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Hungary 1953

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.

 

25 November 2003 marks the 50th anniversary of Hungary's 6-3 win over England at Wembley, the first time England ever lost at home to continental opposition. The game marked a watershed in the development of football and tactics in England, while the world took notice of the radical Hungary side.
 
Post-war English self-confidence was high in 1953. The war was over, the economy was reviving, and a young queen had just been crowned - an event marked (as if to confirm Britain's place in the divine order of things) by Empire's conquest of Everest.
 
Not that it seemed significant at the time to a nation blissfully convinced of their footballing supremacy, but England were also still unbeaten at home against continental opposition. Then communist Hungary came to Wembley and with their radical form of the game, rattled English certainty to the core. "If we beat the English at Wembley, our names will be legendary," said Hungary coach Gusztav Sebes. Hungary won 6-3. The modern world had left England behind.
 
Hungary under the Stalinist government of Matyas Rakosi was a paradoxical place. "We lived under a very radical regime that used many weapons including intimidation to impose its vision," remembered goalkeeper Gyula Grosics. "It included trying to undermine our national identity and our sense of ourselves. Overly patriotic works of art were prohibited, yet the state was keen to push sport as a way of advertising the success of the communist system."
 
That meant allowing Sebes to conscript most of the nation's best players to the army team, Honved, and allowing him to instruct opposing club sides to play in a certain way as part of his team's preparations for upcoming international fixtures.
 
Sebes was a master propagandist who had organised Renault workers in Paris in the 1930s. In 1953, he was keen to emphasise the differences between his 'socialist' conception of the game in which the workload was shared and the defence was as important was the attack and England's tactics, which still bore traces of the game's origins in the public schools, when prefects would do the attacking and the younger students the defending.
 
For all former Arsenal coach Herbert Chapman's advances in designing the W-M formation, dribbling (exemplified by wingers like Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney) was still lauded as the supreme art. The key Sebes tactic of withdrawing the centre-forward to permit greater flexibility and interchange of positions could not have happened in an England where everybody knew their place. The innovation, ironically, only came about in the debate that followed a series of lectures delivered in Budapest by Tottenham manager Arthur Rowe in 1940.
 
As Hungary captain Ferenc Puskas said: "When we attacked, everyone attacked; in defence it was just the same. We were the prototype for Total Football."

By Ben Lyttleton, November 2003

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