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The Galloping Major: Ferenc Puskas

When The Football History Boys was established in February, our initial aim was to find the top 250 football players of all-time. One of such players is Ferenc Puskas, a Hungarian forward, war veteran and Mighty Magyar. Despite being dubbed as the "top scorer of the twentieth-century" Puskas is often forgotten by the modern day football fans. What makes Ferenc's career stand out from others and why is he is so forgotten in modern-day football conversation?

Born in Budapest in 1927 as Ferenc Purczeld, his early life was dominated by inter-war struggles between European powers in the newly formed nation of Hungary following its independence from Austria after World War One. The Purczeld family however Magyarizing its name to Puskas in 1937 to remove itself from any German links in a time where Adolf Hitler's Nazi's were beginning their attempt for dominance on the continent.

Puskas' early career as a teenager was centered around rising through the ranks of local team Kispest FC initially under the name of Miklos Kovacs due to only being 12 years of age and too young for the team. His first apperances for the first team came during the Second World War in 1943, inheriting the nickname "Ocsi", meaning "buddy" along the way. Following the War, Kispest were taken over by the Hungarian Ministry of Defence in 1949, being renamed Budapest Honved in the process. Ocsi after the militant takeover gained the new nickname "The Galloping Major" due the Hungarian M.o.D giving military ranks to the players, Ferenc gradually earning the title of 'Major'.

Honved's Star man
It is with Honved where Puskas made his initial impact on the footballing world. In 1948 earned the top goalscorer in Europe award scoring 50 goals in the 1947-8 season, and subsequently leading the goal scoring charts 3 more times whilst playing for the Hungarian champions. The Honved team also boasting the likes of Hungary internationals Jozsef Bozsik, Zoltan Czibor and Sandor Kocsis.

"He had a full career in Hungary and he repeated it in Spain with Real Madrid. That's why he is not only world class, but he belongs to the realm of dreams." - Gyula Grocsis

Honved went on to become on Europe's most feared teams, with their success transmitting onto the national side. Honved entered the inaugural European Cup in 1955-56 and were drawn against a strong Athletic Bilbao side, losing 6-5 on aggregate. The reasons as for why such a strong team lost were found due to the domestic unrest with the now infamous Hungarian Uprising resulting in the Soviet Union crushing any revolutionaries. Furthermore the revolution led to players like Kocsis and Puskas staying abroad as they were on a tour of western Europe when the uprising came to an end.

“He had a roly poly physique but a wonderful left foot and he was a brilliant finisher. I would put Puskas in any list of all time greats.” - Sir Tom Finney

Perhaps for Puskas', the most famous side he played with was the Hungarian National Team of the 1950s, dubbed the Mighty or Magical Magyars. Under head coach Gustav Sebes, Puskas and the Magyars become one of the World's greatest ever sides, still holding the record for the highest all-time ELO ranking. The side spearheaded by the Galloping Major played with a style of football similar to the "Total Football" of the 1970s Dutch sides. The formation of 4-2-4, was different to any seen before on the continent and resulting in the Magyars going 4 years unbeaten, winning the 1952 Olympics and triumphing in a game some dubbed to be the "Match of the Century."
Magical Magyars
“Of all of us, he was the best. He had a seventh sense for soccer. If there were 1,000 solutions, he would pick the 1001st.” - Nandor Hidegkuti

The match of course we are referring too is of course England 3-6 Hungary. Before the game, England had never lost a home international to a side outside of the British Isles. Hungary were expected by the British press to be walked over by England, but Puskas, described by one player as that "little fat chap", had other ideas scoring two goals, the first becoming known as the "drag-back goal". Puskas' side ran riot, scoring six before recording seven in the return fixture in Hungary. The match went on to change England's view on football and the way they played their game, culminating in the 1966 World Cup win. The Hungarian side finally entered the World Cup in '54 as favourites but ultimately went home disappointed after a 3-2 final defeat to West Germany, Puskas was not 100% fit for final, and not able to influence the game like his usual self. (Read our 1954 Miracle of Bern piece here)

Exchanging pleasantries with Billy Wright
In 1958 Puskas joined Real Madrid, his first club since his 2 year UEFA enforced hiatus for not returning to Hungary in 1956. In the two-year period with no club Ferenc briefly appeared for Espanyol before almost signing for Manchester United to bolster their squad following the tragic Munich Air Disaster, only for English football rules regarding foreigners scuppering any chance of a move. Despite being 31 years of age and to some, overweight, Puskas went on to have a successful career at the Castilian club winning three European Cups and five consecutive domestic titles. Ferenc scored a staggering 242 goals in 262 appearances for Madrid and formed an unbeatable partnership with Real legend Alfredo Di Stefano.

Scoring versus Frankfurt

One of Puskas' greatest records is that he is the only player to record hat-tricks in two different European Cup finals. The first coming in arguably one the greatest European finals, Real Madrid 7-3 Eintracht Frankfurt at Hampden Park in 1960. Puskas in fact scored four in the final before scoring three times against Benfica in the 1962 final defeat to Bela Guttmann's side. Puskas' love for the Spanish game and his acceptance by the Iberian crowds led to him even representing Spain at the 1962 World Cup, albeit surprisingly unsuccessfully and uncharacteristically as he failed to score in any of the games.

“The man was a supertalent. I have lost a friend and quality player. That’s how Puskás was as a person and a football player. He was one of the greatest players of all time... my friend” - Alfredo Di Stefano

Puskas retired in 1966 with the untouchable title of "Top goal-scorer of the Twentieth-Century" scoring 616 goals in 620 games, as well as holding the unrivaled record of 84 international goals in 85 caps. However, in the modern game Puskas has been often forgotten by football fans. Of course die hard supporters realise the great man's talents and he still remains one of Madrid's best loved sons, but for many the great Madrid side is remembered for Di Stefano and Francisco Gento due to their larger trophy cabinets.

Perhaps if Puskas has emerged victorious in the 1954 World Cup to alongside his "Golden Ball" award, his name may be more talked about today. In 2009, three years after his death FIFA recognized this, resulting in them creating the "Puskas Award" in order to find the 'Most Beautiful Goal' each year. The Award so far has been won by Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar amongst others.

Miroslav Stoch - The latest winner of the Puskas Award
For me, he is and always will be one of football's greatest ever players, with his unmatchable goal-scoring records, his undoubtable skill and technical ability. In terms of the Top 250? He sure gets my vote!

 "We saw a style of play, a system of play that we had never seen before. None of these players meant anything to us. We didn't know about Puskás. All these fantastic players, they were men from Mars as far as we were concerned...They called Puskás the 'Galloping Major' because he was in the army - how could this guy serving for the Hungarian army come to Wembley and rifle us to defeat? But the way they played, their technical brilliance and expertise - our WM formation was kyboshed in ninety minutes of football."
- Sir Bobby Robson


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