that time I was a United fan, had played for the first team of my London primary school and was in the Under Thirteens of the local grammar. My emotions were firmly tied to the United team that was near the foot of the table that season. 'Will we go down?' I asked him anxiously, almost tearfully, after United lost. 'No,' he assured me. He was right.

He did the pools of course, like many people. I remember the Zetters' forms arriving by post, and we would sit at the kitchen table trying to predict the draws (eight of them) and the away wins (four of them). We never won anything of course but it lent an interest to watching the results come in on Grandstand. 'Bloody Hartlepool have let me down,' he'd mutter, or words to that effect. Sometimes there might be a grudging note of admiration for some unlikely team that had managed a draw - one he hadn't picked - away against Burnley or Everton or, later, Liverpool.

We'd sit and watch Match of the Day together,  listening to David Coleman or Kenneth Wolstenholme. He was very critical. He didn't like the English style of play. He hated kick-and-rush and just about put up with the Wolves side of the late 50s because they had at least some tricky wingers. But he never took to the long ball. He wanted the Hungarian style of neat inter-passing. The Hungarian team was still his first interest but in all other respects he looked to anticipate Norman Tebbitt by supporting England.

It was in fact mostly telly with a few exceptions. The football results, Sportsview in midweek, Match of the Day. The big internationals. And of course the Cup Finals. Year after year of broken legs. The great black-and-white seasons where the only way you could tell Wolves from Spurs was that the Wolves kit looked dirtier.

We went to see a couple of matches in the 1966 World Cup, by which time we were living in Wembley anyway. Bobby Charlton scored a rather marvellous goal. Dad nodded and smiled. Leaping about wasn't his style, nor was shouting, except when he was driving and cursing other drivers.

In his old age he still watched matches on television and we occasionally talked about football when alone with each other. There was much he didn't approve of in modern life and he wasn't altogether impressed with contemporary football either. It simply mattered less. What mattered, he kept saying, was health. If your health was fine everything else would be fine.

I have written about much of this in verse. Poetry seemed to be the appropriate way of doing it because, in the first place, I was a poet, but also because the essence of it was a kind of poetry. A poetry of pathos and marvels I now think. My mother always thought sport was a very childish aspect of male behaviour. The funniest thing of all was the scrum in rugby. 'Why are they all sticking their heads up each other's arses?' she asked in her best Hungarian, and kept laughing.


looby said...

I've heard (from my very deep reading in the matter :) ) that postwar Communist football was sometimes a coded rallying for anti-Government feeling. I wonder if, despite the infiltration you mention, that was happening in Hungary roundabout the time you left?

George S said...

It's possible but I wouldn't have been aware of it then of course. It would have been very difficult for the players because there would have been spies, infiltrators and informers on the staff.

In formal terms we knew that Honvéd (Puskas's team) was the army, notionally anyway. That's what the word 'honvéd' means. We knew that Vasas was the steelworkers, because that is what 'vasas' means. In the same way there were miners' teams, and MTK, as I mentioned, was the cloth trade. All this was notional since we knew the best players wouldn't be doing the supposed job in anything but the most gestural manner. And that meant the army team too.

It is fascinating to note how many national teams excelled under dictatorship. Hungary, of course. Yugoslavia. The Soviet Union. East Germany. Ceausescu's Romania were a major force. Argentina under the colonels is another example, as was Chile. I was speculating whether how far that was a matter of frustrated creative energy, fear of failure, or in fact, a kind of compensatory 'up-yours' success.

It would have been very dangerous, under Rákosi in Hungary, to attempt any kind of subversive bonding between team and spectators. But I don't really know, Looby. It would need to be researched.

looby said...

Thanks, that's interesting. The link between autocratic government hadn't occurred to me before. Ukraine it is for the European Championship then!

Gwil W said...

George, I told you ages ago that Rovers were doomed but you wouldn't have it . Maybe they will bounce straight back up. When they get good managers they lose them; Dalglish, Hughes. I want Giggs!!!

George S said...

Tonight's the night, Gwilym. Good luck versus Wigan, but I admit it's a long shot. What they need is a few long shots on target of course.

Going down may not be bad depending on how long they stay down. I suppose Kean may go. The supporters gave him and the team a bad time and he might have been unlucky at times. You might get Giggs but probably not next year. He'll still be playing for United occasionally. What Blackburn really need is more Jack Walker money or the equivalent. There's no guarantee that Giggs would be a top manager either. Alan Curbishley?

Gwil W said...

I think Giggs could cut his management teeth at Ewood and do Blackburn a favour at the same time. I know there's no guarantee that he will be a top manager but he has the ambition and he has been around Fergie a long time so he'll have had a good schooling. He won't even need to move house. As you say, it might be a couple of years before he is available. Meanwhile Rovers should place themselves at the front of the queue for his services. Hughes managed well at Ewood. I think that's a good omen.