Writing the wrong kind of history

Playing in a major tournament, the dream of every team is to write history. But as England found out against Iceland during Euro 2016, that dream coming true does not necessarily equal a happy end, as you may find yourselves writing the wrong kind of history. That England team will live on in the memory of football fans, but they do so as the 21st century equivalent of that other England team suffering an ignominious defeat: the 1950 World Cup squad that were beaten 1-0 by the United States.

The World Cup was held in Brazil that year, and England had travelled to South America as one of the favorites. There was certainly a reasonable basis for that. England were able to field a strong team, featuring seasoned professionals like Stan Mortensen, Alf Ramsey, and Tom Finney. The team was captained by the Wolves centre back Billy Wright, who would collect more than a honderd caps even though he was active in a period when fewer international games were played then nowadays. Their first game in Brazil, against Chili, had been won 2-0. Lining up against the English professionals in Belo Horizonte’s Estádio Independencia was an American team consisting of amateurs and semi-professionals that had lost it’s first game 3-1 to Spain.

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Tom Finney tries to head the ball between two American defenders

As the game got underway, things went more or less according to plan for the English. In the first fifteen minutes they created numerous opportunities and hit the post twice. It appeared to just be a matter of time before the first goal was scored. But when that goal failed to materialize, disaster struck in the 37th minute. A long range effort was grazed by the American striker Joe Gaetjens and was deflected just enough to leave the England goalkeeper Bert Williams without a chance. To the astonishment (and delight) of the ten thousand Brazilian spectators, the USA had taken the lead.

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Defender Alf Ramsey is shocked to see the ball hit the net behind goalie Bert Williams

The Americans held on to their lead until half-time. In the second half England went looking for an equalizer with renewed energy, while the USA (more and more enthusiastically supported by the Brazilians) looked to hit back on the break. The closest England came to scoring a goal was eight minutes from the end, when the American goalkeeper Walter Bahr was able to clear a header only with an desperate effort, and it was unclear whether the ball had been turned back on the line or behind it. Shortly before that, the Italian referee had awarded England a free kick, instead of a possible penalty, in response to a rugby-tackle that was started outside of the box but had ended in it. He ruled in favor of the USA this time as well.

It will only have added to the frustrations of the England team over what was taking place. With no more major chances for either team, the match ended in a 1-0 victory for the USA. Legend has it that back home in England newsrooms came to the conclusion that the telegram reporting the score had to be a mistake, and reported that England had won 10-0 or 10-1. It’s a great story, but as is often the case with great stories from football history, it has been proven to be a myth.

The manager and players responsible for the Belo Horizonte debacle, have all passed away. That is, except for one. Somewhere in a senior citizens home a 92-year old Roy Bentley must have breathed a sigh of relief on Monday night. Finally a defeat capable of overshadowing their.