World Cup 1950 England: USA
The shock of the 1950 World Cup if not the century, was this defeat of mighty England by a scratch team from the USA. It is widely believed to be the lowest point of England’s international football history, and the biggest upset in international football to date.
Troubling Build-UpThe lead up to the World Cup was not full of good omens for England. The FA had ignored the tournament since its inception in 1930, and just to ram home how important they thought it was, had arranged a goodwill tour of Canada at the same time The tour would use many of the players that Walter Winterbottom, the coach, expected to be able to take with him.
The FA also dithered when Manchester United requested the withdrawal of their players for a tour of the USA! After some diplomatic begging by Winterbottom, the Manchester United players came, but the FA refused to let Winterbottom have England’s most famous player, Stanley Matthews, and arrangements had to be made to fly him to Brazil from Canada later on.
Success Against ChileAs a result, Matthews, at the time considered the best player in the world, missed the first game but England, widely tipped to win the competition, beat Chile 2-0 in their opener. There were ominous signs though, and neutrals felt a draw would not have been an unfair result.
Loss of FranklinThe ominous signs came from defence, where the other crucially absent player was centre-half Neil Franklin, who had forged a valuable partnership in defence with captain Billy Wright. Frustrated by the serf-like conditions under which English clubs kept their players, Franklin had been one of a group of players enticed to sign a contract with a Columbian club, and as a result, withdrew from the World Cup squad.
The solid defence pairing that had played in twenty-seven consecutive matches since the end of the war, losing only four of them, was at an end. It wouldn’t be until Billy Wright switched into the centre-half position that England would find a solid replacement.
No MatthewsIn the aftermath of the Chilean result the selection committee (actually just the one man on the spot, Arthur Drewry, representing the committee) refused the coach’s request to play Matthews in the next match, against the unfancied US team, on the grounds that a winning team should not be changed.
The match began and England camped in the US half as expected. After fifteen minutes England had had half a dozen shots on goal but two hit the woodwork, two missed and two were saved brilliantly by keeper Frank Borghi.
United States TeamThe United States team was a scratch side, most of them US-born apart from three players from outside the US. They were allowed into the team on the grounds that they had announced intentions to apply for citizenship, and that qualified them under the US Soccer Football Association (USSFA) rules at the time.
One-NilOne of those players was the Haitian centre-forward, Joe Gaetjens. In the thirty-eighth minute, just after three English shots in quick succession had just missed or been saved, the US team went on a rare excursion into England’s half and Walter Bahr sent a high centre into the penalty area. As keeper Bert Williams went to collect it, Gaetjens ducked and the ball bounced off the back of his head into the goal.
The second half started with a buoyant USA team playing with more belief and making another chance early on. And although England dominated overall, they couldn’t adapt to being unable to use their wingers to the best of their abilities, because of the narrow pitch.
Desperate to the EndAlf Ramsey had a free kick go in only for it to be disallowed and Borghi made a save from a Mortensen free kick, then another last-gasp tip-over near the end from a James Mullen header, and the US hung on for a famous victory. At the end of the game, England had had twenty shots, the USA one, but that’s football.
AftermathThe England team went on to lose to Spain and go out of the competition. The USA scored a creditable two goals against Chile although they lost 5-2, and their play was recognised by John Souzas, the inside-right, being picked for the all-star World Cup side chosen by Mundo Esportivo, a Brazilian newspaper.Even today the FA claim that Gaetjens and the two other non-US-born players were ineligible to play for the US team, but other sources claim that the USSFA were cleared at a UEFA hearing in December 1950. Gaetjens never did get US citizenship though, and he is believed to have been killed in Haiti in the mid-sixties during an uprising.