Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The story of Melbourne Hungaria (not very SM Hellas related)

So I went to Melbourne Museum yesterday to check out Melbourne SC: The First Twenty Five Years, the cover of which you can see on the right. Why the interest in Hungaria and what's the relevance to South? I'll get to the latter toward the end of the entry. But as to the former question, since finding about this now extinct club a few years ago, I've been intrigued. They are seldom ever spoken about by the reminiscing Victorian soccer fan. They don't have the same historical/cultural resonance in Victorian and Australian soccer as do their Sydney counterparts St George Budapest, nor did they match St George's success. And yet in their short existence - the club went out of business at the end of 1987, just five years after this booklet was published - they did make an impact on the local scene.

Hungaria's most notable playing product was Attila Abonyi, the Socceroo striker who was at one time the national team's all time leading scorer. While the club had one Victorian State League second place finish (1970), and three third place finishes (1960, 1966, 1972), undoubtedly the club's most successful year was 1967. They not only won the league title that season, but went on to win the Australia Cup as well, beating APIA Leichhardt 4-3 in the final.

Possibly a photo of a young Ernie Tapai playing
for a Victorian state youth team.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the booklet's text is in Hungarian, with only advertisements (almost all small businesses, or pro forma congratulatory pieces from supporters) and a small portion at the end in English. There are many photos, but apart from player names (often surnames only) there are usually no other identifying details. The format is largely a year by year almanac style account, with an interesting deviation in the middle dedicated to junior players and even a women's team of some sort, before returning to the yearly summaries.

Despite a strong early 1970s period, the club had only a small community to draw upon. After being relegated from the state league in 1975, the club bounced between the Victorian second and third divisions for the next decade. and it appears that the lack of a permanent home ground didn't help matters. 

In the late 1950s, they played out of Elwood Reserve/Elwood Park in Elwood, before spending time at Port Melbourne's JL Murphy Reserve, Olympic Park, McDonald Reserve in Gardiner, Elsternwick Park, and even the St Kilda Cricket Ground (aka the Junction Oval, which was also used by Juventus; that venue was rejected as a possible home ground by South in the late 1970s/early 1980s, but that's another story)

The stability issue is perhaps undermined a little by the fact that Hungaria spent the entire period of 1969-80 at Middle Park Stadium, making them the third longest tenant behind Hellas and Hakoah in the ground's post-enclosure era. From 1981 until their final move to Williamstown, they played on one of the adjacent fields to Middle Park, Oval No.7. The last 12 pages of the book, in English, focus mostly on the future that the club's board had in mind.

The board, perhaps surprisingly considering the trends that were already in evidence among ethnic clubs at the time, had some seriously lofty aims. The main find for me is that the club managed to apparently secure some land in Williamstown (near the Rifle Range), and had plans to build both a new ground with a small grandstand (seating 300), as well as a social club. The intention was to supplement their soccer income in order to make a tilt at getting into the national league. Sound familiar?

Neither Melbourne Hungaria's plans for a boutique suburban ground, nor their aim of reaching the National Soccer League came to pass. As usual, apologies for the poor quality of my photos.

The grandstand and social club never got built, as a visit to JT Gray Reserve in Williamstown can attest to. The amenities in the shadow of the oil refinery are limited to the portables that used to be at Paisley Park. Why Hungaria's plans never happened I'm not sure, though we can take an easy guess. Diminishing crowds, diminishing interest, diminishing money. After having made it back to the state league in 1986, they got relegated immediately. In 1987, they got relegated again, and that was that. See the link Mark Boric has provided (in the comments) to a 1985 feature article on the club -

Is there a warning there for us? Without getting too melodramatic I think there is. I think we have some advantages in comparison - a good junior wing, stable enough existence at a home ground, enough corporate and pleb support to keep us going nicely for the time being. But Hungaria's plans and subsequent demise demonstrate the absolute necessity of getting this lease deal done. Not for the sake of some possible attempt at a national league return, or even for the money, but for the sake of the club itself. Here's hoping the movers and shakers are getting closer to finalising the deal.

In the 1952 VASFA handbook (which you can download from here, courtesy of Mark Boric), there is a Hungaria listed as due to play in the fourth division. Unlike its successor team, which played for most of its existence in a completely white strip, except for a one red and one green horizontal stripe, the 1952 Hungaria kit is as listed as being a red shirt, white shorts, green socks.

Unlike other clubs however, there is no home ground listed - the only reference I can find to their existence in The Argus on Trove is in the round 1 results for 1952. Their match against the RAAF side is listed as not having been played, with no reason being given, unlike in other games where ground (for example) is listed as the reason for no game being played.

After checking with fellow Victorian soccer historian John Punshon, it appears that they pulled out early on, and teams due to play them got a bye. This was noted in the 'Secretary's Notes' section of the April 26 1952 edition of Soccer News.


  1. Well, this has got my antennae's notice.

    In 1974, when all of a sudden I was interested in Sport, I had to make decisions as to who I would support. English First Division, Victorian State League, and VFA to be precise.

    I remember visiting a fish and chip shop in Dandenong with my father (he was considering buying it. He ended up buying 'Dagwoods Den' Fish and Chippery (Yes, I will use the nouveau name) in Sunshine. In the Dandenong shop there was a big colour photo of Brian Kidd in his Man City days running away from a West Ham player. So I picked them. Until I saw Charlie George playing for Derby, and I picked them! Then before I knew it I was lamenting Manchester United's loss to Southampton in the 1976 final!

    As for both the Victorian State League and the VFA, I remember looking at a ladder and seeing Prahran Slavia on top in Soccer and Dandenong in VFA. So I picked them.

    I stayed with Dandenong until they drifted out of First Division orbit in the early 1980's and ended up following (rather than supporting) the local team, Box Hill as they rose. Btu I never really warmed to anyone in VFA.

    My initial pick in Soccer, Prahran Slavia was tyhe most fleeting of all. I didn;t even know what colours they wore! My next memory was watching the Soccer on Channel Ten! (Hey, mainstream acceptance!). The two teams playing were South Melbourne and Melbourne (no ethnic suffixes that I recall!). I decided to pick Melbourne! They lost, I never heard of them again, and naturally drifted to South Melbourne. Once the NSL started, I suppsoe I had no choice. Now that sounds eerily familiar in regards to the choice many ex (dormant?) South supporters had when the NSL was replaced by the A League.

    As to the demise of the likes of Melbourne Hungaria, the main difference between them and us is that the Hungarian migrant experience was much more assimilationist in character. Plus there were alot of fewer of them. Plus, they were leaving a 'Lefitst' ideology behind and they generally supported the 'Rightists' which was more assimiliationist.

    Also, the era when the Hungarian offspring could be inculcated into the parents customs (including following Soccer) was still an era of trying to leave your old identity behind. By the time the changes that Whitlam/Fraser introduced insofar as Multicultural policies were concerned bore fruit (late 1980's at earlliest), coincided with the demise of this club.

    I agree however that we are in safe hands I feel. Although the inherent prejudice that permeates the administration is bound to reveal itself at some point.

    Just as an aside, go to Wikipedia and read up on the Minnesota Vikings. :))

    Savvas Tzionis

  2. The fleeing of the communist regime is interesting, as in the book, as far as I can recall there are no congratulatory epigrams from the Hungarian ambassador, embassy, consulate etc, as I would expect would be common in similar histories from other clubs. On the back page though there was a large ad for JAT airlines.

    I can't express how much the proposed Williamstown boutique ground intrigues me,

  3. "Plus, they were leaving a 'Lefitst' ideology behind and they generally supported the 'Rightists' which was more assimiliationist."

    I don't think that is the case at all. Croats were also leaving a leftist ideology, our community is very much politically on the right as a consequence. And we definitely didn't fit this so called "assimilationist" path. The reality is the Hungarians were a very small community in comparison the traditional powers of ethnic football in Victoria, much in the way of the Czechs who also saw their club Slavia die in the arse.

  4. Yes, MelbCro, I stated that ... "Plus, there were alot fewer of them".

    And, although I did not make this very clear, the Hungarians had all arrived by the mid 1960's. The Croats were still coming out until the late 1970's (correct me if I am wrong on this one as it is just a guess on my part).

    It it interesting though, that numerically (much) smaller communities like the Czechs and the Hungarians and Eastern European Jews punched above their weight (St George, Sydney Hakoah) for some time.

    Savvas Tzionis

  5. Definitely true that the migration from Croatia continued long after the Hungarians stopped coming to Australia.

    You are right about the likes of the Hungarians and Czechs punching above their weight. There was also a Czech team in Sydney 'Prague' who were a very strong side in the 60s, and a Hungarian side 'Budapest' in Adelaide also a strong side in the 60s. Both clubs died when the 70s came around. Interesting that St George was able to survive

  6. Probably survived due to Les Murray's magic personality. :)

    Savvas Tzionis

    1. Hungarian community has long abandoned St George, Murray included.

  7. Paul , what are the chances of you doing a piece on Victorian footballing legend Fred Dimitriou ?

    1. We'll have to sit down one day (or several), with some sort of recording device and get his story, won't we? There's a particular question I need to 1970s Victorian soccer - we'll talk later.

  8. ]http://imagizer.imageshack.us/v2/800x600q90/20/fjem.jpg

    Link to Melbourne Hungaria in 1985 from Soccer Action.

    1. Great pic mate, seems like no one saw their demise coming, happened so suddenly after that article.

  9. Does this mean I can go back to supporting Manchester City? :)

    Savvas Tzionis


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