Györ writes handball history with 200 wins
In the past 20 years, Györi Audi ETO KC have made themselves a constant feature in women’s club handball. The club have won the EHF Champions League Women a record five times, and wrote more history last weekend when they became the first side to win 200 matches in the competition, beating HC Lokomotiva Zagreb.
The handball arm of Györ’s football club was set up in 1948, 40 years after the club was originally founded, and by 1957 they were playing in Hungary’s top league – becoming champions that year. Although they were unable to consistently sustain that level in the next 50 years, since 2005 Györ have always finished on the podium in the domestic championship.
The 2000/01 season brought Györ’s first Champions League success as they reached the group stage after eliminating Montex Lublin in the second qualification round. However, the victories did not come easily; they had to wait until the third round to get their first win, against Spartak Kyiv, on 21 January 2001.
Centre back Krisztina Pigniczki scored three goals that day and spent eight years at Györ as part of a career that also saw her win the EHF EURO and pick up Olympic and world silver medals.
“Our team had a great spirit and winners’ mentality. We felt like anything was possible as we reached the group stage of the Champions League,” she says.
“I really enjoyed playing in Györ that time and have great memories. With Zsuzsanna Lovász and Gabriella Kindl we had a special chemistry that is still between us, but I am happy to see everyone when we meet,” Pigniczki continues.
“I got a lot of help when I joined Györ at the age of 18. The experienced, national team members showed me that endurance and diligence are key to professional handball. The community is always wonderful here, even nowadays and I do hope that those principles were laid by us,” adds Pigniczki, who stayed close to handball and is currently the assistant coach of the women’s national team and leads Györ’s younger age teams.
Against Spartak, the top scorer was Anita Kulcsár with 10 goals. Kulcsár died in a car accident at the age of only 28 on 19 January 2005, almost exactly 18 years ago, and was one of Hungary’s biggest talents.
“We joined Györ in the same season and developed together. She never backed down and gave out 120 per cent on each practice. She was one of the most hard-working teammates I ever had,” recalls Pigniczki.
“We spent a lot of time together in the national squad as well and Hungarian handball lost a huge talent when she died. Kulcsár was always honest and humble, but nothing could stop her on the court.”
Domination for Györ
In the next 15 years, the side in green and white totally dominated in Hungary as they won the domestic championships and cup 29 times combined. International success also arrived; Györ were runners-up in the Champions League in 2009 and 2012 and in 2013 they finally lifted the trophy, retaining it in 2014.
In the 2015/16 group phase, the Hungarian powerhouse celebrated its 100th win in the competition, beating Hypo Niederösterreich on 8 November 2015 at home. Anita Görbicz, who had been part of Györ’s squad since 2001, was part of the team for that 100th victory.
“In 2015 we had yet again a strong side and we always helped each other. All of us knew what it means to fight,” Görbicz says.
“This season was pretty unique for me as I just returned from maternity leave, thus I had a different approach. As a team, we were great with players like Heidi Løke and Nycke Groot, but unfortunately, we did not win the Champions League. However, we understood with the 100th Champions League triumph that we as a team, as a club, were among the best,” Görbicz adds.
Görbicz spent 24 years with Györ as a player and retired in 2021, staying with the club to become their sports director of ETO.
“I wondered for many years why we could not win, as we failed multiple times on the brink of success. I did not understand when outsiders said that only small things were missing, how could they know?” Görbicz says, looking back on the years when Györ struggled to make headway in the Champions League.
“Even back then, the best of the world played in Györ. When we finally took home the trophy in Europe’s top flight I understood that every player has to put the team first. When it happens, you know that you did everything even if you did not finish on top.”
Hitting 200 wins
While it took Györ 15 years to achieve 100 wins in the Champions League, the next 100 took slightly more than seven. The 27:16 away victory in Zagreb is a major milestone.
Hungarian national team member Nadine Schatzl began her senior career at Györ, but left before their first Champions League win. After several years at rivals FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria, Schatzl returned to Györ in 2021, winning both the Hungarian league and the cup and finishing as runner-up in the Champions League last season.
Watch the highlights here of that 200th EHF Champions League Women win for Györ
“This is a huge milestone for the club and women’s handball as Györ shows what consistency means. Also, it is a huge honour. ETO is always the side the opponents prepare for with double effort,” Schatzl says.
Schatzl reveals the squad did not prepare any differently for what would be their 200th victory than for any other match.
“We always focus on the next challenge, to finish on top. Huge changes happened in the line since I left Györ in 2013, however, it feels safe that the club is still among the best and I can have an important role in the squad,” Schatzl adds.
While the 300th win might be a long way off, Györ are now getting ready for a match where victory is certainly not assured – they visit group leaders Metz in one of the biggest matchups in round 12 of the Champions League this weekend.