World Cup Football: Dark days and humble pie in Brazil

ENGLAND AT THE WORLD CUP 1950 Brazil; POOL 2 England 2 Chile 0 England 0 United States 1 England 0 Spain 1 FINAL Uruguay 2 Brazil 1; In the first of a series looking back at England's performances in the World Cup finals, Ken Jones talked to Eddie Baily about the year that shattered England's assumptions of superiority
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EDDIE BAILY heard of his selection for the 1950 World Cup in Brazil when touring Switzerland with Tottenham Hotspur. So home for intense preparation? "You must be bloody joking," Baily recalled.

Along with goalkeeper Ted Ditchburn, Alf Ramsey and Bill Nicholson, one of four Spurs players in England's squad, Baily was told to report daily for training at the Dulwich Hamlet football ground in south-east London. "Not many footballers owned cars in those days," he said, "but Ted had this old American job, a Cadillac I think it was, and he drove us over there every morning."

Inside left in a Tottenham team that had won the championship of the Second Division by 12 points, and would win the championship itself the following season, Baily was about to take part in an event that no British player had experienced.

It was the first time a British team had entered the World Cup, all four of the associations having returned to football's world governing body, Fifa, in 1946 after an absence of nearly 20 years. The British Championship was designated a qualifying group but childishly Scotland chose not to compete after a narrow loss to England at Hampden Park left them in second place, even turning down a subsequent invitation when several countries withdrew.

So England travelled alone. The party that left London in early June included the usual blazered officials but, pathetically, no doctor. "It was typical," Baily added. "There we were going off to a strange country about which we knew very little and there wasn't anyone we could turn to if we were sick or injured. Backward wasn't the word for it."

Only a grudging last-minute decision by the selectors added England's greatest footballer, Stanley Matthews, to the squad, after he had been sent to Canada with an FA touring party.

Most damaging, though, was the loss of Neil Franklin. An automatic choice for five years, the gifted Stoke City centre-half gave his wife's pregnancy as an excuse for missing the World Cup, but it concealed a sensational defection to Colombia, who were then outside Fifa's jurisdiction.

Franklin's move caused many in England's squad to question their working conditions; an iniquitous retainer and transfer system, a paltry maximum wage and minimal bonuses. "We were supposed to think ourselves lucky," Baily said, "lucky to have a life in football and to be going off on this great adventure."

It began with a 31-hour propellered flight to Rio that included refuelling stops at Lisbon, Dakar and Recife. "On and on until we were all knackered," Baily added. "Alf (Ramsey) had been to Brazil as a Southampton player but he hadn't seen a lot of the country. We didn't know what people in South America looked like, whether they were small or tall or of a different colour."

The England party were talented enough to be rated favourites alongside Brazil but, absurdly, their first-ever manager, Walter Winterbottom, was subordinate to a panel of selectors who had no playing experience. "Walter had very little chance of putting out the team he wanted," Baily said. "It was ridiculous."

A vast new stadium, Maracana, was still under construction when the party arrived. "Cranes everywhere," Baily remembers along with the novelty of reaching the pitch from an underground tunnel and oxygen in the dressing- rooms. From their hotel windows on Copacabana beach the England players looked out on a different world.

Despite the problems that beset Winterbottom, goals by Stan Mortensen and Wilf Mannion brought England a 2-0 victory in their opening match against Chile. With the United States and Spain the other teams in their group (the 1950 World Cup was played on a league basis), England could feel confident of finishing top and qualifying for the final four.

England's match against the USA took them to Belo Horizonte. They found a cramped, rutted and stony pitch. "The worst I'd seen since my schooldays," Baily said. "The dressing- room came as a shock too, bleedin' bare bulbs and, would you believe, rats. Still it was only the Yanks. No problem."

Against the wishes of Winterbottom, who wanted to rest some of his players before playing Spain, the selectors sent out the team that defeated Chile.

Still waiting for his first cap, Baily watched the game sitting alongside Matthews. "It didn't seem to matter very much when the Americans went a goal up, just a matter of time before the roof came in on them, but the further it went the more you sensed a disaster. I've forgotten how many times we should have scored but we didn't."

When the score was flashed to newspaper offices in London it was assumed to be a printing error. Surely 10-1 to England! "We could still qualify but the bottom had dropped out of things," Baily said.

Changes were made, probably by the FA's senior committee member, Arthur Drewry. Matthews made a belated return to the team and Baily was given his first cap. "I didn't do badly," he said, "but Spain beat us 1-0 to put us out."

Looking at the squad he had joined, Baily found it hard to believe. Matthews, Tom Finney, Mannion, Jackie Milburn, Ramsey, Billy Wright, Mortensen, Bert Williams. England, for so long convinced there was no more powerful football nation, had been found out.