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Ján Popluhár

Personal information
Date of birth12 September 1935
Place of birthČeklís, Czechoslovakia
Date of death6 March 2011(age 75)
Place of deathBernolákovo, Slovakia
Playing positionSweeper

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Ján Popluhár (12 September 1935 6 March 2011) was a former Slovak football player. He started his football career after high school with RH Brno. However, he is best known for the 15 seasons he spent with ŠK Slovan Bratislava where he made 262 competitive appearances in defence, scoring an impressive 21 goals, and following further stints with Brno and Zbrojovka Brno finished on 306 Czechoslovakian league games and a goalscoring tally of 24. After finishing his career with Slovan in 1968 he moved to French league side Olympique Lyonnais. Two seasons there were enough, but subsequently he spent five years with Austrian amateur club SK Slovan Vienna as player/coach. Many of the thousands of fans in Vienna thought that Popluhár would be shown up by players twenty years younger than he was, but this did not happen. However, at the age of 44 Popluhár realised that his playing career was over.

Slovan coach Leopold Šťastný was famous for creating nicknames for his players, and so Ján Popluhár became known in Slovakian football circles as 'Bimbo'. "I was called this because I always looked, and indeed was, good-natured, and I would never hurt anybody," recalls Slovakia's man of the century and one of football's true gentlemen.

There are not many people who remember Popluhár's action in the 1962 FIFA World Cup in Chile when, instead of turning the situation to his advantage, he brought the referee's attention to the injured Pelé. In 1997 he was awarded the World Fair Play award for this genuine sporting act, and he reflects fondly on his Brazilian memories.

"I met Pelé several times, the first occasion in Chile and then in various international and club games. He was undoubtedly the best, but there were not many one-to-one situations he won and also not many Slovakian players who scored in the famousMaracana stadium. I belong to this lucky group after I scored with a free kick against Brazil in June 1966," remembers this two-footed player and talented header of the ball.

Czechoslovak football was well represented in 1963 at Wembley stadium in a match to mark the centenary of the English Football Association. Popluhár, along with Svatopluk Pluskal and Josef Masopust, played in a world team that included Alfredo Di Stéfano, Raymond Kopa, Uwe Seeler, Denis Law, Eusébio and Ferenc Puskás against an England eleven. Further appearances in all-star teams followed, and these must rank as memorable career highlights even for a man who played in two World Cups (Sweden 1958, Chile 1962). They were not, however, the only accolades he received.

Popluhár was elected Footballer of the Year in the former Czechoslovakia for the first time in 1965 despite the great form of his Czechoslovakian team-mate Josef Masopust. He will never forget the full stadiums and wonderful atmosphere generated at the time. "When I was at my peak, the conditions for a football player were modest here in Czechoslovakia, but the spirit and support of the spectators was incredible. I am not sure that today's players, however, would want to return to my era," he said.

After some bad luck which included working for a sports company that went bankrupt and suffering prolonged health problems resulting in only a modest invalidity pension and an unsuitable job, he has returned to his footballing roots.

In 2000 Ján Popluhár was elected as the best Slovak footballer of the 20th century.

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