Biography of Béla Guttmann longlisted for William Hill Sports Book of the Year award

The football manager survived the Holocaust and went on to win two European cups with Benfica, before supposedly putting a curse on the team


A biography of a Holocaust survivor who went on to win the greatest prize in European football has been longlisted for the UK’s most prestigious sporting book award.

The Greatest Comeback: From Genocide to Football Glory, by David Bolchover, tells the story of Béla Guttmann, the mercurial Jewish manager who brought European Cup glory to Benfica, winning two trophies back-to-back with the Portuguese club in the early 1960s.

It is on the longlist for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, worth £29,000 in prize money.

“It’s great, obviously”, said Mr Bolchover.

“Any writer would be lying if they said they weren’t happy to see their work recognised. But I’m also delighted that the whole story of Béla Guttmann will reach a wider audience now.”

Guttmann coached two dozen teams during a managerial career spanning four decades, from 1933-1973.

He is perhaps best known for the notorious “Guttmann Curse”. Football legend has it that when the manager left Benfica in 1962 in a disagreement over pay, he said that the club would not win another European championship for 100 years. Fifteen years and eight losing finals later, Benfica have not won another European trophy since. 

However, there was a six-year period in which Béla Guttmann did not manage at all; 1939-1945.

“The big mystery about Guttmann was what had happened to him in the Holocaust,” Mr Bolchover said.

“Most writers who mentioned him said he went to neutral Switzerland. That his brother was killed in a concentration camp, and he met his wife in Switzerland.

“All of that is completely false.

“Through my research I discovered he was in Hungary all along, hiding in an attic near Budapest, near a ghetto from which thousands of Jews were deported to their deaths.

“He was then in a slave labour camp from which he escaped by jumping from a window.

“This was not just a refugee, this was a Holocaust survivor who then went on to win the European Cup. He won the most prestigious sporting competition on the very continent which had wanted him dead.”

Graham Sharp, the chairman of judges and co-founder of the award, said: “All the books that make the longlist have an awful lot of things going for them. There were 131 entries, so to even get to this stage, you’ve got to get past 116 rivals.

“As with most of the books, [The Greatest Comeback] told me an awful lot of stuff that I wasn’t aware of that my life is better for knowing… one of the things that we try to emphasise with the awards.”

Among the other 15  books on the long list are Knowing the Score: My Family and Our Tennis Story by Judy Murray, Ali: a Life by Jonathan Eig and When the Lions Roared: The Lions, the All Blacks and the Legendary Tour of 1971.

The shortlist for the prize will be revealed on October 24, with the winner announced on November 28.

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