England 3-6 Hungary
International friendly, London, November 25, 1953
The end of soccer’s first era and the start of its second can be pinpointed precisely: the game that was billed as the Match of the Century, between the country that represented the sport’s past, and the team that heralded its future.
England had never really believed it needed to beat foreigners to prove its superiority at a sport it had, if not quite invented, then certainly codified. Until 1950, it did not even deign to enter World Cups. Even its first experience that year — defeat to the United States, and early elimination — did not dent its self-esteem.
What happened three years later at Wembley had more impact. Hungary’s aranycsapat, its golden squad, exposed the myth of English supremacy. Billy Wright, England’s captain, was powerless to stop Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis and Nandor Hidegkuti from running riot; he looked, in the words of one reporter, “like a fire engine rushing to the wrong fire.”
Hungary’s emphatic win — the first time England had been beaten by a nation from outside the British Isles on home soil — not only proved that England was no longer the game’s gold standard, but signposted the game’s future: Hungary had not only outplayed England, but out-thought it. Soccer would no longer be a mere physical contest. It was an intellectual one, too.