Ray Agar has written a book based on his trip to Budapest in September 1973 to watch ‘The Lads’ play their first game in Europe, in the European Cup Winners Cup against Vasas Budapest. This was only four months after the magnificent F.A. Cup win at Wembley. The book is a novel and the people are fictitious but ‘Five Go Mad in Budapest’ is based on events which took place when Ray and his mates hopped the Iron Curtain to cheer on ‘The Lads’. ALS caught up with Ray to find out a bit more.
ALS: So why did you write the book Ray?
Ray: I really wanted to share it with all other Mackems. The whole experience was fantastic. The number of things we packed in was amazing. I decided to wait until the next time we were in Europe before writing a book about 1973. So, I waited and waited and waited a bit more. Peter Reid gave us some hope, but we faded away in both seasons to finish 7th. On the 40th Anniversary in 2013, I wrote an account for ALS about the Budapest match. Now as I head towards 70, I’ve written the book before I lose even more of my faculties. On our plane most of the supporters were a lot older than me, so it could be that many of them have popped their clogs and received that eternal season ticket to the Fulwell end in the sky.
ALS: So when did you hook up with the Lads, Ray?
Ray: Like they say, ALS, it was in the blood. I was brought up in Consett and it was 50:50 between us and the barcodes but my dad was an ardent red and white and my granda was the same. My granda was brought up in Esh Winning, he was born in 1901. He told me an amazing story, that those people who could afford it would go to the match by train. Others would sit by the railway tracks at home because the people who went to the match used to send Morse code messages along the tracks. The most famous message of the time was in 1908 when we were playing the bar codes at Sid James’. The half time score was 1-0 to them and there were some very sorry faces by the railway lines. Then the final score came through Barcodes 1 Sunderland 9. The lads by the lines thought it must have been a joke and it wasn’t until people came back from the game that they found out it was true. Apparently, a few pints were knocked back that night.
ALS: So, when was your first game Ray?
Ray: My Dad took me to the last match of the season on April 29th 1961, Liverpool at home. I remember the date because it was a birthday present, I was 9 years old the week before. Both teams were in the old Second Division, but Liverpool were about to be promoted, some bloke called Shankly had just taken over as manager. The atmosphere was fantastic, 30,000 at Roker Park, nearly everyone standing, and the noise was unbelievable. The score was 1–1. To be honest I can’t remember that much about the match. The atmosphere just blew me away.
ALS: So how come you went to Budapest?
Ray: Well, I’d been to that never to be forgotten day at Wembley and we were all still high as kites. I was a student in Leeds at the time and had been working for Southern’s building firm in Dipton to build up some cash during the holidays. We built extensions on pubs including the Imperial Vaults down by the docks in Sunderland. When the draw for the Cup Winners Cup came out, I realised that the first game was before I went back to College, I had the money, so it was no-brainer. There were two flights. One was from Smogland Airport and went straight there and back. The other was from Ponteland Airport and we had an overnight stay after the game. I chose this one because I was interested in history and I wanted to see what it was really like behind the Iron Curtain.
ALS: So what was Budapest like?
Ray: The overall impression of the City was drab, dark and grey. This applied to the streets, the buildings and the people. It seemed that under Communism you had to have your sense of humour removed at birth. The buildings were largely those built when Hungary was part of the Austrian Empire in the nineteenth century. They were lovely old stone buildings but dirty and uncared for. The main impression was the lack of advertising, lack of colour and how few items were available in shop windows. It felt and looked like a sad place. Off the main streets there were still bullet holes in the walls from when the Russians had brutally repressed the Hungarian uprising of 1956. Hungary in 1973 was still behind the Communist Iron Curtain.
ALS: So, did all the events in the book actually happen.
Ray: Most of them happened to me but at different times. Running naked through Headingley did happen when I went to college. The episode with the ladies in the Imperial Vaults could have happened but I bottled out at the last minute. The Budapest story about the programme is absolutely true. We were told on the plane that there were no programmes. Everybody was really disappointed. The match was a double header at the National Stadium. The first match was Ferencvaros of Hungary against Gwardia of Poland. During this first match I looked over to my left and there was a bloke with what looked like a programme. I went over and sure enough it was. I offered him a handful of forints and he looked at me as if I was mad, which was fair enough; he then gave me the programme and I was happy as a sandboy. It was in Magyar but I could look at the pictures.
The nylons story was true. We had a young Hungarian woman as guide who gave us an insight into life in Budapest. There were a number of things that were not available there which we took for granted. One of them was nylon stockings. Apparently in Budapest the way to a girl’s heart, or anywhere else for that matter, was to provide her with a pair of nylons. Unfortunately, the tour organisers hadn’t made us aware of this, so I hadn’t packed mine. Other items much in demand were ball-point pens. The Club had taken some biros with the club name on them as presents to the Vasas club. These became prized possessions as they were as rare as rocking horse droppings.
ALS: What was the match like?
Ray: The match took place in daylight due to the lack of floodlights. We dominated the game in the first half but there was no score. In the second half we opened them up and scored two great goals. The first by Billy Hughes was an excellent header but Dennis Tueart’s in particular was amazing. He seemed to dribble past half of their team before planting the ball in the back of the net. A two-nil away victory was more than we could have dreamed of. You can still get the goals on YouTube. Denny Tueart’s goal ranks alongside Vic Halom’s goal in the 5th round replay against Man. City in 1973, as the two best Sunderland goals I have ever seen.
ALS: I understand that you are donating all the proceeds to charity.
Ray: That’s right. The Club belongs to the people and all proceeds from a book about Sunderland AFC should be ploughed back into the local community. IMPACT NORTH EAST, based in Sunderland, works with children and families dealing with Mental Health Issues. Having suffered mental health issues myself recently I know that these services need all the help they can get. So, if you don’t fancy the book that isn’t a problem just give us a tenner for the Charity.
ALS: Thanks Ray, I’m sure it will sell well. That’s a great charity to support and it’s an ideal Christmas present. Are you wearing nylons now?
Ray: Give me a tenner for charity and I’ll let you have a look.
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