Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 57-The Battle of Berne (1954)


In the 1954 World Cup Hungary were a force to be reckoned with. They had a team that was next to unstoppable and had taken England to the cleaners at Wembley the year before. Brazil on the other hand were still smarting from being shocked by Uruguay in 1950 but had a brilliant side that could be the first from South American to win the World Cup in Europe.

The two sides met in a quarter final at in the Swiss city of Berne where the beautiful game soon descended in to a violet farce. Now known simply as the “Battle of Berne”, the encounter is regarded as the dirtiest match in World Cup history, a day when Brazil opted for brutality instead of beauty and when Hungary were only too happy to join in. The result, a 4-2 victory for Hungary, has become a barely remembered footnote.

Hungary’s coach Gustav Sebes even ended up with four stitches in a facial wound after being struck by a broken bottle in the aftermath. “At the end we had won 4-2 but it wasn’t over yet. Brazilian photographers and fans flooded on to the pitch and police were called to clear it. Players clashed in the tunnel and a small war broke out in the corridor to the dressing rooms. Everyone was having a go. Fans, players and officials,” the coach said.

With a place in the semifinals of the tournament at stake favourites Hungary, with the injured Ferenc Puskas watching from the stands, had gone 2-0 up after 10 minutes in a one-sided opening to the game. Djalma Santos pulled one back from a penalty to keep Brazil in touch at 2-1, but the awarding of a further spotkick to Hungary early in the second half, duly converted by Lantos, marked a rapid deterioration in play. English referee Arthur Ellis’ penalty decision was the cue for several invasions of the pitch by Brazilian journalists and officials, who had to be ushered off by police.

Niggling fouls and sly punches peppered the second half, and the common view is that only Ellis’ firm refereeing prevented further chaos. An Italian journalist described the Englishman’s officiating as “magisterial”. Following the match the Brazilian’s entourage again invaded the pitch to kick off with the Swiss police trying to intervene but generally failing. The Brazilians then smashed the light globes in the Hungarian’s dressing rooms and ambushed the Hungarian players as they returned, a brawl taking part in a dark change room with anything and everything being used as weapons.

Ellis went on to say that he thought it was be a classic match but it ended up being a farce. Brazil were later to take a different view of the referee’s performance, mounting a formal protest to FIFA accusing Ellis of being part of a communist plot to help Hungary. Ellis’ car was spat on by Brazilian fans as he left the stadium, with shouts of ‘communista’ ringing in his ears.

“I am convinced, after all these years of reflection, that the infamous Battle of Berne was a battle of politics and religion,” Ellis said in his 1962 biography The politics of the Communist Hungarians and the religion of the Catholic Brazilians.

Ellis was later dismayed at FIFA’s whitewashing of the episode, declining to sanction players sent off and leaving it up to the Hungarian and Brazilian federations to discipline players. One of the mysteries of the match was the precise involvement of Puskas in the melee after the final whistle. One report had the Hungarian maestro (and future South Melbourne coach) smashing a bottle into the face of a Brazilian player in the tunnel, other reports vaguely blamed a “spectator.”

Puskas has said since that he did in fact grab a Brazilian player and dragged him in to the Hungarian changeroom once order had been restored following the ambush and god knows was going to happen. Puskas saw the player was scared and let him go but that is according to Puskas. While Hungary were able to lick their wounds and advance into the last four of the competition, Brazil were beaten but returned to Rio as heroes. “Glory to those who knew how to fight,” was the tribute from one newspaper.

There’s been violence, rioting and police involvement but never had it happened between the players and coaching staff during and even after a game. There would also be the Battle of Santiago in the 1962 World Cup in Chile but that wouldn’t compare to the violence of the 1954 ‘Battle of Berne’.

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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