1947 England: Portugal
Only two years after the end of the Second World War international teams were still rebuilding with new and younger players. The Home Championship had restarted for the 1946-47 season and was won by England, and the ‘friendlies’ against teams from outside the Home Championship started in the same season with matches against the Republic of Ireland and France, both of which were won by England.
It wasn't such a shock to be beaten by Switzerland as the traditional close season tour of Europe was re-instated in the summer of 1947. After all, they had beaten England 2-1 in the last summer tour before the war, so England knew that it wouldn't be easy.
Attack Minded EnglandIn the six matches since the war England’s formidable attack had been gelling well, with new players Tom Finney, Wilf Mannion, Bobby Langton, Raich Carter joining established players such as Tommy Lawton and Stanley Matthews. In fact the match against Switzerland was the first that Matthews had appeared in since the war, the selectors preferring Tom Finney on the right wing up until then. Matthews, now aged 32, had had a run of poor form and had even been dropped by Stoke City before being transferred to Blackpool, where his partnership with Stan Mortensen had begun to yield goals once more.
The Swiss had scored on the half hour then shut up shop with a well-drilled defensive wall using a system known as ‘The Redoubt’. They pulled their centre-forward back into midfield which confused the English defence, and the extra seats that had been put on the touchline to accommodate the over-capacity crowd made it very difficult for wing-men Matthews on the right and Bobby Langton on the left.
Desperate MeasuresStung by this defeat, the selectors decided to play both their dazzling wingers in the second match of the tour, against Portugal in Lisbon a week later. This was the first meeting between the two sides, but Portugal and Switzerland had played out a draw only a fortnight earlier, so a real contest was expected. As Finney was the more flexible player he elected to go on the left and Matthews stayed on the right.
Ball SwitchThe effect was electric and Portugal conceded two goals in the first two minutes, the first from debutant centre-forward Mortensen. The goalkeeper took a long time to recover the ball from the back of the net, and seconds after the kick-off, it was obvious that what he had been doing was swapping the normal size five ball for a size four, the one that the Portuguese had wanted to play with in the first place. A minute later, the second went in from Finney and he was retrieving that ball too!
Three ViolinsThe Portuguese could boast a fearsome forward line-up as well, they had three of Sporting Lisbon’s ‘Five Violins’ attacking line-up, which took Sporting to seven league titles in eight years in the post-war period. But they never got a chance to mount any attack, as, for England, it was just one of those days where everything that they tried came off beautifully.
Matthews and Finney’s crosses were being converted one after the other, with strike duo Mortensen and Lawton on the end of them. The quality was so high that at one point Lawton complained to Matthews that he’d supplied a cross with the football’s laces facing the wrong way! Co-ordinating the play just behind them, Wilf Mannion was the only forward not to score, but was roundly praised for the slide-rule accuracy of his passes that held it all together.