Yes, I know all about the Republic of Ireland previously defeating a scratch English side, but every one of the Irish side was playing for an English club. Hungary’s crushing victory has long been seen as a landmark signalling the end of any notion of England’s football supremacy though, heaven knows the 1950 defeat in Belo Horizonte in the Brazilian World Cup by a pick and mix American side should surely have signalled that.
Yet in retrospect that 6-3 defeat seems hardly inevitable, while the 7-1 thrashing which awaited England in Budapest the following May was a monumental disgrace.
The football world at large must have marvelled at the fact that Walter Winterbottom, the England manager, had stayed in office for another eight years. Not least because just a fortnight before Hungary and Hidegkuti romped to victory at Wembley, that astute little Yorkshireman George Raynor had taken his Sweden team – deprived of all those stars then playing pro in Italy – to Budapest and gained a 2-2 draw.
This he did by seeing Nandor Hidegkuti, in his lying centre forward role, as the crucial figure in the Hungarian attack deploying his inside left to shadow him in the first half, his centre-forward in the second. At Wembley as we know Hidegkuti quickly scoring from a free kick, ran riot and ended with a hat trick.
Walter Winterbottom told me that before the game he had asked his centre half Harry Johnston whether he would prefer to mark Hidekguti closely or stand off him, the answer to which was that he preferred to stand off him. The obvious corollary to which being that another player should have close marked Hidegkuti. No one did and those six goals were largely the result.
It is true that by a fatuous compromise, insisted upon by the self-important blowhards of the selection committee, they picked the team and Walter simply had to get on with it. Only with this arrangement did they allow Stanley Rous, the powerful FA secretary (all too powerful in his almost paternal protection of Winterbottom) to have a manager appointed at all.
As it transpired the absurd arrangement nominally lasted till Walter belatedly retired in 1962 though by the time it came to the World Cup of 1958, we in the press were aware that Walter not the committee was choosing the side. In Budapest in 1954 there is no doubt he was dealt a particularly indifferent hand but 7-1? That surely could have been tactically avoidable.
Readers of these columns may recall that in Rome in May 1955 in my obscure presence Rous offered the England role to Jesse Carver then managing Roma. But Jesse didn’t take it and Winterbottom survived for another seven years.
That Russia, land of football racism, should ever have been awarded the 2018 World Cup was in its way as scandalous as giving the subsequent World Cup to Qatar.
The recent disgraceful jeering of Manchester City’s Yaya Toure by bigoted CSKA Moscow fans was alas merely the latest in an endless series of such incidents; from Moscow to St Petersburg. The light tap on the wrist applied by UEFA – closing a mere 3,000 capacity section of the stadium – was rightly disparaged by the likes of Stan Collymore, though the suggest that black players alone should boycott the Russian World Cup hardly seemed an adequate solution.
One of those pompously irrelevant bodies, Kick It Out, mysteriously praised the decision as “swift, decisive and proportionate.”
UEFA, like FIFA, have no serious intention of combating racist behaviour. How well I recall Ukraine’s Oleg Blokhin coolly standing beside his World Cup side while great play was made of FIFA’S programme of anti-racism. The same Blokhin who so recently had viciously opposed the entry of black players into Ukrainian football.
But then such racism is found not only in Eastern Europe but in Italy – where Milan walked off the field to protest at Pro Patria – and in Spain where, not long since, England’s black players were jeered in Madrid. Wrists no doubt will continue to be slapped.