Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Hungarians mark soccer heritage

RYAN PYETTE, Free Press Sports Reporter
2004-09-14 02:26:04

Almost every room in Louis Olcsvary's home has an interesting piece of London soccer history in it. You can say the same about the pages in John Sandor's scrapbook.
It's been 45 years since a group of Hungarian immigrants settled in London and kick-started what has become one of the city's longest continuously operated soccer clubs.
Many fond memories are sure to flood back when the London Hungarian Canadians soccer organization celebrates those 45 years with an all-day kick-fest on Sunday, Sept. 26, at the White Eagles Club in Nilestown.
If you know Olcsvary, you know everyone -- young or old, Hungarian or not -- is welcome to attend.
"We're proud of our Hungarian heritage, but it's a small part -- we're Canadian first," the 67-year-old organizer said. "It's going to be a great day and a soccer celebration of youth right up to the older guys."
There's also plenty of food, drinks, a pig roast, a disco with DJ Energy (Steve Torok) and the famous London Hungarian Pantlika Dance Group.
The event would be held at the London Hungarian Canadian club, except there physically isn't one. That's one reason why many old soccer trophies and artifacts are at Olcsvary's house.
For the last 15 years, the pulse of the Hungarian club has been kept alive in the hearts of its membership while its Western Ontario Soccer League premier division squad is run diligently by the generous wallets of a handful of backers. There is talk of the club taking over a former cricket field currently overseen by the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority.
"Back when we started, the soccer team was the backbone of the Hungarian club," said Sandor, a converted cyclist who played for the original 1959 Hungarians soccer side and later became a member of the great Marconi Club men's outfit that captured London's first Ontario Cup title in 1966. "The original Hungarian meeting place was at the corner of Richmond and York streets. On any day, that's where you'd find everyone. The soccer team was very close and did everything together. It's different now there isn't a building to house the club but the team and club continues."
In their first year, the Hungarians played many games at Silverwood park in the London and District's second division. Sandor said the team jumped to the first division in 1960. The golden years for the club arrived in the 1980s, including a trip to the World Youth Cup tournament in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The 2004 WOSL premier division team plays its home games on Cove Road field at the German Canadian Club. That team was coached by Ian Knight and featured several young university players such as Hartwick College's Tyler Hemming. Other teams shy away from the college players because they leave for school before the WOSL season is over.
Another notable fact? There isn't one Hungarian in the lineup this year.
"I always believe you take the best possible players, no matter where they come from," Olcsvary said. "You also have to put the game in proper perspective. First, it's school, then family, work and soccer -- in that order. So why not give the university kids a place to play to get ready for their school season?
"They need somewhere to develop. We know we're going to lose them early and we're short some guys now, but it should always be about youth."
Of course, there's always room for the guys who drink from the fountain of youth. The 66-year-old Sandor, who still plays in a local soccer league and is the lone member of the 1959 Hungarians still in game shape, will suit up for the 45th anniversary on the same team as his 42-year-old son David.
"I'm hoping to play in two games that afternoon," Sandor said with a grin.
What: 45th anniversary of the London Hungarian Canadians Soccer Organization
When: Sunday, Sept. 26, at White Eagles Club (Nilestown)
Games: Greater London Youth showcase (under-12), 11 a.m.; London Hungarians vs. German Canadians (Masters), 1 p.m.; London Croatia vs. London Portuguese B (Masters), 2:30 p.m.; London Hungarians vs. London Aces F.C., 4 p.m; Romanian Old Boys vs. Slovakians, TBA
Admission: $2 for adults; kids free


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