Express & Star

The night Wolves beat the 'best club in the world'

It was only a friendly. However, this was a match that produced one of the proudest moments in the history of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club.


Now, the night the team humbled the 'invincibles' of Hungarian champion side Honved under the floodlights at Molineux 60 years ago is being commemorated at the stadium's museum.

The exhibition was officially opened by Mr Gyorgy Balogh, a counsellor at the Hungarian Embassy in London, who revealed afterwards: "The game means as much to the people of my country as it does to the fans of this club - which is an awful lot. It laid the standard for how two great champions should play."

Ron Flowers, now aged 80, was one of the triumphant Wolves team who were reigning League Champions and restored national pride with the 3-2 victory over a Honved side providing the backbone of the Hungarian team that had demolished England at Wembley the previous year and had just thrashed them 7-1 in Budapest.

He unveiled the No9 shirt worn by Roy Swinbourne whose two goals won the match for Wolves and then disclosed: "My greatest memory of the game was watching them train either the morning or day before the match. Half of them seemed to be having treatment and so I went down the bookies and put another tenner on us. They were probably just limbering up but it convinced me that we could beat them.

"There had been a lot of build up to the match in the Press and the town was buzzing but it was just another game for the players once we were out on the pitch. Playing football was our job and it was just another day at the office for us. Honved had the reputation of being the number one club in the world at the time and so it was a good victory for us, no doubt about that. But there were no celebrations among the team - but we were used to winning in those days."

Wolves were dubbed the World Champion club side after the victory and the exhibition features copies of some of the letters and telegrams of congratulation sent by delirious fans to their manager Stan Cullis. They speak of the 'Bulldog spirit' displayed by the team and the pride of the writer to be an Englishman. Companies such as British European Airways added their congratulations.

The pennant and cut glass vase presented by the Honved team are on show in the museum along with the souvenir given to the players of a football on a plinth. There are programmes from the game, boots and a football from that era of soccer and photographs galore featuring action shots from the game and star players like Puskas and Billy Wright.

The latter's daughter, Babette who was among the invited guests at the opening of the exhibition, said of her father: "He could reel off the Honved side without a moment's thought and pronounced the names perfectly. He used to tell of a moment in the game when he tried to tackle Puskas who just moved the ball out of the way at the final moment leaving dad to slide fruitlessly passed on his backside. He said he felt like a fire engine on an emergency call that had rushed to the wrong address.

"The pair of them were standing together when Puskas was invited back to the ground for the opening of the Jack Harris stand in 1993 and a wag shouted at dad 'Billy that is the closest you have ever got to him' It was all done with such good humour. He held Puskas in great esteem and he was on dad's This Is Your Life TV programme. Memories of the game were always fresh in dad's mind."

She wiped away tears as she added: "This is wonderful, it is such an honour. I feel so elated. It is a very emotional moment for me to return to the Molineux Stadium because part of him will always be here."

Two-goal hero Roy Swinbourne saw his career cruelly cut short by a serious knee injury two years after the Honved game. Sadly the 85-year-old is now unwell and lives in a nursing home in Kidderminster but his wife Betty was there to see his famous No9 shirt being put on display.

She said: "This game meant a great deal to him. It was the highlight of his career. He would definitely have played for England if it had not been for that dreadful night because he scored so many goals. I was at the Honved game. It was a wonderful night, simply wonderful. I am very proud to see the way Roy has never been forgotten even though he only played for a relatively short time."

Another among the 55,000 fans who packed the stadium on December 13, 1954 was 15-year-old Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, now Baroness Wolverhampton and Vice President of Wolves.

She recalled: "I went with my older brother Nick and remember standing on top of the steps and clinging to the railings that separated the Hotel End, now the South Bank, from the Molineux Stand that is now the Steve Bull.

"My lasting memories are how bright the floodlights seemed to be and the swaying of the crowd. I also remember we won!"

Not so fortunate was six-year-old Andrew, son of Wolves manager Stan Cullis, who was too young to attend the game but still managed to watch it on TV.

He explained: "We had a babysitter looking after me and my sister that night. We had an arrangement that if I was still awake I could watch the game on television. I have happy memories of being in a thick dressing gown and being told the game was on although I have no recollection of what happened."

The match was played as a friendly because the games under floodlights were not sanctioned by the Football Association until 1957 but is identified as being the trigger for a campaign for club champions from countries to play each other that ended with the European Cup.

Wolves Chief Executive Jez Moxey concluded: "It is important that family and friends of the legendary players involved in the Honved match know the fantastic mark of history made on this great club by their loved ones."

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