Was a Barcelona legend Middlesbrough’s first ever foreign signing?

Barcelona have had some of the best Hungarian players among their ranks. Czibor, Kocsis, Kubala and a few more. However, Ferenc Plattkó, who was the first of them, became a hero in Spain and a legend in Chile – but forgotten by Middlesbrough?
Norman Malan in 1945 has long been regarded as Boro’s first foreign import, the South African made just two appearances for the club before moving on to Darlington. However, while researching Middlesbrough’s foreign imports, I came accross the name, Ferenc Plattkó, and although he never made an appearance for the club, records from Hungarian, French and Spanish sources have cited him as having had a very short spell at Middlesbrough in 1920, just after the first world war.

Could he be Boro’s first ever foreign import… 25 years before Malan?

It is currently an unanswered question as there are no records of him in the Middlesbrough club ledgers of the time, but evidence is certainly there from other sources that the Barcelona legend was at Middlesbrough for a very short time in 1920.

Until confirmed by the club it still remains a mystery, but his life is a wonderful little story which I have put together below..

Plattkó was born in Budapest in 1898. At the beginning of the twentieth century a young Ferenc developed a love for football and at the age of ten soon found his best position as a goalkeeper. His  talent saw him signed up by SC Vasas at the age of fifteen and within two years he was playing in the top flight.

At the end of his first season in the top division, Plattkó was already seen as a great hope, and by his eighteenth birthday was considered one of the best goalkeepers in the country. Unfortunately for him, the First World War wreaked havoc, and with the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the brink of implosion, Plattkó decided that he must leave the country.

Like many of his compatriots leaving for neighbouring countries, he moved on to Austria. He signed for Vienna AC in 1919 and soon after changed his name to Franz.

A year later he found himself flying to England and Middlesbrough, to experience English top flight football. However, Boro had their own legend between the the sticks at the time in the form of Tim Williamson, and a young Plattkó was never going to start (barring an injury to Williamson), his experience only lasted months rather than years.

Plattkó left to join Serbian outfit KAFK Kula (today better known under the name of Hajduk Kula) and at the age of just 23, was player, captain and coach. With him in charge, Kula won the sub-federation championship of Subotica and reached the top flight of Yugoslavian football.

In the autumn of 1922, Plattkó returned to Hungary, to MTK Budapest (the champions of Hungarian football since 1917). With Plattkó in the ranks, Budapest made no exception to the rule and won a seventh consecutive title.

But it was a friendly tournament that changed his life….

Every year, MTK made a habit of inviting foreign teams for a series of friendly end-of-season matches and In 1923, FC Barcelona were invited to play two matches.

The Spaniards dominated the two meetings, but in front of them stood an invincible goalkeeper. Despite their superiority, the Catalonians failed to score a goal and MTK drew both encounters 0-0.

The Spaniards were ready to do anything to sign this unbeatable Hungarian keeper, Plattkó immediately accepted their offer and without hesitation packed his bags.

He left Hungary, sacrificing his international career in which he had played six times between 1917 and 1923, gaining five wins and a draw, and only conceding four goals.

In Barcelona, ​​Plattkó was far from being a hero. He was bought in to replace Barca legend Ricardo Zamora, who had left to join Espanyol after a disagreement with the president Hans Gamper.

To succeed Zamora was a huge ask, but Plattkó inspired confidence from the off and won his place. At the end of his first season Barcelona had won the championship of Catalonia, which they had lost the previous year, but even better than that, in the next seven years (from 1923 to 1930), Plattkó won the competition six times, giving it up just once in 1929 to Espanyol. He also won  the Copa del Rey three times, in 1925 (2-0 against Arenas Getxo), in 1926 (3-2 against Atlético Madrid) and in also 1928.

Even though Plattkó and his teammates missed out on the the Catalonian league title in 1929, it was nevertheless to write an even better story, for Barcelona won their first ever La Liga title to become the champions of Spain.

Three years later, Barcelona’s heroic guardian left, Aged 32, Plattkó spent a few months at Recreativo Huelva, before going to Switzerland and joining FC Basel, where he ended his career as a player and began coaching in 1932.

This was the beginning for a trip around the world, starting in Switzerland and FC Basel, less than a year later, he found himself in France as FC Mulhouse player-coach, and the next season with RC Roubaix, double finalists of the Coupe de France and who had just taken their first step into professionalism.

We are now in 1934 and the young coach received a call that he could not refuse: that of a return to Catalonia.

A few years after his departure, he was back at FC Barcelona, a club that did not know how win La Liga after their inaugural title of 1929. Plattkó’s return was only half a success, as Barca only managed to win the championship of Catalonia, a trophy which had escaped them for three years, his team finished 6th in La Liga and Plattkó left at the end of the season.

A succession of clubs followed – Porto, Krakow, Roubaix, Venus Bucharest (with whom he won the championship of Romania), until the end of the 30’s, when the shadow of the Second World War reared its head. Plattkó decided to leave Europe for South America. Where he will gain a new name… “Francesco”

In 1939 Plattkó landed in Chile, Colo-Colo to be more precise, and he had immediate success. Under his command, El Colo won the Apertura after a 3-2 win against Universidad de Chile. Success gave him the urge to move once again, and in 1940, he found himself in Argentina, on the banks of River Plate. Despite a third place finish in the Argentinian championship, the season was mixed, including the fact that River plate finished thirteen points behind the champions, rivals Boca Juniors.
After his little Argentinian interlude, Plattkó returned to Colo-Colo. Under his command the Santiago club won the Primera División title regularly. Plattkó had developed a system and a vision of the game totally unpublished in Chile. Based on an efficient and catchy WM-style 3-4-3, his tactical system, that had allowed El Colo to win the title in 1939 by scoring 91 goals (averaging 3.8 goals per game) and going unbeaten, had worked once again on his return in 1941, again winning the title with a goals average of 3.4 per game. At Colo-Colo they speak of BP and AP – “before Plattkó and after Plattkó”.

He continued to develop his system and explained it in his book, “The art and science of modern football.” In his book, Plattkó proclaimed his great love of football and spoke of his ideal playing style. A style where each player,

“must be aware of the countless possible combinations and which must be modulated according to the players of each team”
“I want to emphasize that each player is unique. His individual qualities are determined by his own abilities, while emphasizing the physical, mental and educational role of football on which players must base their progress.”

The success of his innovative vision of football quickly opened the doors to international level, and in 1941 Plattkó took charge of the Chilean national team, He led Chile through two South American Football Championships (now known as the Copa América).

The 1945 championship, entirely contested at home at the Estadio Nacional de Santiago, was a total success. With his reconstruction work on the Chileans since his arrival complete, Plattkó saw his team dismantle Ecuador (6-3), Bolivia (5-0), Colombia (2-0) and Uruguay (1-0) before a 1-1 draw against Argentina.

When Chile ran on to the field for the final game of the competition against Brazil, a victory would have given Chile the first continental title in their history. Brazil won 1-0, thanks to a goal from Heleno de Freitas, the top scorer in the competition. A defeat that allowed Argentina to win their seventh title, while Chile achieved the best performance in their history in this competition by finishing in third place behind Brazil – again with a very good defense, conceding just five goals in the six games.

In 1945 with the Second World War over, Plattkó decided to return to Spain. He took charge at Real Valladolid, a club dear to his family where his two brothers Esteban and Carlos had trained during the difficult years of conflict. Valladolid were in the Tercera división and Plattkó qualified them for the promotion playoff group, losing out on second division promotion to Málaga and Levante. After just one season in Spain Plattkó decided to resume his travels, destination South America once again. His return was not as easy as he had imagined, and his stints at Colo-Colo, Santiago, Boca Juniors, Arsenal and River Plate (as technical director), did not end with any championship titles.

It was not until 1953 – his fourth time in charge at Colo-Colo – that “Francisco” became a legend at the club, with this third title as a coach, Colo Colo had won the title again with 41 points, eight ahead of their rivals Palestino. El Coloonce once again finished the championship with an average of over three goals scored per game.

In 1955, FC Barcelona called out to him. Twenty-five years after his departure, Plattkó was back in Catalonia, at the club of his first love.

It was not just his passion for the club that had influenced his decision, it was also the presence of his compatriot László Kubala. Barça had been Spanish champions for the second time in 1953 and had recently failed twice to win La Liga, finishing in second place behind Real Madrid.
The goal for Plattkó was simple: 

To be champions.

With Kubala and Luis Suarez, idols of the Barça public, the Catalan club had a great season, including winning a series of ten consecutive matches. A record that held until Rijkaard’s Barcelona in 2005.

Despite this, Barcelona were not to be champions. A long topsy turvy battle with Athletic Bilbao finished just three days before the seasons end and Barcelona once again were runners up, just one point behind the Basques, who had achieved the league and cup double.

Plattkó had not achieved his goal and the Catalan leaders did not renew his contract.

At the age of 57 he decided to return to Chile and managed Quinollas for a short spell.

Plattkó died in 1983 at the age of 84, living the last few years of his life in South America in poor conditions, and on occasion he received financial assistance from the Association of Veterans of Barcelona.

Plattkó was one of the best goalkeepers in Hungarian football history and at Barcelona. He had excellent reflexes, was extremely confident in all his actions and had great charisma. As a trainer he was appreciated as an intelligent man and highly skilled technician.

“When I die, I want you to send to FC Barcelona all the memories I have in my old chest. I will never forget this great club.”

Was he Boro’s first ever import? I would love to think he was, but until it can be confirmed by the club….

No nadie se olvida, Plattkó.



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