Escape to Victory was a 1981 American film and football cult classic directed by John Huston, starring Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Max von Sydow, Bobby Moore, John Wark, Osvaldo Ardiles, Kazimierz Deyna, Werner Roth, Mike Summerbee, Russell Osman about Allied prisoners of war who are interned in a German prison camp during the Second World War who play an exhibition match of football against a German team. The game was filmed in the Hungária körúti stadion in Budapest, Hungary, home of MTK Budapest and based on the 1962 Hungarian film drama Két félidő a pokolban ("Two half-times in Hell"), which was directed by Zoltán Fábri and won the critics' award at the 1962 Boston Cinema Festival. I first saw it in Christchurch, New Zealand as a schoolboy. In 1987 while in Lake Placid, New York, my brother Simon and I were playing in the Soccer America Indoor Tournament for the British All Stars (we won the tournament, Simon made MVP & leading scorer) and afterwards while going for a walk in the town we met poet/actor/boxer Jack Kendrick along with his Swedish born son Rhidian. Jack had acted as a body double in the Escape to Victory movie. Fast forward to the mid-90's, I learned from Peter Horvath that he had watched the filming of the movie while he was a boy playing for the MTK youth team.
In 1990 we were asked to help promote the USA v Russia match at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto. We had an idea to bring some famous players and movie stars to the game. Jack was trying to help us locate the former cast of the film. We tried to get Michael Caine and Stallone but they werent able to make it and my call to Eusebio with my father on the line to a loud Lisbon restaurant proved fruitless. We did manage to get Bobby Moore over which was tremendous and much to my delight, I was asked to pick him up from the airport and for the entire week he was here, I was his personal guide, taking him everywhere. After he gave the man of the match award away, we jumped in the car and drove through the crowd back to Palo Alto. He was easily recognized by many and it took a while for us to get through the traffic. He wasnt phased. The only thing he wanted to do was to go to Stanford Shopping mall and buy a jump rope.... we never did find one.
On a visit to Hungary to see Peter and his family years later we wanted to see the MTK where the movie was filmed. Carine and I saw a film poster, in Dutch and Hungarian that was hanging on the wall in the main office area. I asked if I could buy it but they said it wasn't possible. As we were leaving, a Hungarian voice called back to Peter. Much to our delight, Peter told us that the man had said we could have it for free. I have it to this day. There were only a handful of these made and a search for the poster on the internet showed up nothing. Another great coincidence tying Hungary to my football journey! What were the chances that one of my best friends who I had met in California, a Hungarian growing up in communist run Hungary, behind the iron curtain, would one day be showing me the movie location of a film that made such an impression on my life.
As a young teenager in the early 1979 Liverpool were the dominant team in England and Europe, winning 3 consecutive European Cups (one of them was vs Real Madrid) and legendary commentator Martin Tyler was the person who conjured up images on the radio for us remote antipodeans. After listening to the game with the radio under my pillow all night I could hardly sleep and at the crack of dawn I sprang out of bed with the ball and ran down to the local park where I would try and re-create what I had been hearing on the radio-even to the extent of imitating the crowd noise and the crackle of the transistor radio. There weren’t packs of soccer players on the local park in rugby-mad New Zealand - just my brothers and I and a few mates such as Paul Williams and one or two others as well as my dad who would come and kick the ball with us as I tried to reproduce what I had heard on the radio and then what my dad was showing me…I operated on adrenaline before lack of sleep exhausted me in my attempt to re-create, albeit in vein, the movements I had heard on the radio and what my dad was doing with the ball. I would replay the game I had seen in my head and commentate to myself as I tried to become 'that' player I had been listening Martin Tyler describe. One such memory on the radio was a goal Ronnie Whelan scored in the FA Cup final, Years later I would see the goal again on video and it was exactly as he described it. As a side note, when I was coaching at Liverpool FC Academy Ronnie Whelan was on the field next to me helping Academy Director Steve Heighway coach the Liverpool FC youngsters. I had a big smile on my face at the time but I do regret not telling him the impression he had on my life. The ‘Match of The Day’ taped game from England arrived a week later by airplane but we knew the results of the games already. The only live commentary we got was radio and the only voice I heard was Martin Tyler, who can still be heard today bringing you the English Premier League, only this time on TV. Martin Tyler was the first English commentator who correctly pronounced players names (e.g Didier Six and Michel Platini) as they were pronounced in their native language. His exceptional ability to conjure up images and his use of language to bring color and sight to sound was second to none and remains to this day. You can hear Martin every weekend on television when he commentates the English Premier League games. I suppose that resonated with Les who similarly pronounced players names in Australia after most commentators made a mess of foreign players names and club names.
Hungary is known by many in the football world was having produced arguably the best team in the history of the game, led by one of the best players in history, Ferenc Puskas. He ranks along side Cruyff, Pele, Best, Di Stefano, Eusebio, Beckenbauer, Charlton and Zidane and Messi. Puskas played for Honved in Hungary in the 1950’s before moving to Real Madrid where he won 3 European Cup trophies, World and European Player of the Year Awards and scoring 156 goals in 180 games. Very few players in this history of the game dominated the game for club and country as Puskas did. Indeed, FIFA dedicated their goal of the year award in his honor. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FIFA_Pusk%C3%A1s_Award
I first heard of Puskas as a child growing up in Liverpool. In fact I write this a day after the European Champions League Final between Liverpool and Real Madrid (lets not talk about that one!). Only Zidane and Di Stefano are held with the same esteem as Puskas by Real Madrid fans but Puskas is more revered by Liverpool fans. My father who had played at Leeds United (they wore all white like Real Madrid) would speak glowingly about Puskas, echoed by everyone he introduced me to while growing up all over the world. It was obvious to me that he was considered by many as a soccer legend so I conjured up images of how he played without ever having seen him play. My dad would talk about the great goals Puskas scored and the beauty and grace of his movement and his wonderful left foot touch. As recent as yesterday my dad said in an email to me "Puskas made football an art form". I would wonder as a child what it was that moved my father and so many other highly regarded players like him. The interesting thing is that my father himself had hardly seen Puskas play. He had only seen a few games live on black and white TV. 1954 World Cup as a 10 year old and the 1960 European Cup Final 7:3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt played in front of 127,000 fans with Puskas scoring 4 goals and Di Stefano scoring 3 goals.
I was really curious how greatness could be transmitted across the generations. It was not as though there were a multitude of TV viewing options or VHS or CD’s or internet back in those days. And likewise as a child we didn’t have access to video or the luxury of multi channel TV options, nor DVD or VHS until later in my teens. Even then it was rare to find footage of any type of football. Once a week live games on TV or an occasional replay was all we could see. So it was mostly fables and anecdotal stories from my father or older coaches or players and fans who either saw live televised games of Real Madrid or, rarer still, perhaps had seen him play in person. It was only through eloquent storytelling of coaches and my father and fellow professionals or commentators or radio or perhaps a still photo illustrating a perfectly executed technique that resonated with myself and millions of others. Just storytelling and attempts to recreate the action they only heard about. I was doing ‘moves’ and movements based on what I heard and copying those who could do them. We didn’t have replay or coaching aids. In doing this, the way we loosely interpreted the exercises enabled us to develop our own unique style of play.
I later heard stories from renowned Rogan Taylor who was my head professor and founder of the Football Industries MBA program I attended who said he only wore a red Liverpool shirt as a kid in Liverpool as he and every other kid would try to emulate their local footballing heroes but as soon as he saw the 7:3 Real Madrid v Eintracht Frankfurt victory on TV, he switched to wearing all white to be like Puskas and his new found love, Real Madrid. I think that Real and Puskas and his equal Di Stefano might have had something to do with my dad wanting to play for Leeds United, who played a similar brand of elegant, artistic football which found them at the top of European football for a brief period.
Les Murray, another Hungarian who migrated to Australia, ran SBSTV and became the most recognized voice and face in Australian soccer for over 30 years where he hosted ‘the World Game’, positioning himself as the oracle of all things football and the gatekeeper of Australian soccer. His original name was László Ürge, born in Papa, just 40 miles away from The Puskas Academy in Felscut. He was responsible for erecting the Puskas statue in Australia (the replica statue is actually at the Puskas Academy - see pictures below). Like me he had a brief stint at St George Budapest in Sydney, although he managed to play there! Everything to do with soccer in Australia flowed through Les, alongside the legendary Johnny Warren, captain of the team that played in the 1974 World Cup in Germany. In his position came great influence. They both had the ears and minds of most soccer fans who depended on them for every nugget of soccer information. There were other Hungarians who migrated to Australia, such as Frank Lowy, one of the richest people in Australia today. He was Chairman of the Football Federation Australia (FFA) from 2003 to November 2015 and was credited for Australia leaving Oceania and joining the AFC and for also helping Australia qualify for several World Cups. His company, Westfield Corporation, is known for its vast shopping center business. “In Les I have lost a dear friend. Les and I spoke the same language – literally. He was born in Budapest; I was born in a small village nearby.” he said of Les Murray on his death in 2017. https://theworldgame.sbs.com.au/lowy-remembers-dear-friend-les-murray
Anecdote - Peter met Les when Les visited Puskas Academy. Years ago I wanted to give Peter a present so I gave Peter a signed ball and plaque sent to me by Les Murray in Australia. Les had kindly arranged for this to be sent to us via Peter. It was a great coincidence they should meet in person many years later.
Another experience I had with Hungarian football occurred out of the blue, one sunny day playing soccer on the beach in Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia as a 17 year old with my brother Ross and father Victor. While we were kicking the ball around we were approached by several middle aged Hungarian men who asked for a game. I initially didnt take it seriously but then we agreed to play them in a 3 v 3 game. It turned out that the men were national youth team coaches and assistant men's professional coach at St George Budapest in Sydney, the top professional club in Australia at that time. They were on vacation and we had just signed for Twin Towns F.C in the State mens league and had been selected to play for Gold Coast United vs. National League side Brisbane City. Most of my training back then was simply playing on the beach all day long while waiting for my big break. I was hoping to get to Europe and play there but needed to get my feet wet in Australia first. Saint George was one of the biggest clubs in Australia at the time coached by the most famous coach, a Serb of Hungarian descent, Frank Arok. They were the first ones to introduce me to soccer tennis (aside from my dad). When we went to visit them at their motel, they were sitting around the pool and playing soccer tennis…I thought it was tremendous and was awed how good they were. They wanted to sign myself and Ross for the youth team, considered one of the best in the country at that time, and they were interested in Simon after he returned from the USA. They told us that we could stay in the coaches house as he was still on vacation in Europe. His name was Frank Arok. I knew nothing about him back then but he ended up being arguably the most famous coach in Australian history. We immediately drove down to Sydney where we picked up my brother Simon from the airport who had left his US college scholarship behind at the University of Tampa to return to Australia. The rest of the story is for another time but the experience with football passionate Hungarians was one I never forgot.
Many years ago I played with a Hungarian football player in the USA named Peter Horvath. Peter had come to play in the USA and remained in the country to coach and attend university. After his studies he continued playing for various teams just prior to the formation of the MLS. He was one of the best players in California and I enjoyed playing with him a great deal. He was also an exceptional coach and worked for and along side me at my camps on an almost daily basis for 10 years. We spent many hours training together on the field and many hours off the field talking about the game in great detail and listening to him tell tales of Hungary’s greater footballing days.
In May, 2018 Carine and I traveled to Hungary. Our last visit was 2005 and much has changed in the country since then. This most recent trip was in part to see Peter who is coaching at the Puskas Academy as an individual player performance analyst and coach (in 2019 he became assistant first team coach and has now returned to the youth Academy). He had previously acted as the clubs Academy Director. Before that he coached at MTK Budapest. While we were there, the Puskas Academy was hosting the BU17 Puskas Suzuki Cup featuring some of the worlds top clubs: Bayern Munich, Flamengo, Genk, Real Madrid, Sporting Lisbon, Honved, Panathanaikos and Puskas Academy so it was a chance to see these teams in action and learn more about Peters match and player analysis and his scouting methods. After beating Flamengo, Sporting and Bayern Munich, Puskas Academy lost to Genk (Belgium & Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruynes old team) 3:1 in the Final. It was also an opportunity to rendezvous with a fellow good friend of ours, an NZ/Australian who was visiting his steel company and of course it was an opportunity to pay homage to Puskas himself as the impressive Puskas Stadium, named 'Pancho Arena' after Puskas' nickname, hosts an amazing museum of Puskas himself.
The Puskas Academy stadium is also called the ‘Pancho Arena’, a nickname given to Puskas when he a played Real Madrid. It could only have been built with the help of the government and the backing of benevolent leader (Hungarian Prime minister Viktor Orban- who was born in the same town) wanting to bring Hungary back to its former greatness and restore its national pride. Located in the undulating rural, pastoral landscape 30 minutes west of Budapest Hungary, is Felcsut, a town of only 1,600 people. In the middle of the town, part cathedral, part piece of art and part stadium, the Pancho Arena holds 3,800 people and was built at a cost of approximately USD$15 million.
It serves as the first and youth teams' facility and an impressive Puskas museum is also located in the VIP section of the ground as well as multiple training fields and a large dormitory. Viktor Orban has created the most impressive and unique of stadiums, Gaudi-esque to some while gaudy to others, in the name of the greatest Hungarian player of all time and one of the legends of the world game. You would have to see it to believe it. It reminded me of a Wes Anderson and Harry Potter movie put together, but this might have been influenced by the fact we were staying in the old town in Buda surrounded by a church and monastery. The Puskas Academy is brilliant, unusual, strange, magical all at the same time - there is nothing like it on earth. The building is constructed beautifully and the craftsmanship is incredible. Primeminister built this facility in his home town at considerable expense, but has also directed the government to spend close to $1 billion Euros renovating and constructing many of Hungary's dilapidated stadiums with donations to constructing these facilities considered tax deductible through a foundation established bu the Hungarian government.
I was in England during the Euro 96 Championships when another wonderful moment occurred which I will remember for the rest of my life. I was assistant Technical Observer for the Czech National Team losing 2:1 on a golden goal to Germany at Wembley Stadium. The Czechs weren't supposed to make it that far but it was quite a journey and a story to tell for another day. Puskas’ close friend Les Murray had invited me to appear on a live broadcast from London's East End where he had found a studio location with a backdrop of the Tower Bridge. They had knocked out the window to give a clear image of the bridge behind us which was amazing. What I didn’t know was that Martin Tyler was joining us on the show. I should have guessed because Martin was contracted by Les and SBSTV to commentate on the previous World Cup games. Martin Tyler was the voice I had been hearing from my transistor radio in far away New Zealand as child. Enter Martin Tyler, a big man with a gentle voice. I stopped him before he could even say hello and told him that it was his voice that I heard on the radio every Saturday after midnight when I tuned into the radio frequency that brought me all the way back ‘home’ to Anfield. Before we went live to a million viewers ‘down under’, Martin excitedly told us an amazing story. He said he had just come from Wembley Stadium where they had assembled some current Premier League stars and former greats. Puskas was there being filmed and interviewed on how he scored his ‘pull back' goal vs England that had the world talking about how it left England captain Billy Wright on his ‘behind'. See the goal here. Martin said they asked Puskas to replicate the goal and he had the current professional players copy him. Puskas was 69 years old at the time. No-one expected Puskas to do it 10 times in a row without warming up. Martin said he was astonished that Puskas repeatedly put the ball in the same place whereas the current professionals couldn't do it consistently. Once again, another story by a great storyteller who conjured up all sorts of images of the great player, and the Puskas legacy continued.
12:59 Puskas at Cumberland Hotel
5:35 - 7:55 Rogan Taylor interview - Book Release
13:59 Puskas visits Wembley with Rogan's book - 1996 (?) Meets Stanley Matthews