Football: How Bentley silenced the Hampden roar

A Westcountryman's goal exposed Scotland's hubris when the desire to conquer the Auld Enemy was at its keenest in 1950.
Click to follow
ONLY JOCK Stein had the nerve to suggest that the annual dust up with England was detrimental to the advancement of Scottish football. "It's too big in our minds, an obsession we need to get out of our system," he said in 1978 shortly after agreeing to become manager of the national team. Even for Stein, a man of wise and independent virtue whose marvellous successes with Celtic had brought international recognition, this was easier said than done.

For more than a century the oldest of all international fixtures had lain close to the heart of Scottish football bringing with it a motley baggage of violent history, cultural dissension, injustices real and imagined. Tales of great triumphs over the Auld Enemy rang in the ears of boys barely out of nappies. The wonder of a diminutive attack, the `Wembley Wizards', tearing England apart in 1928. "Who are the world champions now," Scottish supporters bellowed in 1967 after another victory in the cathedral of English football.

No wonder that Stein was determined to focus on a wider horizon. When turning out for a Welsh non-league club, Llanelli, in 1950 he learned of a decision that first caused him to reflect on the insularity of Scottish football.

In his book One Hundred Years of Scottish Football published in 1973, the late John Rafferty wrote, "Football boomed in Scotland in the years immediately after the war. The crowds were big. The play was spectacular and the players ambitious but the club men did not match their spirit. They developed a sense of inferiority as had not previously been noticed. They shrank from competition against the world. They would not risk defeat. It was a depressing period in the management of Scottish football, a period when world status was lost.

"The four associations of Great Britain had withdrawn from the world controlling body, Fifa, in the late twenties on the question of shamamateurism. After the war they were enticed back and Fifa officials travelled to London and asked Britain to give them the benefit of their experience. It was a flattering request and when they were promised a vice-presidency and a member of the executive they rejoined.

"In 1950 Scotland was invited to match its football against the world but the Scottish Football Association wriggled out of the challenge. Fifa offered places in the finals of the World Cup in Brazil to the winners and the runner-up in the British Home Championship. Scotland decided they would go only as champions of Great Britain."

For Scotland (later pleas fell on deaf ears) it came down to a decider at Hampden Park on 15 April 1950, England having already announced that they would go to Brazil regardless of the game's outcome.

Among the players selected by England was a 24-year-old Westcountryman, Roy Bentley, who had made his name as a goalscorer with Newcastle United before a transfer to Chelsea. Five years later Bentley's name would be on 21 of the 81 goals that brought Chelsea their only League championship but never on one that carried more significance than a match-winner at Hampden.

Quartered at Troon on the Ayrshire coast, England were no less confused by what the future held than their Scottish counterparts. "We knew that England would be going to the World Cup no matter what and naturally we all wanted to be a part of it," Bentley said when we spoke at his home in Reading. "But the World Cup was as much a mystery to us as it was to the public. Because of the war it hadn't taken place for 12 years, since we were boys. I don't imagine that anyone in our team knew who held it. I certainly didn't."

As the game grew closer it became apparent to England's players that an opportunity to play in the World Cup mattered less in the minds of Scotland's supporters than the prospect of putting one over on their oldest adversary. "I don't remember reading much in the papers about what a win would mean in the long-term," Bentley added. "Of course, things are a great deal different now. Television has long since given football supporters everywhere a much wider perspective and just to qualify for a major international championship brings in millions of pounds."

Bentley's thoughts that week centred on what the atmosphere would be like to turn out at Hampden Park, to come up against the most famous roar in football. "I didn't think I would be put off by it because I'd grown used to playing in front of big crowds for Newcastle and Chelsea," he said. "On the other hand it was only my second appearance for England and some of our players who were going back to Hampden such as Billy Wright, Tom Finney, Neil Franklin and Stan Mortensen insisted that I hadn't heard anything yet." For once setting aside the pathetic rejection of players who had moved south, Scotland chose four from English clubs, Alex Forbes, of Arsenal, the Derby County inside-forward and record-transfer holder Billy Steel, Willie Moir, of Bolton, and the Liverpool left- winger, Billy Liddell. Apart from the Morton goalkeeper, Jimmy Cowans, and Alex Bauld, of Hearts, at centre-forward, the rest, George Young, Sammy Cox, Willie Woodburn, Ian McColl and Willie Waddell, reflected the domination of Rangers in Scottish football.

When called upon the previous year against Sweden in Stockholm, the first of his 12 caps, Bentley had learned something about England's dressing- room hierarchy and the difficulties imposed on the team manager, Walter Winterbottom, by a selection committee disposed to regional bias. "The Chelsea chairman, Joe Mears, had been brought into that group and he told me a story I found hard to believe," Bentley said. "At the first meeting Joe attended he was asked for his team. He thought selection was the manager's responsibility and said so, but that wasn't the way they did things."

Bentley also became aware that established members of the team felt threatened by newcomers. "You could sense it the attitude of some," he said, "but others were terrific, especially Tom Finney, who has always been one of my heroes both as a player and a man."

As the teams emerged from the dressing-room tunnel, another of Bentley's favourites - the Stoke City centre-half Franklin ("perhaps the best I've ever seen") - looked out at the vast crowd and reflected on the conditions under which English professional footballers were then held. "Look at this," he said. "All these people and here we are, fifteen quid a week [then the maximum wage] for playing in a match like this." Within weeks Franklin had joined a group of players, including the Welsh international Roy Paul and Stoke team-mate George Mountford, who defected to Bogota. Franklin was about to make his last appearance for England.

Bentley might have become one of Franklin's successors, his play at centre- half after joining Fulham from Chelsea so impressive that the possibility of selection was put to him by Winterbottom. "I turned it down," he said. "I could cope with First Division football but I was well into my thirties and past playing in international matches."

Hampden in 1950 was something else. To begin with he found the atmosphere invigorating, not frightening at all. "Not so much a roar as a swirl of sound all around you. Officially, the attendance was around 130,000 but look at the pictures and it's easy to believe the speculation that as many as 200,000 got in." The Daily Herald's football correspondent, Clifford Webb, wrote, "There was grand approach work by the England forwards and half-backs, typically dour defence by the Scots, and occasional spasms of Scottish genius in attack, which actually gave them more chances than their opponents."

The chance that mattered fell to Bentley midway through the second half. "From the photograph of me scoring it looks as though I have put the ball in with my head and close in," Bentley said, his West Country burr still distinctive. "It was a pass from Bobby Langton that I took just inside the penalty area and sent past Cowans."

While waiting that night to board the London sleeper Bentley wandered into a bar across from the station. "After ordering a shandy - I never touched much more in those days - I became aware that a man across the room was looking at me. He had on all the Scots dress. Kilt, sporran, the lot. He came over and spoke. `Aren't you the one who scored against us today,' he said. I nodded nervously. `Well now, you'd better have a drink with me,' he said, going off to bring back a large scotch. Funny thing, but he never mentioned the World Cup."

Comments