Relic of Puskas’ glory days bulldozed in Hungary

By Peter Murphy ,AFP

BUDAPEST, Hungary — As Hungary count down to Euro 2016 and face Germany in a friendly on Saturday, a relic of their glory days as a world-beating side has just been demolished in Budapest: the communist-era Ferenc Puskas stadium. It was here, watched by almost 100,000 spectators, that the legendary “Magical Magyars” were kings, famously thrashing England 7-1 in 1954, still the Three Lions’ heaviest ever defeat. Originally called the “Nepstadion” (Peoples’ Stadium) it was built by volunteer labor “for the people by the people” between 1948 and 1953, the heyday of Puskas’s all-conquering “Golden Team.” “It was more than a stadium, it was where Hungary ruled the world,” Zoltan Molnar, a groundsman at the stadium for 28 years, told AFP. Stalinist Baroque

The dictator Matyas Rakosi, nicknamed “Stalin’s best pupil,” imagined it as a symbol of Communism’s superiority over the West, Gergely Csoti, a sports historian, told AFP. Even national hero Puskas, seen smiling awkwardly in a propaganda photograph during the works, lent a hand. “Its style was ‘Stalinist baroque’: vast with lots of reinforced concrete, a state-of-the-art technology at that time,” Csoti said. In 1957 French sports daily L’Equipe called it a model of “sporting and architectural perfection” which put the “crumbling” Colombes stadium in Paris to shame. The interiors were finished with marble tiling replete with Socialist-Realist-style sporting motifs, complementing statues of sportsmen posing on plinths outside the stadium. Fearful of attack by the West, Rakosi also had an air-raid bunker built in, as well as a VIP box with hotlines to Communist Party henchmen. He then ordered its opening despite it missing half its top tier, after a Radio Free Europe broadcast suggested the construction had run into trouble. “Prestige was at stake,” Csoti said. Like a Palace

Also designed as an Olympic Stadium, the ground was a centerpiece of Hungary’s bid for the 1960 Games. Rakosi appeared, however, to snub International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Avery Brundage on its grand opening. On a hot August day he reportedly said: “I don’t want to sit beside an Imperialist,” and assigned the American a seat outside the air-conditioned VIP area. Whether the dictator’s attitude influenced the IOC’s decision to award the Games to Rome is not on record.