Sunday, October 17, 2021

“I’m the manager and president of FC Kiraly – and I also wear gray sweatpants”

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Kiraly talks about Hungary’s hopes of beating England, his nation’s World Cup prospects, his own club and Puskas the musical …

They are probably the most famous training pants in English football, even though they belonged to a Hungarian. For three seasons, the now 45-year-old Gabor Kiraly was the regular guardian between the posts in Selhurst Park and almost achieved cult status with his legendary gray legwear.

He won’t be at Wembley on Tuesday night against England – a game that Hungary absolutely must win to maintain interest in qualifying for a first World Cup since 1986.

But he’ll be watching from home, desperately hoping that the country’s 36-year absence – once unthinkable for a country that made it to the finals twice in 1938 and 1954 – gets one step closer to the end.

However, he admits that the chances are now more of an outsider than a top dog.

“It is now very difficult for countries like Hungary to compete on the biggest stage,” says Kiraly, who won 108 international matches for his country between 1998 and 2016 I. “You can see in European club football that it is very difficult for teams outside of the big nations to challenge, and that also applies to international football.

“Hungary is a country with a very, very proud tradition. We all knew the stories of the great Hungarian teams of the 1950s when we were growing up. Everyone in England would always talk about the famous game at Wembley Stadium (1953), but in Hungary the game in Budapest, which we won 7-1 in 1954, is the one everyone is talking about.

“A few months ago I went to the theater to see Puskas the musical, and a lot of it is based on those two games. It’s still very emotional for the people in Hungary to see this team. He was a giant. A legend.”

The same could be said of Kiraly, especially if you are of a Crystal Palace belief. Before the pandemic, he was still regularly spotted at Selhurst Park and he shared I that he’ll be back in south London sooner rather than later. Kiraly was a Bromley boy during his time with the Eagles and is still a very popular character. He is also loved in Germany, where he spent time at Hertha Berlin and 1860 Munich.

It wasn’t until 2019 that he hung up his gloves and ended his career with his hometown club Szombathelyi Haladas. The Hungarian press celebrated the impact of a player they dubbed “Pajama Man” just three years after he appeared as the oldest player in the 2016 Euro, as he led his country into the last 16 Euro.

Now he has new ambitions with the Hungarian sub-division club he now owns – FC Kiraly.

“I’m the manager and president,” he says. “I love it. If we can move up to the third division (they are currently at the top of the country, which is the fourth division) then I think we will be happy with that.

“I’m still wearing the gray sweatpants, don’t worry.”

Only he knows whether the happy and iconic sweatpants will be worn tonight. But after the home defeat to Albania at the weekend left Qatar’s ambitions hanging by a thread, Hungary needs good luck to avenge their 4-0 defeat by England in Budapest in September.

“We showed in the summer that we can keep up with the best,” he says. “And we have to do the same against England because time is running out.”

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