A myth, a Club legend and one of Europe’s best strikers – they didn’t call him ”the King of Football” for nothing.
”That is Schaffer! Can you see what he is holding in his hands?” I’m asked this question by the Hungarian football historian Charles Weiss, whilst the two of us are sitting in the Café Central in Budapest on hot summer day in late June. Girls in short skirts are passing by outside the window, the sun’s heat is frying the residents of the city with a relentless intensity. It’s the summer break in the Bundesliga and the perfect time to take a closer look at the history books whilst most players are off to some fancy holiday destination.
The picture is somewhat blurry, and the fact that it has been photocopied doesn’t help matters either, however, before I manage to answer Weiss’s question he exclaims:
He’s holding a rifle. It was the game between Hungary and Austrian in 1919(Editor’s note: The Hungarian national team won the match 2-1), and the country was in chaos, and Schaffer was very afraid at that time.
However, there seems to be something easy going about Schaffer as well in that picture, he looks perfectly calm and relaxed whilst holding his gun. Soon he’s about to play football, the sport which at that time didn’t know international superstars or the media attention it gets these days. What would the modern press have made of the Hungarian footballing sensation MTK Budapest, Schaffer’s club at the time, in the modern day and age?
Under the Englishman Jimmy Hogan, the team had perfected a style of play which relied more technical skills rather than brute force. Just by making tactical adjustments, and further enhancing his players understanding of the game, MTK’s free flowing style made them one of the toughest teams to beat on the continent. The Danubian school of football celebrated its biggest successes in the 20s and 30s, the work Hogan had done during his various stays at MTK left such a mark that it was still highly revered a long time after he had left the club. Hungary’s national team coach Guzstáv Sebes said about the Englishman’s impact on Hungarian football:
We played football as Jimmy Hogan taught us. When our football history is told, his name should be written in gold letters!
It stands to reason that Schaffer picked up a few vital details whilst being coached by Hogan, which should help him later on in his career. Football author Richard Kirn described the striker as being not amongst the quickest players on the pitch, but a player who made the game dance around himself because he had an excellent vision and understanding for how football should be played. Schaffer brought his vanity onto the football pitch as well. Getting down and dirty wasn’t amongst things the striker enjoyed. During a fight for the ball with an opponent the ball ended up in a massive puddle. Instead of going into the puddle with the opposing player Schaffer simply waited to see his opponent return with the ball from the puddle, and simply took the ball off his opposing player. However, the striker earned his nickname due to another side of his game according to Charles Weiss:
He once received a throw in from (József) Braun, picked it up, threw the ball back and told him to do it properly. Schaffer scored after Braun’s second throw. He had a good shot on him, that is why he was called Spezi.
Schaffer stayed at MTK between 1914 and 1919, winning the Hungarian championship four times and being the top scorer twice in that space of time. Already back then, Schaffer had started to develop an understanding of how important he was to his team. Schaffer had scored a staggering total of 87 goals in his last two seasons for MTK. To keep the maestro happy the board of the club decided to pay the rent for a store which he could turn into a business. However, the striker wasn’t interested in working and decided to keep the store closed whilst sitting in the empty local. After he had been confronted with his store not being used, Schaffer was quick to answer:
Is to be Schaffer being a footballer or being a businessman? Please, he is a footballer. What should he do with a store? He must be on the football pitch every day, please!
The move to Germany
The fact that Schaffer in the end decided to leave MTK Budapest, one of the best teams of its time, may come as a bit of surprise. Especially because he chose to join 1. FC Nürnberg, a club which MTK had easily beaten 3-0 whilst the team was touring through Europe. Even defender Gustav Bark was in awe of what Hogan’s pupils could do on the ball, shouting to the goalkeeper and Nürnberg legend Heiner Stuhlfauth:
Heiner, they are playing such pretty football, I simply must watch it.
There are a few differing explanations about why one of Europe’s finest(if not the finest) chose to join Der Club. The most likely one is the poverty Schaffer had to face in Hungary. The German economy faced economic troubles after the end of WW1 as well, but they were less severe than Hungary’s. Football historian Charles Weiss said during our talk last summer that he was convinced that the circumstances in the country were the reason for Schaffer’s sudden move.
After arriving in Franconia, Schaffer and Peter Szabo(another MTK player who had decided to join Nürnberg) were given a new wardrobe. During MTK’s last trip through Europe people who had seen the players wandering around thought that they were homeless. The DFB didn’t allow footballers to be paid back then, but Schaffer received a decent wage from the get go as well. The attacker never told anybody how much Der Club paid him behind the football association’s back, but one night after a few drinks too many he let a few details slip:
Were stopping by again tonight, those leprechauns. I opened drawer from nightstand and whaaat, please, what was in it? 300 Mark.
The Hungarian maestro didn’t struggle to spend his money drinking beer and eating well, his debut in the Nürnberg kit could have been better. His partners Heiner Träg and Luitpold Popp struggled to connect with him.
Schaffer managed over the course of the next few weeks to teach the team about the secrets of Hungarian football. Der Club’s players were taught how to stop, pass and shoot the ball. Furthermore, Schaffer showed off his repertoire of deceptive body movements and how the players could move more purposefully, meaning that they yielded better results by putting in less work.
“Der Fussballkönig” (as Schaffer was called by the magazine Fussball) had taken a special interest in Hans Kalb. The two of them did extra drills, and Schaffer seemed to have spotted a special potential in the young lad. Kalb should become one of the most influential players for Der Club throughout the 20s. Sepp Herberger should later on call him “the best German footballer of his time.”
After struggling to find his way at the beginning of his career at Der Club, Schaffer started to kick into gear. The Hungarian’s cockiness started to show off after a while. When the referee made him re-take a penalty for the third time Schaffer muttered “Herr referee, please, just tell me which corner to place it in and I’ll do it.” His terrific shot put the fear of god into the goalkeepers of Nürnberg’s rivals goalkeepers. Especially MTV Fürth’s goalkeeper Polensky was afraid of the Hungarian, his legs were quivering every time Schaffer and Der Club were playing against his team. The first time Schaffer misplaced a shot and the ball went over the bar the keeper was sent into a spiral of joy, ridiculing Schaffer and doing a somersault in front of the Hungarian. Shortly afterwards, Schaffer started another one of his feared runs, rounding three of MTV’s players, waiting for Polensky to get out of his goal and then leisurely taking the ball around the keeper to score a goal. On his way back, the keeper received a pat on his back from the Hungarian, who shouted:
Now we are even!
However, the joy of having one of Europe’s finest strikers around was short lived for Der Club. The board and Schaffer disagreed about finances five months into his stay, and the Hungarian chose to leave for greener pastures at FC Basel, where he received a cut of the match day income for his services.
Influence at Der Club
Despite his short stay he’d later state that his presence during those five months was vital for the team:
In Nürnberg I was idolised, and the team, who had been playing a minor role in German football before I arrived, won not only the South German championship, but also the German championship after I had arrived there and been an amateur coach.
Hans Hofmann, one of the founders of Der Club and an active member until his death in 1952, had a contrary view of the situation, stating that the players “kept on playing the same style of football from the pre-Schaffer period after he left us”.
The truth of the matter is probably to be found in the middle of Schaffer’s and Hofmann’s points of view. Former archivist of Der Club Andreas Weiss stated that it was Schaffer who uncovered Kalb’s talent and helped him to become the player that he was throughout the 20s. The journalists covering Der Club hadn’t forgotten about the Hungarian maestro even 7 years after his departure. During a 5-2 demolition of FC Bayern München journalist Joseph Michler shouted to his colleague Eugene Seybold:
He’s going to be as good as Schaffer!
The player the two of them were talking about was Hans Kalb.
Coaching Der Club
Schaffer came back for another six months stint at the Zabo. During the winter break of the 1933/34 season he took over Der Club as a coach. One of his favourite sentences during his stint was “run a little”, because it allowed him to continue playing cards and drinking mocca inside the club’s restaurant. However, his dedication and focus was once more on how the players could improve their technique and how they could play more purposefully. Der Club reached the final of the German championship for the first time in seven years.
One year later, the Franconians went onto bigger things when they beat Schalke 04 in the final of the Tschammer Pokal(the predecessor of the DFB Pokal). Nürnberg coach Dr. Michalke sent a telegraph after the win to the Hungarian, writing:
Herr Schaffer, congrats, that win was all yours.
Der Club should go on and compete in two more championship finals after Schaffer had left, winning 2-1 after extra time against Fortuna Düsseldorf in 1936 and loosing 2-0 to Schalke the following year.
A nomad selling his services
In between his two stints at the Zabo Schaffer travelled from club to club, never staying too long anywhere he went. Mentioning all of his employers would lengthen this article considerably, however, there are a few highlights and anecdotes worth telling.
The officials at FC Basel(the first club Schaffer went to after he had left Der Club) had soon found out that it was a mistake to grant the Hungarian a slice of the match day revenue. Schaffer made a killing as the masses stormed into the stadium to see his artistry on the pitch. “You’ll be making more than the Swiss federal president,” the officials told Schaffer, trying to reason with him. The Hungarian replied by saying:
You can elect a new president every now and then, but, you won’t be getting a new Fussballkönig any time soon.
Wacker München was Schaffer’s next club. The DFB regarded Schaffer as a professional(which weren’t allowed in German football back then) and denied him the playing license, which in turn meant that he wasn’t granted the permission to stay in Germany. After working as Wacker’s coach for a while his new club found a way to fix their problem. A wedding announcement was placed in the paper Fussball, Olga Bernstein’s and Alfréd Schaffer’s engagement was announced. Olga, who supposedly was Wacker keeper Alfred Bernstein’s sister, didn’t exist in real life, but the DFB was tricked by that manoeuvre. The Hungarian was granted the right to stay in Germany as Olga’s husband to be, and more importantly, he was allowed back onto the football pitch. The club from Munich experienced an unprecedented success during the Hungarian’s stay, winning the South German championship and reaching the semi finals of the German championship.
The striker invented a new way of making money during his stint at Wiener Amateur-Sportverein in 1922. Schaffer would climb up to the VIP stand during the match and tell the well off gentlemen that he’d score the winning goal, asking them if anybody was betting against them. After somebody had taken his bet Schaffer usually got the winning goal of the match. The Hungarian announcing his goals ahead of them being scored became his specialty during his time in Vienna.
Eight years later the same club, now being named Austria Wien, asked Schaffer to take over as their head coach. The telegram back to the officials came shortly afterwards:
I’m coming being overjoyed a thousand times over. Monthly wage 2,000 Schilling.
The club couldn’t accommodate such high demands, but it had a witty reply up its sleeve:
You can come and be overjoyed two thousand times over. Monthly wage 1,000 Schilling.
Schaffer chose in the end to accept the offer.
Some of the Hungarian’s most memorable accomplishments as a coach came after the former striker had left Der Club. Schaffer should later on lead FC Hungaria, formerly MTK, to the Hungarian championship twice in 1935 and 1936. Two years later he coached the Hungarian national team during the World Cup, only to see them lose 4-2 to Italy in the final. Schaffer’s biggest success as a coach was probably the win of the Scudetto with AS Roma in the 1941/42 season, the club’s first championship win!
Three years later, on August 30th 1945, a body was found in a train stopping in Prien. It was a football fan who in the end managed to identify the dead man. It was the footballing legend Alfréd Schaffer. A man who loved to live life, a generous man by all accounts and a striker of unrivalled genius during his prime. Both of the Hungarian’s stints at Nürnberg lasted less than a year, however, they did have a massive impact by all accounts. Schaffer’s precise cause of death was never determined, but it is believed that he died of heart failure. Shortly after his passing Schaffer was buried on the idyllic cemetery Prien am Chiemsee.
Feel free to leave a comment below.
A special thanks for putting me in touch with Charles Weiss to Matyas Szeli.
Christoph Bausenwein, Bernd Siegler, Harald Kaiser: Die Legende Vom Club
Glubberer.de: Profile of Alfréd Schaffer
Jonathan Wilson: Inverting the pyramid
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