The sports writer Hugo Meisl coined the phrase "The Whirl" in homage to the movement of the Hungarian players, especially Nándor Hidegkuti. At one time Hidegkuti would retrieve the ball from his own defence, at others be passing to the inside-forwards in the opposition penalty area. In the 1970s the Netherlands would champion a similar style (then dubbed "Total Football"). The Hungarians had also seen the virtue of creating fitness regimes as well as a club-like policy at international level to give impetus to innumerable practice sessions; most of their players played for the State-sponsored Army team Honvéd.
Such a demonstration had a shocking and profound effect on those in attendance; not least on two future England managers, Ron Greenwood and Sir Bobby Robson. The effect of this match on Alf Ramsey and Greenwood may be measured from the fact that England's 1966 World Cup winning side contained something of a club nucleus when Ramsey selected three West Ham players (Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters) and in 1977 when Greenwood became England manager, he picked 6 Liverpool players (Ray Clemence, Phil Neal, Emlyn Hughes, Terry McDermott, Ray Kennedy and Ian Callaghan) to play Switzerland.
The game took place on 25 November 1953, in the old Wembley Stadium, and included many famous names that are now well-known in football lore. For England, there were players such as Billy Wright and Stanley Matthews, while Hungary fielded a talented lineup led by captain Ferenc Puskás, Sándor Kocsis, and Nándor Hidegkuti. The referee was the Dutchman Leo Horn. Differences between the two sides were apparent even before kick-off. Billy Wright said: "We completely underestimated the advances that Hungary had made, and not only tactically. When we walked out at Wembley that afternoon, side by side with the visiting team, I looked down and noticed that the Hungarians had on these strange, lightweight boots, cut away like slippers under the ankle bone. I turned to big Stan Mortensen and said, 'We should be alright here, Stan, they haven't got the proper kit'." How ironic, then, that in the aftermath of the game the English should completely re-organise the cut of their uniform, opting for a Hungarian styled V-neck shirt; replacing the baggy shorts and collared shirt.
Hungary won the kick-off and Puskás balanced the ball in the centre-circle—something alien to English eyes.
The Hungarians took the lead at ninety seconds as Hidegkuti scored from fifteen yards after receiving a pass from Bozsik. England equalised at thirteen minutes through Jackie Sewell, set up by a well-timed pass from Stan Mortensen. The Hungarians, however, were not to be outdone and three more goals followed. Hidegkuti scored his second goal following an unsuccessful English attempt to clear the ball. Hungary went up 3-1 as Ferenc Puskás added another goal, referred to by Geoffrey Green in The Times: Billy Wright, defending the edge of the goal area, raced past Puskás as he dragged the ball back before shooting over Merrick. Wright was, according to Green, 'like a fire engine going to the wrong fire'. Puskás said of the goal, "He (Wright) was expecting me to turn inside. If I had, he would have taken me and the ball off the pitch and into the stands. So I dragged the ball back with the studs of my left boot and whacked it high into the net." Later, Hungarian commentator György Szepesi even suggested installing a plaque at Wembley to commemorate the drag-back. Hungary went up 4-1 as Puskás diverted a József Bozsik free-kick into the net.
Shortly before half-time, Stan Mortensen scored, giving England hope as the whistle blew; England 2, Hungary 4.
Ten minutes into the second half, Bozsik scored and then Hidegkuti completed his hat-trick to make the score 6-2 to Hungary. Alf Ramsey later scored on a penalty for England. The match ended at 6-3 to Hungary. A famous victory had been won by one of the greatest football teams of the 20th century, and the centre of world football shifted eastward across the North Sea. Pat Ward-Thomas in The Guardian wrote that toward the end: 'England was having more of the ball than before and Matthews was making openings in spite of rigorous attention from Lantos. But England's refusal to shoot quickly was pathetic in its pottering hesitancy, arising from that accursed disease of making sure'.
Six months later, on 23 May 1954, the Hungarians gave a masterclass in the sport's new offensive nature in Budapest against the same outpaced English side with a 7-1 win that heralded a new world order in football. It still ranks as England's worst defeat.
With Hidegkuti playing in midfield but wearing the number 9 shirt, Harry Johnston, the England centre half, marked him, but ended up getting pulled out of position when Hidegkuti drifted around the pitch. England were also undone by the use of Kocsis and Puskás as the main strikers. As these two were wearing numbers 8 and 10, respectively, England thought they were inside forwards. This led to uncertainty about who should mark them. To further confuse the English players, the Hungarian forwards were continually swapping positions, confusing the inflexible English defence.
Sir Bobby Robson said of the game: "We saw a style of play, a system of play that we had never seen before. None of these players meant anything to us. We didn't know about Puskás. All these fantastic players, they were men from Mars as far as we were concerned. They were coming to England, England had never been beaten at Wembley - this would be a 3-0, 4-0 maybe even 5-0 demolition of a small country who were just coming into European football. They called Puskás the 'Galloping Major' because he was in the army - how could this guy serving for the Hungarian army come to Wembley and rifle us to defeat? But the way they played, their technical brilliance and expertise - our WM formation was kyboshed in ninety minutes of football. The game had a profound effect, not just on myself but on all of us." Robson went onto say: "That one game alone changed our thinking. We thought we would demolish this team - England at Wembley, we are the masters, they are the pupils. It was absolutely the other way.
The Hungarians were to be trumped in the 1954 World Cup held in Switzerland. Under Sepp Herberger, Germany beat them 3-2 in the 1954 World Cup Final. David Miller in Cup Magic referring to that defeat argued cogently that the German staff had realised that so dominant had the Hungarians become that they neglected to mark attacking players. By the time of the 1958 World Cup the core of the great Hungarian side had dissolved, as a direct result of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, after which several key players, most notably Puskás and Kocsis, sought their fortunes in the West. Brian Glanville wrote, "It seemed as if ... Hungary had found a way of preparation which was ideal. Yet when the smoke cleared, when Puskás and Kocsis decamped [in 1956], it became perfectly clear that all we had been seeing was an illustration of Walter Winterbottom's dictum that every great team is built round a core of great players. While Kocsis and company were present, every man looked a giant, Sebes was a wizard, Mándi an inspired manager. When they went, the fabulous structure of Hungarian football proved to be nothing of the sort
Statistics tell the story: Hungary had 35 shots compared to England's five. The English fans lived up to their (then) reputation as good sports and stood and applauded the Hungarians as they left the pitch.
When a reunion was held in the early 1970s, Sir Alf Ramsey greeted one of his team-mates by saying, "Er, hello...it is Bill [Eckersley], isn't it?" This prompted Puskás to remark, "It was like that when they played us - the team hardly seemed to know each other's names!"
|England||3 - 6||Hungary|
England: Gil Merrick (Birmingham City) - Alf Ramsey (Tottenham Hotspur), Bill Eckersley (Blackburn Rovers) - Billy Wright (Wolverhampton Wanderers) (c), Harry Johnston (Blackpool), Jimmy Dickinson (Portsmouth) - Stanley Matthews (Blackpool), Ernie Taylor (Blackpool), Stan Mortensen (Blackpool), Jackie Sewell (Sheffield Wednesday), George Robb (Tottenham Hotspur) Coach: Walter Winterbottom
Hungary: Gyula Grosics (Honvéd) (sub (76 mins.) Sándor Gellér (MTK Hungária FC)) , Jenő Buzánszky (Dorog), Mihály Lantos (MTK Hungária FC), József Bozsik (Honvéd), Gyula Lóránt (Honvéd), József Zakariás (MTK Hungária FC), László Budai (Honvéd), Sándor Kocsis (Honvéd), Nándor Hidegkuti (MTK Hungária FC), Ferenc Puskás (Honvéd), Zoltán Czibor (Honvéd) Coach: Gusztáv Sebes