Sporting divides: antisemitism in post-war Hungarian football matches

black and white photograph of a crowd watching a football match, standing in front of a detailed scoreboard

Communist propagranda labelled the scandalous scenes 'class struggles'

Attila Csönge (Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok County Archives of the National Archives of Hungary)

Antisemitism manifests itself in many ways. We know of the horrors of the Holocaust, ghettoisation, deportation, mass murders by the Nazi Germany during World War II.

However, few people know that there were antisemitic demonstrations in Hungary even shortly after World War II, during the Soviet occupation. Some of these riots accompanied the matches of a Budapest football club MTK (Magyar Testgyakorlók Köre / 'Circle of Hungarian Fitness Activists'), as the football team was traditionally identified as a 'Jewish' team by its supporters and opponents.

In 1946 and 1947, the MTK football team visited Szolnok (a town in central Hungary) where they played against the local team of MÁV (Magyar Államvasutak / 'Hungarian State Railway Company'). After both games, a shower of stones was thrown upon the MTK supporters when they were departing. What could have been the reason behind these events, and how did the left-wing workers’ parties, which otherwise united the workers and supporters of MÁV in Szolnok, react?

colour photograph of a small metal pin with letters MAV

Although the loss of World War II ended the rule in Hungary of the Arrow Cross Party (the Hungarian national socialist movement) and paved the way for the establishment of a communist dictatorship, the society itself could not be replaced. This is why antisemitic ideas that had poisoned both the urban working class and the rural poor peasants continued to live on and, due to the difficult economic situation and the low standard of living, surfaced from time to time.

However, the communists and their allies could not admit that the members of the proletariat were also antisemites, therefore, they tried to give a new interpretation to antisemitic events by shaping the political discourse.

Football matches against MTK, with their heated atmosphere, provided the perfect setting for the manifestation of hatred. For example, in Szolnok, a game was played in the autumn of 1946, which was won 1:0 by the Budapest team through an own goal scored by the local team. Newspaper reports about the match revealed that the members of the Szolnok audience behaved scandalously.

From the very first minute of MTK players entering the football field, the storm of abuse did not stop … they were shouting their antidemocratic, hateful slogans through a gramophone funnel with full mouths, without any inhibitions … After the game, the players, managers and accompanying supporters from Budapest were severely assaulted. The separate buses and accompanying cars were thrown with a shower of stones. The hooligans set up posts between the sports field and the road, launching their attacks with stone from behind them.

colour vintage photograph of a football field

The fistful of stones was not only thrown at the MTK team, but also mistakenly at the car of the officers of the Ministry of Interior who were following them on the bridge over the river Tisza and were therefore in the wrong place at the wrong time.

black and white vintage photograph of a railway bridge over a river

The newspaper of the Hungarian Communist Party tried to portray the events as if it had been only a few provocateurs hiding in the ranks of the Szolnok audience who were responsible for the incident. However, from the report of another newspaper, it can be seen that it was one of the players of the Szolnok team who started the incitement. 'He was shouting Arrow Cross slogans already in the dressing room before the match, exciting his teammates against MTK.'

As a result, the Hungarian Football Association launched an investigation, and the team of MÁV was banned from playing matches at home until the investigation was completed. As the journalist of the newspaper Világ (World) wrote: 'The tragicomic aspect of the scandalous case is that there is not a single Jewish player playing in MTK currently, and the president of the club who died as a martyr surpassed the much celebrated fascist sport patrons with his readiness for financial sacrifice during the decades of his sport career.'

black and white vintage photograph of a football match, a player goes to kick the ball while the goalkeeper saves it

The communist, social-democratic and peasant party leaders of Szolnok later reacted together to the events. They tried to interpret the undeniable antisemitism of working class sport supporters as a manifestation of class struggle.

According to the reframed narrative, it was the rich, that is, 'bourgeois' MTK fans who were behaving defiantly, and the discontent of the poor 'proletarians' of Szolnok was therefore justified and understandable. The MTK supporters 'with their shiny cars appeared in Szolnok already in the morning, filling the cafés and confectioneries, shouting, roistering. In the eyes of the workers, who were living in great poverty, it was repulsive.' With their cars they 'splattered people with mud', and 'there was a certain bitterness among the poor workers of Szolnok towards the painted women in the boxes and the brightly dressed gentlemen who were merrily drinking and eating during the match.' That is, they stated that it was in fact the rich MTK supporters who were mainly responsible for the scandal.

three people sitting at a table outside a café

However, probably no-one expected that within a year, the supporters of Szolnok would again cause a public scandal at another MÁV–MTK match, once again won by the visiting Budapest team.

This antisemitic riot was also reported in detail by the contemporary newspapers. In the impetuous match, MTK took the lead from a penalty. Later, an MTK player hit a shot from the Szolnok team with his hand, but the referee did not award a penalty. 'The audience is violently protesting against the referee. The players are becoming nervous, there is a lot of flapping.'

At the end of the match, due to the flared tempers, stones of the size of half a brick were showered upon the sports field. A stone even grazed the referee’s shoulder. Then, when the visiting team left the Szolnok railway station by train, 'a mass of stones fell upon the train of MTK from a railway bridge. There were no injuries because both the players and their escorts were lying on their stomachs to protect themselves from the shower of stones.'

black and white postcard showing a train station

One year later, in 1948, the match of the MÁV of Szolnok was no longer disturbed by violent anti-Jewish riots, not because the local supporters had changed their views, but because their team had been eliminated from the first division championship, so they could no longer play against MTK.

This blog was translated from Hungarian to English by Mr Balázs Kántás, senior archivist of the National Archives of Hungary.

black and white photograph of a crowd watching a football match, standing in front of a detailed scoreboard

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