A new grassroots tournament founded in Hungary in 2019 brings together teams from across Europe in a spirit of friendship.
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With the 2020 UEFA Grassroots Week underway and the eyes of European football on Hungary this week, we look at a fan-organised tournament in Budapest capturing the imagination of players and supporters across the continent.
When FC Bayern München and Sevilla meet at the Puskás Aréna on Thursday, they will do so in a state-of-the-art arena dedicated to one of Hungarian football’s most celebrated icons.
Last summer, and across town at the more modest Szőnyi úti Stadion, tribute was paid to a lesser known Hungarian pioneer whose own impact on European football is unquestionable.
Ernő Egri Erbstein was an innovative coach, who, having played in the Hungarian leagues in the 1920s, coached in Italy either side of World War II, during which he was sent to a Nazi forced labour camp near Budapest.
Having escaped the Holocaust, he masterminded the success of the Grande Torino side, which won five Serie A titles, before he and the majority of the team were tragically killed in the Superga air disaster of 1949.
How did the Egri Erbsten Tournament come to be?
When Hungarian amateur club Budapesti Atlétikai Klub (BAK) reformed in 2018, their objective was to establish an international competition for like-minded teams.
Their attention was brought to the famous Corinthian-Casuals, who play almost 1,500 kilometres away in the seventh tier of English football and boast a rich history.
In the early 1900s, the Corinthians – one of two amateur clubs that eventually merged to form Corinthian-Casuals – made several tours across Europe, popularising football in every country they visited and promoting their ethos of sportsmanship and playing for the love of the game, values still referred to today as ‘The Corinthian Spirit’, and typifying the message behind this year’s UEFA Grassroots Week.
Their first stop on Corinthians’ tour had been Hungary, where the ‘Corinthian Cup’ would become a regular part of the football calendar in the following years, with the original BAK among its competing teams.
Fast-forward almost a century and with contact established between the two teams, arrangements were made for a friendly tournament involving the touring Londoners.
It was a proud moment for the Hungarians. “Honestly it was very important for us,” said Bertalan Molnar, chairman of BAK. “We are a very, very small lower-league amateur team, but we have a very bright and memorable past… this was like a dream for us. All of our players have just played in the lower levels of the Hungarian leagues, or most of them, so there is no similar experience for them and this event was maybe the pinnacle of their sporting life, I can tell you.”
What happened at the first tournament?
BAK and Corinthian-Casuals were joined by two further Hungarian sides, BEAC, representing the sports club of Eötvös Loránd University, who were among the founding members of the Hungarian Football Federation, and Testvériség, a fourth-tier team who had competed in the top flight in the years after World War II.
It would be Corinthian-Casuals and Testvériség who would meet in the final, with the English side emerging 1-0 winners after a hard-fought contest.
Incidentally, the final was officiated by high-profile Hungarian referee, Viktor Kassai, who refereed the 2011 UEFA Champions League final, and recently graduated from the UEFA Academy’s MIP programme.
“It’s not often something like this comes along for a non-league club, so it was a great experience,” said James Bracken, Corinthian-Casuals manager. “There are managers in the game who have done far more than I ever will, but maybe they’ve never taken a team to another country and won anything. To go and win it, to get a trophy, is always something you appreciate.”
Plans for the future
Although the Egri Erbstein Tournament was born in Budapest, it is hoped they can organised a second edition of the competition in London next year. The organisers seeking to invite clubs built on a proud heritage who share that crucial ethos of fair play and friendship - the key ingredients for successful grassroots football!