Legendary Hungarian goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly isn’t a name that many remember donning the famous Claret & Blue, but he certainly did represent West Ham United, doing so on a two-week emergency loan between November and December 2006.
In the first edition of Player from the Past, we look back at his illustrious career and more specifically his time at the Boleyn Ground, how did he end up in a West Ham shirt? Did he ever make an appearance? And more importantly, where is he now?
The soon to be world-famous goalkeeper was born in Szombathely, Hungary in April 1976, growing up dreaming of becoming a professional footballer throughout his childhood.
His first break came at Szombathelyi Haladas, with whom he played youth football and then graduated to the senior team in 1993, however, it wouldn’t be long before he attracted attention from outside of Hungry.
Cubs from other countries and some of Europe’s top leagues started to show interest in the eccentric shot-stopper and Kiraly made the move to the Bundesliga with Hertha Berlin in 1997.
Here, while dipping in and out if the regular starting Xl during his seven-year spell, the keeper would be successful, playing close to a double-century of matches and even turning out in the UEFA Champions League for Berlin.
But, like all good things, the stint had to come to an end and it did so in 2004 and this time, he sought a move to England, being signed up by Crystal Palace in the end.
Much like his time in Germany, Kiraly was never a concrete first-choice, though he was able to rack up a fair few appearances in the Premier League as Palace were relegated during the 2004/2005 campaign, having defeated the Hammers to go up via the play-offs from the Championship.
Two years into his three-year tenure at Selhurst Park, he came to the aid of the Premiership Irons when Alan Pardew’s men were suffering with a keeper crisis due to injuries.
Kiraly arrived in East London in November 2006, however, he was still forced to play second fiddle to first-choice keeper Rob Green, sitting on the substitutes’ bench unused for three games, trips to Stamford Bridge and Goodison Park and a home clash with Sheffield United.
The Hungary man’s presence proved a lucky charm for the East Londoners as they picked up a rare home win against the Blades, although tasted defeat to Chelsea and Everton.
After the journey to Merseyside, Kiraly went back to the Eagles and is one of the most infamous signings in Hammers history for his lack of playing time and length of spell in East London.
But, there was another thing that made him synonymous with something of a cult hero amongst English fans aside from his performances on the field and that was his playing attire.
For comfort reasons, throughout his career, Kiraly always sported an unconventional pair of grey tracksuit bottoms in goal as opposed to shorts, earning him the nickname the “Tracksuit Goalie”.
Shortly after going back to Selhurst, he embarked on another loan to yet another team that plays in Claret & Blue in Aston Villa, making only a handful of appearances and the ending his association with Palace at the end of the 2006/2007 season.
Burnley quickly secured his services although he was never a favourite at Turf Moor, eventually leaving in 2009 and having his time in Lancashire split up by a loan to Bayer Leverkusen.
It was at this point that Kiraly decided he wanted to go back to the place he spent so much time in his early career Germany, making the step down a Division from the time before to the Bundesliga 2 with 1860 Munich.
Kiraly figured for the club over a century and a half of times, leaving on unhappy terms after as nightclub incident during the 2014/2015 campaign and coming back to England.
The popular figure’s final stunt in English football to date cane with Championship Fulham and only lasted a season before he headed back home to Hungary to re-join his first ever team.
He was treated like a returning hero at Haladas and back in his home nation at the end of the 2015/2016 season was gearing up for his final few weeks in the national team.
Gabor would lead Hungary to the 2016 European Championships in France and then retire from International football after the tournament, thus becoming Hungary’s oldest player at a European Championship.
He did exactly this as his nation failed to get out of their group and enjoyed a testimonial against Sweden in early winter 2016, in total, appearing on 108 occasions for Hungary.
Nowadays and at the remarkable age of 42, the famous shot-stopper is still playing professional football in his hometown, almost two years after his retirement from International football, his astonishing 25-year career thunders on.
Gabor Kiraly or the “Tracksuit Goalie” as he will be fondly remembered all over the football world, may not be remembered most for his short time in Claret & Blue but was another in a long list of West Ham cult hero keepers and will undoubtedly never be forgotten by the supporters lucky enough to see his unparalleled style over his illustrious and remarkable playing career.