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"I Never Knew Buddy Was Such a Unique Person"

 

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10 December 2006, 15:10

We merged with the mourning crowds walking from Puskás Stadium to Saint Stephen's Basilica, where the burial of Ferenc Puskás - one of the greatest footballers of all time, as well as the most famous Hungarian - was to take place. The ceremony was touching; yet, there was painfully little public interest. On our way to the basilica, some realised the greatness of the deceased player, and we heard two gentlemen discussing when our country would produce such an outstanding athlete again. They eventually agreed on, "in one hundred years, at least"..

When we took an impromptu poll at the stadium, those having participated in Puskás's final honours described it with the words solemn, uplifting, compelling, poignant, and perfect. Some came with candles, walking all the way to the basilica, whereas others were surprised to learn about the procession and offered the bunch of flowers they had bought for their daughter's birthday to say their own good-bye to Puskás.

Would There Have Been More People in Athens?

Almost everyone agreed that Puskás's funeral was worthy of his outstanding career; and quite naturally, nobody failed to mention that the best Hungarian footballer of the last century had deserved far more mourners.

"This is how we are," concluded many of the visitors, remarking that we should not complain about the weather. "We can't even grieve without grousing. We have difficulty weighing up the importance of things," mentioned one of our colleagues sadly. "We tend to find faults in everything, even football, which has been causing so much rancour ever since its decline and frightening fans away. Maybe we would have had more participants if the occasion had been held in Athens.".

He Wants to Play in a Puskás Shirt

"Tomorrow I'm going to buy a black shirt, have the name Puskás and the number ten printed on it, and then wear it when I'm playing," said one young amateur in the procession with a candle in his hands.

Another lad, slightly older than him, said that he had been in Bernabeu Stadium, in Madrid, where he had seen a "not too good" game, but he was proud to have visited the scene of Pancho's success.

Everybody Who Is Anybody Was There

"I never knew Buddy was such a unique person," said a thirty-something woman, confirming the fact that it is impossible to get a realistic picture of Puskás after such a long and constrained silence. "Everybody who is anybody is here!" she enthused.

József Stadler, former tycoon and head of his own sports club, who also had a stadium named after him, attended the event with his girlfriend - albeit not too long, as he did not even bother to join the procession. He may have realised that his own stadium, too, is day by day crumbling into pieces.

Maybe in Two Hundred Years We Will Have a Man of His Talent

"When do you think we'll have another player of his talent?" His peer replied that a man of Buddy's stature is born only once a century. "The way things are going today, we may have to wait another two hundred years," he added bitterly.

"Puskás is bigger than Santa Claus," offered one smiling vendor near the Fine Arts Museum. Nearby a man did not seem to understand why film director Koltay should be considered "too right-wing" to coordinate the event, admitting that he really enjoyed the farewell ceremony.

A Small Incident

"We should get across," said a little old lady to her husband. "We can have a better view of the procession from over there. I want to see the coffin." Then, she told us she had never seen Puskás in the flesh, only on television a couple of times, but she was intrigued by the ceremony, since "you've got to be somebody to have a funeral like this.".

A few hundred yards away stood a man holding in one hand a red-and-white-striped flag (the colours of the once-ruling House of Árpád) and in the other a deflated football. Four policemen approached, but not knowing what to do with him, they eventually left him alone.

You Were the Greatest

"It's a beautiful thing," said a young woman, an Italian tourist, who had no idea what was going on in the city, since she had never heard of Puskás before or seen him play. However, she figured he must have deserved it. The fact that she could not board the No. 4 bus did not seem to annoy her in the slightest.

Poker-faced Zoltán Szőke - a.k.a. Miklós Berényi from the popular soap opera Barátok Közt (Among Friends) - stood with friends and watched the entire procession as it moved past the Opera House.

As the mourners turned onto the road to the basilica, one man shouted, "You were the greatest, Buddy!" This met with the approval of many.

Beckenbauer: No Footballer Has Ever Been Remembered So

"I will never forget this uplifting ceremony, and I feel privileged and honoured to have been here," said Joseph Blatter, President of FIFA, to Pál Schmitt, Chairman of the Hungarian Olympic Committee and President of the Ferenc Puskás Tribute Committee, who was still in hospital at the time, on Saturday, immediately after the funeral ceremony for the Golden Team's legendary striker.

Franz Beckenbauer, the world-famous "Caesar" on the German team, shared his opinion, "I believe that no fotballer has ever been buried so memorably and with such respect, but Puskás deserved it."

Arriving on a private jet, the German deputation changed their departure time, in order to attend the burial service at Saint Stephen's Basilica. Beckenbauer said he was honoured to have said one of the prayers for the deceased.

At the New York Palace, the Hungarian Olympic Committee and the Hungarian Football Association held a reception for the distinguished foreign visitors after the tribute. In his address, President László Sólyom said that Ferenc Puskás played a significant role in uniting the people of Hungary thanks to his public spirit. His statement proved to be true at the banquet. Mónika Lamperth, Minister of Sports Affairs for Municipal and Regional Development, and Viktor Orbán, the ex-Prime Minister, were seated at the same table. (Hungarian News Service)

 

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