Football: England's delusion of grandeur

The Anniversary: The game which gave birth to the European Cup kicked off 44 years ago today
Click to follow
The Independent Online
FORTY-FOUR years ago today Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Honved of Budapest 3-2. It was only a friendly but among the headlines on the following morning was one boasting "Hail Wolves - Champions of the World". Another said "Wolves The Great". The rest of Europe looked on with scepticism.

In the previous year England had suffered their first ever home defeat when the Hungarian Olympic champions won 6-3 at Wembley. Later England had gone to Budapest and lost 7-1. Yet this club match was so dramatic and the claims on behalf of Wolves and English football so inviting of further challenge that it became the final conclusive evidence for the need to instigate the long- discussed European Cup.

The Honved side included Puskas, Kocsis, Lorant, Czibor and Bozsik, all of whom had been members of the Hungarian team who had inflicted the hammering of England at Wembley as well as appearing in the 1954 World Cup final. So on the face of it Wolves achieved revenge, but it was a victory chauvinistically overplayed by the press of the day. In fact, Honved were at the end of a long tour and, for the international players, an exhausting year. Even so there is no doubt that this was a memorable, vivid drama. Peter Wilson, at that time the doyen of popular journalism, concluded his Daily Mirror report: "I may never live to see a greater thriller than this. And if I see many more as thrilling I may not live much longer anyway."

In France, L'Equipe's football editor, Gabriel Hanot, quietly put the match into perspective by saying Europe should wait for Wolves to play in Moscow and Budapest "before proclaiming their invincibility". He also mentioned Milan and Real Madrid who, with accurate foresight, he suggested would challenge the claims made on Wolves' behalf. Within the week L'Equipe had set out its plans for a European club competition, which the European authority took up, but the following year the insular Football League refused to sanction Chelsea's appearance in the first tournament.

Before meeting Honved at Molineux, Wolves, the League champions, had beaten the visiting Moscow Spartak under floodlights (a novelty in those days) and drawn with First Vienna, but it was anticipated that the "Mighty Magyars", the spine of the superb Hungarian national team, would be much tougher. That toughness was questioned by the Wolves fans when, before the match, the Hungarians came on to the pitch and threw them flowers. The friendly but completely alien gesture was met with embarrassment and a few shouts suggesting that the visitors were a bunch of pansies. Far from it.

Wolves spent the first 10 minutes attempting to control Honved's deceptive, constantly changing tactics. First the Hungarians attacked wide, then there would be a long ball from defence to attack followed by a succession of short passes. Bert Williams, the England goalkeeper, stood up to it all until a free-kick by Puskas to the head of Kocsis resulted in his being stranded. Wolves missed chances, Honved took another, Kocsis sending Machos away to beat an on-rushing Williams.

Wolves gathered themselves and Farago, in the Honved goal, had to save from Wilshaw, Broadbent, Flowers, Swinbourne and Smith. Honved were reduced to counter-attacks and fighting back against the almighty sound of a packed ground. Farago remained an acrobatic barrier. He also dealt with the accurate crosses from the winger Hancocks. Then Hancocks moved inside, was fouled by Kovaks and successfully took the penalty himself.

Honved were clearly troubled by Wolves' incessant pressure which seemed to be raised on the waves of sound from 60,000 voices. They conceded an equaliser in the 76th minute. It was a goal typical of the best of Wolves' accurate long-ball game: Slater out to Wilshaw, a centre and Swinbourne heading in.

Wilshaw soon attacked again and this time his centre was volleyed in, again by Swinbourne. Williams still needed to save at the feet of Czibor. Wolves held firm, but their inspired victory was something of a delusion. They were better organised than England had been but Real Madrid, with wins in the first five European Cup finals, were soon to make the nation accept that both at national and club level they had fallen behind in the skills of a game they invented.

Comments