|Ferenc Puskas bust at Real Madrid|
training ground, Valdebabas, Spain.
Some of the photos of the various statues on this page were sourced from 'From Ptich to Plinth: The Sporting Statues Project', a quite interesting website with a fair bit of academic content as well.
In retrospect, it made a lot of sense to walk from Flinders Street Station to Gosch’s Paddock along the Yarra. Yes, I had gotten into the city too early for the scheduled start of the unveiling of the Ferenc Puskas statue, but it was a nice day for that walk anyway, along the shaded path, just before it got too hot.
Along the way, I came across a broad spectrum of Melburnians. There were those making their way up to the tennis centre for the Davis Cup doubles tie; tourists; joggers; cyclists at various points along the Lycra-wearing spectrum; families out for a stroll; rowers on the river.
|Statue of Collingwood champion Bob Rose, outside|
Collingwood's Holden Centre headquarters.
I then walked past Olympic Park, or what remains of it after Collingwood’s annexation of the stadium. This is where Puskas’ crowning achievement during his involvement in Australian soccer took place, the onetime de facto – and democratic – home of Victorian soccer. It had hosted Socceroo matches, National Soccer League matches and Victorian finals ranging from top-tier and Dockerty Cup deciders to amateur cup finals. Of course you would not know that if you looked at it now, but some peoples' histories are more important than others.
|Statue of John Landy helping up Ron Clarke,outside what was once|
We then went past the Bubbledome where keen Bruce Springsteen fans had already camped out hours before the gates were due to open for The Boss' concert. My grey-haired companion then saw some people he knew exiting the car park, and I left him to it. I proceeded around the eastern side of the Bubbledome, to the back of a Melbourne Storm training ground to where a couple of small marquees had been erected. The caterers had arrived, but not many others as yet.
|The statue prior to its unveiling. Photo: Paul Mavroudis|
The statue was sitting underneath some trees almost in a grove, covered by a black cloth, out of the way of most foot traffic likely to approach the Bubbledome. On that matter, I found myself in polite disagreement with Roy Hay, who felt that there would be plenty of foot traffic that would come across the statue where it was situated. But more on that later.
Because before the statue could be unveiled, there was the necessity of enduring the official proceedings, which I assumed would be relatively short, so we could get to the business of seeing the statue and taking our share of the complimentary food and drink on offer. How wrong I would be on that front.
Les Murray opened up proceedings, discussing Puskas the player and what he meant to Hungarians of that era, followed by a video montage blighted by the kind of rousing, over-the-top symphonic montage music we should have all become de-sensitised to by now. Then for reasons that I still cannot fathom, Mark Bosnich was asked to speak. Bosnich had never played for a side coached by Puskas, nor played (so far as I’m aware) against a team coached by Puskas, and yet there he was, asked to be the day’s equivalent of Bob Newhart being asked to speak at Krusty the Clown’s funeral.
@PaulMavroudis In many we ways we all learned from Puskas... Even though, you know, many of us never... watched him play.— David Henning (@DavidHenning86) February 4, 2017
|Peter Tsolakis, Mehmet Durakovic, Kimon Taliadoros and Joe Palatsides.|
Photo: Roy Hay.
A statement like that reflected Puskas’ idealistic but also antiquated views on how to play football, one in which there was little room for cynicism, let alone tactics. Tsolakis went on to recall another simple instruction from Puskas: ‘show me what you learned as a child’, thus giving licence to his players to be creative, and to enjoy themselves, and to remember that the crowd is there to be entertained, that the game is about goals, but also that it is a players’ game, not a coach’s one.
|Ferenc Puskas statue, Obuda (Budapest), Hungary.|
Scuplture by Gyula Pauer and Dávid Tóth,
The statue was 'conceived the idea from a photograph of Puskás
enthralling a group of children with his ball control
at the Toros de Las Ventas square in Madrid'
Current Football Federation Victoria president Kimon Taliadoros recalled practicing free kicks with his non-preferred left foot, and being castigated for it by the notoriously single-sided Puskas. When Taliadoros scored a long-range bomb with his left foot for South against Melbourne Croatia at Somers Street, he ran to Puskas to let him know all about it – only to be greeted by Puskas wielding a doubled-handed mountza, the Greek hand gesture of insult descended from the Byzantine practice of smearing ashes over the faces of criminals.
|Ferenc Puskas bust, Zala County, Hungary.|
Then it was time for one-time South Melbourne sponsor, then Melbourne Victory shareholder, and now Tasmanian A-League bid backer Robert Belteky to speak. As the Australian delegate to the Puskás Foundation Board of Trustees, Belteky was apparently instrumental in getting this statue commissioned and brought to Melbourne. Unfortunately, while Belteky spoke for a while, most of what he said was inaudible to those not underneath the marquee. This was not due to any technical malfunction, but rather due to Belteky mumbling his way through most of his prepared remarks.
|Ferenc Puskas bust, Kobanya-Kispest traffic junction, Budapest, Hungary|
Then another speaker in the never-ending cavalcade, a public servant or state government flunky of some sort standing in for the Victorian Minister for Sport John Eren (turns out it was Liberal state upper house member Bruce Atkinson). The aforementioned flunky at least managed to pique my interest as we sweltered in the shade, after what was almost an hour and a half's worth of speeches and formalities, by somehow bringing in a connection to Melbourne Victory and the Bubbledome, and throwing in the line that roughly went, 'wasn't it wonderful that South Melbourne had contributed to soccer's growth in Australia by bringing over Puskas, but wasn't it even better that we had now subsumed that tribalism and moved forward with the A-League and teams like Melbourne Victory'.
|Ferenc Puskas statue, Pancho Arena, Flecsut Hungary.|
It bears a striking resemblance to the statue unveiled in Gosch's Paddock.
Sculpture by Béla Domonkos
If, as was acknowledged on the day, Puskas’ time in Australia went unnoticed by Australian society, then why was so little attention paid to those who did pay attention – in this case, one thinks specifically of Melbourne soccer’s community and the local Greek soccer community in particular who would flock to training sessions to be near Puskas?
|Ferenc Puskas statue, Szentes, Hungary.|
Sculpture by László Csíky
Photo: Dr László Csíky
There is little doubt that Puskas’ tenure at South had at least something to do with Puskas’ tenure as manager of Panathinakos in the 1970s. Because Puskas could speak Greek, but very little English, Ange Postecoglou, who was captain of that Hellas side, would act as the de facto translator. There were no South Melbourne Hellas office holders or supporters of that era asked to speak, nor any Greek-Australian soccer journalists of that time.
Instead, apart from those former South Melbourne players, the emphasis of the day was more on Puskas the phenomenon, to the point where even his managerial career was being extolled, when the record shows that he was in fact a mediocre manager at best.
|Ference Puskas statue in Gosch's Paddock, Melbourne. |
Photo: George Donikian.
In that sense, cricket and footy have significant advantages when it comes to presenting heroic moments of stasis: for cricket, a batsman captured at the end of of his follow through on a batting stroke, or a bowler at or just after the moment of release; for footy, the high mark or the booming kick.
With the exception of the aforementioned diving save, soccer's most significant moments are not about stasis, but movement. The dribble (could you sculpt a nutmeg?), the interplay of a string of passes with the requisite movement off the ball, and of course the swerving shot, which at its peak exists purely in the realms of applied physics, independent of any player.
|Ferenc Puskas during his stint as South Melbourne Hellas coach,|
resplendent in a trademark ugly jumper.
There is of course, also the incongruity of having a statue of Ferenc Puskas the player in Australia as opposed to the manager, despite Puskas having never played the game in Australia.
|Yet to be completed Ferenc Puskas statue.|
Ultimate destination unknown.
Sculptor, László Csíky.
If the most poignant of reminiscences on the day were about Puskas' kindliness, humility and gentlemanly conduct while he was a football manager in Australia, this statue fails to get anywhere near that feeling. It was noted at the unveiling, almost as an aside, that this will be one of four Puskas statues around the world. Did they mean based on this mould? Or did they mean overall? If it is the former, then it hardly makes our statue unique. If it is the latter, it is not much better, as busts and statues of Puskas have sprung forth in many places, especially in Hungary. All the more reason then that our statue should have been of the Puskas that we knew.
The statue's position at the back end of a rugby field also separates Puskas from where he did his greatest work here. To a very large extent, this is unavoidable - Middle Park Stadium no longer exists; Olympic Park also no longer exists, if we're being honest; and for whatever reason (see later notes on this), the Hungarians and the Puskas Foundation, who funded this enterprise (along with a regional tour of the FIFA Puskas Award and a gala dinner on the Friday night before the statue's unveiling), didn't feel like placing it outside Lakeside (which would pose its own historical-conceptual issues, ala the Bob Rose statue, but at least it would be closer to where South Melbourne Hellas currently lives).
|Soccer players statue at Australian Institute of Sport.|
Scupltor, John Robinson.
Photo: Philip Abercrombie.
Sporting statues in Australia seem to me to be a fairly recent phenomenon. Before that, when it came to erecting statues we probably did much as the British did - when we commissioned sculptures, it was of soldiers, politicians, explorers, and maybe the occasional scientist. In more recent years, as sport has started catching up not just on the merits of history in its own right, but especially the propaganda value that it can elicit in the hearts and minds of the general public, various sporting bodies have seen the cultural heft that can be achieved by neoclassical tributes to sporting icons. Thus footy statues have sprung up in all sorts of usual (MCG) and unusual (Braybrook Hotel on Ballarat Road) places, and even tennis has chimed in with the cheaper alternative of using busts of its champions at the tennis precinct. (the only one of which was immediately recognisable was John Newcombe, because of the moustache).
|Johnny Warren statue outside the|
Sydney Football Stadium.
Sculptor, Cathy Weiszmann.
Photo: Johnny Warren Comnunity.
In their own way all of these statues - including the Puskas one - represent some crucial aspect of the Australian soccer experience, even if that was not the chief intent of each of the sculptors. In Tombides, we have the personification of the young Australian soccer player venturing overseas, to Europe and especially England, seeking their footballing destiny and fortune. In Warren, we have the supreme archetype of the Australian soccer evangelist - noted more for those efforts rather than the exploits of their playing career. In the statue of the anonymous players, we have the anonymity of the game and its participants. And in Puskas, we have the overseas guest, a giant of the sport living almost anonymously in a town which was and still is alternately oblivious to soccer's existence, and envious of soccer's global reach. But the net effect of all of them is to remind Australians of soccer's sense of displacement within Australian culture. Even Warren, whose club career was entirely spent in Australia, is more notable for his efforts to create a place for a global game in this most crowded and parochial of sporting nations.
Now one can, as is often the case with my writings, take all of this pontificating with a large dose of salt. I am almost by nature drawn to the farcical and absurd in situations such as this, unwilling to accept the prosaic and straightforward nature of such projects. As nonsensical as I find the statue's placement to be, it will apparently be joined in future by other statues in what has at least been informally dubbed an 'avenue of champions'. I am told that there had been an attempt or an offer made by FFV to the people behind the Puskas statue project to have it located outside Lakeside Stadium, but that the decision to locate it at that particular part of Gosch's Paddock had already been made.
|Stature of Dylan Tombides|
outside Perth Oval..
Sculptor, Robin Hitchcock.
Photo: Perth Glory
(I should note that of the four Puskas statues to be created, I don't think any of the photos of the Puskas statues I've included here, apart from the Gosch's Paddock one, are part of that project. I have searched for a Puskas statue in Madrid, but I do not think one exists, and thus I assume that one of these four planned statues will end up there.)
In its design, procurement, placement and veneration, the statue is more about Hungarians' ideas of Puskas than of what his Australian tenure meant to those who experienced it first hand. Later, I would attend the Moreland City vs Werribee City game at Campbell Reserve - apart from those at the game who had also been at the statue unveiling, such as George Donikian, no one would have been the wiser that a Ferenc Puskas statue had been unveiled on the same day. Why would it?