Gyula Grosics: The ‘Black Panther’ of Hungary

Gyula Grosics: The ‘Black Panther’ of Hungary

Gyula Grosics is known as the first custodian to play as a ‘sweeper-keeper’

1954 World Cup Final, Bern, Switzerland, 4th July 1954, West Germany v Hungary. West Germany's Max Morlock stretches to beat Hungary goalkeeper Gyula Grosics and score their first goal. (Photo: Getty Images)
  • Grosics was a member of Hungary’s legendary ‘Mighty Magyars’

  • Gyula Grosics played 86 times for Hungary, including in three FIFA World Cups

  • Grosics won four Hungarian League titles with Budapest Honved

Jayanta Oinam

At 82, for the first and only time, Gyula Grosics turned up for his beloved team, Ferencvarosi TC. Wearing his favourite 'Black Panther' shirt, the legendary goalkeeper showed his calm demeanour, taking control of the ball with elegance as Florian Albert Stadium in Budapest warmed up to one of the most iconic moments in Hungarian football. Grosics was subsequently replaced by Adam Holczer in the friendly match against Sheffield United, but not before charming the fans with his reassuring presence. That was in 2008, 46 years after he retired. In those intervening decades, Gyula Grosics was living with a regret, that his playing career was over having never turned out for Ferencvaros – a team that shared his ideals.

Born into a poor coal-mining family in Dorog, northern Hungary, Gyula Grosics started his career with the local outfit Dorogi Banyasz and then became one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. Grosics guarded the goal for Magical Magyars during their most dominant period, with Gustav Sebes at the helm and greats of the game like Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis and Nandor Hidegkuti giving him company on the field. Credited with developing the "sweeper-keeper" style of play, Grosics was a trailblazing custodian with brilliant skills and unrivalled vision. Despite standing at 5ft 8in, Grosics would easily dominate the box with his remarkable agility and fearless goalkeeping. And he would turn up in his black jersey. The Hungarian was already the "Black Panther" before Soviet Union legend, Lev Yashin became the "Black Spider". Grosics, however, started his football career by chance. His parents wanted him to be a Catholic priest and his formative years were spent training for priesthood. But, it all changed when Dorogi Banyasz called him to step in for their regular goalkeeper, who was unavailable due to war. "Life is sometimes full of surprises," Grosics once said. "At the age of 15, and basically still just a child, I played my first match in goal for Dorog’s senior team. From that day onwards, football became a huge part of my life."

During a celebrated career, spanning close to two decades, Grosics became a cornerstone of the Hungarian national team. He made 86 appearances for Hungary between 1947 and 1962, winning an Olympic gold medal at the Helsinki Games in 1952. Hungary then defeated England in 1953 at Wembley. This was England's first defeat on home soil, and against a team not from the British Isles. But, Hungary, undefeated for four years, failed to win the FIFA World Cup in 1954. They lost to the Federal Republic of Germany 3-2 in the final, a match which came to be known as the "Miracle of Bern". After suffering a 5-3 defeat against Austria in May 1950, Hungary would produce a sensational run of 42 wins and seven draws until that final, settled by Helmut Rahn's goal six minutes from time. Played in heavy rain, Hungary, having already hammered West Germany 8-3 in their Group 2 meeting, were the heavy favourites. Through goals from Ferenc Puskas (6th) and Zoltan Czibor (8th), they took a 2-0 lead even before the Germans could even settle at Wankdorf Stadium. Then, the Mighty Magyars lost with Max Morlock hitting the first equaliser in the tenth, before Rahn's first of the two eight minutes later.

"I keep having the same nightmare, even today," said Grosics, who slipped on the wet grass when up against Rahn. "I keep seeing that goal by Rahn. All of a sudden, I was plunged into an abyss." Hungary, also the runners-up in the 1938 edition, would never feature in another World Cup final. In fact, the last time Hungary competed in a World Cup was way back in 1986. That wasn't the only nightmare Gyula Grosics fought during his lifetime. After a failed attempt to defect from communist Hungary, he was caught and charged with espionage and treason in 1949. In the ensuing battle, he lost the right to represent Hungary, at least for a couple of years. Then in 1956, during the height of the anti-Communist revolution in the country, he once again tried to settle abroad. But the four-time Hungarian League winner (with Budapest Honved) was forced to return home before the Sports Ministry transferred him to Tatabanya Banyasz. Later, in 1962, he was banned from joining Ferencvarosi, a club that represented Hungarian nationalism. With no options left, he retired, saying: "As of today, I'm finished with football." For a change, he did turn up once again. Gyula Grosics died in 2014, aged 88. “One star less on Earth, one more in the heavens," said former teammate Jeno Buzanszky, who was the last surviving member of the Mighty Magyars.