Please don’t look at this series of blog posts and just think “I don’t like football” and then go on your merry way. All of these blog posts are about much more than football. In particular they concern the eternal battle between sporting genius and cream cakes.
In the last post, I talked about the one football match I wish I had seen. It was England v Hungary, played on November 25th 1953 at 2.15 pm because there were no floodlights at Wembley. This game would later be called the “Game of the Century”. Hungary were the Olympic champions, undefeated since 1950. The programme took comfort in offering us pictures of previous successes by the England team. The first one shows an exhibition game against FIFA, the World Federation of Football, only a few weeks previously. General Montgomery was the guest of honour. He was brilliant at beating foreigners :
Another picture showed Stan Mortenson being hypnotised by a cheating foreign goalkeeper and his brightly striped socks:
This photo from the game would have been used for the “Spot-the-Ball” contest until somebody eventually spotted that the ball had never ever been there in the first place:
A full programme of activities would precede the match itself:
I don’t know if there were many Hungarians in the crowd, but the effort had certainly been made to include some appropriate music with ‘Hungariana’ and ‘Bond of Friendship’. And then , at 2.05…. pm….
I’m not too sure that anybody would have stayed behind for a second go at the national anthem.
If you didn’t like foreign music, then you could content yourself with reading the players’ pen pictures. I copied a couple of the best English ones. First of all Stanley Matthews:
Alas, Stan would soon be proved NOT to be the “greatest ball manipulator in the whole history of the game”. The second Stan was Stan Mortensen, who also played at Blackpool:
I don’t know about “the gay courage that every Englishman loves” but Stan Mortenson was a very brave man. He was a wireless operator in the RAF and was almost killed in a practice parachute jump. A short time later, after a serious plane crash in a conifer plantation while flying in a Vickers Wellington, Stan escaped death by the narrowest of margins. Both the pilot and the bomb aimer were killed. The navigator lost one of his legs and Stan suffered severe head injuries, necessitating 12 stitches. He was plagued by insomnia for the rest of his life:
Like Stan Mortensen, my Dad was stationed in Lossiemouth in northern Scotland. He met the famous footballer on one occasion:
“My Dad was a fellow wireless operator in the RAF. One day he was travelling on the train from Elgin in northern Scotland down to Crewe in north western England. He was in the same compartment as Stan Mortensen, the famous professional footballer. Mortensen played on many, many occasions as a centre forward both for Blackpool in the First Division, and in international games for England. Indeed, during the course of his career, Mortensen managed 222 goals for Blackpool in just 354 appearances, and 23 goals in 25 games for his country. In later years, he was to appear in the 1953 F.A.Cup Final, when the whole country was firmly behind Stanley Matthews in his third attempt to win a cup winner’s medal. Blackpool duly triumphed against Bolton Wanderers, but, in the euphoria over Matthews’ medal, the fact that Mortensen had himself scored three vital goals has always tended to be rather forgotten. Indeed, the match itself was to become known as “The Matthews Final”, with never a mention of Mortensen’s unique feat. In later years as an old man, Mortensen was to joke grimly that when he finally passed on, they would call his interment “The Matthews Funeral”:
On this particular occasion, another RAF man was in the crowded train compartment, and, during the long and tedious journey south, he began boasting about his extensive triumphs in the world of football. He had played in any number of games and scored any number of vital goals. He went on and on, with everybody else in the compartment, who were all well aware of Mortensen’s identity, acutely embarrassed. Finally, the man turned to Mortensen and said “Do you play at all, mate?” and Mortensen replied “Yes, just a bit.” Mortensen left the train shortly afterwards, and everybody was then able to tell the boastful buffoon just who his erstwhile travelling companion had been. The stupid young man was completely mortified.”