From Budapest to Brisbane, Football Queensland State Technical Director Gabor Ganczer personifies the kinship and opportunity that football provides for new migrants to Australia.
The story of how Ganczer arrived in this country – and the way in which he worked his way into his current position – is a testament to the game’s global reach and its power to change lives.
Twenty-one years ago, as Australia was preparing for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Ganczer was working as a journalist covering football and canoe sprint for the famous Hungarian sports daily, Nemzeti Sport.
As he was finalising the athlete biographies for the Hungarian team, an email popped up in his inbox from Andrew Dettre, a Hungarian-born former journalist based in Sydney.
Dettre explained that his son, Steve, was running the Olympic News Service and desperately needed a reporter to cover the Olympic canoe events. They hoped that Ganczer would take the job.
“It was a great opportunity for me,” recalls Ganczer.
After arrangements were made, he was on a plane destined for Australia, excited by the opportunity but unsure what to expect from his hosts.
The first stop they made after Ganczer arrived at Sydney Airport was to St George Stadium, home of St George Budapest. He soon learned that the Hungarian community, like many other migrant communities in Australia, were football-mad.
“Within ten minutes of landing I was standing in front of the ruins of the old St George Stadium,” he says. “I heard all the stories about Johnny Warren and the role St George Budapest had played in Australian football.”
During the 1960s and 70s, St George were one of Australia’s most progressive clubs. They provided the nucleus of the Socceroos’ 1974 World Cup side and played a pivotal role in the formation of the National Soccer League in 1977.
Andrew Dettre, who migrated to Australia from Hungary in 1949, had been involved with St George since its establishment as “Budapest” in the 1950s.
He was also a retired journalist and editor of Soccer World, an influential football newspaper that was published weekly from 1958 to 1982.
Over the years, Dettre brought countless overseas players and coaches to Australia. In the 1960s, he played a pivotal role in bringing Frank Arok, one of the Socceroos’ best-loved coaches, over from Yugoslavia.
Little did Dettre know that Ganczer would be his latest recruit.
At the Sydney Olympics, the Hungarian team topped the medal count for canoeing and Ganczer immediately fell in love with Australia.
“I felt the connection straight away,” explains Ganczer. “The famous journalist, Andrew Dettre, and his family are the main reason I ended up in Australia. I was always curious about the country, but they were the link for me to come here.”
After returning to Hungary, Ganczer spent time as a press officer for the Hungarian national team. The coach at the time was German great Lothar Matthaeus, who brought Ganczer on as a match analyst and inspired him to begin his own coach education.
“Lothar re-ignited my passion to get closer to football, so I started to do my B and A Licences,” says Ganczer.
“When I became an A Licence coach, I was actively seeking opportunities to potentially work overseas. Australia was always the main destination where I wanted to go.”
In 2009, Ganczer spotted an advertisement for a coaching position at Coolum Dolphins in Queensland. He sent an application, and before long was juggling several coaching jobs on the Sunshine Coast.
Football helped him with the resettlement process, literally and figuratively.
“They turned every stone and, surprisingly, came up with a solution to organise a permanent residency visa for me,” says Ganczer. “By April 2010, I came over with my family.”
Ganczer has been here ever since, rising from a community football coach to State Technical Director of Football Queensland.
Along the way, he has completed his AFC Pro Licence course and worked at Olympic FC and Western Pride in the NPL Queensland. He has also worked as an analyst for the Socceroos under Ange Postecoglou.
“I’ve been a dual citizen for the past six years, so I am Australian by choice,” says Ganczer.
“I would like to think this is home for my family: my second child was born here, and we have no intent to go back to our original home.
“I did have the pleasure to work with both national teams, and probably this is the greatest pride you can have if you are working in football.”
The Hungarians are one of the smaller ethnic communities in Australian football, but they were incredibly influential.
Two of Australia’s finest football journalists – Andrew Dettre and Les Murray – were both born in Hungary.
Attila Abonyi, one of the Socceroos top goal scorers, came to Australia from Hungary as a young child.
Frank Arok, who coached the Socceroos from 1983 to 1989, was born in the former Yugoslavia but had Hungarian heritage.
Here in Queensland, Peter Tokesi – who won the 1978 Phillips Cup as a player for Brisbane City, and the 1977 NSL grand final with Brisbane Strikers as an assistant coach – is also of Hungarian descent.
Ganczer, 46, is carrying on that proud Danubian tradition, while acknowledging the numerous other cultures that make up Australian football in the 21st century.
“It gives me great pride and pleasure to know that Hungarians have contributed to the game here,” says Ganczer.
“The diverse nature of the society here is one of the appealing things, rather than the set mindset of a homogeneous European society.
“I am a firm believer that football is part of culture, not only physical literacy. That’s why Football Queensland operates the Q-League, which helps new migrants find a sense of community and make the transition to club football.
“I still consider Australian football culture to be evolving, but I am really glad to have felt part of it over the past 12 years.”