Snapshot – Schalke and the Hungarian Conman

Some things are too good to be true.

Some people will have you believe that we live in a wicked world, a day and age where old ladies are tricked out of their pensions by ruthless individuals turning tricks and Nigerian princes are not as charitable as they appear in emails. Back in the good old days though, statements even rang true so long as they appeared in print.

If somebody tells you all this, they managed to play the easiest trick of them all: They conned themselves! Ruthless individuals who lie, deceit and do whatever it takes to get what they want have always been around. Schalke’s history provides us with one example back from 1954.

The search for a new coach

A wind of change was blowing at Schalke in 1954. The club was looking for a new coach to replace the long serving Fritz Szepan. The 47-year-old had played 342 matches for the Royal Blues, scoring a sensational 234 goals before he took over as the main coach in 1949. The Hungarian Vilmos Halpern was amongst the candidates the board considered to be worthy contenders to take over from Szepan.

Halpern had sent in a thick photo album, filled with pictures and newspaper articles showing him in action as a player and a coach. In his dossier the coach claimed that he had played 33 matches for the Hungarian national team, coached the Turkish national team, and worked as a coach in Luxembourg, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Being desperate for a new coach Schalke’s board agreed to give Halpern a chance. Given his experience he seemed to be a man who could be up to the task of coaching this team the officials thought. The Hungarian was allowed to lead one of Schalke’s training sessions.

News about the possible arrival of a master coach spread fast in Gelsenkirchen. 1,000 people were in the attendance for Halpern’s trial session as a Schalke coach. Many of them had expected to see a maestro at work.

Outgoing coach Szepan and his former teammate Ernst Kuzorra were bitterly disappointed afterwards. Kuzorra had always been a friend of the direct and honest no-nonsense approach. His most legendary quote came after he was asked why he and his teammates were wearing such long shorts back in his day. His dry reply was:”Because we all had long schlongs.” Given his direct approach, Kuzorra’s words about the poor training session he had witnessed were not surprising:

I’ll eat a broomstick if Halpern has played football at an international level.

The outgoing coach Szepan very much in agreement with his assessment:

It’s impossible that he played in 33 international matches in the space of two years given that there were only 5 or 6 of these matches a year. Furthermore, I should have met him, because he is only a few years younger than me.

Schalke taking a second look

Albert Moritz, the chairman of the Royal Blues at the time, examined the files Halpern had shown the board after Kuzorra and Szepan had doubted the Hungarian’s qualities as a coach. After taking a closer look the lawyer was surprised to find a news paper article that stated that Halpern had coached Fortuna Düsseldorf and Schalke 04 in 1934 and 1935. Halpern had in fact worked as a coach before, but his record was nowhere near as impressive as he had made it out to be. After exposing Halpern’s lies, and his effort to con the Schalke board into hiring him, the Royal Blues distanced themselves from hiring the coach.

Halpern went on to coach in the Netherlands and Switzerland after he failed to get the coaching position at Schalke. Die Knappen splashed out a 20,000 DM signing fee and a monthly wage of 3,000 DM to secure the services of Austrian coach Edy Frühwirth. Whilst being very pricy, this investment soon paid its dividends. Schalke reached the DFB Pokal final in 1955, but lost Karlsruher SC 2-3. Three years later Schalke managed to win the German championship for the 7th time under the Austrian. The title from 1958 is to this date Schalke’s last German championship win but you can be sure that they’ve taken a second look every time they received an application.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 32-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

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