''The Match of the Century'
Nov. 25 1953
Once every hundred years an athletic spectacle ascends up from the world within and forces itself to be expressed with a specific audience that impresses the mind, stimulates it, focuses certain memories and values, interests and needs, gushing forth a great many judgments and speculations that get tied up with the spectacle. After the spectacle questions and immediate commentary multiply themselves quickly as journalists and historians try to find the essence that best represents the stellar discovery, setting in motion ideas and feelings to contemplate long after the event itself. In its most public aspect the spectacle is useably real even more for its instructive value which for a variety of reasons may have been especially memorable and impressive. After everything is marvelously taken in, and as it were, savored, the converting spectacle is given public shape and the immediate motive is to best articulate the experience to others and later generations as a historical turning point to something higher.
In late 1953 Hungary achieved world-wide fame in a game against England in London, a nation that equipped immense teams that inspired half the world in a match that nothing in the annals of football history could outshine. The result amazed the world and remains one of the peaks in the history of the sport. After years of fermentation and experimental boldness behind the 'Iron Curtain', finally in 1953 "modern football" burst forth. This match was arranged that November and would have game-changing implications to prevail upon old insular normative beliefs to re-inspire and drive the frontiers of the game.
It is this significant game in November more than any other that offered the game new values and football's contemporary era may be said to have begun and first shown in new clarity. There was hardly a football educator or manager of note who was not deeply influenced by the experience played by the Hungarians as an excellent and eventful one worthy of perpetuation. The unforgettable match could be the great defining formula of sport's new era that brings forth a new dispensation and a masterpiece that exacts a long devotion with the game serving a youthful discovery of a wave of the thereafter that vouchsafed a future vision of the game.
An enormous creative clash of intrinsic qualities and genuine truths between the era's contemporary masters — the Golden Team and the venerable undefeatable aristocrats of the game was long awaited. It turned out to be, as yet, the most influential friendly ever played that elaborated a lively glorious style as a feat of progress. The match with England in November 1953 is known to almost everybody in Hungary as ' 6 : 3 '.
The old British Empire, backed by unsinkable maritime power and profluent colonial trade (that many saw as a basic cause of British greatness) reached to endmost frontiers once a decade before as the planet's most powerful realm with many interests and responsibilities around the world. After dynamic and strenuous activity wrought by rapid industrialization and a merchant fleet whose size was without parallel that enabled Britain to capture markets around the globe, Britain became the mistress of the seas with a navy that would guard the lanes of commerce and become the world's workshop and from the 1870s on the world's banker. By the opening years of the 20th Century its glowing aegis comprised more than a quarter of all the territory on the surface of the earth to become a world-embracing imperial power. A late Victorian could look back with astonishment on the celebrations and triumphs of swelling trade and industry during his or her lifetime and Britain was in excelsis.
Britain had bravely stood against fascist-occupied Europe throughout the war raised to mythic proportions for their stubborn continual resistance in the early years almost single-handed and stood athwart the political earthquakes by which the old establishments crumbled away in the first half of the century. Victorious in two of the world's greatest conflicts but not without considerable cost to its realms, the Empire was fading as two new preeminent 'superpowers' in the United States and the Soviet Union re-staged and steered global affairs for the next forty years with a visible inward retreat for Britain encroaching after the war. Additionally, ensuing years of a de-colonialization process also brought the Empire due notice, the heyday age of New Imperialism as Britain then knew itself decades before was slowly closing in a kind of painful reappraisal of its place in the world. The post-war world was changing and along with it football.
Through inexhaustible industry, highly competitive genius and thoroughly learned craft, England cut a supreme figure of what many considered the qualities of an ideal team to be and in vigorous participations piled on the triumphs against the worthiest teams of the world who hailed outside the United Kingdom starting at the dawn of the 20th century in 1908. Even in their away games in sixty-eight competitive matches until November 1953, England averaged 3.69 goals each outing but their superiority showed more clearly in those games played at home that elevated them to a mythic altitude in sports history. Shielded by unbeatable teams England declared its position as the greatest national side at home adding a dash of luster to the imperial sunset.
Historical Background to the Tactical Evolution:
It will be best to look rapidly at the general evolution of tactics and then to concentrate on the new aspects brought about by the Hungarians of the early 1950s.
The English had invented the modern game in last half of the 19th century and was the first century of codified football. Its first laws and rules were patented by a solicitor by trade Ebenezer Cobb Morley and soon grew immensely popular across all spectrum of society due to its simple rules and minimal equipment requirements being globalized as the world's most popular association sport in the last decades of the 19th century and early 20th centuries. Since the codification of the sport in 1863 in Victorian England the English national team had never suffered defeat on its home shores from foreign opposition from outside the British Isles and their successful tradition had been penultimate and globally decisive. The old producers of football had turned aside every effort in 90 years to overcome the mightiest team of them all. In the home of the makers and shakers of the game, the gorgeous, wonderful, victorious English sport that smacked of the English soil and sensibility undefeated since 1066 and possessed an unbeatable quality and romantic neo-imperial Victorian inheritance with a direct unbroken connection to the palmiest days of the British Empire.
|The distinctive classic Twin Towers of old Wembley Stadium opened in 1923. The world famous manicured lawn inside was the first to be referred to as the "Hallowed Turf" in the "cathedral of football".|
Before existing systems, football was a leading sporting endeavor that flourished in the ancient world. During the mid-Victorian era in England, each personality and the roles in which they played on the field had been molded by their upper-class upbringings and the standards of the class into which each was born within the bounds honored by English society. The prevailing individualist views of the game meant that in England passing was sparsely done in favor of an emphasis that required of players to concentrate accurately on running with extended dribbles as far as one could, first evading and glancing off, then with fresh personal gratifications and spirits spend time crashing into a wide set of opposing players prior to confusedly kicking the ball for others to chase when one could proceed no farther, this being repeated endlessly for the duration. This uncomplicated and straightforward style that did not always make for clarity with its erratic, rough and agitated quality.
The game which had its roots in mid-nineteen century England at public schools, before anything, had evolved from the earlier standing affairs of shared understandings among the schoolboys that played the game. Older boys at most public schools called 'prefects', who mostly originated from wealthier backgrounds and the variously privileged were obliged to keep the school discipline and were responsible for organizing compulsory athletics on the football grounds. They were attended to and served by selected younger boys called 'fags' and, as a consequence, football became the grounds upon where the power relations between prefects and fags were routinely staged and acted out and a setting for cultivating aristocratic virtues.
It is hardly surprising then that only prefects took an active part as 'attackers' and preoccupied their time assailing a broad line required to defend the goal made up of around two-hundred fags. This old-boys club who dwelt in the splendor of swinging forward were supposed to show consummate skills in handling the ball, dribbling, balance and individual tilting and swerving runs were lauded as necessary braving for these apostles of lusty individualism. Prefects did not play with much regard to defending and or even acting together with team-mates on their own side and gave its approval to strength, intelligence and industry in a kind of physical Victorian turbulent delight sport.
Many inquiring minds who wanted to come terms with the toughly wound action with players in the mass hovering around the ball reasoned that a purified makeup of the game was needed and tried to recast the game to suit better sensibilities. The reasonableness of their scheme smoothed out the flux and surpassed the fray on the pitch by entering an established set piece formation replete with more order, sequence, and wider spacing among players for reasons of clarity where attack still lay as the lasting core of the game but one that allowed for soundness in defense. The immediate outcome of this re-organization brought form and being out of the chaos and led to having a five-man forward line, three half-backs (midfielders) and two defenders called fullbacks or the 2-3-5 formation plus the goalkeeper. In doing so, this apparent choice came to be called the 'pyramid formation' and thought to be the natural way to play and the high point in football's evolution that continued to be used into the first quarter of the following century all around the world.
|Arsenal's Herbert Chapman, the first great manager at the club level who invented the famous WM formation that brought perfect tactical symmetry to the game.|
Even as late as 1927, the pyramid formation was in common use and played in full swing variously in most countries and it took an act by FIFA in 1925 (The Offsides Rule of 1925) that forever fixed the limits of the game that formalized, as a rule, that only two players, implying the goalkeeper plus another (instead of the usual three) must be behind the opponent and the goal-line for it to be played fairly or 'onside' by the attacker. However, this new law became increasingly inadequate to the real needs of defenses that were taken by surprise. Under the new circumstances,1928 marked an unforeseen ascent in scoring, nearly forty-three percent more goals were scored than the previous year had seen.
It was now especially easy to score a lot more goals than ever before and managers had their problems and some people worried that declining defenses might fall apart and not reach to full examples of earlier days and necessitated a rethink toward a more elaborately squared composition. A new approach was incarnated by one gifted maverick manager, Arsenal's Herbert Chapman and precisely because of this inadequacy in defense Chapman's famous 'WM' formation would be a new kind of coping with the Offsides Rule of 1925.
Chapman's ideas were dominated by two great persistent concerns: to resolve the insufficiency and unevenness that lay in defense and where that would lead. Much rather, Chapman taught that by withdrawing two of the five forwards deeper with the consequence that they became supporting attacking players and withdrew the center-half back to the point that where he essentially performed the 'stopper role' as the center-back guarding the goalkeeper. Out of this, Chapman created a quadrangle of four players at the dominant center lanes of the field, trussing his midfield in defense with three full-backs and assigning three scoring forwards in front of them (outside-right, center-forward, outside-left) or commonly described as the 3-2-2-3 formation. This "WM" formation zoned in modulated balance attained a naturalness with its grand symmetries with its triple poised physique in attack, midfield and defense.
This difference laid out the harmony neatly parceled between all areas as none had done previously and meant that football was in a modern hand held in nice balance. Those wishing to stem the high tide of scores that new law brought about expounded their program. Widely studied and appraised, the wisdom of the WM formation catalyzed at Arsenal came to be seen as a more natural way to play and eventually began to displace the old pyramid system that provoked a whole new common sense in the late 1920s, 1930s, and the 1940s. This was the real reason for the move away from the pyramid system with its untidy layout, and the old easily understood formation finally lost its characteristics by the great reform attributed to the far-sighted man at Arsenal. As a widely consulted tactical shape many viewed the new formation as football's expression in new finished language and the sport's truth lay in union with this new stable doctrine. Seen overall from above, as it were, the "WM" was a vast balanced structure and with it Chapman strikes a grand resolving chord. Born to the classical temper of the times, the tactics of former times had been replaced and ahead soccer is a sport of stately symmetry.
|Ferenc Puskás with English pioneering legend Arthur Rowe, manager of Crystal Palace and advocate of 'push and run' football and Alfredo Di Stéfano in 1962. Arthur Rowe was employed in Hungary as a consultant and manager in 1938-1940 and also gave a series of lectures on the merits of the 'WM' system.|
Elsewhere on the Continent, some who were effective proponents of another type of game, namely in the territories of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire with the Austrians, Hungarians and Czechs still practicing the 'Danubian School' (a varying style of the basic language of the pyramid system where chiefly horizontal passing along the turf was continued and revised). The different style that soon emerged in England and the one used by the continentals depended on the debate of how, perhaps, the game might lose a part of its beauty, its alluring forward tenor.
Lászlo Feleki, a local Hungarian journalist and writer, traveled to the home of Arsenal in Highbury and spent months parsing and seeing the new tactics at work. Meanwhile in Hungary itself, there were separate discussions and arguments with some newspapers reporting benefits that sided with and some against this new system as it continued to gain momentum in fits and starts. But on the pitch it fell out of favor especially with those whose task was to score goals, the strikers and it was they who determined what was to be a success. Some years later in Budapest, English pioneer Arthur Rowe, spent time as a manager in Budapest in 1938 and 1940 and delivered a lecture series on the subject for a far broader and deeper presentation to popularize its appeal. For Rowe himself, it evidently did not suffice to play the game of an earlier time and for some years the WM formation was an in vogue conventional formation played throughout the land in Hungary.
|The old venerable coach Marton Bukovi, who would take over the head job for the national team in July of 1956 after Sebes and guide the team to a 1-0 win over the Soviet Union. Bukovi was the one who laid the basis for the MM system at MTK Hungaria to transform tactics forever. This approach would be transmitted throughout the world following the eventual demise of the WM system to be replaced by Bukovi's ideas that later evolved into the highly successful 4-2-4 in the 1950s.|
In a like manner, it would be in Hungary some twenty years after Chapman's original idea that a celebrated manager called Marton Bukovi then working at MTK was not pleased with the situation with his capable center-forward facing increasing difficulties and complications around the goal area and was someone who wanted to enliven and gin up his attack and to disentangle and redeem a better compassed player.
The immediate inspiration for the new Hungarian 'MU' formation might be described as an attempt to do for the venerable 'WM' what Chapman had earlier had done in 1927 in directly calling upon the plight of defenses in the old pyramid system.
Bukovi himself had been a part of a fierce competitive struggle with Honvéd across a decade where an exceptionally good Honvéd side with honored names of Puskás, Kocsis, Budai, Czibor, defender Loránt and keeper Grosics already involved won domestic titles in 1949/50, 1950, 1952, 1954, and 1955. By the time this famous group had arrived, Bukovi was already a more profound and precise thinker than almost anybody in Hungary and assembled a very good team with Hidegkuti, Palotás, Zakariás and Lantos (all future members of the Mighty Magyars) and had previously won top club honors in 1951 and again in 1953 and 1958 and spelled the only real trouble for Honvéd and its domination in the league.
It was a satisfying and winning time to come with a background from MTK and their coach was used to maneuvering his men into shrewd leaps of fitness and ambiance that worked to direct and focus experience. Quite aside other clubs, at MTK, to keep impressions aroused and to inculcate new virtues in training matches Bukovi informed his players to try outside their limits to more than ordinarily absorb the experience as resourceful players, sometimes staging attackers playing as defenders or in the opposite to reach the right conditioning in all aspects and came out a talent-plush side that was able to anticipate their rivalry with Honvéd. Moreover, Bukovi tried to solve the problem of the jostling and the jam by persuading this player named Péter Palotás working alongside Hidegkuti, to scale back from his entangled forward area and marshal his game above the main line and found the new tonic to more lively passing opening with the two forwards striking a rich vein of goals that in real terms shifted the change in the years ahead. Perhaps this occurred precisely because of the same regimented inflexibility that had tightened the game since its new inauguration after 1927.
The concept of a free-floating center-forward was not entirely original with national manager Gustáv Sebes but an independent and simultaneous work of Marton Bukovi. Palotás was a very good player even at national level. In twenty-two official matches he scored 17 goals and the team did not falter (19 wins, 3 draws and no defeats) who was the first 'deep-seated forward' in history to make his trade pay, but eventually it would be Hidegkuti who would become the internationally lauded veteran specialist by carefully timing his runs with feeling and intuition late into the penalty area to try conclusions or to swing the ball to a better-placed colleague on the trot for them to prosper. This withdrawn center-forward (or false No. 9) gave Bukovi an auspicious device that allowed him to accommodate Honvéd in their rivalry. Neither was Sebes concerned with the defense of the past and saw at once the advantages of Bukovi's reliable ideas that led him to derive the famous deep-seated third forward role that MTK had built had from the ground up.
The new 'MU' formation
Sebes' reply to the 'WM ' was well prepared and developed in time for the Olympics in Helsinki not least because Bukovi sank new thought of how to genuinely spring more vitality into his game. The new 'MU' formation pinned down by Bukovi and Sebes went altogether in advance of the universal scope of the 4-2-4 system and may be considered the the creative arc between the older and admired tradition of the English 'WM ' and the new setup later in the same decade that created a leading and complete international style.
|The renowned Hungarian football manager Bela Guttmann with his two pride and joys, sterling European Champions Cups from 1961 and 1962 with Benfica.|
But the Hungarians took it one step further. By abandoning the generally accepted notion of player assignments usually identified by the logical numbering of players' jerseys that described the typical relationship of where they would play on the pitch (at least on paper anyway) they skewed the defensive compass of those teams thought not to cheat in their man-to-man coverage; and by playing out of position every so often they sapped opposing cohering discipline done so not merely to spatially force new lanes but also to fabricate as much confusion and tension that could be aroused as players began to fall into a checkered position as parts of a flexible whole. There the one always created the preconditions for the other in the lead up to the breakthrough score.
By coaxing opposing players out of their responsible areas that, in the fullness of time, would built toward a boosting breakthrough moment or a displacement elsewhere they warped accustomed defenses. This lively appearance was accentuated by many capricious looping jaunts and stunting runs connected to prim passes that were apt and accurate and required intense awareness that accounts in no small measure for leaving defenses struggling to adapt.
It was with such a team venturing in things unattempted hitherto in style that was first glimpsed at the 1952 Olympics but not entirely known to the outside that the Hungarians went to London in the late autumn of 1953 for a comparatively huge encounter that would later be heralded and become famous for being the most influential and famous prestige friendly in sports history.
|London in 1953 from Trafalgar Square, a classic moment of midcentury modern life captured by Wolfgang Suschitzky.|
Gustáv Sebes was a learned mind of the game and was determined to succeed as none had before. He minded that the game itself be a vestige of research and preparation that were meticulous to lodge an eternal place in history. Sebes' powers of observation was a thing of an absolute crystalline order, his attention to small details that were apparently trivial to many peerless.
Sebes visited London for a match taking place in Wembley for a special day's observance, a very auspicious occasion to celebrate the world's oldest football association, the England FA's ninetieth anniversary. This match, played on the 21st of October, would see the 'Rest of the World ' against England's finest. The great itinerant Hungarian player Lászlo Kubala (who lead Catalonian Barcelona to four Spanish national and five Copa del Rey titles) scored the first and forth goal against England, but in the 92nd minute Alf Ramsey put England on an equal plane with the world's best to shield England's world-sweeping football tradition and long-running epic from the year 1863 and the foreigners were another challenge met and brushed away.
Jacques Ferran, the noted journalist on L’Equipe stated after the draw: “Let us wish that English football does not forget that the only match that matters will take place on November 25.” Over one hundred journalists and sports reporters were sent from European nations for coverage of the sensationally anticipated 'Match of the Century.'
|The great Hungarian player Lászlo Kubala ,the first great foreign superstar in Spain with Barcelona who won four Spain league domestic titles, five Copa del Rey championship games, two Inter-Cities Fair Cups, and who took charge as manager of the national Spanish team from 1969-1980. He alsoscored two goals in the 4-4 World Select XI versus England match to commemorate the England FA's 90th anniversary with a jubilee exhibition extravaganza in Wembley Stadium weeks before the "Match of the Century."|
It was during this game that Sebes noticed that even very high balls did not rebound more than a meter above the famous pristinely manicured lawn at Wembley and was likewise reported so thickly dense and pulpy by returning Austrian players (who visited Wembley in 1951) that it would soak up the energy and spring in their step and runs. With that intuit knowledge of the field's absorbent and fatigue-making nature while running, Sebes and the players got the the idea that the forthcoming game be played with the 'the ball being the fastest player', thus quick passing and not the ball's tending would be something extra as an advantage. Sebes was given three English balls by FA President Stanley Rous to take home to acclimate the Hungarian players.
As a certain extra point in his work, while at Wembley the day after the commemorative match, Sebes drew detailed measurements of the famous Wembley pitch and tried to fathom and gauge the slant of the sun that late afternoon match to be played seven days from December. Sebes chose a home ground in Budapest that came to replicate Wembley's wide dimensions and drilled the players in match-practice three times a week from there on against opposing sides deliberately fielded in the powerfully successful English 'WM ' formation.
Ten days before their appointment in the ancestral home of football in London, Hungary played a good Swedish team in Budapest in a game their supporters could hardly enthuse over and incline the press to optimism heading into the most grandiose match of their lives. Puskás missed from the penalty spot and hit the post, and where Sweden possessed physically in the match the Hungarians played hastily and sluggishly with the heavier tough match balls specially imported from England by Sebes for the players. Before long, there were some complaints of the not too pliant balls being ''wooden' and responding unfeelingly to their boots and perhaps inhibiting the edges out of their game. The Swedes drew level in the 87th minute to earn a 2-2 draw. The unsatisfying result caused some real panic in the Hungarian press and with the longing public and some chided the team.
A committee of seven English FA analysts including England manager Walter Winterbottom watched the game from the stands to appraise tactics and strengths Hungary would invoke using were carried away with lukewarm impressions that Hungary was not able to round out a winning finish. But little was grasped by the best-informed men in the world as Sebes showed nothing new, thus Winterbottom knew neither the formula nor the new forces of the 'MU' formation. Sebes with the ease of a great master of experiment threw out on the field every exhibit that did not reveal a new application. By neatly obscuring Nándor Hidegkuti, the enigmatic cached figure as-yet-unrevealed ranging between midfield and the forward line decoyed elsewhere and remaining to be deciphered, it made a unlikely lackluster match a solacing success. Precisely as they hoped to do, the match had the mild fulfillment in that English scouts seemed only modestly aware of the amount of tactical change the Hungarians would take to England and the upshot was it aroused no major prior expectations
|Legendary sports broadcaster, journalist and sports executive, György Szepesi, with the great Pele in Budapest.|
Of all the sports rapporteurs, radio broadcaster György Szepesi had ample opportunity to observe directly the deeds of the Hungarian team since 1945, whose dramatic role was a teller who to set out to record the leading events surrounding the team's affairs following them everywhere, always keeping in mind the need to hold the interest of the listening audience and was embraced as the twelveth man who gave vibrant accounts describing the team's ups and downs for the general public. By maintaining a classic saving faith, Szepesi was among the first to respond to the underprized genius and the new prospects of the informal 'World Championship Decider' and his intuition weeks before the match with England was convincing. Szepesi was certain the team would carry and surpass the threshold of new potential.
In charge of radio broadcasts as head of the sports desk, in spite of bleak forecasts and alarms by many columnists after the Swedish match, Szepesi knew that better times in football lay ahead than the game played in 1936 where Hungary lost 2-6 at Wembley. It was he who insisted on scheduling the match in the Radio Times twice the same day three weeks before the match itself, the afternoon live kickoff at 3:15 pm and its re-broadcast at twenty past 8 o'clock, something perhaps he could not have done if he had not understood them perfectly and nobody would have dared to do if the game would be known to lead to a cratering defeat.
When the Hungarian national team set out to take on England, many journalists and public personalities scoffed at the idea and said they would be better off not trying. At the time it was considered well-nigh impossible to win in England where playing in Wembley was neither easy or certain where seldom has excellence reached such sweeping proportions beyond the scope of any team in the world.
|Piccadily Square in London in June 1953. 1953 was a bellwether year of rising hope and new optimism in the United Kingdom. The "home of football" would go on to host the 'World Championship Decider' in November to wind down a very memorable year.|
The overall mood and outlook in the United Kingdom in late November in the bellwether year of 1953 was winding down positively, the outcome of the highly publicized match with Hungary would burnish a very memorable year as the country was very prominent in current affairs. Post-war rationing of many food staples finally comes to an end. In a revelation earlier in the year, Cambridge scientists announce to the world the landmark discovery of the structure of DNA that would herald in a new era in perhaps the greatest scientific discovery of the 20th Century.
The most important happening of the year was also the world’s first major international event ever to be broadcast live to millions around the globe. A new young monarch, Queen Elizabeth II comes to the throne in June amid acclamation that occasions the real advent of global television as a real societal force on the world stage. In the process, the television age would come of age in Britain and largely shape a British cultural zeitgeist in the years to follow. The radiance and youth of the queen and the senior wisdom of the level of Prime Minister Winston Churchill was sought by many sentiments to give rise to a new age of poise, serenity and progress that would invoke rank to Britain. In late May, hale British adventurers with their porters set out for a mountainous physique in Nepal that had daunted the imagination that had claimed the lives of many brave earlier explorers who have gone before. The conquest of Mount Everest on 29 May 1953, the outpost of a last frontier, reverberated around the world and made headlines to mark one the greatest human feats of the 20th Century. News of the expedition’s success reached London on the morning of the young queen’s coronation on June 2, 1953—and Britain was on top of the world. Around this time English football, never humbled at home, renowned in a kind of proud anachronistic insularity remained the best in the world that was ripe with all-filling awe.
|Outstanding defensive star from Blackpool, Harry Johnston, who was named in 1951 the ' Footballer of the Year ' and who would figure prominently in the match. He was teamed with Jackie Sewell, the most expensive signing in British football history, captain Bill Wright, the 1952 Footballer of the Year and the ageless 'Wizard of Dribble' Stanley Matthews.|
London spoke for Britain in the impeccable southern intonations of the radio announcers of the state-owned BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), and the press in building out the game that lay ahead galvanized worldwide radio and newsprint audiences naming it the "Match of the Century" that gave the game a sort of here-and-now universality in the service of sensation and thus focused the eyes of the Anglo world upon this match. A visit towards both teams' power rating the media's remark of the match taking on such significance as 'The World Championship Decider' was a becoming view considering the acme strength of both nations who were weighed with very rich results. England was ranked No. 3 in the world with a power-rating of 2025 points or the No. 2 team in the Old World (the team from Argentina being ranked No. 2 with 2048 points) and Hungary was ranked No. 1 with a rating of 2105 points.
The anxiously promising match was ever England's sternest challenge to stem a gathering juggernaut from across the Channel from behind the 'Iron Curtain' that had remained unbeaten for over three and a half years — and in deference to a remarkable time-honored tradition and unrivaled power in Europe, England would have its place in the sun again as the highly approved side, stating what has come to be universal opinion, the superiority of England playing at home. England would be a defender of the central English sport's venerations of the past and their stand against Hungary that November would be a clear fulfillment of the codes in which they have been reared.
At superior ease in the conventions and the thoroughly learned habits of old concerning the sport, the English public generally felt good about the prospects of facing the Hungarians in Wembley. Many observers felt English premier experience, high professionalism with the game to be played in the country of football’s birth would bring success with ease against a team from the Socialist Bloc where no commercial interests were allowed in football whose players were technically amateurs from plainer backgrounds most of whom were nominally pressed into soldiery in the Hungarian army.
For some more in tune with the chief controversy of the time, the expected gamesmanship on the plane of sport would reflect upon the larger struggle and everyday concerns between capitalism and socialism with major differences of political theory fortified within geographical lines with the game assuming political hues and dimensions for many both inside and outside the game, colored by a portraiture of capitalist, Western, imperial grandeur standing to scale against a frozen collectivist communist working-class system from the East, it to be metaphorically played by top athletes, it was the pressure of those days.
|The legendary white cliffs of Dover -- the Hungarian team when by boat to London and glimpsed the glistening cliffs of Dover.|
England fielded a squad of prestige formed of considerable and legendary power within a time-tested and patently English formation of the 'WM'. There were some mighty sharp men as public characters in the vaunted English team that was composed of all the stars of Football League First Division whose reputations were of world renown. Two of whom would be later knighted for exceptional services rendered toward national sport. These included a first-rate world-class maestro, the ageless wonder Stanley Matthews considered one of the great athletes of the century bronzed with experience and a phenomena of longevity who supplied much aerial and crossing prowess to set up goals where ever he traveled, beaming out his wondrous lines who was entering veneration as one of England's greatest vintage players aged thirty-eight, a much feared powerful centre-forward in Stan Mortensen who had scored 22 goals in 24 international appearances, defensive star Harry Johnstone, the Footballer of the Year in 1951, attacker Jackie Sewell, the most expensive player in the land. Alf Ramsey, who would become England's national coach in its greatest days, played right-back with special spatial awareness and technique. England's very capable center-half, captain Billy Wright was the Footballer of the Year in 1952. Billy Wright was a thoroughgoing Englishman and described as a real talent before the war who became the regular captain of England and would go on to be first player in history to reach 100 appearances for a national side for whom there’s current involvement and a modern ongoing campaign to have knighthood conferred posthumously.
At England's order was a very powerful and salient midfield, a quadrangle of four players with an untiring work rate of fetching and carrying the ball up and down the field whom the Hungarians referred to as 'the piano carriers' packed by typical big, classic characters.
|The truly legendary Stanley Matthews, the 'Wizard of Dribble', whose playing career spanned 33 years, Footballer of the Year in 1948.|
This highly successful system long wedded to a hardy, open, spontaneous and industrial style with its usually high quality personnel, united by a wondrous unmistakable English competitive spirit saw England take on all comers outside the British Isles and never have the world's best teams left England victorious.
England's good foundation in the classic WM system is apparent in their impeccable rightness of form in the autumn of 1953; and at the height of England's footballing career around the post-war era, its team was firmly established in serious opinion as the foremost in Europe not only because of their unsurpassed mastery of that essential pattern but also because it exerted a strong influence on its age.
|Budapest's Eastern Railway Station built in 1883, a waystation for the luxuriant 'Orient Express', the sceneof the sendoff of the team to Paris then to London for the grand match.|
Gustáv Sebes had written earlier letters to his long French friends in Paris that his team would stop en route before arriving in London. The Hungarian team set off with great fanfare showered by a great audience of well-wishers from a Budapest train station that once housed the carriages of the luxuriant and mysterious 'Orient Express' (the fabled Paris-Munich-Vienna-Budapest-Belgrade-Istanbul rail line) from earlier days and arrived in Paris and there played a Renault car factory team, a company Gustáv Sebes had previously worked at in pre-war Paris as a union organizer. Remarkably a crowd of 15,000 people turned out to see the practice session that gave great warmth with team winning 18 - 0 and receive great ovation at the finish. Goalkeeper Gyula Grosics and Puskás recalls memories of that game helping assuage fears, weight of expectations and anxieties over facing a great English side that produced consternation in virtually everyone in Europe facing them.
The Hungarians arrived by boat ashore to England, and were excited after gliding past the legendary glistening white cliffs of Dover, England's version of the rock of Gibraltar that they had seen in cinema newsreels and in vintage black-and-while films. The Hungarians found their comfortable lodging in the Cumberland Hotel in London and it was an auspicious occasion they found a local Czech restaurant with a Hungarian chef in charge within walking distance where the dietary menu were planned in consultation with the team doctor. They practiced their skillful trade at QPR's (Queen's Park Rangers) home ground on Loftus road which had a quaint quiet picaresque countryside and homely feel that allowed for focus. A ponderous pile of telegrams began to flood and inundate the Cumberland Hotel from all over the world and a suitcase full of these good wishes were taken aboard the coach that ferried them to the game of their lives as talismanic written charms.
In the four hour pre-game discussions at the Cumberland Hotel, Gustáv Sebes knew well that the usually so unthwartable English always spoke soundness in defense, and could be certain it would convene determination against any foreign team with a myth-making attack that warped and sagged one team after another as visiting sides headed toward collapse by a three goal difference done by a proud, mighty team that had all the breaks. Sebes directed that a veering excursion from what he had used against the Italians in Rome in May would make more out of the event, outlining his thoughts in a notebook. The tone of the tactical talk focused on working out some fantastic stylistic nuances naming it the "Whirl", and the Hungarian players, including the FA President Barcs from the front office who was present noticed a very excited Sebes speechifying exuberantly to season his message with small details. To re-create one's own magnificent triumph like before in the spring in Rome with that same wealth of detail was no easy task as anyone who had made the attempt will testify.
|The team training on Queen Park Ranger's home ground on Loftus road before the huge match. In the far back is Lászlo Budai, Kocsis, Hidegkuti, Czibor and Puskás teeing up the ball.|
The day of the match the Hungarians went by coach to Wembley Empire Stadium and some people aboard eased the palpable tension on the way by starting folk songs and the national anthem to help placate nerves and hoped to labor for a grand day, another uncut try for the top to break the barrier between the game played by the world, namely the continentals and now Hungary and that profound quality the invincible English could play at home. If Sebes stressed the new elements now flourishing on the Continent and upon the quiet dualism seen in Hidegkuti's role, England's assurance resided in their faith of playing the 'WM' style better than anybody in the world that won continuously in the fixed channels of historical tradition.
|Date||Opp. Team||GF||GA||Opp. World Rank|
|Employees from the Hungarian Economy Ministry gather around a radio to listen to exciting developments of the match.|
Meanwhile the relayed radio broadcast by sports commentator György Szepesi back in Hungary almost brought the entire country to a standstill for a few hours. Wild with surmise of what they could achieve against the greatest team in the world, expectations in the titanic game spiraled in delicious anticipation and excited a great deal of discussion and endless pre-match debate about the English weather, the English ball, the texture and dimensions of the Wembley pitch, Puskás and Wright, goalkeepers Gil Merrick and Grosics, midfielders Bozsik and Jackie Sewell. Virtually all the nation was engrossed in anticipation. Electrical retailers did good business in loudspeakers and radio amplifiers as big stores, restaurants and shops provided coverage for their staff and customers with advertisements that proudly announced: ''We are broadcasting the Match of the Century.'' At kick-off, bustling city life in Budapest ground to a halt, the streets were deserted apart from a few places where people congregated in public around a loudspeaker. Cinemas showed films to empty auditoriums, buses and trams stopped with no passengers aboard. In factories shift times were prearranged to finish early. In mines the match's scoreline was chalked on the sides of cages that descended into the shafts to relay game developments to coal-faced workers.
|Anxious Hungarian fans in Budapest listening to live developments of the 'Match of the Century' on loudspeakers on city streets.|
In the reality of the Cold War era where the Western press stopped at the Austrian-Hungarian frontier that was hermetically sealed, neither team knew or had ever seen the members of the other team. In the labyrinth of Wembley Stadium Puskás was meandering the corridor before the kick-off and noticed English inside-right Ernie Taylor (who was 5 foot 4 inches tall) and quickly popped into the Hungarians' dressing-rooms with the sportive announcement: "Listen, we're going to be alright, they've got someone even smaller than me."
|Hungarian captain Ferenc Puskás and Billy Wright lead out respective teams in the 'World Championship Decider' in front of 105,000 in Empire Wembley Stadium. Behind the captains are goalkeepers, the great Gyula Grosics and Gil Merrick.|
|The polyvalent tactical Hungarian lineup for the 'Match of the Century', a revolutionary quasi-4-2-4 formation born out of the older 3-2-5 model (the 'Danubian School').|
- The Match -
Covered all over with star-studded power and to the fullest welcome, legends Ferenc Puskás and Billy Wright led out two columns of the greatest teams of players side-by-side onto the "hallowed turf" as respective captains and came to remind and be reminded of who they were to a live world audience—the world's two greatest teams. They walked onto the wide emerald field in the renowned cathedral of football, Wembley Empire Stadium that became a standard stop for the world's best aspiring teams in great bids to stake out a famous claim but where they fade utterly away from victory where England took defiant pleasure in performing exultant feats and where the sport stiffened to produce some of the most effective football the world had ever seen that lived upon an unbeatable capital that repeatedly chorused almost the national voice itself where history was made simple, the abode of epic champions, asserters of classic excellence and cunning formalists of the age, where England was superior in deflecting successively approaching visitors in emphatic experiences bringing the common fate to all.
Wembley Stadium conveyed something about it—engulfed by unblemished history, an air, of real atmosphere, character that belonged to Britain and nowhere else that ascribed the amplitude and abiding genius of the place—a vast place tremendously bourgeois and colossally intimidating neatly classicized, a place of incredible happenings, of splendors and revelations, teams of gravitas and men in accurate form where no team could snap the full spectrum of antique excellence, where resurrections be, where everything of delight occurred inside and legends recognized, where the late vestiges of the Empire came down from the upper air of high dominions to the sensible earth to adorn England's crushing triumphs amid mirth-shouting pennants in great native moments, the place at the heart of it all where "modern football" first began within its capacious embrace. Upon its manicured lawn stood association football's greatest 'home field advantage'.
It was a noticeable sort of afternoon and with a soil so fruitful and men so clever in Britain, the fog, the weather, as usual, all declared for England. Official photographers began collecting behind the Hungarian goal as the ephemeral heat of any visitor would melt away and England would snap up the heavy pomp and pourings-in of English goals. English captain Bill Wright turned excitedly to confide something to his big center-forward Mortensen: "We should be alright here Stan, they haven't got the proper kit." a passing remark that alluded to the lightweight boots of the Magyars.
Hidegkuti had well inhaled the atmosphere and it seemed an utterly enchanted backdrop, gripped by the excitement of the over 105,000 number in attendance. When one turns to the magnificent edifice of Wembley Stadium, that venerable relic of a historic order of things, one's imagination comes to life, and this, you think, is where football creation was begun. Hidegkuti noticed the marvelous form of the lawn—Gustáv Sebes' intuitive feel that the thick carpet was in the finest and densest condition—an wearying enabling obstacle that led to the picture of an English steamroller at work against visiting opposition. Hidegkuti himself could not see the earth itself beneath the grass.
|The on-field portrait of the great 1953 Hungarian team in Wembley, Nov. 25 before kickoff.|
Before the kick-off the Hungarians unlimbered tension in spirit and body by performing unwitnessed ball tricks at warm-up. They were darting lenient and serene moods and beguiled the pre-game tedium with jokes and friendly chaff. A game was formed jocosely as Kocsis wagered to amuse Puskás that he could hang the ball in the air with one hundred subtle kicks, which Koscis almost accomplished with ninety-eight kicks before Czibor, poking fun at the skylarking, snatched the ball away. All three collapsed in jest. Later Puskás and Jozsef Bozsik volleyed the ball to each other about 25 yards apart, caught it on the instep, levitated it up into mid-air for before returning volleys eight times without the ball ever contacting the ground.
It happened on November 25 1953, in a province of legend and myth inside Empire Wembley Stadium in London on a foggy Wednesday afternoon in front of a prodigious crowd and broadcast to a worldwide audience of many tens of millions of listeners and television viewers inside the Commonwealth and the 'Magical Magyars' mesmerized.
The game began with a rush with a scheme of running brewing so very mightily after kick-off that seemed to cascade with full vigor. Inside the first minute the English defense experienced variable passing pressure invented out from midfield as the Magyars' startling attack proved insolvable with a new ground game that made lanes into England's stout stereotypical WM formation and exploited a flaw in their rigid marking system that opened yawning gaps by cleverly drawing defenders out of position with an entire earnestness of running and a medley of passes. Rapid is the trot in the England half and Nándor Hidegkuti could not be subdued. Bozsik released him to advance with a pass atop the English box. To a magical astonishment, forty-five seconds into the match, Hidegkuti ran down a center seam, sold a feint thereby freezing Harry Johnston, diagonally angled inside and with the kick as hard as he was able sent a long soaring sweeping right-to-left 17-yard vector into the upper right-hand corner of the net beyond the lunging mitt of goalkeeper Gil Merrick. Hungary 1 : England 0 (1st minute)
Very quickly it was 1-0 as sensationalist coverage was broadcast by György Szepesi who deployed more than his usual charm in the press box at radio station 16 on the same front terrace as the Royal Box along with all foreign correspondents. After Nandor Hidegkuti's first long score from the outside an Englishman with a tap on the shoulder solicitously offered him a glass of whiskey to help him seldom sit with a warmer glowing mood for Hungary's most legendary sportscaster who had assumed the eternally rewarding job in 1945, a post he would hold for four more decades. English broadcaster, the venerable Kenneth Wolstenholme, who in turn would gain legendary status in England in coming later years, but especially during the 1966 World Cup hosted by Britain, gave wonderful detailed play-by-play commentary with his well-bred tones.
|The game's pace-setting first score in the 45th second, a powerful 17 yard volley by Hidegkuti past goalkeeper Merrick|
Throughout the game Hidegkuti was un-markable in a starring role as he haunted the English line mixed with befuddling actions of Puskás and the Hungarian line that posed tactical riddles by running interference for one another by overlapping and changing their positions almost clairvoyantly on cue. These events left England in a nonplussed state, most especially centre-half Harry Johnston. Johnson was never assignment true in his dealings with No. 9 Hidegkuti, unsure whether to accommodate him man-to-man or play zonally that caused him to be subtly adrift in a kind of no man's land that undid a large part of the English defensive posture. A well-timed English counter-attack ensued that began in the penalty area. Down field Stan Mortensen released Jackie Sewell who put it past Gyula Grosics. Hungary 1 : England 1 (13th minute)
In a time where England seemed to be able to turn the corner, Hungary's second goal also happened with very little planning. Puskás had fallen to Harry Johnston's tackle on the corner of the leftside of the six-yard box and turned on his back with the ball magnetically still anchored to his left foot. He was prone and found himself hemmed inside a semi-circle of four defenders breathing down on the listless ball, who in the moment, were hesitant to move on the ball wanting to know what the great Puskás would do. Hidegkuti was watching about ten yards away left of the penalty spot with the grouping of four defenders fencing him off from Puskás. Before the defense could converge on the ball Puskás drew a glimpse of Hidegkuti outside the thicket of eight legs from his groundfloor vantage and pushed the ball underneath the crowd towards Hidegkuti. Hidegkuti ran onto it and turned lateral to the goal to evade his marker and from the penalty spot plowed into it as it headed inside the right post. Gil Merrick could not reach it and a last defender stepped in as a safety to block it. It contacted the defender's outstretched leg and sent deflecting on an angle topside inside goal. Hungary 2 : England 1 (20th minute)
There comes some lucky ninety minutes of a football man's life that's fused in the alembic of a perfect game and four minutes later Puskás became the world leader for most international goals (getting past Hungary's Imre Schlosser's 59 goals) after a majestic 7-pass buildup that commuted across the English defense and culminated in what the Hungarian press called the 'Goal of the Century', a sporting emblem of general sublimity and signifier of an already brilliant developing career.
Of all the famous goals that Puskás scored there has got to be the one, a wonderfully fine goal in the high hour in the north that promises to be the leaven that settles victory that aroused a heavy roar bathing the whole receptivity to a milestone that now 'modern football' can date from it— how Puskás shakes the comfortable circle of good and great teams with inner spontaneities, fibre and pure breadth, then Puskás' brightest hit with high native originality amid ostensible talent, the towering aplomb of this great player.
The left-winger Zoltan Czibor, who possessed a less predictable personality on the field with his smoldering quickness, opponents were seldom able to tell on which side of the field he would arrive on. It is a cheering sight as the ball progressively moves step-by-step towards the opposing goal, Czibor jaunts down the right flank and flew to the right corner out of position and gets passed the ball deep for a reaching around the back of the defense. After rounding the corner Czibor plays it low with a less than perfect flat pass to Puskás who takes up a position on the right-hand side of the six-yard box. Puskás' famous ‘drag-back’ goal imparted on him football immorality captured on film by executing a stunning piece of off-hand ball control from impromptu impulse that is a mainstay on classic highlight footage.
Puskás' most famous flash of intuition also came little by way of run through: at first keep Puskás caught it strangely, daintily touching the escaping ball that drifts toward the dead-ball line. Billy Wright, in a flash, barrels down to tackle and dispossess the unsteady ball. In the key moment of the action, Puskás reflexively drags back the loose ball with the sole of his boot in the skyline of an instant before Wright came within an ace of capturing the ball leaving the English captain finding empty space where the ball had been de-cleated and nearly reposed and sprawled on his back.
Achieving a compact force after the savory beneficent conjuring trick Puskás swiftly pivots and spotted a glint and solace of daylight between the near post and keeper Gill Merrick and sent the old heat as smoothly as ever and smoother than ever to let the glory out. The resultant Puskás hard cannonball between Merrick and the near post was powerfully thrust in to propel a new scoreline and soon had all the romance of the game on their side.
The inexpressible completeness of the well made move and the finish beyond the ordinary in incontestably his best goal, Puskás had put himself out today with plasticity and grit, was overwhelmed by the roaring of the crowd and verifies the dream.
That strong, delicious, mystic play of Puskás and his brightest score was emotionally immediate with sports commentator Szepesi, who feels more than he can say and reports it accurately and vibrantly: "This is a world sensation!! Puskás pulls it back with his sole!" Besides being a charming and transforming piece in itself the scene presents a clever person successfully deceiving one of England's finest players as one of the richest portrayals of Puskás' fast thinking as the distinguished and perceptive football columnist Geoffrey Green immortally wrote that Billy Wright had charged "like a fire engine going to the wrong fire."
Radio commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme had also seen Puskás' goal and said of the fine effort: "That Puskás goal was perhaps one of the most incredible things I've ever seen. I can see it now. Merrick was in a perfect position by his left-hand post, so Puskás had no chance of beating him, and the ball was on one side of the goal. Billy Wright was coming in to cover and Puskás pulled it back with the sole of his left boot, turned on the right and hit it with his left foot and the ball's in the back of the net. All in about one-tenth of the time it's taken me to tell you that."
Hungary 3 : England 1 (24th minute)
|The 'Eureka moment'-the goal that won the day with a marvelous three-move impromptu! Hungary's No. 10 Puskás reacts to his first astonishing and improbable goal.|
Three minutes later, was another Puskás goals, a deflected József Bozsik long flat free-kick that Puskás re-directed miraculously with his back heel as it burrowed on an angle into the net at the far post past the suprised upstanding Merrick who did not even arch down to reach it. The first thirty minutes is the most spectacular phase of match with the lead swelling to 4–1. Hungary 4 : England 1 (27th minute)
At halftime, the Royal Air Force brass band entertained and paraded across breadth of the field for the huge spectating crowd, stepping in unison with their instruments as the Hungarians headed into their quarters to warm ovation, each one of their goals treated to a world of courtesy and generous applause.
In the second half, in the 50th minute then came one of the most beautiful and certainly one of the most difficult goals ever scored in Wembley one could see. He who dresses the emerald field with fantastic situations, midfielder József Bozsik got the ball's rebound from a header that Kocsis with kinetic fury put on the far right woodwork, and it found Bozsik 23 yards out above the right side of the box. Bozsik, firm and unhurried, put the ball into the air with one undulant thrust, the heavy ball slowly rising straightway and flying exact and plumb as a ruled line towards the upper left corner. The ball first met a desperately laterally diving Merrick who could not reach it and on the line an English defender behind him leapt to deflect it with his head but in vain as it was meticulously deposited under the bar into the far high left corner still rising. The long perfect loveliness and skillful dalliance of the levitating 23 yard strike took many by supreme amazement. Hungary 5 : England 2 (50th minute)
Little dimmed in the enthusiasm and grand movements of the Hungarians with the players getting the most out of spatially dislocating English defenders that was very pleasing and stunning to look at. As time in the game progressed, England found difficulties in gaining possession as long vivid Hungarian plays rippled up and down the field with the ball constantly jetting away from the home side. Hungary's game struck admirers as remarkably distinguished because it was so superior by varied artistry and by an elusive, intense, unbroken fluid quality to the tough-fibered, industrial commonplace football long practiced in the tightness of the 'WM' system.
|Kocsis' long header that struck and rebounded from the woodwork would be gathered by Jozsef Bozsikseconds later with a 23 yard straightaway volley into the top left corner of the net. In the far right is Alf Ramsey. Thirteen years into the future in 1966, Manager Alf Ramsey would lead England to its only World Cup title victory against West Germany on this very monumental "hallowed turf" in Wembley Stadium.|
The day was gained and the crowning festivity of the afternoon was reached when the ball came to the direction of Bozsik who cut off the pass to Matthews deep in the zone and began a series of cleverly concocted moves with ten passes and the game closed with Hidegkuti's great goal.
A player deep wide right who almost straddled the touchline at midfield drove a deep ball towards the center. It descended onto a leaping player who was equidistant between the the center circle and the penalty arc and this player re-directed it with his head to the outside top line of the penalty area to Kocsis, who, in turn, put his head toward it to Puskás who was 10 yards away to his left. Without the ball touching the ground, Puskás balanced the ball with his left foot nudged it up before letting it bounce. On the rebound Puskás launched a high arching cross to a quickly hastening Hidegkui, the bright cunning lord of the hour who covered a lot of ground and came roaring to a spot ten yards out nearly to the right corner of the six-yard box. In unison with the downward cascading ball it would connect with Hidegkuti's right foot inches above the turf and in a sublime air-assault course among four players the ball only touched the ground once. Hidegkuti timed it accurately as the ball screamed off his foot and lashed low inside the right upright. Hungary 6 : England 2 (53rd minute). Hidegkuti indelibly wrote his signature as the author of England's maiden defeat and accomplished a very famous hat-trick. With him playing a part among others the huge crowd marveled at greatness unfolding itself and gave a chorus of resounding applause with the game finishing 6–3 at the whistle.
|The 6th goal, a summation of a 10-pass sequence. Hidegkuti timed a wondrous high cross from Puskás and crashed it in with his racing right foot with the ball inches above the ground.|
Ripened beyond computation, a joyously wholesome, prodigal, affluent feeling rolls in the souls of the men who just played the game. Puskás, the frontest man unconquerable wins the inner world to a meteoric fame, the master knows that he is unprecedentedly great and that all around him are now unprecedentedly great.
|The first ever to christen a win over England at home, a 90 year old record surpassed, a joyous celebration on the field for a great sporting touchstone reached and for a historic feat. Puskás, who made two goals and scored two himself, and Sándor Geller, the goalkeeper who substituted Grosics in the 78th minute. Greatness pervades and enfolds the unofficial 'World Champions'.|
November 26th, 1953, this dawn is the first dawn of "modern football". In the afterglow of the match and dancing in the eyes of that Austerlitz sunrise (that is, a dazzling sunrise revealing all) the following morning there were reverent superlatives that appeared in print in sports editions of newspapers all over Europe. There was the irresistible temptation to catch the impulse, the special driving force and spirit behind the game and give it form, make it permanent and assert its meaning for English football.
After the match, the Hungarian radio announcer Szepesi rushed into the Hungarians' dressing-room, exclaiming with cheer in his voice: "This is a miracle boys! We have beaten England!" He then made his way onto the hallowed turf reminiscing about Puskás' crucial drag-back goal and went where it had been done and reflected on old decisive historical clashes where monuments are usually erected in tribute consecrating fields throughout Europe. Beaming with pride and musing over and thinking it a golden moment Szepesi reckoned, in the same way, a small memorial should be put on the very spot where 'where Hungary defeated England'.
A grand reception was later hosted and Gustáv Sebes requested that the English FA representatives invite along one special individual. Of the many in attendance who would figure prominently in the English game's future one initially had taught mainland Europeans and the Hungarians a great deal about football. There was a time in decades not long past when somebody very brilliantly was committed to a new description of the game. A man occurred before and after the Great War who went unnoticed and received hardly any attention in England and whose practical ethos for the game were dimly apprehended ideas in Britain where tradition-bound closed attitudes were projected at least in comparison to what the mainland Europeans had been doing around and after the war. But he is not so much forgotten as half-known, the under appreciated impresario 71-year old Jimmy Hogan.
While English game flourished within parochial conventions of its own in the Continent meanwhile Hogan had turned himself into a living source of knowledge about the Continental game and had been everywhere doing great things. Hogan was an outsider in English circles who arrived to the game with the youth team of Aston Villa to watch his colleague and friend Gusztáv Sebes play a game that thoroughly re-imagined, elucidated and mapped out the sports's new archetype. A foundational figure, Hogan had been a pioneering journeyman coach, even a football missionary before and after the First World War who imparted a early inaugural knowledge of the game on the Continent edifying Austrians, Germans and Hungarians with his innovations.
Though there may have been those who thought disparagingly of Jimmy Hogan's methods formerly at home, Hogan arrived to Hungary via Vienna (where he had worked as a football consultant with Hugo Meisl). After being threatened with internment due to the war's outbreak, though influential friends offered means of escape and arranged his smuggling-out to Budapest in 1914 there to unearth one of the most illustrious and brilliant runs ever in management in European club history while in charge of one the capital city's clubs, MTK. At MTK, one of Hungary's most winningest football franchises and one of the nation's leading sports institutions founded in 1888 that Hogan began a legacy of future English coaches and took the reins to guide MTK to ten national titles between 1914 and 1925.
Hogan's own 1917-18 MTK team especially is thought of as one of history's greatest club sides lead by Imre Schlosser and Alfred Schaffer. Along with winning league honors that year, his team brandished an awesome rainmaking offense that crushed all-comers with 21 wins, 1 draw, with 0 defeats scoring 147 goals (6.68 goals/game) and allowing only 10 (0.45 goals/game). After lending new nuances stylistically and modes of preparation, Hogan acquired a foundation of admirers who regarded him as a precursor and the essential pioneer on the Continent and a later generation of coaches testified to the influence of his work on his idea of what the sport should be.
Admittedly a disciple of Jimmy Hogan, Sebes felt the pull of Hogan's ideas and comes to great decisions for Sebes believed the sport implied a language showing ever-pushed elasticity and skillful turf passing interspersed with outflanking long balls as the most practical way to get around the defense and lined up to a flexible, acquisitive possessive style that would take the pressure off the defense it became the preferred choice and fountainhead of much of the modern game. Sebes harbored that the future of lay within this composition and cast those ideas in this great triumph that has never been excelled.
The Hungarians dedicated their great triumph to the old man who had given them much. What Hogan carried whole in his mind for a generation, Sebes and the Magical Magyars were able to give an entire and perfectly true idea of it on the broadest stage to the accompaniment of a worldwide live audience. Hogan commented that perhaps the match instructed a new age- “...that was the football I've always dreamed of the Hungarians can one day play."
It took a long well-ripened journey by Sebes to gain Jimmy Hogan his rightful place as Sebes laid tribute: "We played football as Jimmy Hogan taught us. When our football history is told, his name should be written in gold letters."
Post-Game Analysis and International Reaction:
"This match was sensational the likes of which few very sportsmen have had the privilege to partake in. Even at the Olympic group stage I prophasized that the Hungarians would win the Olympic championship. I told you that they will defeat in London the English, and I also announced that they would win the world championship." -- Vittorrio Pozzo, the only man two win two World Cups as manager.
The journalist Geoffrey Green of The Times was a celebrated and accurate historian of football life in his native land who wrote: "They found themselves strangers in a strange world, a world of flitting red spirits, for such did the Hungarians seem as they moved at devastating pace with superb skill and powerful finish in their cherry bright shirts. One has talked about the new conception of football as developed by the continentals and South Americans. Always the main criticism against the style has been its lack of a final punch near goal. One has thought at times, too, that perhaps the perfections of football was to be found somewhere between the hard-hitting, open British method and this other, more probing infiltration. Yesterday, the Hungarians, with perfect team work, demonstrated this mid point to perfection."
Ron Greenwood, who was to be the future manager of England (1977-1982) commented:
"I made sure that I went to Wembley to see the famous Hungarians play and a new light came into my eyes. I was watching a team playing the way I felt football should be played, and to me it was a revelation and it made a great impression on me. I felt there and then that if I ever became in charge of a team, that's near enough the way I'd want to play. At that time we were playing a lot of football in this country where it was a long ball up to the big centre-forward and knock back and what-have-you, and Hungary's passing angles were unbelievable. They would bring so many people into the play by knocking it up, getting it back, knocking it wide and moving again, and the movement was complete. In other words the man on the ball had about three alternatives. Consequently, the angles and the movement caused catastrophic disaster in the English defense. They were chasing shadows half the time."
Sir Bobby Robson, who took over after Greenwood to be England's manager from 1982-1990 in the years ahead, also commented on what he saw as a twenty year old from Fulham:
"We saw a style of play, a system of play that we had never seen before. None of these players meant anything to us. We didn't know about Puskás. All these fantastic players, they were men from Mars as far as we were concerned. They were coming to England, England had never been beaten at Wembley - this would be a 3-0, 4-0 maybe even 5-0 demolition of a small country who were just coming into European football. They called Puskás the 'Galloping Major' because he was in the army - how could this guy serving for the Hungarian army come to Wembley and rifle us to defeat? But the way they played, their technical brilliance and expertise - our WM formation was kyboshed in ninety minutes of football. The game had a profound effect, not just on myself but on all of us."
Tom Finney, one of the best English players of the post-war generation commented: "I think that this was the first time that it was brought home to the English people that we were no longer the so-called best side in the world....I think we'd had a tendency to rest on past laurels and these teams were prepared to learn more about the game that what we as professional players were prepared to. It really showed the English game up and it was like carthorses playing racehorses.."
Sir Stanley Matthews wrote in his autobiography that was published shortly before his passing in 2000 that the Wembley crowd had seen "...football history being made" and "It was an imaginative combination of exacting ball control, speed of movements and esoteric vision that knitted together to formulate a style of football that was as innovative as it was productive. Long before the final whistle, the glory of our footballing past had been laid to rest."
Jackie Sewell, the most expensive player in Britain at the time also weighed in: "Imagine the best team you've ever seen - that Hungarian side is easily as good, if not better. It wasn't just us who were baffled by them. Everyone was."
The 'Match of the Century' had an enormous vogue that many thought it perfection and stunningly dramatized "A New Conception of Football" as the Times described it and it is called the new playing of the game. Never during England's football experience has a more exciting event occurred that the sudden bursting upon the national firmament, full, blazing, unparalleled, of the bright resplendent stars from abroad whose honored names shine refulgent at the head of the game in 1953. Coming therefore to a point of admiring and seeing soccer in this new way, we see that a second modernizing game revolution, different in character from the first, had occurred.
It seemed more than a great victory for just one great team, and many described it as history in the making as it aroused nationwide comment. Its appearance on the scene that foggy afternoon was all spectacular.
The profound influence of the 1953 Wembley game with Hungary itself remained long after the game finished. The inexpectant and heavy defeat seemingly carried a gravity for most everyone watching from the stands. For the English game things were never going to return to the way they had been before. For those whose livelihoods and professions were connected to the game and made to pay attention, in many precincts, saw at once, perhaps, the point of it all — interwoven into the texture of the match an epiphany of something groundbreaking and revolutionary flowing in cursive style with limitless imagination hewn to a thick-coming aptitude that was hard-hitting and glabrous in movement all the same, of skills that were lofty, of new winds blowing, of new tactics outgeneraling the old. The immediate reaction in Britain to the game was shock. Most especially the 6-3 score that reflected the ease that strangers from the Eastern Bloc had pulled asunder an extremely talented side and one of England's finest-ever teams one could wish for in front of the British public's eye so convincingly. As a result, it was more than just a famous match, it became one of those rare performances that many not only described but analyzed.
Newspaper editorials the following morning billed the defeat as a "twilight of the football Gods" and an "Agincourt in reverse". After a shock of recognition had passed that world football had caught the English came a time of introspective self-analysis and part of the general rush was to understand how England with the fairest of prospects had been outclassed.
A glorious era just known before now passed into opined reflection and nostalgic remembrance. The inevitable, long stayed, had made landfall and come to home shores, a brighter image strode so brilliantly past the caliber of men like Matthews, Ramsey, Sewell, Mortensen, Johnston, Merrick and Wright that an admiration for those playing them was long assured. The world sport had finally caught up with the English.
|So large were the impressions made by the game, demands were made to find a similar style of play the Hungarians enacted in 1953 in the football-loving nation of England, a training manual and book authored by Marton Bukovi came out in Britain called 'Learn to Play the Hungarian Way' in 1954.|
The game itself spurred reflection and being informed to the new formulations happening on the Continent and to side with this new well-spring of style. Old pre-war ideas appeared to no longer agree with the new improved reality that was brought down to earth during the game where result and process combined with fresh meaning and vision. A new outlook was seen that moved toward a less shackled game that favored a greater degree of freedom and flexibility that, side by side, could strike off stunning short and long passes tipping in their favor. Demands were made to survey the unison of these new methods. The old anachronistic picture offered by the ''WM' system forged by balance with players, more or less, locked into their places and continuously rocking back and forth in a more individual industrial style, looked dated with dull timbre before a new idyllic form. The essence of the old style seemed to have run its course and a move toward a more improved presence superbly demonstrated that afternoon was now needed to accommodate the new good.
A popular instructive book and manual written by the Hungarian coach Marton Bukovi called "Learn to Play the Hungarian Way" was published the following year in 1954. Manchester City was one of the first clubs in England to read the new spirit behind the game, and their center-forward Don Revie visualized the new style and found a stimulus and a sense of direction with his "Revie Plan" imitated after their predecessor, Hidegkuti, and was named the best player in England in 1954. Bill Nicholson at Tottenham made his team resemble in principle and practice those used by Hungary that autumn to form the first English double-winning team of the 20th Century and be the first to win the first major European Cup, the 1963 Cup Winners' Cup by an English side.
In a way, this famous match would come to describe the Continentals' response to the game and an English conservatism that was discovered inside the minutes of the match. History finds in the scenes of the 1953 Wembley game an expression of transcendent soccer that slowly resolved in the following years the past and present and hampered position versus more mobility.
Within minutes of the game telegrams from all over the world began to arrive for the winning Hungarians at the Cumberland Hotel, nearly eight thousand alone from Budapest, where large crowds had taken to the streets in joyous celebratory scenes, a rare event given the restrictive nature of a communist-controlled society. An indescribable warm glow and joy warmed the hearts of most Hungarians back home whose golden mellow glow lingered and was not soon in passing afterwards.
The following morning in a private reception in the Cumberland Hotel, FA President Stanley Rous joined Gustáv Sebes for coffee and both were entertaining plans for a return fixture when Rous produced a large suitcase he had besides him. The suitcase was well stocked with the previous days' gates proceeds all British pound sterling, then Rous inquired: "Mr. Sebes, I would like to pay you for the wonderful game yesterday at Wembley. How much of the takings would you like?" Interestingly, being from a cash-strapped communist country at the time, Gustáv Sebes looked surprised and waved the money away, but Rous insisted: "I repeat, gentlemen, I have brought you money, pound sterling, for yesterday's match." Gustáv Sebes replied in kind: "Thank you very much, but we don't want any payment. I am grateful if you can play a return match in Budapest. That is enough."
|Keeper Gyula Grosics signing autographs at the frontier Hegyeshalom railway station in Hungary.|
The return home was truly one of the best remembered being the article of applause by all in Europe that late autumn. The team stepped forward to acknowledge the most cherished plaudits of their career. Such honoring for any one national team had little chance of seeing its like again. Large crowds of sportive English fans had given the Hungarian team a fond farewell from Victoria station and the reception at the railway station in Paris and the scenes in Paris were indescribable as Puskás stated: "When we got to Paris, where we had to change to another railway station, the reception was unbelievable. It was almost as if they themselves had won." Parisians everywhere applauded the feat.
Upon their arrival at the Gare de l'Est in Paris, the famous and influential Hungarian banker, financier and bon vivant André Kostolany was among the first in the crowd to greet them. Kostolany carried them first to see the Le Lido, the famous cabaret and burlesque show establishment on the Champs-Élysées and the wonder of Paris at the time and later to the Follies Show where the audience were calling out the names of some of the players and where they all ended up on the stage to take a bow. In Paris, the team stayed in another fantastically elegant abode, the Hotel Louvre and played another match in honor of their coach where they won 16-1. During their stay, the team went to a domestic league match, Paris vs. Cannes, and when the crowd recognized that now famous names were in the crowd they shouted for the Hungarians to go on the pitch before the game started. Some spectators wanted the original match abandoned and have the team play one half against both teams. When the friendly match was played the next day, the little stadium's capacity held 5,000, on that day there were 10,000 watching inside and another 10,000 outside trying to get in according to Hidegkuti.
|For the Golden Team players it was the time of their lives receiving great fanfare and applause in Paris and across their journey in Europe in late autumn of 1953.|
|The world renowned Hungarian banker and financier Andre Kostolany, a big fan of the Golden Team. The Roman Catholic Mr. Kostolany was one of the leading architects of postwar European and West German economic recovery and eventual unification.|
Out of their great windfall, the players had to endure congratulations and compliments across their voyage home through Europe. Congratulatory crowds of people lined the track everywhere their trained stopped and station masters waved their congratulations when they were simply passing through. At the West Bahnhof station in Vienna the crowds seemed larger than in Paris where thousands of Hungarians, Austrians, the full Austrian national football team and all the media appeared to give them full ovations during cold wintry conditions. Having crossed the frontier the small station at Hegyeshalom was overcome with welcoming locals and as the train pulled in the national anthem was played and wives and families joined the party on board as gifts and flowers showered the national heroes on their way to Keleti railway station in Budapest where an enormous and stunning reception was hosted.
Over one-hundred thousand people took pride to celebrate and congratulate the victors in a huge pageant for an unprecedented kind of accomplishment and advertised the players' presence among them as a tribute to their own political system. Some days afterwards, the players were each awarded the state Order of Merit in the reception room in parliament. Many foreign embassies in Budapest were fuller houses that toasted and feted in good cheer the victory that represented the single chief sporting achievement in Hungary's history.
|"Long Live the Victorious Magyar Team. We Greet After the Olympian Championships Returning from England the Victoriously Homecoming Magyar World Football Selection."|
"With Burning Love We Thank Our Victorious..."
|Sándor Kocsis receiving the Order of Merit from István Dobi in the Parliament on December 8th for meritorious work on behalf of the nation.|
The Magical Magyars' performance was revelatory that merited the term masterpiece. It seemed to presage a revision of the game and demonstrate a range of possibilities beyond that of the conventional heavier rigid tactical system, a vision upon which a new epoch was founded to be the basis for much if not most that followed in the game. Many opinions saw the game as the slate upon which a new script was written that explores the operations of compelling football in the current up against the archaic time-honored pre-war system as it peered toward a new dimension—a versatile new style that showed yet another aspect of how the game could be and should be played and for many found a model there.
The formal achievement of the event, on one hand, can be thought of as a re-conceiving and re-visioning of football that sheds tribute to newly desirable stylizations that excelled all others, and on the other, a major vindication of the progress made by the Continentals. Of all the distinctions in seven of their other games that held their appeal from 1952-1956, it was this victory in 1953 that was regarded as the most essential victory of all, destined for a long life. For the game itself, the panoramic prevision of how the future game would be played stimulated new ideas both within and outside the Continent that slowly communicated itself to later managers who likewise sought to refresh their craft and trade and minds started to change about the new fluency in the game. The famous Wembley game of 1953 was a historical watershed in sport that has taken on a near mythical station in football lore — arguably being the 20th century's most influential game-changing match.
A well known retired Hungarian referee in 1981 offered a concluding line on the significance of the game from the Hungarian perspective during a filming documentary of the Golden Team: "In the world there is not a ten million nation (Hungary proper) that in 1945 lost everything, and by virtue of beating an English named world championship team in 1953, felt it regained everything. In this context, this arrangement in world history, has never been reproduced or replicated."
Twenty-eight years after the Hungarians and English completed their visionary game, English captain Bill Wright, when interviewed for a film project described the famous names from 1953 : "....I still remember the names of the side that beat England in 1953, and I shall never forget it. It was Grosics, Buzánszky, Lantos, Bozsik, Lorant, Zakariás, Budai, Kocsis, Hidegkuti, Puskás and Czibor. That are football names that I shall never forget."
Hungary 7 : England 1 (1954)
The team were now famous throughout Europe and in February of 1954, the Golden Team took a journey toward warmer climes to play Egypt in Cairo accompanied by a Hungarian industrial trade delegation and played an Egyptian team that had a noteworthy control of the game as the best side in Africa. President Naguib, one of the most powerful men leading the country met the Hungarian players on a sunny day in Cairo and with noblesse oblige took turns shaking the hands of every player from the famous team that had recently beaten the unconquerable English. The Hungarians easily defeated the strong running Egyptians 3-0, with Puskás getting two, one a splendid 23-yard line square right in the upper left corner and Hidegkuti getting another.
No other home game before or since has attracted so much enthusiasm in Hungary as the special return fixture with England that served as valuable preparation to the 1954 World Cup in three weeks. Nothing could be more apt to local interests in Hungary that another titanic game with England, who arrived in Budapest in a gesture to win back the old ways and lift the chagrin of the 1953 Wembley match.
|English captain Billy Wright with Puskás in 1954 in Budapest receiving a welcoming party at Ferihegy airport. Mr. Wright was the first international player to reach 100 appearances for a national side from 1946 to 1959 earning 105 caps in his career.|
Inside Hungary, expectations were almost reaching a fever pitch with most every ordinary person very much involved. Over one million people (one tenth of the population) petitioned for tickets in the stately new Nation's Stadium that was built to ensure the continuing national drive for sporting excellence. Many people gaining entry used carrier pigeons to send their tickets to friends and family awaiting at home. The whole nation seemed completely absorbed in the prospective game listening on radio. English coach Walter Winterbottom felt called upon to thrown what new weight he could, debuting a remade squad to stand fast by putting in seven new starters. Only keeper Gil Merrick, Jackie Sewell, Billy Wright, Dickinson came from the original Wembley game but would avail of the services of Tom Finney whose name would be legend in postwar England.
To a huge 105,000 crowd in Budapest, the big city drowsing in the sunshine of a a bright hot summer afternoon under the serenest purest sky, the day glorious with expectancy. The star-spangled team opened a dramatic rehearsal and hopeful vista that conjured wonder and burgeoning hope for what was to be visited at the 1954 World Cup. It was against this backdrop of national pride and ecstasy that the Golden Team hit their most sustained and brilliant form in their finest ever home performance. Inside of ten minutes, team found assurance in learning England failed to adjust the tactical weak spots seen in the earlier game.
Conning the old times with antique tactics on the field English players seemed to have lost remembrance of the Wembley match and were not able to meet the spacious tactical divergence seen in their late game. It was the English insistence on playing within the system they knew best and the voguish WM formation resumed its traditional role following the classic, ever-true, plumb-rules of the era against the shiny new model.
The English player who began the game with the ball at his feet had two nervous touches, and within seconds the ball was pilfered meters from the kick-off spot and an attack splendidly moved that pushed the English defense on their heels. Such fast spectacles seemed to move with grand cadence and where routinely seen throughout the day, and afresh the English defense began to subside and be out of joint in front of the ultramodern team that crescendoed at concert pitch with startling breadth as if football had been re-created like an instrument to which more and cleaner notes were added. The Golden Team was playing upwardly in the ascendant that momentous afternoon that again rocked the press and the football world.
Eight minutes after the start, Hungary’s Mihály Lantos's keen 22-yard free kick that was hammered past Merrick began an outpouring that saw three long racetrack counter-attacks putting goals past keeper Merrick. Puskás caught a pass and was racing laterally to the goal inside the penalty area, Gil Merrick seemed to keep pace and drifted right-to-left to seal off the near post but Puskás discharged the ball like a blast of lighting and sent a long reverberating peal of joy thundering after it as it soared past Merrick's legs into goal.
Keeper Gyula Grocsis heaved a long throw to the left sideline, there Puskás with one-touch furthered the ball upfield along the sideline with a long zestful through ball. At midfield Zoltán Czibor took receipt and flipped the switch on with his flabbergasting quickness at top speed along the left periphery in a coast to coast sprint with two English defenders vainly giving chase. Caressing the ball, he moved diagonally deep into the England penalty box alongside the two defenders and intelligently played to Sándor Kocsis to the right who feigned once before kicking into it sonorously. Before Merrick could do anything the score was lodged in the net very much to the enlivened appreciation of the huge crowd.
Alive, renowned, gallantly flying and passing, the Magical Magyars left a sufficient number of fine goals, seven in all, to suggest even greater potentiality, the match diffused a euphoric contentment in Hungary that their sport had not known before. With Puskás and Kocsis netting two apiece and one from Hidegkuti set the stage for a collapse of English soccer of historic import and was carried out so brilliantly, stirring emotions of awe and wonder in foreign correspondents who covered the event from the press boxes. Syd Owen played at center-half for England and remembered the occasion well, he later commented: “..it was like playing people from outer space.”
The refreshingly vivid and the grandiosity of the high-scoring 7-1 win still reflects the the worst result for England in the world game. The revelry of goals with every player pouring out a contribution was a description of attacking football that produced an all-absorbing, high-faluting effect upon the crowd and gave a galloping sense of proportion that was perceived as destiny at work convincing leading newspapers that without a doubt they were the greatest team in the world; the press affected to strumming praise of a great homemade day under a Hungarian heaven.
The team's physical and spiritual form and gestalt stood proud and straight, undeniably great and tangibly for all to see like a gothic building that generated life and drew the entire nation into a rolling wave of mania and sheer delight, joyously greeted by all who saw the match from the terraces or heard it through the airwaves. All was well in top form. Yet one great goal beckoned at the heart of the sport. World champion in all but in name, all Europe saw the Hungarians set on a colliding course with the soccer masters from South America, Brazil or world champion Uruguay for the world title amid an air of expectancy. It remained for the 'Golden Team' to bring the world under their sway in the forthcoming World Cup.
Shading upward from admiration for the special brand of football witnessed from the new football power shining in the East, bearer of the desirable new and enlightened, English football looked like dry, shallow ways to confront the mysteries of continental football now represented in glowing lights by the two 6-3 and 7-1 scores. Enchanting the beholders, English managers begin to attend more carefully to what happens to and around continental football.
Caption: "After lion hunting, there will be something for the kids to play with at home."