Monday, September 10, 2012

Although MTK and Czepel were not a factor in the championship, Budapest continued to rule Hungarian football: the first four in the table were not only from Budapest, but head and shoulders above the rest of the league. Honved finished 4th, clearly far, far away from the class of their legendary team from the 1950s, but pushing ahead with a crop of new players. The squad was still too young to really challenge the dominant teams, but it was improving and restoring the 'normal' position of the Army club – among the best.

On the other hand, Ferencvaros, the champions of 1975-76, slipped down a bit, to bronze medals. Tibor Nyilasi was already a big star – perhaps the best Hungarian player already – but the team was somewhat young, unfinished, and unable yet of domination.

Bronze medals were not exactly satisfying demanding fans, asking for nothing but titles. To a point, lost season for the Fradi, who came close, but lost both championship and Cup. Well respected JenÅ‘ Dalnoki coached bright squad, somewhat short of great: along with Nyilasi, a host of national team players here – Pusztai, Rab, Hajdu, Ebedli, Megyesi, Balint, Mucha, Onhausz, Martos. But somehow they lacked something, except Balint. Perhaps the veterans were revealing the slight weakness of the squad: Vepi and Mucha were hardly noticeable players in the days when Florian Albert, team's technical director by now, was dazzling crowds at home and abroad.

Second place went to Ujpesti Dosza – the club was already a second season without a championship, but still was prime contender. 22 wins and only 6 lost matches, 88 goals scored – quite a performance. Unfortunately, not good enough for the title.
Ujpesti Dosza were the opposite of Ferencvaros – their familiar squad, dominant so far since the beginning of the 1970s, was getting long in the tooth. They were still strong enough to maintain top position in Hungarian football, but were not getting better anymore. It was the twilight – when Ferencvaros were coming up, the Viola was slowly going down.

Between those who were not ready yet to dominate and those declining laid an opportunity for a squad may be not really great, but strong and ripe enough, in its prime. Such was Vasas (Budapest). The best years of the club were the 1960s, the first half of the decade really, when they were the strongest force in Hungarian football. Perhaps just because of its central position, Vasas never really faded into oblivion, but nevertheless reality was harsh: Hungarian football was practically concentrated in Budapest, but in the capital the competition was stiff – Ujpesti Dosza, Ferencvaros, and Honved were the mightiest clubs in every respect. Vasas was more or less second tier... along with MTK and Csepel. Higher than few others, who rarely reached First Division. Objectively, for a club like Vasas success depended largely on temporary weakness of the grands. Good team, upper half of the table, but... mid-table club. There were some minor advantages in that – unlike the rest of Communist Eastern Europe, Communist Party officials were not permitted to meddle in football. Janos Kadar, the leader of the Hungarian Communist Party, was Vasas fan and during the 1960s was often seen at the stands. Yet, he did not 'influence' the Football Federation and did not 'help' Vasas. But the same 'lack of governmental support' suffered the big clubs too, which resulted in something healthy: club like Vasas was able to keep its best players and build good squad in peace. Occasionally, such a club was able to win on its own merit. 1976-77 was Vasas' season.

It was quite a comfortable win: Vasas won 25 out of 34 championship matches, losing only 6. At the end, the champions had comfortable 3-points cushion, leaving Ujpesti Dosza well behind. Twenty-five wins suggest attacking football, but it was more than that: Vasas scored 100 goals during the season! 100 goals is something remarkable and rare in the whole football history. No matter strong or weak championship, such scoring stands out, and even more so, for Vasas did not have the best strikers in Hungary. It was fantastic for the club and its fans: the last time Vasas was champion was in the distant 1966. After ten years of grief, the title was theirs again. Perhaps it was the policy of the club – back then coaches were not changed every year, but usually worked in the same club for a long time, but even in these culture Vasas was special. Rudolf Illovszky, a former player of the club, was already a legend – it was his 5th stint at the helm of the club, the first starting in 1957. The golden years of Vasas were his management and this was already 4th title he brought home, after 1961, 1962, and 1965. And it was not just a brief return of Illovszky either: he took the team back n 1974 and carefully drove it the another title.
A good squad Illovszky built: Toeroek, Varady, Szoeke, Kovacs. Sandor Mueller developed into one the best Hungarian midfielders of the time. Perhaps the biggest star was the goalkkeper Ferenc Meszaros, a staple of the national team for many years. Vasas lacked superstars, but had dependable well-rounded team just in its prime. The victory was well deserved and the champions were delight to watch scoring goals.

One more photo of the champions – I have soft spot for Vasas kits.