Frank Borghi was the chief architect of the most crushing debacle ever suffered by England in international football.
The big man from St Louis, a part-timer who made his living by driving funeral cars, was the United States goalkeeper as the nation which gave the game to the world was humbled by the unconsidered underdogs at Belo Horizonte, Brazil, during the 1950 World Cup finals.
England lost 1-0, thanks to a lucky first-half header from Joe Gaetjens, but the victors were even more deeply indebted to Borghi, a former baseball professional.
He made a string of sensational saves from stars such as Stan Mortensen, future national boss Alf Ramsey, Wilf Mannion and, late in the contest, Jimmy Mullen, whose downward nod looked like a face-saver, only for the acrobatic custodian to claw the ball away. England players, already frustrated by hitting their opponents’ woodwork repeatedly, protested to the referee that the ball had crossed the line, but they were waved away and left the field as abject losers.
They went on to be eliminated by falling to Spain in their next match. The US were also knocked out, but the players were feted in their homeland as heroes.
Borghi, who had received bravery awards for his service as a wartime medic – he had been at the Battle of the Bulge, took part in the D-Day landings and was involved in the capture of a key bridge over the Rhine – played in unsuccessful qualifiers for the 1954 World Cup before leaving the game, later becoming a funeral director.
Along with his team-mates, he was inducted into the USA’s National Hall of Fame in 1976. Defender Walter Bahr is now the sole survivor of the side that shocked England.
Frank Borghi, footballer: born St Louis, Missouri 9 April 1925; capped nine times by USA 1949-53; died St Louis 2 February 2015.