As difficult as it may seem with Hungary currently on the periphery of European soccer’s elite, during the 1950s the country produced one of the finest teams in the rich annals of football history, “The Golden Team.”
In 1954, the leading domestic side in Hungarian football was Budapest Honved and on December 13 that year, they rocked up to Molineux to take on Wolverhampton Wanderers. It was a friendly game, but the presence of television cameras, the floodlights and a side dubbed as the “Hungarian Invincibles” laced the Midlands air with a tinge of added excitement.
After all, the nexus of this Honved team—including legends figures like Sandor Kocsis and Ferenc Puskas—were critical figures of the Mighty Magyars side beat England 6-3 at Wembley and 7-1 in Budapest. The defeat administered by Hungary at the home of football was described as “a severe lesson in the arts of association football” according to The Guardian.
Billy Wright was the England captain on that humbling day for the Three Lions and was given the runaround by the likes of Puskas and Kocsis, but in his duties as a Wolves player, he would have a chance to exact some revenge of sorts as Honved came to town.
On the night, six players from that 6-3 triumph were present in the Honved team. Such was the gravitas those players commanded, the second half of match was selected to be broadcast on BBC. Any Wolves fans will have probably been pretty pleased to miss the opening minutes of the match, however.
Indeed, the initial indications suggested that Wolves were set to be on the end of another Hungarian clinic. Not long after kick-off, Puskas’ free-kick found the head of Kocsis, who made no mistake in putting his side 1-0 in front. The lead soon became two goals, as Kocsis turned provider, setting up Ferenc Machos in the 14th minute to put Honved two in front.
Wolves clung on until half-time, somehow managing to stay just two goals behind thanks to a string of saves from goalkeeper Bert Williams. With Honved continuing to dazzle, it was clear something had to be done and the hosts’ manager Stan Cullis ordered some of his staff and young apprentices to pour water on what was an already drenched pitch.
“There is no doubt in my mind”, said Ron Atkinson, who was a Wolves youngster at the time per The Guardian, “had Cullis not ordered me and my mates to water the pitch, Honved would have won by about 10-0”.
The pitch—resembling something not far off a bog in the second period—took it’s toll on the visitors, as the Molineux surface became a classic leveler. Wolves came back into the match as their robust, direct style of football coupled with the sodden surface began to grind down their illustrious opponents, and they grabbed something tangible for their efforts in the 49th minute when Johnny Hancocks smashed in a penalty.
Honved looked cooked after that goal and as the pressure failed to abate, a turnaround was inevitable. Roy Swinbourne leveled things up with a fine header in the 75th minute and just a couple of minutes later, Wolves were ahead; Swinbourne again with the goal after majestic work from Les Smith, who bustled down the left flank with gumption. At the heart of the hosts’ midfield, Wright was the star man, turning in a rumbustious showing to nullify Hungary’s array of polished talents.
Wolves held out for victory and were hailed for their remarkable achievement. The Daily Mail branded the Midlands club as “Champions of the World” at the reported request of Cullis after the win, but with no sure-fire way of knowing, plenty called for the formation of an intercontinental cup. Subsequently, the European Cup was formed just a year later.
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