1950 World Cup: When the US Beat England in the Greatest Sports Defeat of All Time

1950 World Cup: When the US Beat England in the Greatest Sports Defeat of All Time


On one side of the field was a team made up of the biggest names in world football. On the other – a gravedigger, a dishwasher and a postman. The result seemed to be a formality.

However, in front of some 10,000 fans and one intrepid American reporter in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, one of the biggest upheavals in football history took place.

Author Geoffrey Douglas called the US “a veritable bunch of ragamuffins” and in the 1950 World Cup the US beat the stellar English team 1-0.

A glancing header from Joe Gatjens at the end of the first half was enough to secure a famous victory for the USA, a team of semi-professional players. But, given the lack of interest in the sport in the country at the time, it drew almost no attention from the people.

Many American media chose not to report on the game, and only one reporter, Dent McSkimmings, traveled to Brazil on his own.

And for American football historian Steve Holroyd, the result was akin to the “Miracle on Ice” of the 1980 Winter Olympics, when the American team stunned the mighty Soviet Union at Lake Placid.

“With the exception of politics, it was like that. I mean, a group of brave underdogs just beat a team that was universally recognized as the best in the world,” Holroyd told CNN Sport.

“You would think that this is a story that Americans would like to champion. In a different universe with the Internet – if the Internet had existed then – perhaps this would be exactly what would have pulled football from ethnic enclaves into the national sports consciousness.

“But the papers didn’t pick it up, it didn’t get coverage, it unfortunately didn’t have any impact on growth or anything in the game in this country at any level.”

Courtesy of the US Football Hall of Fame and the National Football Hall of Fame.

While football may not have been as popular in the US as other sports, it has had a long history in the country dating back to the 1920s.

At a time when other major leagues in the US were turning professional, football was also trying to become a professional football league.

Although the American Football League was “destroyed” by the economic depression that hit the country in the 1920s, according to Holroyd, it was the first example of a football league that relied on corporate sponsorship.

After the failure of the American Football League, the sport “pretty much receded into ethnic enclaves,” Holroyd explained.

“It’s largely seen as an immigrant sport played exclusively by immigrants,” he said.

“The teams that emerged when the second American Football League formed in 1933 no longer had the more neutral names one would expect to find on these shores, such as the Pawtucket Rangers or the Newark Skeeters. , Philadelphia Germans”.

Although the sport had a brief resurgence during and after World War II, it was played in small areas of the country such as St. Louis, Missouri.

The US lines up before a game against England in 1950.

And so, as the 1950 World Cup approached, there was little national interest or coverage of U.S. involvement. The US Football Association, which Holroyd explains likely had only one full-time employee, had to assemble a team to compete with the football superpowers of Europe and South America.

The team that was chosen was a “hodgepodge,” Douglas said, drawn from across the US. Most of them have never met, let alone played each other, with the exception of four who played in St. Louis.

To qualify for the 1950 World Cup final, the US had to go through a three-team qualifying group along with Mexico and Cuba.

Mexico – a country with a football heritage – finished unbeaten with four out of four wins, while the US qualified with ease thanks to a 5-2 win over Cuba.

Even then, there was little hope. “So they went down there mostly for fun. They just decided that they have free time from work. They didn’t really know what the World Cup was,” Douglas said.

On the other side of the pond, there were high hopes for the all-star England team. The team competed at the World Championships for the first time, having decided not to participate in the previous three.

“England refused to participate in the first three World Cups because they decided: “We are more than this, we are already champions, we don’t have to prove anything.” Finally, they deigned to take part, it was supposed to be their coronation, ”said Holroyd.

Filled with players who would later be considered greats – Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney and Stan Mortensen – the England team was expected to do well.

They were in for a real shock.

American players compete for a header against England.

When Douglas spoke to some members of Team USA for his book on the match, they spoke of feeling overconfidence from their English counterparts.

The teams played each other at the beginning of the year and the England reserves were still beating the Americans. But the game at the Independencia stadium in Belo Horizonte was different.

“Stanley Matthews was their main player and he didn’t play because they were resting him for the next opponent. But they didn’t even play (their best players) because they thought America would be such an easy game,” Douglas said.

“And so when the English took the field, especially in the first half, they were very relaxed and joked.”

05 usa england world championship 1950

Courtesy of the US Football Hall of Fame and the National Football Hall of Fame.

When the game started it was not surprising that the English team dominated. US goaltender Frank Borghi, the undertaker, was described as the game of his life that day.

At the 37th minute, the game turned upside down. A cross from Walter Bahr blew past Getjens, the New York dishwasher, past a desperate Bert Williams in goal.

And that’s how all the pressure was on England. “By the end of the first half, when Gatjens scored the goal, everyone panicked,” Douglas said.

“And then, apparently, (England) pushed too hard, according to the guys from Team USA. In the second half[England]was disorganized because they just couldn’t believe it was happening.”

With countless saves from Borghi, some wayward finishes from England and heroic defensive performances, the US lead remained intact as they recorded a famous win that has gone down in football history.

However, for the players of the US national team, the American public at home and future generations, this result is somewhat lost in the sands of time.

Team USA goalkeeper Frank Borghi saved the shot.

Even immediately after the victory, the importance of what they achieved did not immediately impress the American players.

“So when they beat England they were like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool. This is great. Let’s move on to the really important games in St. Louis against Ford Motors,” Douglas said.

And, despite the magnitude of the result, there was little international coverage. Since McSkimmings was the only reporter at the game whose report was published in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, many media outlets deemed this story unworthy of coverage.

“The 1950 World Cup was not a blip on the American sports radar,” Holroyd said. “If there was any interest, it was the immigrant communities who wanted to know how things were going back home. No one was rooting for the USA.”

Such was the level of disinterest when the winning players returned home, greeted only by their families. “Today it will be a running line parade. It would be great,” Douglas said.

07 usa england world championship 1950

Courtesy of the US Football Hall of Fame and the National Football Hall of Fame.

This could have been a game-changer for the sport in the US, but given the paucity of coverage, things went off without a hitch — until some 30 years later, players started receiving calls from journalists every four years, leading up to the World Championships. retell your stories.

In England, it was very embarrassing that the upstart lost to the US team. Douglas detailed the paper fringing their paper in black to highlight the shame.

“They were embarrassed that they were beaten by this team of nonentities from a country that did not make it into the football ratings,” Douglas said.

For the winning team, the nature of Cinderella’s victory has been celebrated ever since all members of the winning USA team were inducted into the USA Football Hall of Fame in 1976.

While football is filled with upheavals and stories of underdogs, Holroyd believes it is “the biggest disappointment on the world’s biggest arena.”

The difference between the 2022 US and England teams at this year’s World Cup is not as big as it was in 1950. But 72 years later, Christian Pulisic and Weston McKenny could do more than capture the spirit of Bar and Gatjens as they line up. against England in Qatar.

Written by khirou

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