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Old 11th October 2005, 09:31   #1
Paul Brooks

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Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Wheelieville, REPUBLIK OF MANCUNIA.
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Default Insult to a legend

Insult to a legend
By Gareth A Davies : Telegraph Sport : (Filed: 11/10/2005)

On August 14 of this year, Real Madrid travelled to Budapest to play a testimonial in honour of one of their most glorious former stars, that legend of world football, the great Ferenc Puskas. The game had supposedly been conceived as a means of helping to pay for the treatment of Puskas, who suffers from a form of Alzheimer's.

The result? Real Madrid received a fee of 892,000; Puskas' wife received just 7,000 towards his treatment.

That night in Budapest, the mask which the beautiful game wears slipped, to show football's ugly side. It is not a story of corruption, but one of grotesque incompetence and the brutality of business.

Puskas' wife has been left distressed and without the promised trust fund to pay for her husband's treatment. The company who organised the match have buried their heads in the sand, while Real Madrid claim to have been kept in the dark.

Puskas, 78, remains under 24-hour medical supervision in a private room on the sixth floor of state-owned Kutvolgy hospital in Budapest. The sportsman who defected from Soviet-controlled Hungary in 1956 to delight the world, and Real Madrid, with his dancing feet, spending 25 years in exile, is now imprisoned by his own health, spending most of his day in bed, or looking out of the window of his room.

When Real Madrid - including David Beckham, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane - beat a 'Puskas Hungarian All Stars XI' 3-1 in front of just over 40,000 spectators, it was believed that the proceeds would be used to create a charitable foundation to pay Puskas' medical bills for life.

The match was organised by Trendsport, a small Hungarian promotions company, who have failed to contact the Puskas family since the match.

Financial backing was provided by Trigranit, a large Hungarian construction company, and it was through a spokesman for Trigranit, owned by multi-millionaire Sandor Demjan, that the match was first announced on June 21. It was the first time that Puskas' wife, Elizabeth, had heard that the match would be taking place.

After the match, Real Madrid reportedly commanded expenses of 892,000 to play the game, which included a hotel bill of 68,500 for their two-night stay at the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal. One insider told Telegraph Sport that one room used for the stay contained only shirts and footballs.

When the sums were done, the Puskas family received just 7,000. On Saturday, when I sat having lunch with Mrs Puskas in the Krisztina district of Budapest, they had still received no further money to assist in the health and extra treatment of the great former Real Madrid star.

Real Madrid's income increased 17 per cent to 183.8 million in the year ended June 30, 2005, according to accounts mailed to shareholders of the Spanish club. Significantly, those figures make Real Madrid the richest, and indeed biggest, club in the world.

Elizabeth Puskas refuses to criticise Real Madrid, but was close to tears as she explained to from inside her smart apartment in the Krisztina district of Budapest that since the testimonial, she has not heard a word from anyone involved with organising the game.

When I met her, Aniko, their only daughter, who lives in Benidorm, was visiting her mother. "It's a disgrace," said Aniko. "The organizers of this match hijacked the name of 'Puskas' to get Real Madrid here for this match, with promises for the family, and all that has resulted from it is that they have left my mother in a state of nervousness and anxiety. They should be ashamed of themselves. My anger is not because of what they have done with the name of 'Puskas', but the affect they have had on my mother and father."

Elizabeth, in her Seventies, has diabetes, and a heart problem. "There are times now when I wish this match had never happened," she explained. "It has made me ill. For five years I have spent all my money on my husband - for extra medical care, massage, physiotherapy, whatever I could do for him to make him more comfortable.

"But people have been discussing the financial affairs of myself and Pancho [Ferenc] on television and radio as if they have been through all our papers. It's ridiculous, and very unfair. I have been invited onto television and radio to talk about this, but I am not going to lower myself to that level."

Mrs Puskas had to leave the room as she explained, trembling, the ill health this situation around her has caused. And Puskas, what does he think ? "My poor little one," she said, shaking her head. "Most days he is not happy. He just looks ahead, or out of the window. He has periods of lucidity, when Aniko, or the grandchildren, come and it lifts him out of his present state. But he is not happy."

People might ask why Puskas is in this situation. The boy who began playing barefoot with his friend Jozsef Bozsik in Kispest with a rag ball made from his mother's stockings, and who would go on with his friend to play for the great Hungary team of the Fifties, known as 'The Immortals', was like other footballers: a sportsman first, a businessman second.

For those who never saw him, Puskas was one of the first superstars of the game. He remains Hungary's most famous sportsman, and captained his country to the 1952 Olympic title.

A year later the 'Magical Magyars' became the first overseas team to beat England at Wembley when they crushed their hosts 6-3. It became known as the 'match of the century'.

Puskas is the only player to score four goals in a European Cup final, when Real beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in 1960 at Hampden Park. He ended that season with an incredible 35 goals in 39 games.

Stories of his ability abound. In the Madrid team showers, for example, team-mate Francisco Gento would throw him a bar of soap, and Pancho would delight his team-mates by trapping the bar of soap on the upper part of his foot.

In 1961, at the age of 34, Puskas took up Spanish nationality and played four times for Spain at the 1962 World Cup in Chile.

At the height of his fame, Puskas owned the smartest restaurant in Madrid, which required 10 days notice to reserve a table. He also owned a sausage factory in Madrid. "But he was a footballer, not a businessman. He was fleeced over and over again by people," explained a close friend of the family.

I contacted Jose Luis Lopez Serrano, Real Madrid's director of foreign affairs, on Saturday. Was he aware that Mrs Puskas was in a state of turmoil over what had happened since the match? Did he know that Mrs Puskas had been left in the dark over the trust fund that was to be set up?

Serrano was not aware of this. He said: "We had a meeting with several parties: the Hungarian Federation, Mrs Puskas, the organizers of the match, and the president of Real Madrid. We made an agreement that if Real Madrid came to play in Budapest, a trust fund would be set up, so that as long as Pancho lives, he would have help with his medical facilities and fees, and logically, his wife Elizabeth would be given the minimum that she needed to get to the hospital, with such things as taxi fares paid. All Mrs Puskas wanted was to create a situation where Pancho would have no worries."

However, Mrs Puskas has not heard from Trendsport since the match was organized, not even so much as a phone call. She told Telegraph Sport that she did not want to burden Real Madrid with this problem. Was Serrano aware that the organizers had not been in touch with Mrs Puskas? "I did not know this," he admitted. "I thought the agreement had been completed, and my view is that we have to help in this matter and make sure that the promise that was made to the Puskas family at the meeting is honoured. We have to find the formula to solve this problem. I did not know of this situation. I thought it had all been organized."

While the crowd at the testimonial were enraptured by the grainy black-and-white footage on the main screen of Puskas in his pomp, behind the scenes, things were going horribly wrong. The Hungarian organizers had wanted the ailing grandfather to go out onto the pitch and kick a ball. His wife, Elizabeth, however, was unhappy with them and refused. In fact, Puskas did not even attend the match, at the behest of his wife.

Gyorgy Szollosi, a journalist who has just written a wonderfully detailed book on Puskas' life, believes the timing was poor. He said: "Three days after Real Madrid's appearance, Hungary were due to play Argentina. It is not so easy for people to pay for two matches so close together like that."

However, an insider believes the Puskas name was used to draw Real Madrid to Budapest, and that the way the match was mishandled meant both football, and Puskas, were losers. It is a moral tale of our time, and one which football needs to look at with alacrity.
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