Hungarian football will forever be associated with legendary names such as Ferenc Puskas, Florian Albert, Jozsef Bozsik and Zoltan Czibor, the most famous of the Magical Magyars of the 1950s. This legendary Hungarian national team, the 1952 Olympic gold medallists and 1954 FIFA World Cup™ runners-up, are widely acknowledged as a pioneering influence on the modern game in terms of tactical sophistication and flexibility.
Naturally, clubs also benefited from the brilliance of the Golden Team. As cross-border transfers were still very much a rarity in the mid-20th century, the best players tended to stay and ply their trade at home.
In the case of Hungary, two Budapest-based clubs profited hugely from the national team’s far-sighted coaching and tactics. Bozsik and Puskas played for Honved, but Ferencvaros carved out a position as the nation’s No1 club thanks to the likes of Albert, Sandor Kocsis and Czibor, although the last two would later scale equally great heights in Honved colours.
Birth of an institution
Of the two, Ferencvaros are the older by some ten years. Ferencvarosi Torna Club were founded in May 1899 in the Hungarian capital’s ninth district, after which the club are named. The official emblem features nine stripes, five green and four white, as a permanent reminder of the club’s geographical origins. The device with three letters ‘E’ in a triangle stands for Erkölcs, Erő, Egyetértés (morality, power and unity). On the day of the club’s foundation, first chairman Dr. Ferenc Springer is reported to have said: "This will be a great club." History was to prove him right.
Ferencvaros began as an athletics club, adding a football section some 18 months later. The fledgling Green Eagles soon suffered the heaviest defeat in their history, a 16-0 hiding by English side Oxford United in 1902. However just a year after that, and in only the third Hungarian league season, they won their first national championship.
The club nicknamed Fradi won the league again in 1905 and 1907, but that was just the prelude to a period of total domestic domination, as Ferencvaros claimed the national title five times in a row between 1909 and 1913, the last of them also producing a maiden domestic double. Some years later, a league title triumph in 1932/33 was especially memorable as the men in green and white won every one of their fixtures, an achievement which remains unique to this day.
The club had begun to attract fans from all over the country, and they duly left their original home on Soroksari Street in 1911, moving to their current stadium with its substantially greater capacity.
The making of a legend
The breakthrough on the European and international stage proved elusive for a time, but the Green Eagles won the Mitropa Cup in 1928 and repeated the feat in 1937, bringing them to the attention of the wider coaching and reporting world for the first time. One exceptional achievement came in 1929, when a team now consisting exclusively of professional players travelled to Montevideo and beat soon-to-be world champions Uruguay 3-2, becoming the first team of any description to defeat the hosts on home soil.
Thirty years were to pass before the greatest triumph in the club’s history, as Albert and Sandor Matrai spearheaded the march to victory in the 1964/65 Fairs Cup, forerunner to the UEFA Cup and its successor, today’s UEFA Europa League. After disposing of big names such as AS Roma and Manchester United, Fradi travelled to Turin for the final against Juventus, where Mate Fenyvesi scored the only goal of the game on 74 minutes. It remains the only European trophy won by a Hungarian club in the modern era. Ferencvaros would go on to reach two more European finals in 1968 and 1975, but lost both.
On the domestic front, the green and whites had continued to cement their position as comfortably the best club in the land. By the end of the 1960s, the honours list included more than 20 national championships and ten cup triumphs.
The Hungarians last hit the European headlines back in 1995, when they became the first team from their country to qualify for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. Fourteen seasons passed before the feat was matched by Debrecen in 2009.
The new millennium also began promisingly enough, as Ferencvaros claimed a domestic triple of league, cup and Super Cup in 2004. The club again made Hungarian footballing history as the nation’s first to qualify for the group phase of the UEFA Cup in 2005. However, they were punished for a string of financial irregularities with compulsory relegation to the second tier in 2006, and their attempt to bounce back at the first time of asking fell agonisingly short on the final day of the following season.
The Green Eagles finally regained their top flight status in 2009, finishing seventh in a season of consolidation. Despite the turmoil of recent years, Ferencvaros comfortably remain Hungary’s best-supported and most popular club. Now under new ownership and with ambitious plans for redeveloping their stadium and training facilities, the Green Eagles will surely not rest until they are once again soaring above the rest of their domestic competition.
The 18,000-capacity Florian Albert Stadium opened in its current form in 1974, named simply Ulloi Uti Stadium after the street on which it stands. In 2007, the club elected to honour former great Florian Albert by changing the name in his honour.
Albert remains the only Hungarian player to be crowned European Footballer of the Year. Császár (Kaiser) Albert scored 383 goals in 537 appearances for the Green Eagles between 1958 and 1974, winning the league four times and the cup once. The new Albert Stadium, under construction at a cost of €50 million and with a projected capacity of 21,000, is set for completion in 2012.