Hungarian football has left its mark thanks to great players and renowned administrators. People still remember how, six decades ago, the country's footballers, led by Ferenc Puskás, set the pace technically and tactically. Yet while Hungary can be proud of its contribution to the game's development, it wishes to write a fresh page of history.
The first official match played in the central European state was between two teams from Budapesti Torna Club on 9 May 1897. The sport caught on so fast that, in 1900, Budapest city council considered banning it because of the injuries incurred. However, on 19 January 1901, football gained credibility as the Hungarian Football Federation (Magyar Labdarúgó Szövetség or MLSZ) was formed by 12 clubs in Budapest. A first domestic championship followed, and in 1902 the national team debuted in losing 5-0 to Austria in Vienna.
The MLSZ existed independently within the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, becoming a FIFA member in 1906. After World War One, and Hungarian independence, the federation modernised: it introduced, in 1921, compulsory injury insurance for players, and in 1926 the first division turned professional. Club competitions between central European sides also became a regular feature. At national-team level Hungary participated in the 1934 FIFA World Cup and the 1936 Olympics without success, before finishing second at the 1938 World Cup.
When the Second World War interrupted domestic football, the country's pitches and stadiums deteriorated. However, a post-war rebuilding drive enabled the championship to resume in 1946. Under the communist regime, the MLSZ operated as a department of the sport office.
The national side won Olympic gold in 1952, and the next year, with players such as Puskás and Nándor Hidegkuti, beat England 6-3 at Wembley in the 'Game of the Century'. After losing the 1954 World Cup final to the Federal Republic of Germany, though, Hungary also lost most of its legendary players. In 1956 Soviet soldiers crushed a Hungarian uprising. Many footballers emigrated and the political leadership stopped supporting football. Even so, the country still enjoyed Olympic glory – gold medals in 1964 and 1968, silver in 1972 and bronze in 1960 – and came third and fourth at the 1964 and 1972 UEFA European Championships.
The 1960s also witnessed strong World Cup showings, with Hungary fifth in 1962 and sixth in 1966. Flórián Albert was voted European Footballer of the Year in 1967. The nation's clubs distinguished themselves too: Ferencvárosi TC lifted the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1965 and were runners-up in the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1975; MTK Budapest lost the 1964 Cup Winners' Cup final; and Videoton FCF were runners-up in the 1985 UEFA Cup.
However, the national team have failed to qualify for a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup, despite bringing in high-profile foreign coaches such as Lothar Matthäus and Erwin Koeman.
The MLSZ has functioned as a democratic self-governing body since 1989. With government backing, stadium reconstruction and high-level coach training have taken place.
Youth development is flourishing as well, and in 2005 the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship represented the country's first staging of a UEFA finals tournament. The Hungarian children's football federation was subsequently founded by the MLSZ in 2008. MLSZ junior sides are impressing in final competitions: they were semi-finalists at the UEFA European U19 Championship of 2008, before finishing third at the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Such progress befits an association which, on 2 May 2009, opened a world-class national team training centre, complete with hotel facilities, in the village of Telki, near Budapest. The technical and training base was a joint initiative between the MLSZ, UEFA and FIFA, with assistance from UEFA's HatTrick and FIFA's Goal programmes. The infrastructure has also benefited from the construction of more than 75 synthetic grass pitches.
Meantime, an MLSZ stadium regeneration project is well under way with government support. In this project all major stadia and mini-stadia are being rebuilt, while new ones are being added all over the country. This includes new stadium inaugurations at top-flight clubs Ferencvárosi TC and Debreceni VSC. A new national stadium is also being erected and is due for completion in 2018.
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