Dominic Bliss has delivered a seminal study about one of football’s forgotten pioneers: Ern? Egri Erbstein. From humble beginnings in Budapest to become a legend of Italian football: Dominic Bliss has retraced Erbstein’s career meticulously.
‘Whether the historians like it or not, football cannot be taken out of the history of the modern world and the history of the modern world is unevenly, but indisputably etched into the history of football.’
David Goldblatt, The Ball is Round
The history of the game in the interwar period in Central Europe has hardly been written about. The more it is laudable that Dominic Bliss has delivered a book about the career of Ern? Erbstein, a Hungarian player, coach and manager who had a distinguished career.
For that purpose Bliss has gathered an incredible amount of primary sources for this. He was able to speak to Erbstein’s daughters, Susanna and Marta as well as use their personal archives. He spoke at length with Italian sports writers and journalists and was able to lift the story of a man whose ideas and inventions changed football.
The stations of Erbstein’s career have been retraced and reconstructed in great detail from his early playing days in Budapest in the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a feisty defender for BAK until his work as coach and technical director at Il Grande Torino from the mid-1940s until his tragic death in May 1949.
From 1928 until 1932 Erbstein worked at 3 different clubs: US Bari, Noceria Inferiore and US Cagliari. At all theses places he managed to form a team of relatively unknown players into a coherent unit playing with tenacity. Their trade mark was a strong midfield as the engine room of the team and a short passing style that was to be described as tiki-taka in the early 21st. century. Despite enjoying success at all three clubs, the club directors had the financial side too much in their mind and decided to minimize the losses. Erbstein appeared to be the weakest link in this equation and he had to leave.
Neither was he able to influence the political circumstances. He left Budapest in 1924 in the face of growing anti-semitism and to pursue a career as a professional footballer. He was forced to retire as a player in 1928 after the Italian FA banned non-Italian players from the league and 10 years later he was asked to leave his post at Lucchese after the Mussolini regime passed the Manifesto of Race in 1938. He enjoyed unprecedented success at Lucchese lifting them from the third division into Serie A where they ruffled some feathers.
His ‘release’ from Lucchese was a blessing in disguise as Erbstein moved further north to Turin where he was to lay the foundations for his later career at Torino. Although only a year in the position, Torino had a president who was of similar age than Erbstein and was open to new ideas: Ferroccio Novo. In Erbstein he appeared to have found his congenial partner for his club and ambitious plans. Despite Turin being a city that had no respect for the fascist regime, in autumn 1938 there was no way other than releasing Erbstein from his duties at Torino.
The years from 1939 until 1945 were a dark period in history. The fate of the Erbstein family was symptomatic for many others. They were held captive in Kleve, Germany on the border with Holland when Ern? was able to bribe a guard and managed to phone Torino president Ferruccio Novo. He caused a diplomatic stir by contacting the Hungarian Embassy. This invention by his friend and employer turned out to save their lives as they were allowed to return to Budapest. There, the situation had become worse than in 1924. With his brother K