The launch of the Millenáris sports ground in 1896 (Magyar Nemzet)
The launch of the Millenáris sports ground in 1896 (Magyar Nemzet)

“Burning Palaces” – The War of MTK and Fradi during the World War

It is a sad reality that these two leading associations of Hungarian football face each other in opposition as fierce enemies today. Flames of hatred shoot high and threaten the entire building of football with destruction” – wrote the Budapesti Hírlap in January 1917. The rivalry of MTK and FTC raised Hungarian football, but after less than a decade it seemed to burn it down. Stadium battle, the century’s transfer scandal and the hostile citizen interned upon the outbreak of the world war, Jimmy Hogan, who taught the Hungarians to play football. First part.

We need a team!” – cried out Ede Minarik in Régi idők focija, but Hungarian football soon went beyond the level of enthusiastic laundry boys, proles stumbling in boots, or young aristocrats, offended by being released from service, playing against petty bourgeoisie only in kid gloves. By the time of the world war, Hungarian football clubs had already fought bloody fights with each other, the press was loud with transfer scandals, and the outbreak of hysteria was a near thing not only around spies but also around “human sports totalizators”, i.e. sports bettors.

In the 1910s, all other associations revolved around two powerful teams. Though the first Hungarian Championship in 1901-1902 was won by BTC (Budapesti Torna Club), achieving temporary successes with the “Hun-Avar tempo” built on knocking over the ball-holding players, as opposed to the English style built on “kick and run” tactic, popular at that time, and the Scottish style that strived to exhaust nonsense runners. However, the first lured foreigners, the first hidden professionals and the first own stadiums appeared soon in the championship – which was officially amateur until 1926 –, and two teams emerged: the most popular club even today, FTC (Ferencvárosi Torna Club – 1899) and MTK (Magyar Testgyakorlók Köre – 1888).

If we do not count Postás, deprived of first prize in 1905 for the match-fixing scandal (!) – leaders of the association offered postman jobs for the opponent’s players –, only FTC and MTK managed to celebrate as champions from 1903 to 1929. Újpest, becoming the third largest team, had to wait until 1930. Even if we lose Ganxsta Zolee, a fanatical Újpest supporter from our readers, we shall display on the grandstand that Újpest could only play matches for the third place, while the Hungarian audience had long been feverish about FTC’s and MTK’s so called “Örökrangadó” fixtures and star players. After their stadiums were built, the Hungarian national team played their matches in the home of the two teams, dominating Hungarian football until 1945. In the view of Péter Szegedi sociologist-historian, in Hungary’s emergence as a football power in the first half of the 20th century, one of the most important factors was the rivalry between MTK and FTC, alongside the Austro-Hungarian opposition.

At the turn of the century, football became a public matter in those countries that faced some kind of opposition: Scotland and Hungary. In these two, frustrated, “underdog” countries, football became the continuation of politics with other means. The Scots, who – as we know from Trainspotting too – “did not even get decent colonizers”, could prove themselves on the football fields against the English, who consider themselves “the football’s master teachers” even today (though not winning a single world championship since 1966). Matches between Austria and Hungary were quite similar; teams were playing for a symbolic lead role within the Monarchy (similarly to the Scottish-English matches where the Scots wanted to prove at any price). The players sometimes got into fights owing to the increased stake, such as in 1916, in the fourth Austrian-Hungarian match, which ended with a draw (after the scandal, the two associations finally settled their conflict, and in 1917, the two national teams played five more “friendly” matches with each other). Is it surprising that, following Scotland and England, “playing in separate leagues”, Hungarian matches saw the second most visitors at the beginning of the 1990s?

The emergence of MTK and FTC had similar sociological reasons: the drivers behind the matches with the longest traditions are denominational (protestant Rangers and catholic Celtic), political (right-wing Lazio and left-wing AS Roma), social (“poor” Boca Juniors and “rich” River Plate) or ethno-regional (“oppressive” Real Madrid and Barcelona, fighting for autonomy). MTK – founded in Terézváros, but not linked to a district (the club moved to Hungária körút, close to its big rival only later) – was primarily associated with the assimilated, downtown Jewish upper middle class, while Fradi, based in Ferencváros (i.e. “Franzstadt” – hence the nickname) – which was rather a suburb at that time –, was the team of the lower middle class of mostly German origin.

Though the public tends to refer to MTK as a “Jewish” team, while a number of politicians strived to present Fradi as the backbone of Hungarian nation, which could not be bent in the Rákosi and Kádár era, in fact, MTK – despite the blue-white colours – did not have a “Jewish” identity, as reflected by its name, which is more pronounced and Hungarian than any teams from the capital. Of course, the team had several players of the Israelite Church (given that they accounted for a quarter of Budapest’s population in the era), but their ratio in Fradi was not much smaller either. Accordingly, in the era it were not Fradists who excelled in anti-Semitic atrocities, but for example the MAC (Magyar Athletikai Club), which allowed only Christians to be members. MTK players were encouraged by their fans with “Go Hungarians!” when they played against the actual “Jewish” team, the Zionist Vívó és Atlétikai Club, whose players attacked for the “Go Israel!” shouts.

After the second Jewish Act, MTK’s professional football club, Hungária (again, pay attention to the name!) was dissolved, but the “Jewish team” nature of the blue-white association mostly got stronger only after 1945, when, in the socialist dictatorship that sought to reduce the significance of ethnic and denominational identities, there were very few options left for living a “Jewish” identity. It was at the same time that Ferencváros won the symbolic position of “the nation’s team”, and the Hungarian population discovered that being a “Fradi fan” provided the opportunity for a relatively risk-free opposition to the dictatorship.

However, it is undeniable that the two sports leaders who made MTK a great team, Alfréd Brüll and Henrik Fodor, were Jewish. Under their leadership, the club caught up with FTC, and even overtook the team: MTK won nine championships in a row between 1916 and 1925.

Jimmy Hogan, one of the most influential coaches of the 20th century, played a significant role in MTK’s emergence. MTK had employed foreigners previously and paid them, just like every “hidden professional”, in various ways. As an example, Alfréd Brüll was specialized in betting in money with his players, and always lost for some reason… However, signing on Hogan meant a change of scale. He joined MTK in 1916, and however bizarre it may sound, thanks to the First World War.

Hogan was staying in Vienna when the war broke out, so being a citizen of a hostile country, he was interned. MTK made use of its connections to bring him to Budapest. He had to report to the police at certain intervals, but he could coach the blue-white players. Hogan was the one who first introduced in Hungary the short-pass Scottish style – watching matches of the Scottish Championship today, it is now incredible that the “Scottish style” used to be the synonym of many-pass football –, and combined it with the improvisative dribbling skills of players who learnt football on the empty sites of Pest – using the words of the veteran footballer official commentators of sports televisions, “mischievousness” –, creating the “Danubian School”. The significance of the novelty in the history of football is evident from how Hogan’s legendary players, György Orth or Béla Gutmann became much-wanted coaches worldwide from the 1930s, and others were highly valued as well: it occurred that the three largest Portugal teams, Sporting Lisboa, Porto and Benfica were all led by a Hungarian coach.

In addition to the coach genius Hogan, however, MTK needed FTC’s living legend, an outstanding player, Imre Schlosser as well. The transfer soap opera between 1915 and 1916 unleashed anger between MTK and FTC so much that it seemed the fight between two star teams would demolish the only two decades old Hungarian football. We will have a look at the battles of the war between MTK and FTC in the second part of our article next week.

 

References:

Az FTC és az MTK – A labdarúgás válsága = Budapesti Hírlap, 1917. január 21.

Szegedi Péter: Az első aranykor. A magyar foci 1945-ig. Budapest, 2016.

 

Written by: Csunderlik Péter