Ferenc Bene

Thrilling goal-scorer for Hungary


Ferenc Bene, footballer: born Balatonújlak, Hungary 17 December 1944; played for Ujpest Dozsa 1961-78, Volan 1978-79, 1983-84, Sepsi of Finland 1981-82, Soroksari 1984, Kecskemeti 1985; capped 76 times by Hungary 1962-79; died Budapest 27 February 2006.

Who were the stars of the 1966 World Cup, the tournament which bathed English football in perpetual glory and from which Pele, the peerless Brazilian, limped piteously, having been hounded with systematic brutality by unscrupulous opponents?

Certainly there were the host nation's golden Bobbys, Charlton and Moore; the stately young West German Franz Beckenbauer; and the pulsatingly athletic "Black Panther", otherwise known as Eusebio of Portugal. All wondrous entertainers - but others scintillated, too, during those three memorable weeks in July, notably two swashbuckling but vividly contrasting Hungarians who illuminated arguably the most attractive team on show.

The most charismatic of the pair was Flórián Albert, the elegant, deep-lying centre-forward who could dictate the rhythm of any game with his vision and subtlety, but who was also prone to periods of moody lassitude on the fringe of the action. More rooted in the practical business of striving to win every contest he graced was the thrillingly penetrative Ferenc Bene, who operated mainly on the right attacking flank of that lovely free-flowing side, which also included the sharp-shooting János Farkas and the perceptive midfielder István Nagy.

Bene offered a compelling mixture of thrustful pace and nimble balance, deft skills and sensible composure in front of goal. Where Albert, three years his senior, tended towards the languidly artistic, Bene was ceaselessly dynamic, a dasher brimming with brio, and they complemented each other beautifully. For his principal club, Ujpest Dozsa, the younger man was deployed regularly as a central striker, but was forced to the wing for his country by the presence of Albert.

Having made a startling impact as a teenager with the powerful Budapest side, with whom he would embark eventually on a succession of rousing European campaigns, Bene was first called to his country's colours at the age of 17, to face Yugoslavia in 1962. But it was not until 1964 that he catapulted to international attention, helping the Magyars to take the bronze medal at the European Championships in Spain, then leading them to gold at the Tokyo Olympics, top-scoring with 12 goals, including one in the 2-1 victory over Czechoslovakia in the final.

Thus it was as a footballer of burgeoning status that the 21-year-old Bene arrived in England to contest the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1966, and he did not disappoint, finding the net in all of Hungary's four games.

After firing an equaliser and looking generally menacing in the opening defeat by Portugal, he shone in what many discerning judges declared to be the match of the tournament, a stirring 3-1 triumph over the holders, Brazil. Only three minutes into the action at Goodison Park, Bene dribbled at speed past several challenges before gulling the goalkeeper, Gylmar, with a clever near-post finish. The reigning champions equalised, but midway through the second period Albert and Bene combined in a slickly inventive manoeuvre to create a spectacular goal for Farkas.

Now the Hungarians were rampant, truly reminsicent of their predecessors, the gloriously fluid Magnificent Magyars of the 1950s, who had twice humiliated England and changed the perception of all thinking men of the way that football might be played. Bene was fouled in the box, Kalman Meszöly converted from the spot, and the Goodison crowd rose in unison to this enchanting side, installing them as their favourites should England fall by the wayside.

The Ujpest Dozsa marksman sparkled, and scored again, as Bulgaria were beaten in the final group match, and also he netted in the quarter-final against the USSR. But the Soviet battalions proved too tough for the skilful but less abrasive Hungarians, who yielded 2-1.

Bene's country was never so strong again, but he continued to excel at club level, taking a prominent role as Ujpest piled up the domestic prizes. Altogether he pocketed medals for eight League championships and three national cup triumphs, headed the league's scoring charts five times and totalled 341 strikes in 487 competitive outings for the Lilac-and-Whites.

His international days continued until 1979, when he earned his 76th and final cap for Hungary, for whom he had notched 36 goals. By then the balding attacker, who had been voted his homeland's footballer of the year in 1969 and is in the top ten for both appearances and goals in the NB1 (first division), was beginning to wind down his playing days. Later he coached his beloved Ujpest and helped with the preparation of Hungary's under-21 team.

Ivan Ponting

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