Football: Action Replay: Gods suffer mortal blow
Monday 26 April 1999
THE TWILIGHT of the gods, that was the scene at Wembley yesterday when Hungary beat - no, thrashed, not just toyed with, the might of English Soccer, scoring a 6-3 victory which at times looked as though it might be 16-3.
It is always sad to see the passing of an old champion, but there was never the slightest doubt that the better side was going to win.
I believe the crowd knew it even before the players, for when Hungary took the lead for the second time - they scored inside the first minute through "hat-trick" Hidegkuti and Sewell equalised some five minutes later - the grey ranks huddled round the rims of the great stone bowl fell silent, as mourners at a national funeral rather than spectators at a national sporting festival.
The lesson is clear. Our best is not good enough for the best of the rest nowadays. We must build and encourage the young men who kick a football on the commons and the open spaces all over England; we must create more opportunities for the back-street boys, who now are perforce compelled to dribble a tin can down an alley in the cities.
It is no good bemoaning the past, although I trow there will be many heavy hearts among those who remember when English Soccer was a hallmark of greatness throughout the myriad lands where this most international game is played, when the only query at the end of a home match against Continentals was: "How much did we win by?"
No! Do not let us mourn the past, but let us build for the future and start the building now. There was no mystery about why the Hungarians won. From the first challenging whistle to the last plaintive pibroch, which echoed through fog which came down in a grey veil, as though to cloak England's humiliation, these magical Magyars were yards faster.
The old masters - that is, England - were routed, outplayed, outstayed, outshot by these new streamlined champions of Europe and, I dare suggest, the world.
With twenty minutes to go it was a scene of sporting tragedy. The Hungarians seemed to amble where they would, never hurried, never flurried, rather like a bunch of well-mannered lads who do not want to rub home intolerably an overwhelming defeat against their aged parents on Old Boys' day.
It was sad, very sad to see, and there were moments when even some of the best-behaved players committed ugly fouls under the strain of being made to look idiotic and inept in front of 100,000 of their best friends, who nevertheless could not forbear to tell them they had had it.
The Hungarians were not blameless. There was the occasional jersey-tugging, the more-than-occasional obstruction, but the roughness came from England. In the closing minutes the crowd was even applauding when an England player kicked into touch. It was almost the only chance they had of applauding an Englishman touching the ball at all.
And so our unbeaten home record by a Continental side is not only broken but shattered. Our idols had not only feet of clay, but were men of clay, human clay, and they could not give years to this fantastically fit, fanatically keen, furiously forthright People's team.
The tens of thousands streamed away from Wembley, quieter than any of the vast crowds I have seen at the huge arena. They did not blame our men. Not once but a score of times I heard almost dazed spectators muttering: "I've never seen football like it."
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