The Lost Art Of Vasas Budapest

HungaryThis 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.

Vasas SCPlaying 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.

Jozsef Raduly
Jozsef Raduly

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.

Pablo Picasso

13 thoughts on “The Lost Art Of Vasas Budapest

  1. Lovely story and such a far cry from today’s pampered little darlings. The Eastern bloc countries where certainly well disciplined and without any luxurious trappings at all and their club sides could hold their own in European competition as well as we know the Soviet Union where something of a force. I often think the fall of modern communism along with the players been allowed to travel beyond their own borders has had a significant impact on club football. For many years the Soviet Union was represented by their league winners, sadly something that will be highly unlikely to ever happen again. I wonder how those others felt about throwing the vases away? Probably changed their names to Charlie.

    1. It’s an interesting insight into eastern European education: how someone who was so famous and celebrated in the west for his art was evidently unknown to this group of players. I wonder what happened to the one remaining vase!

  2. Probably confiscated by either his own FA or the police. I often think about what the North Korean players went through in 1966 and how the reacted to living in an army training camp for months before hand. Nobody seems to know what happened to them post 66.

    I remember when Leeds played Ujpest Dozsa in the European cup of 74/5. The reporters at the local paper not allowed anywhere near the Hungarians, it was all very secretive. I think it also had an element suspicion and mistrust as well as education. It was a shame that we never got to see some of their players on a regular basis as they had some talented individuals.

      1. Thanks Craig that’s good to hear. I read about the North Koreans after 2010 world cup there where some disturbing reports that some players and the coach where ‘punished’ after the tournament

      1. Indeed. Having a great season too. I reposted your article on my Vasas with full attribution and links, is that ok? If not I can remove.

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