HUNGARIA CELEBRATION LUNCH
Words : Ian Rogers
Monday 27 June, 2022
On Saturday, Wellington United held a very special lunch to celebrate the 60th & 50th anniversary of Hungaria men’s and women’s team respectively at Newtown Park, prior to the Central League fixture with Wellington Olympic. Days like this do not come often. We were honoured to welcome so many great names back to the clubrooms, including hosting Mayor Andy Foster, NZF Vice President Scott Moran and guests from the day's opposition, Wellington Olympic including the Greek honorary consul George Neonakis. Our Guests of Honour in particular were Julius and Maureen Beck, Frank and Mary Papp and the Ambassador for Hungary, Dr Zsolt Hettesy, who was a driving force for the lunch and the reunion.
A fantastic publication from Dave Webster, “The Magical Magyars – A History of Hungaria AFC” contained a huge amount of wonderful stories, paying tribute to not only the brilliance but the antics of Hungaria (email email@example.com if you would like to purchase a copy).
Over the afternoon we heard some of the stories of Hungaria from Julius. He arrived on 25 June 1961, from Austria, having left Hungary at the height of the revolution in 1956 as a young 16 year old. Hungaria was formed in 1962, and names such as Andy & Lotsy Polyansky; Stefan Nemet; Imre Kiss; Joe Benczik and Atilla Varga are legendary. Five years later, they were Wellington Champions, holders of the Venus Shield (Capital Football kindly provided the Shield to display for the day which was warmly received). Their record in 6 seasons was: P93 W 66 F 422 A 134, avg score 5-1. Julius, Stefan and Imre were selected for NZ honours.
For the next 2 years they played in the new Central regional league, and by the end of 1969, defeated North Shore in a play-off to enter the new National League in 1970. A merger with old foes Miramar to form Wellington City to strengthen their national league resources lasted until City were relegated in 1976. Hungaria had carried on over the 70s in various leagues, before finally merging in 1979, as Wellington City. In 1985, City merged with WDU to become the modern Wellington United.
Julius himself scored 110 goals in 153 appearances for Hungaria, played for New Zealand, and played in two Chatham Cup Finals. In 1971 he scored for Wellington City (along with Paul Cameron who was also present) in the incredible wind-swept late-loss to Western Suburbs 3-2; and then Six years later winning with Kevin Fallon’s Nelson United.
A highlight was interviewing Mary Papp about what was to be the transformative creation of the Hungaria women’s team. Driven by Mary, Maureen and Brenda Willman, they overcame huge barriers from the association, council, media and general chauvinism, to re-vitalise football in Wellington for women; by the end of the decade there were 6 women’s divisions with 49 teams. 50 years later, Wellington United Diamonds are holders of the Kate Sheppard Cup, Kelly Cup and W-League winners 4 of the last 5 years. Midfielder Asha Strom, niece of Jeff, rushed from an early fixture in Petone to connect this circle and describe their journey to winning the Kate Sheppard Cup.
In recognition of Mary’s vision and drive and commitment, she was awarded a Life Membership, which was presented on behalf by Asha and Club President John Dow. The entire Diamonds team made the journey in later to join in a memorable team photo.
The afternoon also included cameo interviews with Barrie Truman and former National League winners John Barry and Jeff Strom, who was an ever present in all 3 WDU title winning sides of 1976, 81, 85. Unfortunately Covid sidelined Bruce Polyanszky and WDU legend Mike Simeonoff from attending.
As a final gesture, the Ambassador, having returned from Hungary only 3 weeks ago, presented the remaining Hungaria players present with an astonishing gift pack and certificate of appreciation – in Hungarian with a duplicate in English, signed by the Deputy Prime Minister.
· Andras Polyanszky (received by son Dean)
· Sandor Battyany
· Joe Benczik
· Mary & Frank Papp
· Jane Mulryan
· Mate Foldi (received by daughter Julia McIntosh)
· Julius & Maureen Beck
· Brian Willman
· Mike Holmwood
· Steve Boyland
- Keith Griffin who fulfilled many roles as chairman, secretary and coach received an Honorary Certificate for Leadership – a truly fitting and worthy award.
As part of the occasion, the new away strip was launched for Wellington United, which is a replica of the Hungaria strip and will be worn in the future. The response to this across the club has been overwhelmingly positive, and has embedded a strong relationship with the Hungarian Ambassador and Embassy.
The final note is to congratulate both the Wellington United and Olympic teams for their conduct in the aftermatch function. Maureern and Julius were introduced to the room, and we briefly described who they were and what they had achieved, and presented Julius with a Hungaria shirt – the first one he has ever owned. His response, speaking from the heart and directed to the group of young men present, was phenemonal. That both teams rose to give them a standing ovation spoke volumes for their respect and acknowledgement, and moved Julius to near tears. It was a privilege to be present and a wonderful sporting gesture that capped off a very special day.