Singing-winger Colin Grainger is the sole survivor of the 1956 England side that beat Brazil
Picture this scenario. England score four goals in beating Brazil and even have the luxury of missing two penalties. It sounds like the storyline for a video game, yet it happened when the countries first met in 1956.
Colin Grainger, who scored twice on his international debut, is the only one of the victorious 11 still alive to tell the tale. Grainger, now 79 and corralling his memories for a possible autobiography in his native Yorkshire, was renowned as "The Singing Winger" because of a talent as a crooner which led to his signing with the HMV label. Then 22, the Sheffield United player certainly hit the high notes at Wembley.
Stanley Matthews, 41, on the opposite flank, created an early goal for Tommy Taylor, to which Grainger swiftly added with the first touch of a seven-cap England career. Brazil, inspired by Didi, drew level before Taylor restored the home lead. Then Grainger, soaring to put his head on Matthews's cross, rounded off what remains one of only three England wins in 23 meetings. Two years later, reinforced by 17-year-old Pele, Brazil won the World Cup.
"We'll never know how good that England team would have become because of the Munich air disaster in '58," says Grainger. "We were superior to Brazil in all areas that day. There was a good blend of experience and youth – all the signs of a new era in English football. But Munich cheated us. The England side at the Sweden World Cup wasn't as good as the team of '56. The tragedy affected us all. Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor and Roger Byrne were my friends, particularly Duncan. When I heard that he'd died I couldn't think of anything else but how this great kid, who loved to joke about, was gone. Most of us were more formal and addressed Walter Winterbottom [the England manager] as 'Mr Winterbottom'; Duncan always called him Walter."
Before the game, when the players arrived at the Lancaster Gate Hotel, Grainger found he was rooming with "Mr Matthews". It turned out to be Reg Matthews, the Coventry goalkeeper, whose selection, as a Third Division (South) player, was one of several that would be inconceivable today. Johnny Haynes, Ronnie Clayton and John Atyeo were all from the Second Division.
Grainger, newly relegated to that level, had never encountered opponents with the silky touch and movement of the Brazilians. "They wore boots like slippers, made of fine leather; ours had improved from 10 years earlier but were nothing compared with what Didi and the rest wore."
He sees no brave new world for Roy Hodgson's England. "They'll qualify for the World Cup in Brazil next year but that's about it. There's nothing in the squad that makes me believe they'll improve on past tournaments. When we've had decent teams over the past 10 or 15 years, they've usually reached only the quarter-finals, so I don't hold out much hope."
Grainger will not be at Wembley on Wednesday; the FA missed a PR trick by neglecting to invite him. He did meet Pele in Sheffield in 2007, though. "The match I played in is famous in Brazil and he'd seen footage of my goals," says Grainger. "They never concede four in a game and rarely does one player score two against them. We had a laugh about it."
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