The official international match pennant received by England captain Billy Wright from Hungary captain Ferenc Puskas before 'the game that changed everything' at Wembley Stadium 25th November 1953, a silkwork Hungarian tricolor bearing the pre-revolutionary Communist Rakosi Coat of Arms, inscribed MAGYAR NEPKOZTARSASAG, 1953, length 58cm., 22 3/4in.; sold together with a match ticket, a souvenir brochure and a period 10 by 8in. b&w press photo of the two teams taking to the field at Wembley.
The 25th November 1953 was a watershed for English and international football. Hungary inflicted a devastating 6-3 defeat over England at Wembley Stadium. Until this day the mother country of football had never before lost an international match at home to overseas opposition, with the technical exception of the Republic of Ireland whose 1949 winning team at Goodison Park consisted entirely of English Football League players.
The Hungarians, known as the 'Mighty Magyars', had plainly been a force since they emerged from behind the 'Iron Curtain' to win the Helsinki Olympic football tournament in 1952 but there was a blinkered insularity prevalent in England and this achievement was largely overlooked as an irrelevance. However, alarm bells should have begun ringing when Hungary tore Italy apart in Rome's Olympic Stadium in 1953 winning by a 3-0 scoreline.
The English journalist Brian Glanville was at the Rome match and filed a glowing report: 'The Hungarians played superb technical and tactical football, with Ferenc Puskas, a dominating captain with a formidable left foot, and Sander Kocsis, the so-called 'Golden Head,' a double spearhead. Nandor Hidegkuti [destined to score a hat-trick at Wembley] played behind them in the first half as a 'deep' centre-forward. Jozsef Bozsik, the right-half, would surge into attack. Jozsef Zakarias, the left-half, played deep beside the centre-half, Mihaly Lantos. Laszlo Budai and Zoltan Czibor were effervescent wingers.'
In the match at Wembley, Walter Winterbottom's England were tactically naïve. It was Hidegkuti, in his deep-lying position, who made the Hungarian wheels turn and he should have been man marked throughout the game. Instead the English stood off him and as a consequence he ran riot and scored a hat-trick, the first coming after just 90 seconds.
The Hungarians' ball control and movement utterly surpassed England's. On the flanks Budai and Czibor would either drop back or drive forward and Hungarian goals just seemed inevitable. Puskas, a pseudo army officer with the Honved (army) club, as were most of the team but Hidegkuti, scored a memorable goal, drawing the ball back with the sole of his left foot so that England's captain Billy Wright, in the elegant words of the Times correspondent Geoffrey Green, 'rushed past him like a fire engine going to the wrong fire.' Puskas duly scored. As a matter of fact England were not playing badly and their attacks were direct and dangerous and they scored 3 goals which on 99% of days would have been more than sufficient - but not this famous afternoon. The Hungarians kept coming forward and exploiting England's tactical weaknesses.
The visitors seemed noticeably to be superior physical specimens, with far greater levels of physical fitness. They also looked thoroughly modern. A comparison of the kit worn by both teams gives the distinct impression that the English team were representative of a bygone era. Captain Billy Wright commented on the visitors' lightweight boots resembling 'carpet slippers.'
The pressure on England coaches at this time was clearly poles apart from that of the modern day. Winterbottom not only survived the 6-3 debacle but also the inconceivable 7-1 beating when the teams met again the following May in Budapest, a record defeat in the history of English international football. The defensive strategy seemed even more at sea that in had at Wembley. In fairness to Winterbottom, the England coach at this time was not allowed to pick the team, this was decided by the F.A.'s 'selection committee' made up of football club directors!
Away from the Football Association and at club level, however, the Hungarian performance evoked a general panic ensuing at all levels. Third Division Watford, for example, was reported to have brought their players in for extra afternoon training. English managers were forced for the first time to look to Europe to understand the training and tactical advances that were being made there. At the forefront of this movement was Manchester United's Matt Busby who ensured that his team competed at European level at every opportunity. Other admirers of the Hungarian team included Bill Nicholson, Don Revie, Ron Greenwood, Malcolm Allison, Brian Clough and others. One thing is for sure, English football were never to be the same again.
Sold for £8000
7 & 8 November Sports Memorabilia
Sotheby's New Bond Street
7 November 2011