Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 33-USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!

Joe Gaetjens

The English national football team has been full of false bravado way before even the most recent of failures at the World Cup. In the lead up to the 1950 World Cup the English had an impressive record leading up to the event despite their postwar troubles on the home front and had (in the 30 games played post WW2) lost only four times. They also featured the two Stanleys in Mortensen and the legend Stanley Matthews among others. Another player that was a star at the time (and cousin to future World Cup winners in Jack and Bobby Charlton) was the Newcastle United legend Jackie Milburn.

The Americans were a side thrown together and featuring a heap of butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. Not one of the players in the American squad had played for the national side more than ten times yet they qualified way behind Mexico and only just ahead of Batista’s Cuba to get to Brazil. Three of the players had to promise they would get American citizenship straight after the tournament to be allowed in the squad, whether it still contravened FIFA rules was never really found out or proven.

Despite the impressive record the lead up the World Cup was not full of good omens for England. The FA had ignored the tournament since its inception in 1930, and just to ram home how important they thought it was, had arranged a goodwill tour of Canada at the same time The tour would use many of the players that Walter Winterbottom, the coach, expected to be able to take with him.

The FA also dithered when Manchester United requested the withdrawal of their players for a tour of the USA of all places. After some diplomatic begging by Winterbottom, the Manchester United players came, but the FA refused to let Winterbottom have Stanley Matthews and arrangements had to be made to fly him to Brazil from Canada later on. As a result, Matthews, at the time considered the best player in the world, missed the first game but England, widely tipped to win the competition, beat Chile 2-0 in their opener.

There were ominous signs thou and neutrals felt a draw would not have been an unfair result. The ominous signs came from defence, where the other crucially absent player was central defender Neil Franklin, who had forged a valuable partnership in defence with captain Billy Wright. Frustrated by the serf-like conditions under which English clubs kept their players, Franklin had been one of a group of players enticed to sign a contract with a Columbian club, and as a result, withdrew from the World Cup squad. The solid defence pairing that had played in twenty-seven consecutive matches since the end of the war, losing only four of them, was at an end.

It wouldn’t be until Billy Wright switched into the defender position that England would find a solid replacement. In the aftermath of the Chilean result the selection committee (actually just the one man on the spot, Arthur Drewry, representing the committee) refused the coach’s request to play Matthews in the next match, against the unfancied US team, on the grounds that a winning team should not be changed. The match began and England camped in the US half as expected. After fifteen minutes England had had half a dozen shots on goal but two hit the woodwork, two missed and two were saved brilliantly by keeper Frank Borghi.

One of the ‘American’ players was the Haitian striker Joe Gaetjens and he would be the hero for the country he had just joined. In the 38th minute, just after three English shots in quick succession had just missed or been saved, the US team went on a rare excursion into England’s half and Walter Bahr sent a high centre into the penalty area. As keeper Bert Williams went to collect it, Gaetjens ducked and the ball bounced off the back of his head into the goal. The second half started with a buoyant USA team playing with more belief and making another chance early on. And although England dominated overall, they couldn’t adapt to being unable to use their wingers to the best of their abilities, because of the narrow pitch.

Future 1966 England coach Alf Ramsey had a free kick go in only for it to be disallowed and Borghi made a save from a Mortensen free kick, then another last-gasp tip-over near the end from a James Mullen header and the US hung on for a famous 1-0 victory. At the end of the game, England had had twenty shots, the USA one, but that’s football and it can be hilariously cruel at times. In the aftermath the English team went on to lose to Spain and go out of the competition. The USA scored a creditable two goals against Chile although they lost 5-2, and their play was recognised by John Souzas, the inside-right, being picked for the all-star World Cup side chosen by Mundo Esportivo, a Brazilian newspaper.

Even today the FA claim that Gaetjens and the two other non-US-born players were ineligible to play for the US team, but other sources claim that the USSFA were cleared at a UEFA hearing in December 1950. Gaetjens never did get US citizenship though, and he is believed to have been killed in Haiti in the mid-sixties during an uprising. This wouldn’t be the first or the last time the US would humiliate England with Rob Green’s awful blunder costing England a victory over the US in 2010.

A memorable moment and reminder to England they couldn’t just waltz in to the competition and win it.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

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