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Képessy, 1939: Sindelar, the immortal footballer
Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2022-07-14 00:32:32
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THE IMMORTAL FOOTBALLER
József Képessy | 24/12/1939
There are people who not only do not die after death, but who live even more.
Great people can be divided into two groups. In the first group are those who are recognised while they are still on earth, and in the second, larger group, those whose greatness is only recognised after death.
Matthias Sindelar — one of the greatest footballers of all time — is in the first group. This man deserved the recognition of the thousand-headed Caesar, because he was not only cherished and adored by Vienna, but also by the whole continent beyond his homeland, and even by cold England and hot Africa.
So who was this wizened, suddenly blond boy? How did he win the love and respect of hundreds of thousands?
It is easy to answer that question. Sindelar's greatness lay in the fact that he combined consummate skill with sportsmanship and the modesty of a violet. Even after his greatest successes, he remained quietly ensconced in the corners of the glittering banquet halls. While his fellow players, headed by the bohemian Sesla, beat their chests with half-bricks in the deceitful Greek fire of popularity, Sindelar sat thoughtfully, quietly, still playing. He relived the interesting scenes of the match. The great strategist then dissected the lessons. Because Sindelar learned something new every match.
He was not stunned by victories, just as he was not depressed after defeats. He was a calm, thoughtful person who did everything consciously.
He was one of football's best earners. For years he enjoyed a monthly salary of 1.000 shillings with his club, the Football Club Austria. This income was supplemented by substantial league bonuses and national team match fees.
Sindelar was calm in his assessment of his situation. He knew that muscle strength, lung and heart endurance, speed and flexibility were fleeting. He lived frugally. Apart from his café, Café Sindelar, he had two small coffee shops and a prosperous spice shop.
But don't think that Matthias Sindelar was a greedy man. When his club, F.C. Austria, was in financial crisis at the end of the economic years, he paid the salaries of his fellow players for months out of his own pocket. In these times of crisis, Matthias Sindelar and Walter Nausch — this outstanding national team player — saved F.C. Austria from financial ruin. But let's go back to the past, to the time when Sindelar's sporting career began.
Hertha's sports ground was located in the Quellen Strassen in Favoriten, a suburb of Vienna. However, this pitch should have been called the Portelep. After every kick, a cloud of dust would rise. Everything was grey there: the player's shirt, his shoes, the ball, even his belly, his skin and his lungs. Everything was grey except their knowledge. For on this dusty ground, footballers like the national team goalkeeper chased the round leather ball. Ostriczek, Violek, Schneider, Reiterer and Sevcik.
Favoriten, like any big-city suburb, was full of sporting talent and foreigners. In Favoriten, Vienna, the Czechs settled. Hertha was therefore a kind of Austro-Czech team.
The Hertha training sessions in Quellen Strasse were always watched by an army of children. There on the old, worn benches were the little people who had been captivated by the beauty of the English game. Among the children sat an impossibly thin, shy blond boy, Matthias Sindelar.
When night fell and the big ones left the field, the little ones took it with a triumph that put the Sioux Indians to shame. A rag ball made from old tights was brought out and the game began.
Even then, the Sindelar's skill stood out among the children. The youngster's movements soon caught the eye of the Hertha managers. They watched the children's play with a wary eye. The 15-year-old was asked if he would like to play for Hertha's youth team.
Sindelar's eyes lit up, but then immediately became serious:
— I'd love to play, but I can't afford the membership fee. My father died in the Great War and my widowed mother is poor as a church mouse.
Their leaders reassured the earnest child, "Don't worry, you don't have to pay dues!" The following Sunday, Sindelar was playing real football for Hertha's youth team, and a month later he was strengthening Hertha's second team. But the tough outdoor matches overwhelmed the slight build of Sindelar, who was nicknamed Papierene by his peers because of his thinness. Perhaps it was to make up for his poor physique that Sindelar developed his technique.
A year later, in 1920, Sindelar was already a member of Hertha's first team. What he lacked in physique, he made up for with a magnificent brain, great playing intelligence and advanced technique. Despite his seventeen years of age, he remained a permanent member of Hertha's first team and was the youngest player in the Vienna first division.
By 1922, the young Hertha star had already caught the eye of Hugo Meisl, the world-famous Austrian national team captain. The 19-year-old centre-forward was selected for the Vienna national team. It was a big moment when Sindelar put on the national team jersey for the first time. The whole of Favoriten turned out for the Vienna-Graz match, where the nicknamed Sindi passed his test with flying colours. The home side won 9:0 and the rookie Sindelar put a nifty goal into the Graz net that would have done credit to the oldest football fox.
Sindelar's talents soon outgrew those of Hertha, and in 1924 he was transferred to Amateure, managed by Willy Ehrlich.
It was in this environment that he began to develop rapidly. The Amateurs' attacking line-up then included two Hungarian boys, Konrád II and Schaffer. Sindelar saw much to follow from them, as well as from Cutti, Hierländer, Wieser and Vecera. From Konrád II. he learned technique and intelligence, from Schaffer perfect shooting, and from the two flying wingers, Cutti and Wieser, the art of goal-scoring.
Sindelar's ideal player was Kálmán Konrád. That must be why he fell in love with us. Later this love deepened even more as a result of the friendship that developed with Dr. Sárosi.
In this company, Sindelar visibly improved. Hugo Meisl even declared that he would become the cleverest centre-forward in Europe. The keen eye of the great Hugo was a good judge of the future. His prediction was delayed by an unfortunate injury.
In one of the league matches, Sindelar suffered a serious knee injury, collapsing on the pitch and being carried off on a stretcher to the horror of the spectators. At the time, in 1924, surgical repair of a knee cartilage injury was a rarity. Even the world-famous surgeons in Vienna were reluctant to open the knee joint and perform the meniscus operation. They tried everything — and in vain. Sindelar was not only unable to play, he could barely walk at all. The patient was knee-deep in the ground, the centre-forward was in bed more than he was up.
He became melancholy. His teammates consoled him in vain, thinking his career was over forever. Then Dr. Spitzy agreed to operate. When Dr. Spitzy was working on the resection of the diseased joint, the whole of Vienna was anxiously watching the news from the operating table. The surgical knife worked wonders. A few months later, he had Vienna's favourite back.
One or two more cautious plays, Sindelar still avoiding close combat, but soon better than ever. The purple and white fans thanked the health advisor for their favourite's recovery with a public celebration and a plaque.
Success then followed. There is not a match without two or three wonderful goals from the wily striker. It's September 1931. Vienna football is in its heyday. The magnificent Praterstadion is ready. 65.000 people crowd the steps and Hugo Meisl's Wundermannschaft runs out onto the pitch with Sindelar at the head to arrive with the German national team.
And the game begins. The spectators cheer the Wundermannschaft on. A game like no other seen in the former imperial city. Hugo Meisl is joined by Rapid's Schönecker and Austria's Dr. Schwarz. They warmly clasp the hands of the great Hugo.
And down on the pitch, goals are falling into Germany's net. The Austrian artillery guns are controlled by Sindelar and are unguarded. When the referee's whistle blew to signal the 90th minute, Austria left the stadium with a 6:0 victory. All eleven players put in a great performance, under the guidance of Sindelar in his prime. Hiden — Rainer, Blum — Mock, Smistik, Gall — Zischek, Gschweidl, Sindelar, Schall, Vogl.
Sindelar is the most popular man in Vienna after the match. Wherever he appears: on the tram, in the street, in a café, in a restaurant, he is cheered.
As long as Sindelar and his team are winning on the green turf, Hugo Meisl is at his desk, where he is achieving his great successes. He devises and implements the Central European Cup, first developing Austrian professionalism and then forging a football link with a closed England. As a result, in December 1932 the Wundermannschaft visit London to play the world's most powerful team, England.
The famous Austrian team started the game in damp, foggy, real London weather. After the bias of the first quarter of an hour, all the beauty of the Vienna school was brilliantly revealed. Although England won the match 4-3 after a fierce battle, the Vienna boys won full credit. The Wundermannschaft also conquered the football Mecca of London and the day after the match the English managers offered £10.000 — nearly 300.000 pengő — for Matthias Sindelar and Walter Nausch. Interestingly, it was the two players who most appealed to the English pundits who saved F.C. Austria from financial ruin a few years ago.
The London News of 7 December 1932 published a photograph of Sindelar in a lengthy article about the Austrian centre-forward. Considering that the English are not in the habit of writing at length about even their own greats, this was a sign of great appreciation this year. The London public compared Sindelar to Woodward and Buchan, who had never before or since achieved a success in London that was equaled by any foreign player.
Sindelar's shining years follow. 1933, 34, 35, 36, 50-time national team, and his team, F.C. Austria, wins the Central European Cup practically alone, this is how he conquered tens of thousands of people and thus Sindibecame the favorite of Vienna.
Whenever Austria FC offered to play in foreign matches, the host club always stipulated that the match must be booked before it could be played: the appearance of Matthias Sindelar. The Vienna purple-and-whites accepted such an invitation when they visited Africa, the home of the pyramids, with a Central European Cup win under their belts. Sindelar played with great spirit. His game really sparkled with unexpected witty moves. In the second half, the stalwart opponents made no attempt to bring Sindi down. They were almost mesmerised by the Papierene's tricks. The impression Sindelar's play made in Egypt was most marked by the fact that one of the largest cigarette factories issued Sindelar cigarette butts with purple suckers, the best-selling cigars in Africa.
But read to what the Viennese press had to say about their favourite:
— Who does not know the name of this most famous footballer of the Viennese school In London, as in Bucharest, in Stockholm as in Rome, in Madrid as in Warsaw, everywhere, when one speaks of Austria and its football sport, one thinks first of Sindelar, This man, through his high art, has rendered most valuable services to our sport, indeed to our fatherland in general, and not only in sporting, but also in propaganda terms. He is a hero of the modern age, one whom the youth of all countries would like to imitate.
Sindelar was decorated for his national merits by the Imperial Chancellor Dr. Adolf Dollfuss himself. So it was worthwhile for the player to be recognised beyond the footballing public, at the highest level, for his services to his country.
From 1 January 1935, he and Walter Nausch were put in charge of the Purple and White's training. He coached the youth team, the reserve team and the forward line. Nausch was in charge of defence and half-backs line. For a long time the best part of the Purples was the famous Najemnik - Mock - Nausch half-back line. This line represented the team's style, reliability and diligence. After the tragic death in 1935 of Najemnik, the youngest cover, the "Austria family" — for this guard lived like one big family —, was plunged into deep mourning. Little did they know at the time that Sindelar's days were numbered.
Sindelar and Nausch, who ran the training sessions, also knew their job. It was Nausch's expertise that forged the direct defence of Zöhrer, Andritz and Sesta into a team, while under Sindelar's wing Stroh, Jerusalem and Viertl learned the art of perfect forward play.
Sindelar was already a man of the world, who had already made his mark in almost every country in Europe. As we have said, he loved us Hungarians very much, but he said that he felt best up north, especially in Stockholm. As a true sportsman, he spoke enthusiastically about England. He visited the island once. He said the following about his impressions there:
— I am enthusiastic about England and English sport. I was particularly impressed by the speed of the English game, the incredible pace they can set and the fairness with which they play. There are no hidden fouls like ours. They are also still better than we are. It is no proof of the opposite if you celebrate a victory against England once.
In Easter 1937, Ferencváros and Hungária played in Vienna against Austria and Rapid, in cup matches. On Saturday, the day before the first round, we visited Sindelar at his workplace in the Porl store in Mariahilfer-strasse. Sindelar was already the head of the sports department and worked with Willy Ehrlich, who had taken him from Hertha to Amateure. Sindelar was a mechanic at the age of 23, but later he learned, saw and experienced a lot and worked his way up from the ranks.
We greeted each other as old acquaintances and chatted amiably about current football events. When we took out our notebooks, Sindelar's face turned grim. He was a man of the North, who did not like publicity or statements. When I asked him if Austria would win the Easter Cup, he put his hand on my notebook and said quietly:
— We'll see it!
The next day, Ferencváros led 4:0 against Austria after thirty minutes at Rapid's old Hüttelsdorf ground. Gyurka Sárosi played brilliantly. He scored more and more beautiful goals against the Zöhrer-Andritz-Sesta defence. Perhaps not even the battered Rapid pitch had ever seen such a game, even though the famous attacking line of Wondrak, Uridil, Kuthan, Bauer, Wieser played here in those days.
At the end of the match we went into the dressing room. The purple team was raving about Dr. Sárosi. Sesta and Sindelar were already in the hot tub. Sesta — a Heuriger singer in civilian life — was yodelling away, while Sindelar was, as usual, contemplating. With half-closed eyes, he enjoyed the warm water, but also relived the scenes of the Ferencváros-Austria match over and over again. When he saw me, he waved with a smile:
— Congratulations! The doctor was great!
Time has passed. The years have passed Sindelar by. Slowly, the young Hertha striker became an Altmeister He opened a café, Café Sindelar, where the popular forwards's team-mates often visited. In the evenings, it was a veritable football free-form club. The old players gave lectures for the youngsters, discussing style, tactics and goal-scoring. And Sindelar listened happily and contentedly to all the talk about his love of football.
A year later we were back in Vienna. Austria was no more. Gau XVII had become Franz Joseph's former empire, so instead of the usual Austro-Hungarian match, the two teams met in a Vienna-Budapest encounter. Sindelar was still in charge of the Transdanubian side's attack. As we took our seats on the concrete steps of the stadium and the game began, we watched the 35-year-old player's every move with rapt attention. He saved his energy. In vain he did not run a step. But it was as if he was attracted to the ball, and it kept flying towards him. When he got the ball, he made a flick — which he always managed to do — and the ball was in the hands of his partner in the best position. Sindelar always passed the ball to his partner, so he had to take it on the run. So the forward wasted no time in stopping the ball, putting it in front of him and setting off. These running crosses often confused defenders, as did the unexpected crosses and through-balls that the wing half-backs and full-backs were chasing in vain.
The old centre-forward had some magnificent body feints. Driving the ball, he leaned suddenly to the right, but did not shift his weight. The full-back was waiting for the direction of the attack from this side. Sindelar then turned easily to his left and checkmated the fullback attacking in the opposite direction. He worked like a magician fooling the spectators. There was incredible ease in his every move, and when he got close to goal he shot suddenly from 20-22 meters. He was particularly dangerous with his left foot. Not because he had no control of the ball with his right foot, but because his memorable knee operation was performed on his right foot. That is how Sindi became a household name in Europe.
József Háda, the goalkeeper of Ferencváros, who fought in many tough battles against Sindelar, said of the Austrian goal-scorer:
— I guarded the net of Ferencváros for ten years. I've defended in hundreds of matches, but I can say that I've never faced a dangerous opponent like Sindelar. He was a brilliant shooter who never tried to get close to the goal. From 22-25 meters he was relentless with his shots. He needed very little space to shoot. This proves what a great player he was. A really great forward doesn't need much space, time and rotation to shoot. Sindelar found the goal through the smallest of gaps. His left foot was terrific. His balls were half a metre above the ground, so they were at the most difficult height to defend. He was full of ideas, full of wit and I will never forget him.
Dr. György Sárosi also had the highest praise for Sindelar:
— I learned something from him after every match. He was a perfect sportsman. Not only on the field, but also in his private life. I had a true friendship with him. I saw in him the embodiment of the sporting ideal that every footballer should respect. Every time I was up in Vienna, we would always — after the matches — talk over the white table. He was a very intelligent player, a true friend, and I always enjoyed being with him. I would say that his demise is an irreplaceable loss for Viennese football.
But let's return to the stadium in Vienna where, as mentioned above, in April 1938 we were still being led by the veteran Sindelar. It was a very good match. Until the end of the second half, it was completely uncertain which team would leave the stadium's green turf victorious. However, Dr. Sárosi, who always plays superbly in Vienna, had another superb day. We won 5:3. All five goal were put into the net by Dr. Sárosi.
At the end of the match we went into the Austrian dressing room. Tired, sweaty and shaken, the boys sat on the benches. Hugo Meisl's successor, Captain Janisch, the head of football in National Socialist Vienna, was reprimanding the team. The boys listened with bowed heads to the head-washing. But Sindelar said in his usual quiet, measured voice:
— Everything was in vain against this Sárosi!
That was the last time we saw Sindelar. In the autumn of 1938, he handed over his place to his trainee Stroh. The Austrian public could not bear to see their favourite no longer. Sindelar, however, did not want to move Stroh from his centre-forward position.
He moved out to the right wing and unexpectedly had a great game. Although his pace had naturally faded, his great experience and intelligence allowed him to play better and better balls to the inside forwards, turning the 36-year-old centre-forward into a right winger.
Sindelar has another love besides football: his mother. From a poor family to a well-to-do citizen, Sindelar loved his widowed mother dearly. With his savings, he bought a very nice house with a garden in Quint Favoriten. Here he gardened, did his betting, and rested from the fatigue of the great battles with his mother. The first concern of the prosperous son was to relieve his mother of her work. Mama Sindelar was proud of her son, whose coins, photographs and major foreign newspaper articles she framed and hung on the wall. She took such delight in his Móci, as his mother called him and as the management of Austria called Sindelar. As he chased the ball towards the opposing goal in the distance, Sindelar's mother listened to the voice of teacher Schmieger on the radio. The popular Professor Schmieger would often send a message after big victories in his peculiarly gemütlich Viennese voice.
This was Sindelar, and this was how he lived in Favouriten, loved and respected by all. The pride of F.C. Austria, Sindelar was in excellent health despite his 36 years. In one of his last statements, he revealed the secret of his fitness:
— The fact that I am still fit today is due to the fact that I never stop playing sport. I work out in the off-season as much as I do in the middle of the season. I used to cry a lot before my knee injury, but since then swimming has been my main cultivation. Since I took over the coaching of Austria, I have also demanded that the players swim through the winter. This contrasting movement is a great way to refresh muscles that have been tired in football. I used to play tennis quite well myself. I was told I could have done something with that. I still love the game today and I like to play it. I never drink and I'm an early riser. I am not of a fattening disposition, and skinny, lean people like me play even when the fat ones are too tired to watch.
At the end of the interview, the president of the purple and white team, Dr. Emmanuel Schwarz, was interviewed. The president also had nothing but good things to say about his player. He ended his statement with the following words:
— I hope to continue to experience much joy with this splendid person, who impresses me as much by his simplicity and niceness in his private life as he does as a player, for the good of our sport.
But Dr Schwarz's hopes did not come true. They had little joy left in Sindelar. The senior player of the Vienna football team was soon to end his career on earth. We Hungarians, too, were shocked to hear the news from Vienna:
— Matthias Sindelar had tragically died of gas poisoning. The pride of Viennese football was found dead in the morning in an apartment in Anna Gasse.
The news of Sindelar's death plunged Vienna into mourning. It was mourned not only by hundreds of thousands of football fans, but also by those who had never been to a match, but had only known him through the microphone, courtesy of Professor Schmieger.
He was buried in the city. His coffin stood in a church for 24 hours. There was a veritable exodus to the coffin of the great player, whose body was not taken to the crematorium but laid to rest outside in Favoriten, near the former Hertha Sportplatz. Tens of thousands of people accompanied Sindi for the last time, his coffin bearing the huge purple and white ribbon of his club, Austria.
Who would have thought that in just a few years Najemnik, the Austria half-back, Hugo Meisl, the world-famous football manager, Schönecker, the Rapid manager and Sindelar, the player and coach, aged just 35, would have died.
Matthias Sindelar is buried in Favoriten. Where, nearly 20 years ago, as an undemanding little kid, he started with a rag ball and where his widowed mother mourns him in the house whose bricks were kicked by her Móci.
Matthias Sindelar will no longer be seen on the green turf. Our hearts do not clench when the ball comes to him and he swings into the dreaded ball in Europe.
He is gone. But his memory — which we cherish with affection — haunts us every time we see something beautiful and imaginative on the pitch. Sindelar couldn't have done it better — the Hungarian spectator reminisces after a nice action. So Sindelar has become a concept and as such has entered the realm of the immortals.
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