All members of the Cambridge United family will be saddened to learn of the death on Saturday, June 2, at the age of 83, of legendary 1960s goalscorer Janos ‘Johnny’ Haasz.
For two seasons in the mid-60s, Johnny lit up the Abbey Stadium with levels of skill seldom seen at Southern League level, and some phenomenal goalscoring feats: his 63 goals in 87 appearances in all competitions is unlikely ever to be equalled.
He already had an extraordinary life story behind him when he arrived in Cambridge in August 1963. Born in Budapest on 7 July 1934, he grew into a talented and industrious inside forward who worked his way into the Hungarian first division, playing for the Air Force team Magyar Légierö against legendary figures like Ferenc Puskás and Nándor Hidegkuti
The bloody Hungarian uprising against Soviet rule of 1956 not only interrupted Johnny’s football career, it also caused huge upheaval in his personal life. With other guerrilla fighters battling Soviet forces intent on crushing the revolution, he took on some tanks. Just nine of the 200 fighters survived, and Johnny was forced to go on the run, at one point hiding in an occupied coffin.
He made his way to Austria, then to Doncaster, where his brother was running a hotel. But in England he found that he was the subject of a FIFA ban from professional football; the Hungarian FA had labelled him and other footballers as deserters. He worked as a miner in the south Yorkshire coalfields while playing as an amateur for Bentley Colliery and Gainsborough Trinity, until the ban was lifted in 1960.
Johnny then signed for Swansea Town and scored 47 goals for the Swans’ reserves, but played just one first team game before joining Workington for a ‘substantial’ fee. Despite breaking his leg in his second game, he scored 17 goals in 50 games for the Reds, including one from 50 yards. When Alan Moore signed him for United in August 1963, he earned himself a pay rise: from £17 to £22 a week.
U’s fans quickly found they had an amazing footballer playing for them. Johnny was a footballing inside forward with a naturally attacking nature, a goal poacher as well as a creator. Five feet eight inches tall, he was an expert dribbler and had an tremendously powerful shot. He could also bend the ball around defensive walls – not as easy in the days of heavy footballs as it is today.
Johnny netted four goals in the space of 20 minutes in a 6-2 win at Rugby, and in a 6-2 defeat at Bath City he scored what the local press called the best goal they had ever seen: an overhead kick with his back to goal from a Matt McVittie cross. He notched another hat-trick in September 1964, in a 3-0 win over Stevenage, but injuries and new manager Roy Kirk’s tinkering with the line-up saw him fail to recapture his true goalscoring form consistently.
He joined Corby Town at the end of the 1964/65, then after ten months returned north to play for Scarborough until 1967. Thereafter he earned his living in tyre-fitting, which he had learned during a summer job at United chairman Jack Woolley’s Abbey Tyre Company in Newmarket Road.
Back in Doncaster, he talked of his life to a Coconuts TV crew in 2014. The interview can be found here.