– What’s the story behind your somersaults after each goal and when did you do it for the first time?
– That’s an old playground story. When I was a kid, the other boys and I, used to jump in and out of the sandbox. Once there were two beds next to a refuse bin; we took it apart and took out the springs, folded them in half and fastened them to the soles of our shoes with a piece of wood. Then we somersaulted into the sandbox again and again. We were the ninjas. I did my first somersault like this: I climbed up onto a fence and somersaulted back into the sand. I pulled it off! Great! I did it – I said to myself. Then I looked for an even higher fence and when I climbed onto it, it wobbled about a meter from side to side. I jumped off and landed on my back so hard, I could hardly get up. But it didn't discourage me.
My first somersault after a goal was some time ago in Harkány with a local team, when I had taken up football again at the age of seventeen, after having found God. It wasn't a conscious decision, I was just happy about the goal. And since then, whenever I score a goal, I always somersault.
– Before this interview I phoned one or two members of your team and your coach, asking them to talk about you, how they see you. I could sense from their answers that they respect you and honestly desire your progress. The other players are like your brothers and the coaches, like your fathers. Not to mention the football fans. What is it that makes everyone like you so much?
– I can tell you that my career has been a success from the very first moment. They immediately took a liking to me, accepted me and the fans also took me to heart instantly.
– Is the love of the fans so important to you?
– Yes, because I work as hard as I can and I like to score goals to please them. I’m motivated by the joy of football, not by money. They can feel it. I really love to play football. I run for the ball at every throw. I don't hide on the field. I want the ball every minute of every game because I like to have it, I like it when I can tackle, I am not ashamed that I want to play very much, to score goals and to make goals.
Simply being talented is not enough, you need to work very hard as well. I strive to play on the field even when my tackles aren’t successful and the fans also enjoy this. I often manage to do spectacular maneuvres and find swift resolutions that they don't expect. When I scored this goal at the national teams’ match (talking about the „out-of-the-hat” trick goal with the EuroSport Beauty Award against San Marino – the editor), I really felt how grateful people were. The next day I was walking in the street and every ten metres people stopped me: „Thanks for the goals! Thank you for the way you play!” – and they went on. People love football here in Hungary, despite the fact that they criticise it a lot.
– Where and from whom did you learn to play football?
– I missed the time when I should have learned to play football. I didn't even see a ball from the age of twelve to sixteen. Those who see me play football now simply don’t believe this. During these four years I became so downtrodden, I ruined my life so much that now I can hardly believe I’m physically healthy. To begin with, I finished primary school at the age of eighteen, when others generally finish secondary school.
I must have had some talent because nobody trained me to play football. I grew up on the playground. I kicked the ball everywhere from the age of five. This was the only thing I could focus on, nothing else. When I was ten, I went to play football with the junior team of Pécsi Bőrgyár. I was so small I wasn’t any higher than everyone else’s waist, because they always made me play with older boys. One of the coaches, József Garami spotted me and took me into PMSC, which was the number one team in Pécs at the time. But after two months I left the team.
– I am right in thinking then that you were about twelve years old…?
– Yes, roughly.
– Can you say a few words about your years of decline?
- At this time I’d been smoking for three years, since about the age of nine. At twelve, I started to drink pálinka (a strong Hungarian drink), wine and hard alcohol, whatever I could, depending on how much money we had. Most of the time I stole from my mom, although she earned only about twenty thousand forints a month, but sometimes I took half of it. My dad was a car-park attendant at the time-he collected parking fees and he had a lot of change, so much you couldn't count it - I always took half of that, too.
When we ran out of money and got bored, we would look for a fight; we were bored, we would go and set fire to something; then when we were bored for a very long time, we’d go and rob somebody. Meanwhile we sniffed glue. We went around the streets absolutely dazed; there were ten or fifteen of us teenagers in a street gang. We were boys, yet people were afraid of us. They avoided us if they could.
Even before I’d started drinking or sniffing glue, I was so aggressive that I even attacked my mother. I humiliated her continually for years. She started working at 5 a.m. and many times the police came to get her because her little boy had kicked up a riot again. This lasted all the way until I was sixteen; then God intervened. Well, that's about it, but to go back to what you asked, the playground was my real school.
– You said this last sentence with such a tone as if you were someone who considers it an advantage not to have been trained.
– I am sure I benefited from that. Training of new players is not really that good in our country, so had I been trained officially and according to all the rules, perhaps I wouldn't be able to tackle the way I do. People often ask me how I do this or that tackle and most of the time I don't know how myself. Sometimes I watch myself on TV and I am also surprised: Wow, did I do this? A journalist asked me after one of my matches how I scored that goal and I said it was by chance. But when I watched it on TV, I saw that it was not by chance, I scored the goal as the consequence of a conscious series of maneuvres, but I didn't even know how it happened.
– To what extent was the" hat trick" against San Marino planned or how much of it did you do instinctively?
– I was sitting on the bench during the first half because I was a substitute and I was watching the match. I felt that if I joined in now, there, on the left, I would really give the game a boost.
– To whom did you say this?
– Just to myself. Then my coach came over and told me to get ready to take Kenesei's place on the left. I hurried to the left and as the ball came towards me at the first goal, it bounced up from my foot, but so quickly that I didn't even have one second of time to decide what to do. And in the next second it seemed as if time had slowed down, as if that fraction of a second had lasted ten seconds, this way I had ample time to think over which solution would be the best. I thought about it and decided that I would score a goal by kicking the ball over my head--and so I did. It seemed as if I were watching it in slow motion, although in fact, I had less than a second.
– Do you pray before every match?
– What do you think? I prepare for each of my matches in prayer.
– What do you say in these prayers?
– Shall I tell you now?
– Yes, please, tell me in detail.
– That God should take me wherever the ball is; that the ball would stick to my feet; that my legs would be as fast as the legs of a stag, that I don't get tired. By the way, the fans from Pécs nicknamed me "Õzike" (Roe deer) because my legs were so thin and sinewy; then I developed it from a roe deer to a stag in my prayers and now I can really run much faster. Then I pray that my lungs will be healthy; that I will play football with wisdom and not from vengeance; and I always pray that those who come find pleasure watching me play.
– In your prayers, do you always make such a brief list?
– Yes, yes, but not that brief. There are more things I pray about.
– What are they?
– Well, that any bad feeling that's manifested on the stands and on the field will stay away from me. The fans and players of the other team call names and swear at, mainly, those they fear the most—this way they try to paralyse the player. One of the "hits" that they regularly shout is "glue-sniffing Gera, glue-sniffing Gera". For example, when I came from Pécs to join the Fradi, I am not quite sure, maybe we played against Újpest at the end of October. Then the fans put up a long banner with the words: "Gera: drugs + Faith Church. It couldn't get any worse."
For example, when they see that I'm not in my best form, they shout, "It's time to pray!" or, "You should start reading your bible!" If I accidentally trip somebody up, they say, "What's wrong, didn't you go to church?" And if I don't score any goals, then they shout, "Didn't uncle Alex pray for you?" Anyway, if I do score a goal or do something good, then I murmur something to myself there on the field.
– And what do you murmur?
– Thank you, God, and the like. At these times my heart is simply grateful, I remember where I came from. Sometimes I even lift up my hands there on the field.
– You said that when you were eight, nine or ten years old, you kicked the ball around the playground and you didn't even see a ball from twelve to sixteen, then you took up football again. How could you continue where you'd stopped after so many years?
- After I turned to God, I left my old pals I used to hang around with. To be more exact, I didn't leave them, instead most of them were sent to jail or some other institution. I lived with my father and felt quite lonely. I was bored. I didn't know how to go on, I didn't know what I should do. I remembered that as a kid I kicked the ball from morning to evening and how much I had enjoyed it. But I knew, it was enough to look at myself, that it would only remain a beautiful dream for me. Nevertheless, I started to pray that I could start football again somewhere, but that I should be called and that I wouldn't have to push myself forward. Meanwhile, from time to time I visited the old playground where we used to fool around.
Two weeks later a boy from my old team, who I played with in the Bőrgyár when I was younger, came to see me on the playground,moreover, he came with the message that one of my ex-coaches, Zoltán Bódi, heard from someone that I'd changed, I'd stopped drinking and smoking and had picked myself up and asked me if I wanted to start everything over again with him. I went to see him. When I started training, during the first months, my legs ached so much that after a few minutes' running they were numbed to the extent that once in a while I had to stop and pour cold water on my calves. I was terribly thin then, of course I'm not a thick-set guy now either.
I went into training. I didn't even get into the junior team, I was a substitute. As I gradually progressed, I could play longer and longer. Later, there was a period when I didn't have anything to eat for days. For months I trained, eating only biscuits and drinking tea. I told my coach, I couldn't play. He asked me why not and I said I couldn't run because I had nothing to eat. When I had two hundred forints, I went into a shop so happy that I could buy this or that kind of food.
– Didn't you work?
– From that time I was already earning my living from football, my salary was twenty-five thousand forints per month (about 900 pounds per year). But work it out: I paid fifteen thousand for my rent and bills - as soon as I was eighteen, I left home and rented a flat because I felt this was right for me - and I had to live on the remaining ten thousand. And it so happened that we didn't get our salaries for three or four months. I budgeted my money: now, this is the tithe (a tenth of one's income contributed voluntarily to the church) and I'm going to put this into the collection box, I still have the rest for bread, and so on.
– Did you tithe even then?!
– Yes, I did. And I thought about how good it would be: I'll be a good football player; I will have a good salary, a car, a flat where I can live; I can buy fine food. Five years went by and it became a reality. So now I can go into a shopping mall to have lunch and if I see a nice coat in one of the shops or some shoes that I like, I can buy them for myself. I don't have to wait until I get paid, I can buy whatever takes my fancy straight away. Then I always think back to the time I just told you about and phone my true friend, Olivér, to thank him for everything he's done for me.
– Do you mean Olivér Mink from Pécs?
– Yes, I do. When I turned to God, the congregation in Pécs had a small field football team called the Eagles of Sinai (Sínai Sasok).
– What eagles?
– Eagles of Sinai, and my father was the goalkeeper. Once I went with him and joined the game. I got to know Olivér there, he was one of the founders of the Eagles. He was surprised, what a skillful boy this Zoli was. From that moment on, he stood by me or I can say that he took me under his wing, he bought food and clothes for me, he found a job for me at his workplace. He supported me so much that it can't be expressed in money or in any other way. He raised my awareness about basic things I knew nothing of. Even today he's my best friend, he is almost a father to me.
– Do you learn from someone or do you teach yourself presently? I mean in terms of football.
– I watch the great players on TV, especially those who work extremely hard and whose playing style is similar to mine. I try to learn from them and I often succeed. Before one of my matches, for instance, I saw how Ronaldo tricked someone in an interesting way and the next day I could do the same. There are two ways how I'd like to improve myself at the moment: one is, I want to be able to dare to blast the ball into the goal from outside the goal-area, and the other is, when I take control of the ball I want to be very fast and to take it further so that they can't take it from me.
– Which is your favourite team?
– There are many teams that I enjoy watching. If I can, I always watch Real Madrid and Barcelona.
– What are the most important qualities of a good player? What aptitudes and abilities can he improve his talents with?
– Talent is important of course, but I've seen many players in the last few years who made up for their defects in talent with their diligence and hard work. It happened many times on the junior and teen-age teams, too, that a sixteenth player suddenly overtook the number one player because he thought he was so talented, he didn't have to train. But what's even more important than this - at least based on my short life experience - is continual reliability. In other words, I can perform at the same high level in the long run. They can seriously rely on me. Perhaps this is even more important than talent.
Anyway, despite the fact that Hungarian football players are said by many, to be overpaid and turned into superstars, I say they don't have enough self-confidence. I, myself, often resolve to do something during the match, then at the last second I don't do it because of the fear of what might happen if I fail. I could've scored many more goals recently, had I played fully self-confident and with the sense that I'm the best forward. In this state I can do almost whatever I want. But I rarely have this feeling. I often see fantastic training sessions where players do such things that are a pleasure to see. Then the match begins with the spectators and I can't recognise some of the same players. They seem to be running away from the ball.
– Do you usually read articles written about you?
– There was a time when I enthusiastically bought the newspapers that wrote something about me. If I was in there, I immediately read what they wrote about me. If it was good, I put it away right away. Of course, most of the time they wrote good things about me. But I don't put them away anymore, moreover, I don't even buy them because I realised they don't do me any good.
- You mean they made you conceited?
– I'm sure they did. There was a time when they wrote things like I was another Nyilasi and this and that. And then I thought more highly about myself, that I was Nyilasi and a few days later I was another famous player. Then I started having a go at everybody during the matches and training, too: why did you kick the ball there and not over there. Then they put me in my place: listen, buddy, calm down a bit, will you?
– What do you usually do after each match? I suppose the team goes out, especially when you win.
– Yes, sometimes they go out together, but I don't go with them.
– Did you go home even after your"hat-trick" match? No partying, no relaxation, no celebrating?
– They asked me to go with them and celebrate. I told them I'd celebrate even better at home, during my sleep. So I went home with a good and grateful heart and that's it. Generally, I can't sleep after matches. I go home, I want to go to sleep, but I am preoccupied: if I'd done it that way, this would have been possible; and if this way, then perhaps it could have been a goal. In the end I realise that I may as well get out of bed because I'm completely awake. I start reading and again, I feel that now I can surely go to sleep. I lie down again, I toss and turn for a few minutes and again I can't go to sleep. Then I look at the clock and see that it's already five-thirty and I need to get up soon because it's Sunday and Happy Sunday (name of the broadcast of the church service in Faith Church) is about to begin.
– Didn't you have any problems because of the church?
– I could have hidden what kind of life I led. Many have even asked me why I told them everything about myself.
– Did the journalists ask you about this?
– No, the team members. At first they even said that I was stupid, that I made everything up, that I would only have problems as a result of this because they'd give up on me that I can't run and don't have any breath. But the truth is, I haven't had any disadvantage because of this. For me, it would be a sin to hide this because God saved me, literally. I receive many letters that say they saw me play football and heard my story, they're about the same age as me and used to live the life I lived and they'd like to change, too. They say if I managed to do it, they can do it, too, if I would only help them. And I help them. This is a tremendous joy for me. Today I think differently about life and about football, too, than I used to.
Just recently, after a match I felt that God was pleased with me, although I didn't even score a goal, I just played. Now I long for success so that people ask why I am successful and I can tell them „because God is with me". There were one or two fans who didn't even want to hear about the church, but when they heard that I, myself, go there, they also came and repented.
Source: Új Exodus magazine, 2002
On the 19th of June, 2004, at 3 p.m., Zoltán Gera and his beloved Tímea swore their eternal faithfulness to each other in Faith Park. The young couple was married by Sándor Németh, senior pastor of Faith Church.
Some three hundred guests participated in the marriage ceremony in the ceremony hall of Saint Paul's Academy, among them several sports colleagues of Zoltán Gera, such as Péter Lipcsei, the team captain of Ferencváros and his family, and Leandro de Almeida, the national forward who just recently acquired Hungarian citizenship, were among those invited. József Garami, who spotted Zoltán Gera and who was also his coach a short time ago, also paid his respects.
The young husband, Zoltán Gera, said the following after the wedding:
- This is, perhaps, the happiest day of my life, that my fiancée, Tímea, and I have long been waiting for. I first saw my wife two and a half years ago in Faith Church during a service where she sang in the choir. Almost one year passed before we exchanged words, until then we knew each other only by sight.
It was love at first sight on my part, since her whole personality captured me at once, the way she sang wholeheartedly, with great devotion. It was only one year later that we first met and for that, the fatherly care, support and encouragement of Pastor Sándor Németh was necessary. He helped us to find each other. From then on we met more and more frequently and one year ago we were engaged. Since then both of us have been looking forward to this day when we would unite ourselves before God in the church ceremony that's so important for us.
For us, the institute of marriage is holy, so we decided to marry only when both of us were sure that we want to tie our destinies together forever. I am happy and proud to have a wonderful wife and it's a tremendous joy for us both that our covenant could be established before God and we believe that God will bless our covenant. Today's event is not a mere formality for us and it's not just a piece of paper, but a real covenant, which symbolises that from now on we literally form one team.
We both considered it tremendously important to enter into wedlock according to the guidance of the Bible, therefore, we didn't live together before this day, and now, after one year of happy engagement we shall live together under one roof with God's blessing.
I want to tell you that for me this is a kind of miracle I'm here today and I've received so much at such a young age from God and that I could step onto a path of life that's not harmful and brings happiness to me and those around me. When I was younger, I started going in a different direction and for what I am today, thanks are due to Jesus, Who's changed my life.
I owe many thanks to Faith Church because I was saved here, I met Jesus here. I personally would like to thank my pastor, Sándor Németh on this occasion, who has provided me with much good advice; his life is an example for me. I'm glad and it's an honour that he was with me in this wonderful moment of my life and that he married us. I would like to thank my parents and Tímea's parents for all the help and love we've received since our destinies became interwoven. Thank you all for the good wishes that we've received from strangers, from the fans, from those who support us and we thank those who came to our wedding to honor and celebrate with us.
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