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Born: Thursday, 4 February 1926, Dorog, Hungary
One of the stars of the 'Magical Magyars' team of the 1950s, Gyula Grosics is undoubtedly Hungary's greatest ever goalkeeper and played his position in a way that few had done before, developing skills which are common among modern keepers. Despite his long and successful playing career, he was often a controversial figure in his home country and frequently found himself at odds with the Communist regime in Hungary.
Grosics was born in the town of Dorog on 4 February 1926, into a very poor mining family. His mother wanted him to become a priest, believing that to be the best way to avoid a career down the mines, but as a boy he had joined local team Dorogi Bányász and gradually football became central to his life. As with many players of his generation, Grosics' introduction to senior football came earlier than it might otherwise have done as a result of the Second World War, as he was drafted into the first team at the age of just 15.
At the age of 18 Grosics' developing career was itself interrupted by the war and he spent some time in Austria, not returning home until 1945. Finally his career could really begin to take off and it was at this time that Grosics began to wear what would be his trademark black kit. Goalkeepers of the time rarely wore a fixed outfit but Grosics tired of having to change and asked to be provided with a black kit, as it would go with any colour his team may wear. The first goalkeeper to wear black regularly, it earned him the nickname 'the black panther'.
In 1947 Grosics joined Budapest side MATEOSZ, where he would spend three years. Early in his first season he was called up to the national team and would be first choice goalkeeper for much of the next 15 years. Although shorter than many goalkeepers, he possessed a jumping ability that more than made up for his lack of height. It was however his ball control and throwing ability that marked him out from other players in his position.
One of the first to start quick counter attacks with long throws from the back, he could also come out from his goal and control the ball before finding a team-mate. Previously, few keepers had ever advanced far off their goal-lines but Grosics was the first to play in a 'sweeper-keeper' role. MATEOSZ, who were renamed Teherfuvar after the Communist takeover of Hungary in 1949, were never more than a mid-table side during Grosics' time there and in 1950 he got the opportunity to move to Honvéd. It would be there that he enjoyed the best years of his career.
Honvéd won the league title in the shortened 1950 season and after a second place finish a year later won another championship in 1952 without losing a game. That summer, Grosics had been part of the national team which went to Helsinki as one of the favourites for the Olympic Games. Hungary were in the midst of what would prove to be a record unbeaten run and stormed through the competition. Grosics conceded just two goals in five games including clean sheets in the semi-final and final as his team claimed the gold medals in style.
With Honvéd on the way to another championship success in 1954, the national team went to the World Cup finals in Switzerland as heavy favourites to add that title to their Olympic gold. After surging through the group stage, they recorded impressive wins over Brazil and holders Uruguay to reach the final and after taking a 2-0 lead over West Germany, looked set to claim the title. However, the Germans levelled by half-time and late in the match a shot from Helmut Rahn evaded Grosics, who had slipped on the wet turf. Hungary lost 3-2, with Grosics being blamed by many for the defeat.
Having already been unpopular with the authorities for attempting to flee the country in 1949, Grosics was investigated by the secret service and eventually charged with espionage and treason. He was placed under house arrest and faced trial, but some 13 months later the case against him collapsed due to lack of evidence. The incident cost him a year of his career, missing all of Honvéd's 1955 title winning season, but by 1956 he was back in club and international football.
With Honvéd playing abroad when the Hungarian Revolution took place in the autumn of 1956, Grosics like many others in the team managed to get his family out of Hungary and looked to start a new life abroad. However, political pressure forced him to return home where he was transferred from Honvéd to unfashionable side Tatabánya, with no say in the matter. He would remain with the club for the rest of his career, although they were never able to finish higher than fourth in the league.
In 1958, Grosics appeared in the World Cup for the second time but without many of the players who had fled to the west after the revolution they were a shadow of the 1974 team. They finished level on points with Wales at the end of the group stage, meaning a play-off would be required and Grosics captained the team on that day. Although Hungary led at half-time, two Welsh goals after the break ended their hopes of another long run in the competition.
Grosics remained first choice in the Hungarian goal for another four years and was still in the team by the time of the 1962 World Cup in Chile. He captained the team to a quarter-final against Czechoslovakia, but an early goal condemned Hungary to a 1-0 defeat. Grosics had long held the ambition of playing for Ferencváros, but the authorities opposed any transfer and he retired at the end of the 1961-62 season, resigned to that dream remaining unfulfilled. His final international appearance came in October 1962, with his total of 86 caps still placing him third on Hungary's all-time list.
In retirement Grosics had a brief and unsuccessful coaching career, but was often better known for his outspoken political views. He was often openly critical of the Communist regime and evidence was later produced that during his time in Austria during the war he had been a volunteer in the SS Hunyadi Armored Division, a fact which officially made him a war criminal. It has been speculated that it may have been this information which was used to prevent him moving west in 1956.
His politics returned Grosics to the limelight in the late 1980s when he was a member of the democracy movement in Hungary. In later life he remained politically active, even refusing the Freedom of the City of Budapest on the grounds that Stalin was a previous recipient of the award although that had long since been revoked. In 2008, Grosics' football career took one final bizarre turn when at the age of 82 he was finally given the chance to appear for Ferencváros, standing in goal for the opening minutes of a friendly against English side Sheffield United. Although now in poor health, he is one of the last survivors of his country's greatest ever team.
References (all accessed 15 March 2012):
- Published on Friday, 16 March 2012 00:26