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1967 European Cup – Vasas Budapest

Initially Dundalk were drawn away from home for this European Cup tie. Chairman Joe McGrath stated: “I am sure we will do well enough over there to give our own fans some right good entertainment when the return game is played at Oriel Park”. Secretary Paddy McCourt remarked: “Vasas are a very tough proposition, and, of course, we are disappointed in not getting a home draw against a more attractive team”. Thankfully from a financial perspective, Dundalk were granted a switch within a few days.

This was an exciting time to be involved in Dundalk FC. The Alan Fox era brought in a new regime of professionalism that captured the imagination of the Dundalk public. The 66/67 season was one of the most successful in the club’s history with the capture of the Shield and the League trophy and the future looked very promising. One of the most telling features of Dundalk’s previous european adventure in 1963 was that they were unable to play their home leg against Zurich in Dundalk. With Dundalk qualifying for Europe again in 1967 the Dundalk board decided to bring European football to Oriel Park. To do this they formed a floodlighting committee who were responsible for raising funds to make this a reality. Two weeks later the £12,000 floodlighting pylons arrived and brought with it an exciting new era for Dundalk FC.

The floodlights allowed Dundalk to play money spinning matches against Northern teams such as Linfield and Glentoran. But their first job was to transform Oriel Park into a stadium fit to host one of Europe’s top teams, Vasas Budapest.

In recent years Vasas had beaten Real Madrid, Torino, Tottenham Hotspur, Fiorentina and Torpedo Moscow in European competition. Their team was made up of most of the Hungarian national side that performed so admirably in the World Cup in 1966. Undoubtedly, there star man was Janos Farkas, who scored a wonder goal for Hungary against Brazil in Goodison Park during the Finals.

After the match it was hard to know what made the Dundalk people more proud. The performance of their team or the sight of a floodlit Oriel Park which made it the premier sporting venue outside of Dublin. As elder Dundalk fans recalled, it was a long way from the GNR team playing in the Leinster Senior League in the Grammar School Grounds. The reports of the match in the national and local media gave as much attention, if not more, to how well Oriel Park was looking. The Dundalk Democrat raved about how the “brilliant flood of light was focused on the emerald green of the pitch”.

The Dundalk team lived up to the occasion and played with great skill and an unquenchable fighting spirit. Dundalk started the game nervously but, guided by experienced players such as McKeown and Fox, gradually calmed down.

They actually had the first chance of the match when Hale sent Turner through but Varga came quickly off his line to gather. Kevin Murray then made a charging run into the Vasas penalty area but his pass ran between Turner and Stokes and was cleared by Bakos. Dundalk then had a let off when Farkas sent Molnar free down the right. After beating McKeown, his shot flashed across the face of the goal. Soon after Fox and Burke got in a muddle and Puskas sent a powerful shot just wide of the post.  Varga was quick off his line again to deny Hale but he fumbled it and was very lucky to retrieve the ball before Hale put it in the back of the net. Dundalk had a glorious chance to score after 20 minutes. Cruise played a throughball to Murray on the left.Murray’s cross was punched clear by Varga but only as far as Stokes. With the goal gaping, Stokes seemed to be surprised and shot weakly allowing Varga time to recover and save the ball on the line. Stokes couldn’t believe it as he had already turned away in celebration. Two minutes later Dundalk were on the attack again. Cruise sent over a beautiful cross from the left wing that eluded the entire Vasas defence and found Turner at the back post.The ex-Irish international had all the time in the world to pick his spot but he rushed it and headed wide. Varga was soon forced into action to make a great save from Millington’s shot and then Kevin Murray picked up a short corner by Cruise and saw his shot beat Varga but shave the post.  Both teams received a standing ovation at the half time whistle.

Vasas were a vastly improved outfit after the break. Puskas went close with two efforts in the opening minutes. Vasas had a very lucky escape when a corner was cleared as far as Murray and, spotting the keeper off his line, lobbed the ball towards goal. Somehow Bakos managed to head off the line. On 53 minutes Blount made a brilliant one handed save to deny Puskas’ header. Two minutes later Varga made an equally brilliant save to tip over a powerful Stokes header.

The goal finally came on 68 minutes as Dundalk started to tire. Farkas slipped the ball through to Korsos who beat Fox and, just before Fran Brennan was able to get in a challenge, hit a soft shot that caught Blount out at his near post. Dundalk seemed to lose spirit after that shock and it took all their spirit to keep Vasas from adding some more. Near the end Blount redeemed himself with a great save from Puskas. A great game and a wonderful occasion.

Easily the biggest crowd that Dundalk have ever played in front of (estimated at over 100,000) Dundalk suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of Vasas in the second leg in Budapest. Dundalk held their own for half an hour but then the floodgates opened and Vasas romped to a 8-1 win. Dundalk probably got a bit carried away with their performance in the first leg and played an attacking game. Dundalk could have got the score down but they decided to go for it, and subsequently got hammered.

Vasas were brilliant. Vidats opened the scoring in the 10th minute with a scorcher of a shot. A minute later came a great moment for Dundalk. A cross from Tony O’Connell was flapped at by Varga and Danny Hale buried the rebound. 1-1 and the 60 or so Dundalk fans in the ground went mad. Could they achieve the impossible? For another 20 minutes it seemed that Dundalk just might, with a bit of luck, cause the biggest upset in European football history. With Kevin Murray in inspirational form Dundalk attacked the Hungarians with great confidence. Another O’Connell cross caused panic in the Vasas box and Ihasz narrowly avoided scoring an OG with a misshit clearance. Unfortunately this was the last time Dundalk got the ball in the Vasas penalty area. Mick Millington was sent off after retaliating after a stamping incident involving Mathesz. Vasas scored 7 more times. Although by no means totally to blame for the disaster, Kevin Blount had a nightmare game in goals. Farkas hit a hat trick, Korsos scored two, Vidats added another, Molnar scored in the 66th minute. An 8-1 defeat which took the gloss off the first legs heroics.

Teams for both matches:

Dundalk: Blount, Brennan, McKeown, Millington, Fox, Burke, Cruise, Turner, Hale, Murray, Stokes

Vasas Budapest: Varga, Bakos, Mathesz, Fister, Kekesi, Berendi, Molnar, Puskas, Farkas, Korsos, Vidats

Eyewitness Vasas
Director Jim Kerr (speaking to Irish Independent): “”We are young in the game.We know we have a lot to learn and we certainly learned a lot on Wednesday night”.

Irish Independent Journalist Noel Dunne: “The Dundalk players were astounded when I told them that all four Hungarian strikers who scored eight of the goals had been fined for a “lazy attitude” in the match! Another two Vasas players were fined for “rough play” including Mathez who was involved in the Millington incident.

Hungarian “People Sport” newspaper: “Kevin Murray was the motor of the Dundalk team. He was the man with three lungs”.

What happened next: The Turner Affair!

Within three days of the Vasas game in Budapest – Dundalk manager Alan Fox was suspended by the Board for one month. Fox told the Irish Independent that: “I was told I was being suspended for bad management over the last four weeks. But I feel l am being made a scapegoat, particularly over the Budapest affair. I am finished with Dundalk for good.” The reason behind the problems in the camp appeared to be centered around confusion over Paddy Turner’s fitness levels to travel and the terms of Fox’s contract. Turner was injured in the lead up to the game and Dundalk’s board decided he should not travel. However, Turner had told Fox that he would be fit to play and therefore made the long trip to Hungary. “Now I feel like I have been made to carry the bag for what happened out there, despite the fact that I have done a good job”. Luckily, the situation was resolved a few weeks later and Fox remained in the job.