In this series, Ben Wheatland takes a look at some clubs from around Europe that at one point in their history dominated their domestic league or were a leading power in European competitions, but have recently fallen on hard times. In the second entry in the series, we take a trip to Budapest, the capital of Hungary, to Honvéd FC – the club of Ferenc Puskás and the Mighty Magyars who humbled England in the 1950s…
Honvéd was originally founded as ‘Kispesti Atlétikai Club’ in 1909 after almost a year was taken to agree on a constitution for the club – the idea to form a club started life in 1908. Whilst the club is now based in a suburb of Budapest, at the time Kispest, the village in which the club was founded and after which it was named, was still separate from the city.
The club trundled along in relative obscurity, picking up a Hungarian Cup in 1926. It did supply two players for Hungary’s 1934 World Cup squad, but there was little else to shout about until a young Ferenc Puskas made his debut for the club in 1943.
After the conclusion of the Second World War, Hungary was declared a communist state, and the club was taken over by the Ministry of Defence. At the same time, the club’s name was changed to ‘Budapesti Honvéd SE’ (Honvéd means ‘defender of the homeland’ in Hungarian), and with that the foundations of the future successes had been laid.
The Mighty Magyars
The coach of the Hungarian national team used his position and contacts to ensure that the most promising players in Hungarian football were conscripted into the army and then stationed at Honved. Whilst the club already had Puskás and Joszef Bozsik – two key players in the excellent national team – it was able to recruit enough players that the club eventually provided the backbone of the Hungary line-up.
These players – Puskás , Bozsik, Sándor Kocsis, Zoltán Czibor, László Budai, Gyula Lóránt and goalkeeper Gyula Grosics – all played key roles as the Mighty Magyars (as they became known) became world famous. They won Olympic Gold in 1952, the forerunner to the European Championships in 1953, and later that year thrashed England 6-3 in a game that was billed the “Match of the Century”. Just a year later they beat England again, this time, 7-1, and were unfortunate to lose to West Germany in the 1954 World Cup final.
Alongside international success, Honvéd went on to win five league titles until 1955. Unfortunately, events conspired to break up this successful team. Whilst away in Spain for a European Cup tie, revolution in Budapest delayed the team’s return. When the players did finally arrive home they were shorn of the talents of Puskás , who defected and ended up joining Real Madrid, and Kocsis who joined Barcelona.
Good times back again
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, the club suffered, securing only one Hungarian Cup in 1964. However, a new pool of talented players emerged in the late 1970s, and in 1980, they secured their first league title for 25 years. This allowed the club to regain some of its former stature, and throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the club secured seven more league titles and three more Hungarian Cup successes.
Despite this, the club was never to quite reach the highs of the early 1950s. Their record in Europe remained abysmal, never progressing far enough to be competing for honours. The club won the last of its trophies in this period, the third Hungarian Cup mentioned above, in 1995-96, marking the end of a trophy-laden decade and a half.
Since the league title of 1992-93, Honvéd haven’t even come close. The best they could muster was a third-placed finish in 2012-13. In that time, they have spent time in lower divisions and have bumbled along in mid-table obscurity for much of their time in the first division. Some solace was found in the Hungarian Cup, with wins in 2007 and 2009, but for a club of Honvéd’s pedigree, this has been a poor showing.
Given the club’s illustrious pedigree, it would be nice to see them challenge again more consistently for honours in Hungary.