KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY — November 25, in 1953 was the date which changed the world as far as English football was concerned.
Until this day – despite the evidence of the 1950 World Cup and an increasing number of defeats in Europe – the English still believed they were the kings of football. While Englan remained unbeaten at Wembley by continental opposition this self-deception was sustainable. The Magical Magyars exposed all this in the most dramatic fashion, as a lie.
The English press had built up the match as the Game of the Century. Hungary were Olympic champions and arrived at the Cumberland Hotel in the West End of London having won 25 and drawn six of their previous 32 games.
They had scored in every match they had played for six seasons. But nobody toook them seriously.
Not their record, their revolutionary lightweight kit, their depth of talent (Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis, Jozsef Bozsik, Nandor Hidegkuti, etc), or their tactcal sophistication.
Hungary used the withdrawn centre-forward – the original ‘false No9’ – popular across eastern Europe. That meant inverting the traditional attacking form of the WM. The centre-forward, instead of leading the line, held back in midfield to link with the wing halves. The inside forwards, traditoinal fetchers and carriers in English football, were attack leaders for Hungary. Skipper Puskas, for example, scored 83 goals in 84 internationals; partner Kocsis scored 75 in 68.
England were caught naively unprepared by a skilled passing game which owed its genesis to the earlier coaching of Englishman Jimmy Hogan. Centre half Harry Johnston sighted on Hidegkuti as the Hungarian centre forward and went out to mark him. In the event Johnston was pulled up into no-man’s land and Puskas and Kocsis ran in behind him to deadly effect.
Hungary benefiedt from a goal in the first minute, Hidgekuti firing past keeper Gil Merrick from the edge of the penalty box. “That was a tonic,” said Puskas afterwards. “The goal steadied our team but the England players just grew more worried.”
Jackie Sewell equalised in the 15th minute but, before half an hour was up, Hungary were 4-1 ahead – Hidegkuti scoring the second, Puskas the third and fourth. Puskas’s first goal was one f the most inventive Wembley had ever seen. Billy Wright barred his way to goal so Puskas dragged the ball back with his studs of his left boot, pivoted, then fired up into the roof of the net.
The goals flowed in. Stan Mortensen pulled one back for England and Alf Ramsey converted a second half penalty. But these were mere consolations. Hungary scored twice more, through Bozsik and Hidegkuti again.
They won 6-3 but the disappointment of defeat for England were tempered by knowledge that the Hungarians were one of the greatest of teams. As Wright said: “The reason for our defeat was not our bad football. Often it was very good. Hungary beat us because, quite simply, they were by far the better side.”
Six months later Hungary thrashed England 7-1 in Budapest. They were expected to win the 1954 World Cup by a walkover. Instead they led 2-0 then went down 3-2 to West Gernmany in the final. They one match they wanted to win above all others – above even England at Wembley – they lost.
As for England, the double defeat by Hungary prompted a painful reappraisal of their status within the world game, training methods and tactics. Less than 13 years after being humbled by Hungary, England were parading around Wembley as World Cup-winners. Their manager in 1966 was Alf Ramsey . . . right back in 1953.
England 3 (Sewell 15, Mortensen 37, Ramsey 62pen)
Hungary 6 (Hidegkuti 1, 20, 56, Puskas, 22, 29, Bozsik 55)
HT: 2-4. Att: 100,000. Referee: Leo Horn (Hol)
England: Merrick, Ramsey, Eckersley, Wright, Johnston, Dickinson, Matthews, Taylor, Mortensen, Sewell, Robb.
Hungary: Grosics (Geller 74), Buzansky, Lantos, Bozsik, Lorant, Zakarias, Budai, Kocsis, Hidegkuti, Puskas, Czibor.