This story is a tribute to a quite wonderful example of footballer fecklessness, a trait that you’ll see is in no way the exclusive preserve of the modern player. Back in 1961 Vasas, the club of Budapest’s iron and steelworkers, travelled to France to play a series of tour matches and capitalise financially on their status as new Hungarian champions.
Playing football for hard cash and the enrichment of western imperialists should have been a practice that was at odds with the tenets of Communism, but such tours were tacitly tolerated as a way of earning much-needed hard western currency. Acceptance of the necessity of tours didn’t mean that officials were going to sit back and allow players unfettered exposure to capitalist temptation in the west, however. To offer an ideological counterpoint during such trips, officials would typically arrange a variety of sterile activities for the players when they weren’t playing or training: think farms, factories and collectives rather than beaches, shopping and sightseeing.
The Vasas party was based near Nice and on a free day the players were told they were being taken on a trip to Cannes. Their bus duly arrived at a big house in Mougins, just outside the famous Côte d’Azur resort, to visit an elderly gentleman who was introduced both as a lifelong fan of football and an ardent socialist. For the more hopeful Vasas players who dreamed their trip to Cannes might involve a spot of window shopping on the Rue d’Antibes, a stroll down La Croisette and a game of head-tennis on the beach with Maurice Chevalier and Brigitte Bardot; the reality was quite the disappointment.
The players feigned interest as they chatted for an hour with their enthusiastic host, then smiled politely, if apathetically, as he presented each of them with hand-painted vases upon their departure. A couple of days later the party undertook its lengthy return to Budapest by rail. To pass the time the bored players amused themselves by hurling their vases out of the windows and betting on who could throw his the furthest. A member of the squad, Jozsef Raduly, demurred as his was earmarked as a present for his wife, so by the time the train reached the Hungarian capital he was the only one with a still-intact vase. And the name of the generous, unrecognised old man who had given the Vasas squad their ill-fated souvenirs? Pablo Picasso.