Forced to flee Hungary by anti-Semitism, the forward Kálmán Konrád made a new life in Sweden
The Hungarian inside-forward Kálmán Konrád was a demanding man. He was also a world-class footballer and a successful coach in the inter-war era, at a time when professionalism was only slowly being accepted. He had to stand up and fight for the fulfilment of his contracts. He served the highest bidder and took to court those who couldn’t pay. Stern as he was, he came up powerless against the Nazis and had to abandon everything and build a new life in Sweden.
Football reached Budapest in the 1880s. The first game under modern rules was recorded in 1897 and the first championship decided in 1901. Decent coaching came into it around 1910. The brothers Jenő (born 1894) and Kálmán Konrád (1896) belonged to the first generation to reap the benefits. They started playing at an early age and grew up alongside an expanding game. As (almost) everywhere else, this development was thanks to Brits, hired as professional coaches to young amateur players.
The Konrád family hailed from Bačka Palanka, in the Vojvodina province of Serbia. At the time the town was under Hungarian rule within the Habsburg Empire and named Német-Palánka. Jenő and Kálmán’s father Wilhelm was a shoemaker, married to Dora. They had five children, born between 1887 and 1896. The sisters Ilona and Janka preceded the brothers Salomon, Jenő and Kálmán.
Some time after Kálmán was born the family left Bačka Palanka for Budapest. The Hungarian capital wasn’t too far away, just a 150km trip along the Danube, but they left a backwater for a metropolis, one of the political and economic centres of this vast Habsburg Empire with its population of 53 million. Wilhelm maintained his profession. He also kept some land and the lease gave a substantial income.
As the two younger boys matured they became part of an explosive football development in Budapest. MTK, the club for secular upper- and upper-middle-class Jews they were about to join, first hosted English tourists in 1903. They were hammered by the Southern Leaguers Southampton (15–0). In the years that followed, Corinthians (1904, 6–0), London Casuals (1905, 6–0), Tottenham Hotspur (1905, 12–1), Celtic (1906, 8–1) and Arsenal (1907, 9–0) provided lessons for MTK. I say lessons, because amid the embarrassment of being able to score only twice while conceding 41, they gradually learned the trade. Barnsley gave the last of these damning lectures (1910, 7–0). But that was the end of it.
Those British visits fuelled interest. In 1911 MTK’s rivals Ferencváros completed a 10,000-capacity stadium on Üllöi Út with an English-style main stand. MTK doubled that a year later when their chairman Alfred Brüll paid 150,000 krone for a stadium that was squeezed in between the Hungária Boulevard and a railway line.
MTK, nicknamed Libások (Goose-eaters) because of their predominantly Jewish membership, had in 1911 appointed the Scotsman John Tait Robertson as coach. He was a former wing-half for Scotland (16 caps), Everton, Southampton, Rangers and Chelsea. He became player-manager of Chelsea when they were formed in 1905 but left the club after little more than a year. He’d recently been reserve-team manager at Manchester United. Bringing him in was expensive but possible with the support of a textile company in London.
It was Robertson who, shortly after his arrival, spotted the 17-year-old centre-half Jenő Konrád playing for BAK (Budapesti Atlétikai Klub). Perhaps Robertson, who liked to win possession with a decisive tackle and then get forward to build the attack, saw something of himself in the prodigy. Konrád defied his lack of experience as he broke up opposition moves and instigated attacks. Jenő soon joined MTK and became a regular at once.
”I don’t suffer from Anglomania,” Konrád said later, ”but I can wholeheartedly testify that Robertson laid the foundations for the future triumphs of MTK.” Robertson developed both the skills and the stamina of the players and organised the team. He did well enough to beat Blackburn Rovers 2–1 in May 1913, just as he was preparing to go back to England. He was assisted by two English forwards, the experienced Jackie Owen and Joe Lane, almost 10 years his junior, who in the mid-1920s would coach in Spain.
MTK improved steadily, although not far enough to steal the league title from Ferencváros. Led by the incredibly effective striker Imre Schlosser, Ferencváros had won five straight titles from 1909, the last four with MTK right behind.
William Holmes took the reins from Robertson. He had been trainer of Blackburn Rovers and was able to put the final pieces together for a new dynasty. MTK won the league championship in 1913-14, six points ahead of Ferencváros and a further four clear of Törekvés. Jenő Konrád, who took his exams that spring, was in and out of the team, playing in seven of the eighteen league games while young Kálmán broke into the side aged seventeen, with a more than convincing fourteen goals in eight games.
Holmes had cracked the dominance but after the assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 and the start of the First World War, he returned to England.
Football in Budapest continued into the war. Three half-seasonal league campaigns were played in the autumn of 1914 and during 1915. Ferencváros were back on top for the first two with MTK winning the third. Jenő Konrád joined the army as a volunteer and served as a cavalry officer. There was time to take part in both the spring and autumn championships of 1915. He even got a cap, in a 2-1 win against Austria in May. Then his engagement with the army became more serious. It wasn’t long, though, before he fell into Russian captivity, where he remained for 22 months. Jenő saw enough misery during the war and, before being captured, he actively discouraged Kálmán from enlisting.
Kálmán stayed in Budapest and became a fixture in the Hungary national team. He scored on his debut, a 2-1 victory over Austria in Vienna on 8 November 1914. He would face Austria in each of his first 10 internationals (1914–19) and win six of them.
League football continued in 1916-17. By then MTK had been strongly reinforced by two new forwards. Alfréd ‘Spezi’ Schaffer (b. 1893) had joined from BAK in 1914. He was a larger-than-life personality, a self-proclaimed “Football King”, who would become the highest-paid player in Austria when professionalism was legalised in 1924. Imre Schlosser (born in 1889), meanwhile, left Ferencváros for MTK in 1916, after 11 years, 159 league games and 264 goals.
This new upgraded version of MTK was a juggernaut. Schaffer and Schlosser scored 38 goals each. Kálmán Konrád, only 20 years old and acting as apprentice to these geniuses, filled in with 20 goals. MTK took 42 points from 22 games, Törekvés had 34 and Újpest 27. Their goal difference was 113–16.
Well into that season MTK got a new coach. Jimmy Hogan was deported from Austria after two years of idle captivity. He thought he was going back to England. Surprisingly, the door was only open in one direction, towards Hungary, the whole affair seemingly staged by Hungarian sports officials. The war was still raging and Hogan was allowed to work in Budapest on condition he reported to the police regularly and never discussed the war with anyone. The MTK president Alfred Brüll offered him the position of coach. Hogan, who much later was praised as more or less the inventor of the Hungarian game, had an undeniably talented group of players to work with – and the foundations had already been laid by Robertson and Holmes. Further league wins followed. MTK reigned supreme until 1925.
Hogan left for England in early September 1918, to reunite with his family. An armistice was signed in November. Germany and Austro-Hungary ended up as the losers with two emperors deposed. Under the Treaty of Trianon, the Habsburg empire was split and new nations formed on what had been Hungarian territory – Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia. Almost three quarters of Habsburg Hungary was lost, spelling national disaster. Valuable agricultural land was suddenly outside their boundaries, as were cities dominated by important industry. And there were ethnic Hungarians stranded in the new states as minorities.
The new order was almost immediately challenged and sent Hungary into a turmoil that lasted for nearly three years. The Hungarian Democratic Republic was overthrown by the Hungarian Soviet Republic (for 133 days in 1919), which went to war to regain Slovakia and parts of Romania. The revolution collapsed and the Hungarian Republic returned for a few weeks but was eventually replaced by the Kingdom of Hungary (1920–44). Revolutionary tribunals were succeeded by the looting and killings by White Terror militia.
Football was a way to get out of Budapest. In the summer of 1919 MTK went on tour to Austria and Germany. They opened in late June against Rapid Vienna and ended in early August at Karlsruhe. The touring party shrank as they went, the original exodus of the Hungarians who would became successful coaches all over Europe.
Football of course suffered as society itself was broken up. Hungary lost their edge over their neighbours and arch-rivals Austria.
Hungary was more industrialised, its companies earned more money from exports, it had the means and a greater eagerness to invite British teams, it was the first to hire British coaches, its clubs were better organised and it also understood how to take care of youth players.
Enter Hugo Meisl. He was the hub of Austrian football. Meisl ran the football association, he was national team manager, he was a top notch referee, he was Sektionsleiter (effectively the manager of the football part of the club) of Wiener Amateure, he was the publisher of a sports paper and he had recently opened a shop selling sports equipment. The Konrád brothers were in their prime, Jenő 25 and Kálmán 23 years old. Meisl had seen them play on numerous occasions and wanted them to join the ranks of Amateure.
He offered them jobs as a stockbroker and a bank employee respectively. That wasn’t too far-fetched, given both had had bank jobs in Budapest. Kálmán secured a license to trade on the floor of the stock exchange in Vienna. With everything settled they were sent to Julius Fröhlich, an enthusiastic fan of Amateure who was always present at games in the company of his young daughter. The Fröhlich family lived at Franzensbrückenstrasse 22, near Praterstern on the edge of Leopoldstadt, the Jewish 2nd district of Vienna. They were more than willing to take in lodgers, especially if they were famous footballers. Every stream of income was needed to keep a family afloat in Vienna, a city hit by food shortages and inflation. Julius ran a business on his own, his wife Gisela was a greengrocer. His daughter Gertrud was eleven years old, his son Paul seven.
The curiosity of this address at Franzensbrückenstrasse (the house is still there) was the sports outfitters at street level, a shop owned by Arthur Baar, the manager of Hakoah Vienna. Hakoah were never an option for the Konráds. Amateure essentially had the same profile as MTK – Jewish, yes, but also secular and assimilated. Hakoah was as much a vehicle for Zionism as multi-sectional sports club, one of the largest in Europe with 5,000 members.
The Konráds went to work and their influence on Amateure’s game soon showed. A Swiss expert, Max Sexander in Basel, was impressed: “The arrival of the Konráds has transformed Amateure into the technically best side I have ever seen. Their team play is virtually flawless and a true pleasure for the connoisseur. But they would rather lose a game than deviate from their lovely gentlemanly traditional game tactics.” Sexander pointed out that few of the top teams in Budapest and Vienna had any really extraordinary defenders. György Orth (MTK) was one, as was Jenő Konrád, both centre-halves and as much attackers as defenders in the tactical mould of the early 1920s. Sexander described Kálmán Konrád as ”the supreme champion of football strategy”.
Kálmán was the provider, the thinking man behind scorers such as Franz Hansl, Ferdinand Swatosch or Gustav Wieser. He was the director of an attractive style of football that made Amateure desirable guests all over Europe. Trains took the Amateure squad to almost every corner of Europe. Their beautiful football was the tool that broke the Czechoslovakian sporting blockade of Austria that had been imposed after the war. In the autumn of 1920 Amateure went to Brno and defeated the Brünner Amateure (5–0) as well as Makkabi Brünn (1–0).
Their reputation as a power was enhanced by a visit to Bilbao and Barcelona late in 1922. They beat Athletic 4–1 and 5–4 on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day respectively. A week later there was another double header, against FC Barcelona. The first game was won 3–1 in front of 15,000. The second, refereed by the well-known German official Peco Bauwens, was a game the Catalans could not afford to lose. Barcelona played a ruthless game in front of 20,000 fans. They were leading 3–0 when Bauwens got into trouble. One of the culprits, Martínez, was sent off but refused to leave the field. Bauwens signalled for half-time a few minutes early to cool things down. Not even Joan Gamper, the Barça president, could convince Martínez to stay in the dressing-room. Bauwens gave up and the Barcelona coach grabbed the whistle and took charge of the second half. With Martínez on the field, Barça won 4–0.
Going abroad wasn’t just good for business. A trip to Sweden in the summer of 1921 lasted four weeks. Amateure brought a squad of 18 players who were weighed before the trip and at their return to Vienna. They had collectively gained 95kg, or 11 to 12 pounds each. They didn’t disappoint the Swedish crowds, far from it, but it was clear that the main objective of that journey was the search for the smorgasbord.
Their game improved even more midway through 1922-23, when Alfréd Schaffer joined. He had also left MTK in 1919 and had since earned good money playing for 1.FC Nürnberg, FC Basel, Wacker Munich and Sparta Prague. The heavy-set Schaffer still had it in him and was able to add another dimension to the Amateure game. But his powers were waning and during 1924-25 he was gradually replaced by a slender, almost paper-thin, youngster from Hertha Wien by the name of Matthias Sindelar.
If you wanted to avoid Jenő Konrád you had to stay away from Wiener Amateure altogether. He was an influential presence on the pitch, he soon began his coaching career by assuming responsibility for the Amateure youth players and he even established a table-tennis section within the club. Kálmán was more withdrawn and restrained. Sometimes, though, you could see his eyes flashing – such as when Vecera, a fellow forward, wasn’t running when Kálmán hit a pass towards the space where he expected him to turn up. If Vecera wasn’t there, Kálmán would approach him, disappointed, but say no more than “Aber beweg dich!” [“Get moving, please!”]. No swearing, no clenched fists, just a few piercing words.
Amateure were reigning champions when professionalism was legalised in 1924. Hugo Meisl gave Alfréd Schaffer a very, very good offer. So good that not even a Football King could refuse. Schaffer and the Hakoah centre-half Béla Guttmann became the best-paid players in the league. The consequence of that deal became apparent when a conflict arose between the Konrád brothers and Hugo Meisl. They felt there was nothing left for them.
Jenő did the talking. Meisl had misjudged them. He had assumed that the Konráds, with their relatively well-paid jobs, would go on as part-time footballers, like the majority of their teammates. But no, they wanted an increase from the club. A big one. Meisl must have regretted his generosity towards Schaffer as the Konráds refused to sign. They sat out the first half of the season and then slipped over to First Vienna during the winter break. During this time rumours circulated linking Kálmán with the newly appointed Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman. That would have been complicated as Konrád would have had to remain an amateur to play in England.
The brothers spent the spring of 1925 with First Vienna. There were 10 games were left to play and they finished third in a close race for the title, three points behind the unexpected champions Hakoah and one behind Amateure. Kálmán played in all those games, scoring six goals. Jenő was another matter. He was bothered by a knee injury sustained during the war. He had consulted a doctor on his return from Russia and been told that arthrodesis would be the most appropriate remedy. He ignored that and continued playing with some pain but after a spring in which he made only four appearances he decided to quit. Kálmán and Jenő returned to Amateure in time for the following season, with Jenő as co-coach of the first team.
Hyperinflation was raging as Hakoah left Vienna in early April of 1926 for a much-publicised tour of the United States. The tour was a success as Jews and soccer aficionados turned up in large numbers to watch. This impressed two American Soccer League club owners, Nat Agar of Brooklyn Wanderers and Maurice Vandeweghe of the New York Giants, who both came to the same conclusion: if we stack our teams with Jewish players we will, at last, start to earn some money.
Hakoah returned to Europe but their players were soon approached by agents acting on behalf of Agar and Vandeweghe. Hakoah lost nine regulars. Four of them signed for Brooklyn: József Eisenhoffer, Heinrich Schönfeld, Leo Drucker and Alexander Neufeld, along with two players from VAC of Budapest and one from DFC Prague.
Agar also went for Kálmán Konrád. He made an offer of $500 as a signing-on bonus and $75 a week as a wage, higher than the standard offer. Kálmán by then had a contract with Amateure, running until the end of the year. He was tempted and weighed hyperinflation and breach of contract against secure earnings that were twice what an English professional was making at the time.
Kálmán decided to go to New York. The first person to be told was Gertrud Fröhlich. She was eighteen by then and had continued to follow the Amateure. The brothers had moved out but still kept in touch with the family and as years went by a romance developed between Kálmán and Gertrud. They met at a café at Schwarzenberger Platz. Kálmán had a plan: he would go to the US, play for a year and then return home. “When I get I back I would like to marry you,” he said. The proposal softened the blow of losing him out of sight for a full year and she agreed.
Hugo Meisl wasn’t pleased to lose his star. He got no compensation from Agar. On the other hand he might have felt relieved as Amateure were 100,000 Schillings in the red and he probably would not have been able to keep him anyway. Later that year the defender Johann Tandler and the striker Viktor Hierländer also left the Amateure to play in the American Soccer League.
Kálmán’s only season in the ASL was no great success. Most of the Europeans experienced difficulties adapting to their new environment, where football was soccer and did not have the dominant place in everyday life taken for granted by those who had been celebrated heroes back home. Kálmán suffered injuries and could only play 27 out of 44 league games, scoring a meagre two goals. The team itself was stuck in mid-table. It was also a difficult year mentally as he discovered that an injured player was generally regarded as a burden. But the pay was good and he was able to save $50 a week. This made him realise that his skills had a value and from then on he coldly demanded what he thought he was worth.
Gertrud had waited for him and they got married in 1929. During his year away the Amateure had been renamed FK Austria. A return to the club was not an option as their financial situation had worsened. He decided it was time to go back home to Budapest and rejoin MTK, renamed Hungária after the introduction of professionalism. Alfred Brüll, the club president, had to compensate Meisl at Austria with $2,000 for the broken contract and then offered a wage of 100 pengő a week, a further 40 pengő for each victory and a job that would pay 400 pengő monthly. This was more than a university professor earned at the time, which was 898 pengő a month.
The crowds loved to see their ‘Csami’, as he was nicknamed, back where he belonged. During his eight years away had regained their former superiority and the mission was to knock the champions of 1926 and 1927 off their throne. With Kálmán back, the phenomenal György Orth acting as pivot and the striker Ferenc Hirzer (or Híres, as he was known in Hungary) back in Hungary after two seasons with Juventus their chances looked good. Hirzer had scored a mighty 50 goals in 43 league appearances for Juve but had been thrown out of the country as Mussolini and the fascists barred foreign players.
1927-28 was to be another season with good pay for Kálmán, but also with the same nagging injuries that had partially spoiled his year in New York. When he played, he played well. But missing nine games out of 22 wasn’t good for the team. Still, he was recalled to the national team for a further three matches; a loss to Czechoslovakia in October (1–2), a further loss to Italy in Rome in March (3–4) and a crazy draw with Austria in Budapest in May (5–5).
György Orth also had problems. He had been hacked down by Tandler, one of Kálmán’s old teammates at Amateure, in a friendly in September 1925. His knee proved to be damaged beyond repair. He tried it in six games in 1927-28, but gave up and took over as coach of Hungária. Hirzer was the one who delivered, with 22 goals in as many games. But Ferencváros managed a third consecutive championship, four points ahead of Hungária. At 32, Kálmán felt this was the end of the road. His body wasn’t up to it anymore. Kálmán disappointed Alfred Brüll, who had made a great effort to get him back, and made his president furious by suing the club for outstanding payment. Brüll responded with some ugly accusations in the press.
A Hungarian football coach was by then a hot commodity. Kálmán had offers as soon as he declared his active career was over. He joined Bayern Munich where he succeeded Léo Weisz, another recently retired ex-MTK player. Weiss had taken his team to the championship final, but lost to Hamburg and left after only a year. Kálmán had two chances to win the championship. In 1928-29 the team got through the regional leagues into the play-offs, beat Dresdner SC (coached by Jimmy Hogan) but lost the quarter-final to Breslauer SC in extra time (3–4). In 1929-30 they fell short at the second hurdle, the southern regional championship. Kálmán was immediately informed that his contract would not be renewed. His Austrian successor Richard Kohn-Dombi finally secured Bayern’s first German triumph in 1932. All three of these coaches were Jews, as was the club president, Kurt Landauer.
Kálmán found a new job with FC Zürich. The Swiss league began a restructuring process in 1930, from three regional groups to one Nationalliga, which was in place for 1933-34. Kálmán only stayed for a year. FC Zürich finished fifth in the eastern group and thus survived the first hurdle of the reform programme. Their local rivals Grasshoppers, coached by the former MTK player Izidor ‘Dori’ Kürschner won the championship.
Kálmán considered his future. He had already made a sound investment, a cinema in Berlin. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 had flung the Western world into an economic depression and by then most people could afford only simple pleasures, such as a night at the movies. Kálmán and Gertrud settled in Berlin, where their son Peter was born in 1932. A year later, the Nazis came to power.
Jenő Konrád had been hounded out of Nuremberg in 1932, when the editor of the Nazi propaganda paper Der Stürmer, Julius Streicher, began campaigning against him. Landauer stepped down as president of Bayern Munich. Kohn-Dombi left for Grasshoppers in Zurich, where he assisted Kürschner for a short time before being hired by FC Barcelona. Leó Weisz, by then with Alemannia Aachen, left for FC Biel in Switzerland. And Kálmán Konrád lost his cinema and resumed his coaching career with Slavia Prague.
Slavia turned to Konrád some time during the 1933-34 season. They were defending champions and a club with a distinctly Scottish football culture, created and maintained by John Madden during his extremely long and influential tenure. Madden spent eight years with Celtic and rounded off the British part of his career with Tottenham Hotspur. He then left for Prague, where he played with Slavia from 1898 to 1905 and then coached the team for 26 years. Kálmán repeated the league wins in both 1934 and 1935. Slavia even took FK Austria to a deciding third game in the Mitropa Cup quarter-finals in July 1935. Then it turned sour. The depression was taking its toll and Slavia could not meet their contractual obligations. Kálmán sued the club for 23,500 krone. Quite a sum — the equivalent of 5,000 pengő or £200, at a time when the English maximum wage for a footballer was £8. The matter was settled in court in November 1935.
CFR Bucharest (later Rapid, a club that went bankrupt in July 2016) signed Kálmán Konrád in February 1936. A seventh place in the league in his first season was bettered by second place behind the winners Venus in 1936-37 and a cup win that same spring, 5–1 against Ripensia Timișoara. Stefan Auer was CFR’s most important player. He was born in 1905 to German parents in Arad, a Romanian town within the borders of the Habsburg Empire. He starred for Hungary in the 1934 World Cup (under the Magyarised name of István Avar), winning 21 caps for Hungary in total. He also got two caps for Romania. Kálmán Konrád impressed with his tactical knowledge and was asked to assist the national team manager Costel Rădulescu for five games between May 1936 and June 1937. They beat Greece, Bulgaria and Belgium but also lost against Hungary.
Then followed SK Židenice of Brno, in Moravian Czechoslovakia. Kálmán Konrád managed to improve the results of the club. A creditable third place in 1937-38 equalled their best ever finish, achieved three years earlier with Jenő Konrád at the helm. But he was becoming increasingly concerned by the political situation. The noose tightened as Germany annexed the Sudetenland, the northern and western parts of Czechoslovakia with a predominantly German-speaking population. There were negotiations through the summer months. But the Czech government gave up on 30 September 1938, after the British prime minister Neville Chamberlain met Adolf Hitler in Munich. Czechoslovakia was in effect cut to pieces and divided, or reclaimed (if you like), by Germany, Hungary and Poland. Hungary finally got what the Communists had tried to achieve by invasion in 1919.
In the midst of this a letter-card found its way from Stockholm to Kálmán Konrad, c/o FK Židenice Brno. The sender was Peter Brie, a German-Jewish sports journalist who had left Berlin for Prague in 1934, where he became friends with Kálmán. But when the Nazis began glancing at the Sudetenland he uprooted himself once more and proceeded to Stockholm via the Baltic countries and Finland. Brie was building a professional base in Stockholm and did his best to convince those he cared about to join him.
It was a wake up-call. Brie said he was talking to his new colleagues at Idrottsbladet, a tri-weekly sports paper with a good reputation. His fellow writer Eric Sköld, nicknamed ‘Bassen’ (the Recruit) and a former forward with AIK in Stockholm, began to look for clubs who possibly might need a top-class coach (almost all of them) and narrowed down the search to those with financial means. He suggested Örebro Sportklubb (ÖSK), a third-tier outfit playing in a regional group of 10 teams, four of them based in Örebro.
ÖSK were delighted at the prospect and wrote to Kálmán. “It was certainly good news,” said Kálmán’s son Peter. “My father prepared to go as soon as possible. The plan was for him to secure the job. Then it would be easier to bring us to Sweden.” Gertrud, Peter and Kálmán’s by then widowed mother-in-law Gisela had to wait. The process, which required a permit to leave Germany as well as a visa to get into Sweden, was complicated as German and Swedish authorities didn’t communicate. All the pieces fell into place at the third attempt, in February 1939. Gertrud and Peter left their furniture behind. Everything else was packed in large wooden boxes. She was only allowed to bring 10 Reichsmarks and when they reached Sassnitz, from where the ferry would take them to Trelleborg, they could only hope that Kálmán had got the message and would meet them, because all she had left was 10 pfennig: ”Not even enough to pay for a glass of milk,” Peter remembers.
Kálmán was there, took them to a hotel in Malmö and then to their new home at Kungsgatan 27 in Örebro. The boxes were there, waiting to be unpacked. As they started they discovered that the Nazi customs officers had had the last word. Peter relates the details as though it had happened yesterday: ”My father’s stamp collection was missing, as well as our best bed linen and my Märklin train set,” he said. “They also complicated things in an unnecessary way by keeping my grandmother in Germany for a further three weeks.”
Kálmán went to work at ÖSK and achieved decent results during the spring season – two wins, four draws and a defeat, leaving them in third place. The following year was more convincing with fourteen wins and four draws from eighteen games and a goal difference of 93-13. Örebro won their group, beat IF Rune 6-4 and 5-1 in the promotion playoffs and advanced to the second tier. Kálmán’s tactical acumen impressed everyone at the club to such an extent that he was asked to give their elite class bandy team instructions. He couldn’t skate and he had only been able to watch a few games. Still, bandy was played with a goalkeeper and 10 outfielders with curved sticks on an ice sheet the size of a football field.
Örebro SK employed Kálmán Konrád for three and a half seasons. It was, really, more than the club could afford. The chairman Karl Graflund, who as a youngster had been the driving force behind the formation of the club in 1908, was by then a wealthy builder and able to supply some of the pay from private funds. He was delighted as Kálmán did a good job with the team. They finished second the first year after promotion and fourth the season after that. He left them as a well-established second-division force and four years later, in 1946 they would win promotion to Allsvenskan for the first time.
The war years were a constant worry. The family’s residence permits were renewed for six months at a time while Kálmán’s grandmother Gisela, not regarded as part of the family, had to apply every three months. Kálmán still had his parents in Budapest. Both died during the war, not in concentration camps but from malnourishment and the hardships caused by the conflict. All his siblings survived, though. ”There were endless discussions at home,” said Peter Konrád. “Always in Czech. I had done my first year at school in Brno using that language but then forgotten all of it after we settled in Sweden.”
Kálmán’s next stop was Åtvidabergs FF, a club supported by the local company Facit. Elof Ericsson was club chairman as well as boss of the company. On top of that he was president of the Swedish football association. But his club was a struggling second-tier outfit. The club had no problems meeting the agreed monthly pay of 600 kronor. Kálmán spent five years with Åtvidaberg, in which they finished second, sixth, first, second and second. The league win in 1944-45 was followed by a loss in the promotion playoffs, 0–1 and 0–2 to Djurgården. They also reached the cup final in 1946, losing 3-0 to the giants Malmö FF. Again he had laid the foundations for future success. ÅFF kept the nucleus of players assembled by Kálmán Konrád and in 1951 his fellow Hungarian József Nagy – the outside-left in that fearsome MTK attack of 1919 – led them to promotion to the Allsvenskan. The team was ageing by then and they were relegated at once. But it was a beginning that would ultimately lead to the club’s heyday in the early 1970s, when ÅFF, with the emerging star Ralf Edström, put the holders Chelsea out of the Cup Winners’ Cup.
József Nagy had arrived in Sweden in the early 1920s. He coached IK Sleipner at the same time as Imre Schlosserled their local rivals IFK Norrköping and the former centre-half Sándor Bródy (who died in the Holocaust in 1944) was responsible for more than 10 teams of various abilities and age levels at IFK Gothenburg. Nagy then spent a decade in Italy before returning to Sweden in 1936 with IK Brage. István Wampetits arrived at Degerfors in 1937, Kálmán Konrád at Örebro in 1939 and Lajos Czeizler took over IFK Norrköping in 1941. These four Hungarians had an immense impact on the Swedish game. Nagy, Wampetits and Konrád all won promotion with their first employers while Czeizler won Allsvenskan five times in six seasons with Norrköping.
Malmö FF were challenging Norrköping at this time. They had won their first league title in 1944. Their boss Eric Persson wanted more and after the cup final of 1946 he approached Konrád to suggest a move to Malmö. Konrád signed in time for the 1947-48 season, in the same year as the family finally became Swedish citizens. His nearly three years with Malmö FF would be his most successful in Sweden, but also the most problematic.
Kálmán still had a strong will. He also had strong convictions on how the game should be played. This included the behaviour of the players and how they took care of themselves outside of football. He had reacted violently during his early days in Örebro when he heard that the favourite hobby of many of his players was getting drunk. “Sack them!” he said, not really grasping that they were amateurs. There were no contracts to cancel.
Eric Persson was his equal when it came to sticking to his convictions. He had taken over MFF after their disgraceful relegation and disqualification in 1934, a punishment imposed for breaching amateur regulations. He would run the club for 40 years and to the end of his life he remained convinced that the Swedish FA had been tipped off by someone from MFF’s local rivals IFK Malmö.
Persson certainly knew the game. In the late 1930s he created a most productive youth department, still the best in the country. He also knew his men. They were amateurs with regular full-time jobs. He wasn’t allowed to pay them much, but he could reward the first-teamers with much appreciated dinners, food accompanied by ”two whites and one brown” (schnapps and brandy). This went against the beliefs of Kálmán, who never touched anything stronger than wine. Some of the players could handle it, some couldn’t. The latter tried to get as close as possible to the teetotal team captain Erik Nilsson, whose allocation was up for grabs. There was also the small matter of team selection. Kálmán had had this responsibility in all of his previous jobs, but not here: Eric Persson refused to share.
Malmö FF won the cup in 1947 and toppled Norrköping to take the league championship in 1949, made easier by the star striker Gunnar Nordahl leaving Norrköping for AC Milan halfway through the season. Malmö would, in fact, go unbeaten for 49 consecutive league games between May 1949 and May 1951, a streak that brought three consecutive championships. Kálmán parted company with Persson in early spring 1950. He was unbeaten for almost a year but couldn’t take it any more. One of the worst parts of his job was helping carry players off the train when they returned home from longer trips, such as to Degerfors, Stockholm or Norrköping. Unbearable.
Helsingborg is only about 70km from Malmö. Helsingborgs IF was (and still is) the big club there, currently coached by Henrik Larsson. In 1950 a second club, Råå IF, with roots in a fishing village on the outskirts of town, secured a place in the Allsvenskan. They were debutants and Albin Dahl, a hero from the Swedish Olympic bronze medal team of 1924, said he was about to retire at the end of that season. Råå were looking for reinforcements and picked up the wing-half Kjell Hjertsson and two ex-internationals, Gustaf Nilsson and Walle Ek, from the reserves of Malmö FF. These three recommended the board approach Kálmán Konrád and offer him the job of coach. He accepted, to the fury of Eric Persson who accused Konrád of being a back-stabbing traitor.
Never mind. The tactical acumen was still there. The newcomers took the Allsvenskan by storm, had better attendances than their well-established rivals Helsingborgs IF and finished second, nine points behind Malmö but three ahead of Helsingborg in fourth place. This was a big achievement. Then Kálmán caused another surprise by leaving, almost as suddenly as he had arrived. “It was a total shock even to me,” Peter said. “He didn’t say much about it. It wasn’t until years and years later that the real reason occurred to me. He took that job because he wanted me to finish my last year at school in Malmö before we moved on.” Råå couldn’t cope as the coach and the experienced players from Malmö left and were relegated in 1952.
BK Derby in Linköping, not very far from Åtvidaberg, became the last serious coaching entry on Kálmán Konrád’s CV. The Derby Supporters Club, headed by a local newspaper editor, had raised 10,000 kronor to hire a top-class coach. The team had been promoted from the fourth tier in 1951. Konrád got them going from the start and wrote about it at length to Jenő, who had left Europe in 1940 via Portugal and by then was an established textile merchant in New Jersey. He had quit football altogether but followed the game and had become curious about what his brother was doing.
“He came on his own, by plane to Stockholm and then by train to Linköping,” Peter remembered. “He was a bit disappointed that my father was away for the day. It was match day, the team was in Eskilstuna. Jenő asked for two things. First a bath, and then for me to get a car so we could go and see the game. It was a horrible game. Our team lost 4–2 and the goalie was carried off on a stretcher. Jenő wasn’t impressed at all. He even asked, ‘How can you put up with this lot?’ My father wasn’t too impressed either. But they still managed to win the league that season and get another promotion.”
After four years with Derby, another side promoted and established at a higher level, he decided to quit. There was one more coaching job, with the fourth-tier Junsele IF in northern Sweden in 1956. He took that job for one reason – he had developed asthma and wanted to breathe some fresh air during the spring.
His next move was to Stockholm, where the Konráds for some years ran a grocer’s on Götgatan. They sold the business in 1964. Kálmán was 68 by then and intended to retire. By chance he was asked to become a correspondent for a local cable producer, writing letters to foreign customers. He continued with this, on and off, until finally retiring at age 75. He was very surprised when most of his workmates turned up at his house in Bandhagen for a celebration.
There is one final football chapter to add to this story. In 1966 Kálmán finally had the opportunity to bring Gertrud to the United States. They would see Jenő in New Jersey as well as visit some other relatives in Chicago. An excited Jenő arranged a party. It took place at the Hotel Beacon on 75th Street and Broadway in Manhattan, where the ex-Hakoah Vienna player Joschy Grünfeld had a restaurant. Among those present were Alex Fabian, the goalkeeper who had scored the decisive goal when Hakoah became champions in 1925, and his teammates Ernő Schwarcz, Leo Drucker and Rudy Nickolsburger. DFC Prague were represented by Pavel Mahrer and the dentist Dr Samuel Schillinger, or Sam Shilling as he then signed his name. László (Leslie) Sternberg, the Hungary captain in the 1934 World Cup, was also there, as were a host of old Hakoah members. Imagine being a fly on the wall there. All those stories, told in Hungarian, German and Yiddish.
Kálmán Konrád died in 1980, Gertrud Konrád in 1997.
Sadly, Peter Brie was neither able to convince his parents Alfred and Margarethe nor his oldest sister Else of the magnitude of the approaching danger. Else died in Warsaw in 1942, Alfred in Theresienstadt in early December of the same year and Margarethe in Auschwitz during 1944. His sister Lili and her family left for Shanghai in 1939. The youngest sister Edith managed to hide in Paris right through the war.
“[Kálmán and Peter] continued to socialise all along, playing cards regularly and talking about all that was,” said Peter. “And all the things that never were. My parents lie in the Jewish section of the Southern Cemetery here in Stockholm. Not far from their grave lie Peter and Frieda Brie. I always go to both graves when I go there, and leave a stone or two in reverence. To say a humble thanks. I owe my life to Peter Brie.”