PARIS, France, May 18 – Exactly 60 years ago, in an era when going to a big football match meant cramming together with no thought to social distancing, 127,000 people crowded into Hampden Park in Glasgow to see the European Cup final and were rewarded with “a fantasy staged in heaven”.
Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 to win a fifth straight European Cup in a game that marked both a start and an ending.
It was just the fifth year of the European Cup’s existence, but the brilliance of the football and an international television audience of 70 million, a record for a live broadcast by the BBC, created an unprecedented buzz.
The match also marked the end of Real’s first period of European domination and a final international peak for a pair of 33-year-olds: Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano.
Real had other stars including winger Francisco Gento, defender Jose Santamaria and captain Jose Maria Zarraga, but Di Stefano and Puskas were the first ‘Galacticos’.
For Di Stefano this was a fifth straight final but for Puskas, who had joined Real in 1958 and missed the previous year’s final against Reims through injury, it was a first.
The Hungarian great was nervous, he recalled in an interview reproduced in the book ‘Puskas on Puskas’.
He said: “I was 33 years old. I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach in the dressing room beforehand. I was thinking ‘you’re not 20 any more, are you up for this?’”
– ‘Greatest club side’ –
Burly forward Richard Kress gave the West Germans the lead after 18 minutes. But Di Stefano and Puskas scored the next six goals.
“I reach the pitch and I feel: ‘I can do this. I know how to do this and I want to do it’. That’s how I was able to play in a footballer’s old age,” said Puskas.
Intricate passing and relentless movement set up Di Stefano for close-range goals in the 27th and 30th minutes.
“The sort of football that has made them the greatest club side the world has ever known,” said BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme.
Puskas scored the next four in the space of 26 minutes, starting with a left-foot drive from a narrow angle in first-half injury time and ending with a spin and shot into the top corner in the 71st.
“It was one of those blissful times when the whole team seemed to play brilliantly and we achieved some kind of footballing perfection,” said Puskas.
Eintracht hit back two minutes later with a goal by Erwin Stein, but Madrid replied from the kick-off as Di Stefano hit the only goal of the game scored from outside the box with a low left-foot drive.
Di Stefano also struck the woodwork twice.
Stein ended the scoring two minutes later.
“We couldn’t hear the whistle at the end for the ‘Hampden Roar’,” said Puskas.
“The whole team seemed to strike gold at the same time. It was a privilege to be there.”
“We couldn’t get away from Glasgow. It took a day to leave. We were paraded through the centre of town,” he said. “Everywhere, cheering crowds greeted us. You’d have thought their team had won.”
“For a few days at least, life was perfect. It was a wonderful match.”
– ‘Gobsmacked’ –
In Budapest, the England team preparing to face Hungary, without the exiled Puskas, watched on television.
“It was football on a different level than I’d been taught,” recalled Bobby Charlton. “My first thought had been, ‘this match is a phoney, edited, film, because these players are doing things that aren’t possible, aren’t real, aren’t human.’”
England striker Jimmy Greaves said he watched “gobsmacked”.
One of the youngsters in the crowd was 15-year-old Jimmy Johnstone, later one of the ‘Lisbon Lions’ in 1967 but at the time a junior at Celtic.
“The match remained the biggest single influence on my career. It was like a fantasy staged in heaven,” Johnstone said later.
Di Stefano stayed at Real until 1964, Puskas until 1966 when he collected a third European Cup although, as in 1959, he again did not appear in the final.
For both, the game represented a late peak.
Before a large live audience at last, Di Stefano, who never played in a World Cup, and Puskas, who had limped through the 1954 final as Hungary let slip a two-goal lead against West Germany, showed what football could be.