On a recent visit to Melbourne, a colleague casually pointed out a sports stadium, saying that it was the only building left of the 1956 Olympics held in that city. It was the swimming arena, she said. I was momentarily stunned – even though I had been to Melbourne several times before, including on holiday, I had never thought to see if the venue of the greatest water polo ever, still existed. And apparently it was still there, the sole remaining venue of those Olympics 54 years ago.
Anyone with a Hungarian connection will understand the significance of the venue: it was the scene of the so-called ‘Blood in the Water’ match in which Hungary defeated the Soviet Union in the semi-finals of water polo. The clue to all this is the date: the match took place on 6 December 1956, a month after the Soviet Union crushed the Hungarian revolution. It is not hard to imagine the atmosphere that must surrounded the event, with the Hungarians, far away from their home, which was been torn apart by the Soviets. The crowd that day was decidedly partisan, there many local Hungarians present, plus, Americans and Australians who had no love for the Soviet Union. It was a rough affair from the start but when the Hungarian player, Ervin Zádor was punched in the eye by a member of the Soviet team and emerged from the water with blood streaming down his face, the crowd erupted. Officials fared the worst and called the match off with Hungary leading 4-0. The headlines the next day read, ‘Blood in the Water’, and the legend was born. Hungary went on to win the gold medal, beating Yugoslavia 2-1.
The match has recently been captured in two films: ‘Children of Glory’, includes a re-enactment of the ‘blood in the water’ match whilst a documentary ‘Freedom’s Fury’ reunites players from both sides who tell the story of the ‘bloodiest game in Olympic history’.
Today the venue is known as the Westpac Centre and is the home of the Collingwood Football Club and the Victorian Institute of Sport. It was closed when I made the trek there but I am not sure it is open to the public as such. However as you can clearly see, the glass facade with its distinctive vertical panes in the background of the photo of Zádor, are clearly visible today. The original pool itself is gone, judging by photos of the inside. I hope there is a plaque somewhere in the building commemorating the events of 6 December all those years ago.
As I stood opposite the stadium, taking the photo above, and thinking of that match, and those young men so far from home, an unmistakable sound caught my ear. Two young mothers, their young children in strollers, walked passed me, talking to each other. At that moment, I caught the oh so familiar sound of Hungarian being spoken. A chill went up my spine and I smiled. Hungarians, you just can’t get away from them. Then, something must have got into my eye I guess, as I couldn’t see quite so clearly.