Mozegekony: the Elemer Berkessy story

Cod Almighty | Article

by Tom Sargent

25 April 2019

In the 1950s, English clubs employed only British coaches. But in 1954, Grimsby Town tried to break the mould.

Elemer Berkessy

Catenaccio, tiki taka and gegenpressing. The propulsion of football onto the world stage has brought us matches from all over the world and words that we associate with styles of play or particular teams at the top of the game. Tiki taka and gegenpressing may be limited to Manchester City, Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool now. But the Mariners were among the front-running English clubs to have a foreign word bestowed upon their techniques: mozegekony.

Mozegekony was brought to the banks of the Humber by a Hungarian named Elemér 'Emilio' Berkessy (pronounced Berke-shee) back in 1954. This was the year that Grimsby Town Football Club became the first Football League team to appoint a foreign coach.

Berkessy had had an illustrious playing career. A strong and towering centre-half at 190cm in height, he came to the fore at Ferencvárosi Torna Club with whom he won the 1928 and 1930 Hungarian championship, as well as the Hungarian Cup in 1928. He was capped 10 times by the Hungarian national team. He also played for Le Havre AC – France's oldest club – after having appeared in Spain, where he represented Barcelona.

By 1954, Berkessy had ten years' management experience. He had taken charge of Ferencváros, a handful of Italian clubs – including Pro Patria, where he worked alongside Internazionale's famous player and manager Giuseppe Meazza – and emerging Spanish side Real Zaragoza before he came to Town.

His connection to the Mariners came through a contact at Aston Villa, Jimmy Hogan. Hogan and Berkessy had met in Hungary when Hogan was involved with Magyar Testgyakorlók Köre Budapest (MTK for short). Berkessy came to England to see his friend and heard about the vacant position at Blundell Park.

Having seen a demonstration, the Grimsby board, manager Billy Walsh, and players were impressed with the Hungarian's methods and he was duly appointed coach on 17 November 1954. Emilio, as he was affectionately known, was fulfilling a lifelong dream by managing an English side. Indeed, he told the Grimsby Telegraph in December 1954 that "it was always my ambition to work in English football".

The initial reaction – which was reported much further afield than the Grimsby area – was mixed. Locally, the club was lauded for its imaginative appointment and having the intelligence to introduce new ideas. Nationally, however, people questioned why someone couldn't be found locally with similar skills. Why was the pupil coming 'home' to teach the supposed master?

Berkessy's time at Blundell Park was short, but he won the Town players over in no time. George Higgins, the Mariners' captain and left-back that season, told the Telegraph: "He has completely revolutionised training here. I think we'll take a bit of time to get used to these tactics. We all appreciate his little touch of humour, and I think we are all behind him".

Jimmy Bloomer, another player from the squad, reiterated Higgins' comments: "I will take everything he tells me. He knows his job. With him, you either do it right, or you don't do it at all!"

New approaches

Mozegekony was one of the several new training methods Berkessy introduced during his stay in north-east Lincolnshire. It is the Hungarian word for agility. Emilio wanted his players to be agile and focused many training sessions on "balance and suppleness", prioritising stretching ahead of long periods of running, which was popular at the time. On reviewing the new training methods, the Grimsby Telegraph somewhat comically reported: "Ball practice, too, is widely used."

Sadly, Berkessy's time was cut short when the Ministry of Labour refused to grant him a work permit. The Grimbarian spirit of crowdfunding we've witnessed in the last half-century was not unknown to earlier custodians of the club, and when news broke of the refusal, the vice-chairman LR Osmond implored the fans to raise a petition for the decision to be overturned.

"Any organisation which is formed I am prepared to support 100 per cent," he told The Mariner in his plea. The wider impact of the football club on the town was not lost on Cyril Osbourne, the MP for Louth. "It is a well-known fact that high-grade football brings trade to Grimsby," he stated as he outlined another reason to back Berkessy.

Osbourne arranged for Harold Wilkinson, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, to give a talk to the Mill Road Men's Fellowship explaining why the club were unable to retain the Hungarian's service, such was the interest.

Berkessy's short stay had little material impact but his methods had left a big impression. The Telegraph reported 'he certainly infused new life into the club'

Alas, it came to nothing. Berkessy returned to Barcelona with his wife, where he eventually ran a successful business making car brakes and small motor parts before he passed away in July 1993.

His short stay at Blundell Park had little material impact on Town's fortunes. Grimsby had been 18th in Division Three (North) when Berkessy was appointed, and although results did improve for a while, the club ended the 1954-55 season having to apply for re-election.

Nevertheless, his methods had left a big impression. The Telegraph reported "he certainly infused new life into the club... The attacking back system he introduced to Blundell Park appears to be paying dividends. At first the players did not master the technique too well. Too often there were large gaps in midfield which, if exploited, could prove costly. Now, however, they have been plugged and the tactics are proving worth while."

His infectious personality and good humour had a profound effect on his players. Before leaving he was presented with an inscribed fountain pen revealing "the esteem in which he was held". The Telegraph went on: "The Town's players were making a presentation in all sincerity to man they had known for barely three weeks and who could hardly speak their language."

The picture of Elemer Berkessy is from Wikipedia

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