On This Day: Wolves are declared ‘champions of the world’

Julian Gavaghan
On This Day: Wolves are declared ‘champions of the world’

DECEMBER 13, 1954: Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Hungarian “invincibles” Budapest Honved 3-2 on this day in 1954 – and were declared “world champions” in the first ever floodlit game.

Wolves had been 2-0 down in the friendly before their dramatic comeback against a side that formed the backbone of a national team that thrashed England 6-3 in 1953.

Sandor Kocsis, the most reliable international striker in history with a 1.103 goals per game average, struck first after heading the ball into the net at the Molineux Ground.

The 1954 World Cup’s top scorer connected with a sublime free kick by the legendary Ferenc Puskas, the top international scorer overall with a record 85 goals for Hungary.

British Pathé footage also showed the second goal for Honved – then said to be invincible and the best in Europe - being powered home by new boy Ferenc Macho.

After half time, however, Wolves came back and showed the kind of grit that had helped them win the league the previous season and two more times in the 1950s.

Johnny Hancocks - famed for his 5ft 4in stature, size 3 boots and his club record of 158 goals - hit a penalty just after the break and stirred the crestfallen home crowd.

Then, with 15 minutes to go, 55,000 fans erupted with joy, when Roy Swinbourne headed home the equalizer.

Just 100 seconds later, he scored again – sending the crowd into an ecstatic frenzy - following a superb dash down the left wing and neat pass by Les Smith.

To many, the result made up for England’s humiliation by Hungary – the first time they’d ever lost at home to a team from outside the British Isles – followed by their dismal quarterfinal defeat by Uruguay in the 1954 World Cup.

To them, Wolves’s victory vindicated the long-held belief that the nation that gave birth to the sport remained its standard bearers.

The Daily Mail proclaimed the Midlands side the “champions of the world” and the Express declared English football “the genuine, original, unbeatable article”.

To add weight to their argument, Wolves had also beaten Racing Club of Buenos Aires and Spartak Moscow – albeit at home and with no return legs.

But others had their doubts – with journalist Gabriel Hanot, of France’s L’Equipe, calling for an intercontinental club competition to settle the argument.
The following year the European Cup was launched – although English teams were initially denied entry because league bosses thought it wasn’t in their interest.

However, Wolves – a side now languishing in League One, the third flight of English  football – had become the unlikely pioneers of Europe.

The success of their evening match – broadcast on live by the BBC – against Honved also ensured floodlights would have a future in Britain.

But the era of Honved’s “invincibles” and Hungary’s Golden Team was about to come crashing to a tragic end.

By 1956, Honved had won their league every year since the 1949-1950 season and were poised to become the dominant team in a new age of European football.

Reflecting their success, Hungary’s national team had lost only one game in six years – alas, the 1954 World Cup Final – and became Olympic champions along the way.

All that changed in October 1956 when the country’s hardline communist regime was ousted in a popular uprising – triggering a brutal crackdown by their Moscow masters.

On November 4, the Soviets – after initially withdrawing their troops – sent the Red Army back in to brutally crush the democracy movement, killing 3,000 civilians.

In the process, 200,000 people fled the country – including the majority of the Hungarian national team.

Days later, after playing at Athletic Bilbao, the Honved squad decided not to return and instead defected to the West.

Among them was Puskas, who - on top of his astonishing international tally - had scored 341 goals for the Hungarian club over 12 years.

He later signed for Real Madrid and helped them win four European Cups during eight years in which he scored 180 goals for the Spanish club.

Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor joined Barcelona and became two of the Catalan side’s most lauded players.