Ken Jones: A real dressing-room brawl? Try Hungary against Brazil in 1954

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The Independent Online

A relentless bombardment of television and newspaper hyperbole informs us that the Premiership has no equal. Never mind football activity in Italy, Spain, South America, anywhere you care to think about; the best of it happens here.

A relentless bombardment of television and newspaper hyperbole informs us that the Premiership has no equal. Never mind football activity in Italy, Spain, South America, anywhere you care to think about; the best of it happens here.

Anyone with half an eye - often all I have left open at the midway stage of many matches pumped out on Sky Sports - for the real thing knows differently. The Premiership is fast, physical, throbbing with passion. The commitment, the frenzy ensures there are few easy pickings. There isn't a result you'd risk your house on which, I guess, creates its own interest and satisfies people who do not care much how the game is played.

But let's get technical. Coaches try every device imaginable to stoke hotter and hotter fires in their players. Technically, however, the standard of individual play in the Premiership is frequently woeful. As some of us see it, the pace is beyond all but players of advanced attainment.

Thinking generally, the phrase "track and field" football frequently occurs to me. "What else do you expect?" an old international of considerable renown recently said. "Today it's first the athlete, then the footballer. Skill used to be all. Now it's a bonus. I watched an Under-16 international match on television, and all that one of the coaches spoke about was how much effort his players had put in, how well they'd adapted to a tactical adjustment. He never once mentioned individual ability."

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I missed last Sunday's live transmission of the match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford. From later news reports, I learned that it had been a fiercely contested affair, which was hardly surprising given the situation, the rivalry between the teams and Sir Alex Ferguson's indiscreet references to the bullying of Ruud Van Nistelrooy by Arsenal players following the corresponding fixture last season.

For some time, relations between Van Nistelrooy and Arsenal players have been subject to emotional disturbance. Matters were not improved on Sunday when he lunged in late at Ashley Cole, a malicious act that has brought him a three-match suspension, and for which he has since apologised.

However, the reason this story runs and runs is because a food fight broke out in the tunnel afterwards. Unless you have been living in a cave lately without news delivery you will know that a slice of pizza thrown at Van Nistelrooy by Cole struck Ferguson, who was thus forced to change his shirt before appearing on television. This doesn't say much for Cole's aim but a lot about childish behaviour.

Much worse things have happened in the dressing-room area, most infamously after a match between Brazil and Hungary during the 1954 World Cup finals in Switzerland, witnessed by Alan Hoby, a former Sunday Express columnist who recently turned 90 years of age. In his autobiography, Hoby wrote: "The theatre, the entertainment and the wonderful virtuosity of the players degenerated into bloodshed and outrage as partisan passions got out of hand. Then what we saw was no longer football but back-street gutter brawling.

"Finally the game - if you could call it that - ended. Then an extraordinary thing happened. I was making my way down to the exits when police whistles blasted through the stadium. At once, from every corner of the ground, grey uniformed police began to converge on a passageway leading to the dressing-rooms. But they were too late...

"Exactly what took place in that savage fight beneath the stands at Berne has been buried under a weight of conflicting testimony. But from the evidence, it seems that the Hungarians had hardly locked the door of their dressing-room when it was broken open by the infuriated Brazilians, some of whom had removed their boots. A window was smashed while one well-aimed boot struck a light and plunged the room into darkness. Then all hell broke loose. Boots and fists were used indiscriminately, and in the ensuing brawl Gustav Sebes [Hungary's coach] had his cheek gashed while Pinheiro, the Brazilian centre-half was struck violently over the head. Puskas was also reported to be in thick of the battle [according to one source Puskas went for Pinheiro with a bottle]. It was hooliganism, brutal and unashamed."

By comparison, what happened at Old Trafford on Sunday was nothing to get worked up about. Normally such incidents are kept from the public's attention. But, as Arsène Wenger said, these days it's impossible to keep anything in football secret. Except the fact the game in England isn't all it's cracked up to be.

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