‘He comes from Hungary, he plays for Walsall FC, ohhhhh Gabby, oh, oh, oh, ohhhhh Gabby, oh, oh, oh.’ This was the refrain from The Gilbert Alsop terrace every time our favourite Hungarian midfielder came over to clap the fans – with shirt untucked and his hair still parted expertly down the middle – after another spirited performance in our midfield.
Gabby arrived at Walsall in the summer of 1999 to take part in our brave but unsuccessful attempt to stay in the First Division and left after taking us back up, via the play off success over Reading. Here is a picture of Gabor leading Walsall’s (and maybe even the World’s) most famous caterpillar conga dance ever:
After conducting some research I found out that Gabby is still playing football in the Fourth division of Belgium football for a team called Royal Cercle Sportif Onhaye. I sent a few emails to the secretary of the club and after a few months a wonderfully polite email from Gabor came into my inbox agreeing to an interview. Here it is in full:
The Gilbert Alsop: Thank you very much for getting back to me. I am very excited by this, as you were one of my favourite players at Walsall and played for us through a very successful period.
Gabor Bukran: I respond with pleasure Gilbert. I’m glad to hear that you liked the way I was playing at Walsall, you are right those two seasons were very nice ones.
Can you please tell us what you are currently doing? I understand you are still playing football in Belgium is this correct?
Today I’m working in NDT (Nuclear) business for the company Oserix located here in Belgium around 45 minutes drive from my town (Namur) where I’m living with my wife Nancy (with who we will celebrate on the 31/05/2014 our 17th year of marriage together – she is working in Brussels at the European Commission as a secretary) and my two kids Logan (15 years old, also playing football, nice tall guy who is already 1m82 with some good quality as a striker, number 9) and Laura (10 years old, she is following a dance course). Yes you are right I’m still playing with “Onhaye Football Club” in the fourth division here in Belgium. My passing is still ok but no more tackling and much less running up and down. I will be 39 on the 16/11/1975. I will probably try to play one more year with this club and then finish my career after the end of the next season. I am busy with my diploma “UEFA B” for becoming a trainer/coach after my career ends. In September of this year I will start courses to obtain the diploma “UEFA A” with which you can work in high level clubs. Who knows, maybe one day I will come back to England as a coach – when I see the great job that Roberto Martinez at Wigan and Everton has done who was not such a big player I say to myself ‘why not a guy like me?’ I certainly have much more experience than him as a football player.
You have played football in Hungary, Spain, Belgium and England. Which country did you like best? How many languages can you speak?
A couple of days ago I had an interview here in Belgium for one of the sport newspapers, and one of the questions was the same which you are asking me. Of course, my answer was that definitely the best place to play football is in England, people love football there and the supporters are fantastic. I speak Hungarian, French, Spanish, English and a little bit of German as well.
You played once for the Hungary national team; can you please tell us about that experience?
I was selected in a squad of 25 players 5–6 times and then in the smaller squad of 16-18 players twice, once in Portugal (I was on the bench and I didn’t play) and then I played the full game against Australia.
Every single player in the world dreams of playing at least once with the national team of his country, I had this magnificent experience, which is unforgettable.
How did you come to sign for Walsall? Were you familiar with Walsall growing up in Hungary?
I came to Walsall via one person with who I was working with at that time (and we still have a very nice contact together) Mr. Colin Pomford (a football agent).
Your first season at Walsall you were relegated but the team put up a very brave fight. What are your memories of your first season?
I think we had a great season in the First Division. I remember we had a chance to stay up until the last game at Ipswish (we lost 2-0). I have many, many good memories from this year, very big games against very big clubs and good times on the field.
We had some very nice victories against famous clubs. For me, all the season was nice – even if we were relegated.
What do you recall from winning all those local derbies against Wolves, West Brom and Birmingham?
Same as with the national team of Hungary, they are unforgettable moments.
The next season at Walsall you were promoted via the play-offs in Cardiff. What are your memories of that season and that great day in Cardiff?
Very nice day, also something that I will never forget and will always remember. I show the tape of the game to my son, friends and many people around me, many times. I’m glad that I was taking part in the promotion of Walsall back to the First Division.
Why did you lead that famous conga style – caterpillar like dance in celebration?
I saw on the television one day a team from, if I remember well, Spain was doing this, and when you are happy you are doing crazy things sometimes.
In my opinion your best game for Walsall was against Cambridge when you scored two great goals and we won 3-1. Do you agree? You can watch the goals here:
Yes it was a great game, nice win and I had the chance to score two very nice goals (probably one of my best games for Walsall) but you should know that every single game I played with Walsall I was taking a lot of pleasure on the field.
During your time at Walsall the fans used to sing: ‘He comes from Hungary, he plays for Walsall FC, Oh Gabby, Oh, oh, oh’ and you always used to applaud the crowd after every game. Did you enjoy the support you received at Walsall?
Still today even 14 years after, when I’m writing this e-mail to you I still have a lot of emotion. I had a lot of respect for supporters of Walsall and I always feel that they were respecting me as well, and always pushing me, they were always behind me, they were just magnificent. I will never forget them and the love they showed me during my period at Walsall.
I thought you were a very good midfielder who could keep possession well but also tackle and get forward to score goals on occasion. What do you think were your skills?
I was the player who played simple football – passing and moving – I loved to help my team through attacking and defending as well.
Where did you live in Walsall? Who were your friends at the club? Who were the best players during your time?
The first year I lived in Wolverhampton and the second year in Telford. I’m still in contact with (ex Walsall staff) Mrs. Pip Nash and sometimes I have contact also with Mr. Bill Jones, and with Mr. Paul Taylor who was the General Manager of the club at that time.
There was a couple of very good player in the team at that time. A very good goalkeeper Walker, right side Darren Wrack, striker Jorge Lietao, Paul Hall, Daren Byfield, Pedro Matias, Zigor Aranalde, Gino Padula, Keates, Bennett – and I’m certainly forgetting some of them.
In general, I think we had a nice, good quality team during these two years.
Did you ever go out drinking with other teammates in Walsall town centre?
No, after training I was always with my wife Nancy, she was alone at home so I tried to be with her most of the time. I participated in all celebrations with the group of players though, for example, the end of year party.
Did you enjoy working with Ray Graydon? Was he angry with you when you got sent off playing against Bury?
Yes, I was pleased to work with him, he was a very good trainer he did a great job with us during these two seasons.
Yes, he was not happy at all and after that game against Bury he always put me on the bench.
I think that this was not correct because the player from Bury hit me when the ball was at least 30 metres from me so it was nothing to do with the game. I just had a normal human reaction and it was just bad luck that the referee didn’t see the player of Bury as he should be sent off as it his fault.
I never hit somebody in all my career like he did with me, I had bad luck that the referee just saw me when I pushed the Bury player. Mr. Ray Graydon didn’t accept this, which I think is just a normal reaction, I never said something or did something wrong when players made fouls on me in normal situations in the game with the ball, but I didn’t understand why this player hit me when the ball was not there – the ball was at least 30 metres from me.
Why did you leave Walsall?
I left Walsall because Mr. Ray Graydon told me to leave; he said that he did not need me anymore for the future.
It was not easy for me because as you know I was happy with the club and my ambition was to continue, especially as we returned to the First Division, but football is like this – you should accept some decisions of managers and chairmen.
Do you still look for Walsall’s results?
Yes, of course I follow Walsall’s results they are having a good season in the middle of the table, I thing the end of the season has been more difficult, if I remember well.
Thank you once again for this, if there is anything else you would like to add then please feel free to do so.
Thank you very much for your interest with me, I would like just to say (even if I did already a couple of times) thank you very much to everybody who still remembers me (people like you), thanks to the fans, people working in the club, trainers, players for those two excellent years of my career, during which I had a chance to be with you and for which I will always have nice memories.
What a lovely man, I’m sure you’ll all agree. Gabby telling us that he watches videos of his time at Walsall with his son at home in Belgium proves that there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever Walsall.