The Premier League might be awash with exotic, overseas stars but that’s not always replicated on a cold Thursday evening in the South London amateur leagues. Some lad from Leeds who’s moved down for a digital marketing role and a flat share in Clapham Common is often about as close as you get to a non-native.
So when a stern-faced, broad-shouldered Hungarian strode out of an old Chevrolet in early 2010, Rocks Lane didn’t know quite what to make of it. Istvan Borbely had arrived for his Wandsworth Athletic debut, but words were not really his strong point. The term mumble seemed almost custom designed for Borbely, although at times grunt might have actually been more appropriate. The man from Budapest had a harsh edge.
If fluent vocabulary wasn’t Borbely’s best suit, hitting a football – hard – certainly was. In his teammate’s parlance, Borbely had an absolute melt on him. He would smash the synthetic leather off the size 5 with his sledgehammer left boot whenever play opened up in front of him. And Borbely wasn’t averse to smashing other things as well. Uncompromising is probably the polite way to describe him, although his affectionate nickname amongst colleagues was the Hungarian Hardman. Imaginative – no. Accurate – absolutely yes.
Borbely liked to mix it, and it soon transpired that most opposition players didn’t really fancy mixing it back. Not that anyone could blame them – Borbely was an intimidating individual, with the phrase “you wouldn’t want to meet him down a dark alley” especially apt. If Borbely hadn’t played with the rolled down socks look, you’d have seriously worried what he had stuffed behind his shin pad.
To paint Borbely as a bumbling bruiser would be completely unfair however. The Hardman had ability too – not just the afore mentioned thunderous long ranger, but a deft touch, quick feet and an eye for a pass. When he stormed into the Wandsworth side, Borbely swiftly became an integral part of a title winning unit. Strong defensively and a regular goal scorer at the other end, the Hungarian was a real winner.
Yet as ever with a cult hero, it was not just excellent ability and a league winner’s medal that secured Borbely’s place as a legend to be fondly recalled for years to come. While SW13 will always wistfully recollect that brute of a left peg and the wonderful goals it scored, the bone-crunching tackles and ferocious stare will perhaps provide an even greater part of Borbely’s legacy. As will the magnificent customised insults.
It’s been touched on already that Borbely wasn’t exactly an extrovert chatterbox but when the time called for it, he knew how to speak alright. On one dark evening in the inhospitable Raynes Park Goals setting, a venue best summarised by the four word description “a bit Jeremy Kyle”, Borbely brutally smashed a portly opponent who’d made the earlier mistake of going in a bit late on the Hungarian. And he wasn’t finished there. After an icy stare down, Borbley growled perhaps the best insult ever delivered in a Wandsworth jersey.
“Shut the f**k up you fatty cow”.
Safe to say, there wasn’t another peep all game.