The tale of England’s humbling at the hands of Hungary at Wembley in November 1953 has become something of a legend. As has the return fixture, although to a lesser extent, in which the Magical Magyars trounced Walter Winterbottom’s side 7-1 in front of a 92,000 capacity crowd in Budapest less than a year later. Less known perhaps, is the story of Vasas SC and their tour of England in 1955.
In the mid 1950’s it was something of a rarity for English clubs to play European opposition, however Vasas had a tradition of travelling abroad and pitting themselves against the top three sides from said country. This was an annual excursion that the club had upheld for 25 years, during which time they had – remarkably – remained unbeaten. In 1955 Vasas were to travel to England where the locals were unsurprisingly keen to banish the woes that the 13-4 aggregate loss of 1953 and 1954 had inflicted. The three sides elected to challenge Vasas were Tottenham Hotspur, Sheffield Wednesday and Wolverhampton Wanderers, widely regarded as being amongst the elite of English football at that point. The games were to take place during midweek and as such the three sides involved also had to play at floodlit grounds, something that was far from commonplace at the time.
Vasas may not seem like one of football’s giants to a modern fan. Today they ply their trade in the modest Nemzeti Bajnokság II, Hungary’s second division. However, in an era when the Hungarian national team were regarded as the greatest in the world, holding a record from 1950-1956 of 42 victories, 7 draws and only one defeat in the 1954 World Cup final at the hands of West Germany, it is perhaps surprising that very little is known of the nation’s club football at this time. Whilst greats like Ferenc Puskas and Sandor Kocsis eventually left Hungary for Real Madrid and Barcelona, the aforementioned both played for Budapest Honved before their moves and it was Honved who vied with Vasas for the major domestic titles throughout the 1950’s. Between 1955 and 1957, Vasas won the Hungarian League (NBI), the Hungarian Cup and Europe’s Mitropa Cup, establishing them firmly among Europe’s elite of the era.
Vasas’ first challenge on their tour of England was provided by Tottenham Hotspur. Boasting a star-studded squad featuring the likes of Alf Ramsey, Ted Ditchburn, Len Duquemin, Sonny Walters and Bill Nicholson, Spurs had won the league and finished as runners-up twice in the fifties. Such greats could do little to suppress the irresistible Vasas though, who found no trouble in matching the exploits of their national side, putting seven past their hosts at White Hart Lane. Next up for Vasas was a trip to the Steel City for a tie at Hillsborough against Sheffield Wednesday, the lowest ranked of the three sides Vasas were set to face. The Owls inclusion in Vasas’ tour was down, in no small part, to the then excellent Hillsborough stadium and its credentials for hosting a midweek mid-evening game. Wednesday had largely consolidated in England’s top tier throughout the fifties and, following Tottenham’s humiliation, many observers in the media were already looking to Wolves to restore some faith in the English game in Vasas’ final tie.
The press’ fears were soon confirmed as the Budapest side, drilled by legendary coach Lajos Baroti, maintained their form and put six past Wednesday, Dezső Bundzsák, Szilágyi Gyula and co making light work of their opponents from South Yorkshire. Wolverhampton Wanderers, three-time English champions in the 1950’s and two-time runners-up were unbeaten against European opposition in 1955, having seen off the likes of Real Madrid two years earlier. However, ravaged by an injury crisis, England’s great hope pulled out of the game at the last moment. With Vasas looking to complete their tour, Bob Brocklebank’s Hull City side, who found themselves at the foot of the second division at the time, offered to take up the fixture that Wolves had withdrawn from.
The Tigers saw themselves as the ideal candidates to take the fixture, the state of the art Boothferry Park was regarded as the best surface in England at the time and was superbly lit by the floodlights at the ground. The national press though saw things slightly differently. Given the Hungarian’s exploits against two of the UK’s strongest sides, the nation’s media guardians feared a cricket scoreline would be in order should the second divisions’ bottom side take up the challenge. This didn’t stop officials from Vasas travelling to East Yorkshire and the representation were appropriately impressed enough by the venue to accept Hull’s challenge. Despite pressure from a jingoistic national press, the Tigers refused to back out of the game and Hull City v Vasas took place on Monday, 17 October, 1955.
Today one might expect to see a rotated squad in a game seen as such a mismatch of quality, but in 1955, ten years before substitutes were introduced into the English game, squads offered little room for manoeuvre. As such, second division strugglers Hull City would face the same starting eleven that had put seven goals past Spurs and six past Sheffield Wednesday. In a fairly unremarkable Hull City side, Neil Franklin and Viggo Jensen stood out. Franklin, regarded by many as England’s finest defender of the era was described by Tom Finney as “the best centre-half I ever played with or against”. Franklin found himself at Boothferry Park after returning to England following his controversial move to Colombia’s Independiente Santa Fe, with England’s top sides reluctant to sign him upon his return. Jensen, a 1948 Olympic bronze medallist, established himself as a fan favourite in East Yorkshire after 308 games and 51 goals for the club, in which time he received 15 caps for Denmark.
A crowd of 13,889 turned out to watch the Tigers take on Vasas, in what would become a historic game. A remarkable hat-trick by Bill Bradbury, who had joined the club from Birmingham that month, saw Hull achieve a famous 3-1 victory. It was often said, including by the late great Andy ‘Jock’ Davidson that Bradbury should have played at a far higher level, but he was often referred to as “a clown”. Fleet Street were unsurprisingly quiet after the match, given their vehement attempts to call the game off but Hull City fans of a certain vintage will forever remember the game as the day their club ended the dominance of one of Europe’s elite on a Monday night at Boothferry Park. The Tigers’ remarkable achievement against Vasas did little to curb their poor league form though, and in a season where Vasas went on to win the Mitropa Cup, Hull City were relegated to the Third Division.