Hungary and Barça: A century old relationship

Hungary and Barça: A century old relationship

The first friendly against Ferencváros dates back to 1923, while Barça have had a total of ten Hungarian footballers over the years, including the legendary Kubala

The relationship between Hungary and FC Barcelona will experience a new chapter when the game with Ferencváros kicks off the 2020/21 Champions League. It will be an unprecedented occasion, at least in official competition, as the teams (both founded in 1899) have only ever played each other before in friendly matches.

We take a look back at the different links between Barça and Hungary: previous games, the many Hungarians that have worn the blaugrana jersey over the years, a historic women's final in 2019 and both an academy and a supporters club based in Budapest.

Six games with Ferencváros: 1923 to 1977

3 March 1923 Friendly FC Barcelona 2 (Alcantara, Gracia) Ferencváros 0
4 March 1923 Friendly FC Barcelona 2 (Gracia, Martinez) Ferencváros 0

The sides first met in back-to-back friendlies played in in the first weekend of March 1923. After being thoroughly impressed by Hungarian clubs Újpest and MTK on recent visits to the city, the local press felt Ferencváros were a bit of a disappointment – although the fact that their star players were off playing for Hungary against Italy may have had something to with that.

Barça won both games by the same score and without major difficulty, other than the threat of the Sunday game being called off because a rule forbidding friendly games on the same day as regular league matches.

25 December 1928 Friendly FC Barcelona 4 (Cros 3, Buj) Ferencváros 0
26 December 1928 Friendly FC Barcelona 3 (Parera 2, Cros 1) Ferencváros 3

International friendlies on Christmas Day were a tradition in the early 20th century and there was much excitement in Barcelona over the visit of the mighty Ferencváros, one of the greatest teams in Europe at the time. But the El Mundo Deportivo writer was considerably unimpressed by everything he saw. Ferencváros were tired from the journey, Barça looked unmotivated and he felt these two insipid games deserved to be confined “to the depths of oblivion.”

30 August 1972 Friendly FC Barcelona 2 (Barrios, Juanito) Ferencváros 2

Over half a century would pass before the teams played again. The only time Ferencváros have appeared before at the Camp Nou was for this preseason friendly played in honour of Josep Maria Fusté, who was hanging up his boots after 17 years of service to the club. Other than that, this game played in front of a half-full stadium was another largely forgettable affair.

1977 Trofeo Ibérico FC Barcelona 3 (Clares, Rexach 2) Ferencváros 0

It has been 43 years since the last meeting between the teams, in the final of an end-of-season tournament called the Trofeo Ibérico, which is still played every summer in the city of Badajoz. And although the five previous games had been dour spectacles, this one was by all accounts a magnificent affair, with the stadium packed to see the great Johan Cruyff in action, pitch invasion included, even though the Dutchman himself didn’t have the best of games.

Barça had missed out on the league title by one point to Atlético Madrid, but victory in this competition (which also featured Badajoz and Benfica) was viewed as some kind of consolation for Rinus Michels and his team. The performance against Ferencváros was tremendous, although the Hungarian coach, Jenő Dalnoki, was fiercely critical of the refereeing and what he felt were unnecessarily violent tactics employed by the Catalans.

Other games with Hungarian teams

Barça’s first ever game against Hungarian opposition was a friendly against MTK Budapest in 1922. Visiting goalkeeper Franz Platko was so impressive that he was persuaded to join the Catalan club as a replacement for the departing Ricardo Zamora.

It was a wise choice. Platko would go on to be almost as big a legend in the Barça goal as his predecessor.Barça’s first visit to Hungary and also the first competitive game against a Hungarian club was a 1969 meeting with Győri ETO FC in the Inter City Fairs Cup.

Barça won that tie 5-2 on aggregate.That was the first of just two occasions when Barça have previously played a Hungarian club in European competition. The only other was a 4-1 aggregate defeat of Vasas SC in the UEFA Cup in 1975. It has now been 45 years since Barça last set foot in Hungary.

It is almost 30 years since Barça last met a Hungarian side at all. The last game was a 1-0 defeat of Honved in the Trofeo Ciudad de la Línea, played in 1991. Albert Ferrer scored the only goal of the game.

Barça's Hungarian players

In the early to mid 20th century, Budapest was one of the capitals of world football. Clubs like Ferencváros and Honved were among the best in the world, and Hungary reached the World Cup Final in both 1938 and 1954. On both occasions the ‘Mighty Magyars’ lost despite almost everyone agreeing that they were by far the best team, and Hungarian footballers were all the rage.

Barça managed to procure the services some of the finest players from Hungary’s golden era. Platko, Kubala, Kocsis and Czibor in particular were four of the biggest blaugrana stars of the first half of the century.

Ferenc Platko

Franz Platko (1923-30)

Barça’s first encounter with Hungarian opposition was two friendlies with MTK in 1922. The visiting goalkeeper, Platko, impressed so much that he was invited to join the Catalan club, who were looking for somebody to replace the legendary Ricardo Zamora. A tough job, but Platko soon became a legend in his own right, especially for his heroic display, despite being seriously injured, in the 1928 cup final. After retiring, he did return to Barça as manager for one season, but spent most of his final years in South America, tragically dying in poverty in Chile in 1983.

Ernst Löwinger (1933-34)

Was at the club for one season but failed to win a place in the team

György Szeder (1934-35)

Born György Silberstein, this left winger used a different name to disguise his Jewish identity. He was just 19 when he joined Barça from Soroksár, but struggled to adapt and only played five games. He returned to Hungary where he would tragically die at the hands of the Nazi invaders in 1945, on the very day after Hitler committed suicide.

Elemér Berkessy(1934-36)

Joined Barça from Racing Club Paris in 1934, but returned to France two years later. He’d later become the first ever foreign coach in the English League as manager of Grimsby Town.

Ladislao Kubala

Ladislao Kubala (Player: 1951-61; Manager: 1961-63, 1980)

Born in Budapest but of Slovak descent, he arrived in Spain as a refugee, having fled communist Hungary in the back of a truck. He had to serve a one-year FIFA ban before he could make his debut for Barça, but when he did the impact was extraordinary. Although it is not entirely true that the Camp Nou was built because so many people wanted to watch him play, the fact that he was voted Barça’s greatest player ever in a 1999 centenary poll goes to show what an impact Kubala had, and his statue now stands outside the Camp Nou.

In 1952, Kubala equalled the Liga record with seven goals in a game against Sporting Gijón, a record that still stands today, and yet the press cirticised him for playing poorly! He is Barça's fourth highest goalscorer of all time, topped only by Leo Messi, César and Luis Suárez.

He led the Catalans to four Liga titles and after retiring managed the team on two separate occasions. Curiously, however, he was never part of the Mighty Magyar sensation. He only ever played three games for Hungary and switched allegiances to Spain.

István Nyers (1956-57)

Nyers is regarded as one of Hungary’s finest footballers of all time, but it was in Italy where he gained most of that reputation, and especially for the 133 goals he scored for Inter Milan. He was 32 and in the twilight of his career when he came to Barça and he failed to have any impact.

László Kaszás (1957-59)

Kaszás was only 17 when he joined Barça from Vasas but failed to win a place in the team and left for Real Madrid. He went on to play for a number of clubs in Spain, Italy and the US without ever truly establishing himself anywhere.

Kocsis scores one of two goals in the Spanish Cup Final / ALFREDO ANGUITA

Sándor Kocsis (1958-65)

Kocsis had been the top scorer at the 1954 World Cup and was the star of the great Honved team that opted not to return to Hungary after playing Athletic Club in a European Cup game. Kubala persuaded him to come to Barcelona and he became almost as much of a star as his fellow Hungarian had been, helping the side to the European Cup Final in Bern where, like Hungary in 1954, he was on the losing side.

Zoltán Czibor (1958-61)

Czibor’s story very much mirrors that of Kocsis. He too was a hero of Hungary’s 1954 World Cup squad and a member of that great Honved that decided not to go back home, and like Kocsis was one of the first great stars to grace the newly built Camp Nou.

Tibor Szalay (1961-63)

Szalay came to Barça after three decent years at Sevilla but only ever played two games for the Catalans. He ended up spending most of his playing years in the United States.

Three Hungarian coaches

Not many nationalities can boast of having had three different coaches at Barça, but Hungary can do exactly that.

The first was Jesza Poszony, who had previously played in Hungary's very first international match and also managed Poland in their first ever game. He came to Barcelona in 1922 as assistant to Jack Greenwell, and briefly took over as head coach after the Englishman was sacked. Later, two former Barça players (see above), would also manage the first team: Ferenc Platko (1934-35 and 1955-56) and László Kubala (1962-63 and 1980)..

Barça Women applauding the fans at the Groupama Arena in Budapest, following the 2019 Champions League final
Barça Women applauding the fans at the Groupama Arena in Budapest, following the 2019 Champions League final

UEFA Women's Champions League Final 2019

It might be almost half a century since the Barça men’s team set foot in Hungary, but Budapest brings back far more recent memories for the women’s team. The Groupama Arena was the venue when the Barça women reached the European final for the very first time, played against Olympique Lyonnais before 19,487 people on 18 May 2019.

Marvellous occasion as it was, in football terms it all ended in disappointment. Lyon scored four times in the first half hour, and although Asisat Oshoala did get a consolation goal a minute before the end, Barça were soundly beaten.

Barça Academy Budapest

In 2019, Budapest became the fourth city in continental Europe, following Moscow, Istanbul and Warsaw, to have its own Barça Academy, where children aged 4-14 are taught to play the game in accordance with Barça’s famous methodology and philosophy.

When it opened, its manager Balázs Farkas was cited as saying: “Hungarian football has a rich heritage, and Barcelonaʼs philosophy and style of play best fits with this medium. Through Kubala, Kocsis and Czibor, the Hungarians are in their hearts, and they were very happy to be able to launch such an academy and create value in Central Europe.”

Sadly, of course, much of its first year of operation has been marred by Covid-19, but following a long interruption to the program, the children are now back training again.

Barça Penya Budapest

Today, supporting Barça and living in Hungary are two situations that inevitably guide people towards the Penya Blaugrana de Budapest. Although it is only three years old, this society in the Hungarian capital has become a benchmark for the movement in Eastern Europe, and is also a powerful meeting point, even for people who live outside of the country. Today it has around 900 members, twice as many as it had when it was founded, making it one of the biggest supporters’ clubs in the World Federation.


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