November 22, 2013 / 4:03 PM / 6 years ago

FEATURE-Soccer-Magical Magyars coach wrote off 1953 England side

BUDAPEST, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Alf Ramsey was slow and easily tired, Stanley Mathews was “nothing special” and England’s game was decades out of date by 1953, the coach of Hungary’s ‘Magical Magyars’ wrote in notes discovered recently.

Ahead of the 60th anniversary of Hungary’s famous 6-3 thrashing of England at Wembley, a game credited with revolutionising football, coach Gusztav Sebes’s notebook was found in a private collection.

“If soccer was fine art, this would be like finding an unknown painting by Leonardo Da Vinci,” said Gyorgy Szollosi, communications chief for Hungary’s Puskas Football Academy.

In the ragged notebook, half-filled with handwritten observations, Sebes was dismissive about some of the great names of English football.

“Alf Ramsey is slow, tires early but strikes the ball well,” he wrote. “He is good at free kicks.”

“Stanley Mathews...technically the best English, but nothing special. Likes to dribble outwards. Jackie Sewell is stocky and short.”

Sebes noted that England tended to kick long balls and defend only loosely, adding: “The English play against the European teams in much the same way as they did 20 years ago.”

His observations allowed Hungary to control the ball easily and they became the first Continental team to beat England at home.

“This is a piece of history that no-one knew about before,” Szollosi said of the notebook which was found last year.

Looking like a schoolchild’s exercise book, it has a checked cover, Sebes’s name on the front in capital letters and the handwritten title “The London match tactical plan”.


Much of the handwriting inside was almost illegible and a team of people were given the task of deciphering it.

“We spent almost a year working on the notes and putting them together,” Szollosi said.

As he prepared the notes for publication in November’s Hungarian edition of the football magazine FourFourTwo, Szollosi said, he realised how well Sebes had orchestrated the Hungarian team and their style.

The coach was helped by the genius of players such as Ferenc Puskas and Nandor Hidegkuti.

It was probably the best game in the career of Hidegkuti, who scored a hat trick, while Puskas grabbed two goals and Jozsef Bozsik scored one. Sewell, Stan Mortensen and Ramsey scored for England.

The game, played on Nov. 25 1953, became known as “the match of the century” in Hungary.

The team, Olympic champions at the time and runners-up in the 1954 World Cup, went into decline in the second half of the century. They have not qualified for the World Cup finals since 1986 and lost all seven of their subsequent matches at Wembley.

Sebes was a powerful sports leader in Hungary, then mired in the deepest years of Stalinism. Besides coaching the national football team, he was a member of the Olympic Committee which functioned as the sports ministry.


The coach took his first notes about the English team a couple of weeks before the big game when England drew 4-4 against a Rest of the World team.

“At first England show no fear and dictate a great pace, playing with a short passing style,” Sebes noted. “As a result of the high tempo and passing, the English begin to tire after around half an hour.”

With no video recording technology available to him, Sebes instead asked Hungarian first-league footballers to impersonate members of the England squad, so that Puskas and his team mates - who had no idea what their opponents looked like - could imagine them.

According to reports at the time, Sebes was so confident that his team would defeat England that he promised the feared Hungarian Communist leader Matyas Rakosi the win and that “Hungary will not disappoint”.

He left nothing to chance. Two weeks before the match he ordered English balls, which were heavier than the customary Hungarian footballs, so the players could get used to them.

He employed tactics of aggressive full-court pressure and advocated technical, physical play that was little known in England or the rest of Europe.

The tactical superiority of the Magical Magyars came to be recognised all over the world and changed football. Rinus Michels copied their playing style to create the total football of Ajax Amsterdam and the Dutch national team in the early 1970s.

Total football, in turn, gave rise to Johan Cruyff, a renowned player in his own right who went on to devise the tactics that have helped FC Barcelona to reach international dominance in recent years. (Writing by Marton Dunai; Editing by Clare Fallon)

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