“I hit a decent ball with some steam from 25 to 28 yards out. Somehow Joe Gaetjens got a piece of the ball. It was not a beautiful goal by any means.”
It might not have been a beautiful goal, but there are fewer goals that shook the footballing world as much as that Joe Gaetjens strike did. These are the words of Gaetjens’ team-mate Walter Bahr, who supplied the assist for the goal that handed England one of their most embarrassing defeats on a football pitch.
The FIFA World Cup began with its first edition in 1930 in Uruguay, where the hosts went on to be crowned world champions after defeating fellow South American rivals Argentina at the Estadio Centenario. Two more World Cups followed at an interval of four years, the first in France and the latter in Italy and both the times the Italians succeeded to take home the famous Jules Rimet trophy.
The World Cup and especially the qualification process leading to it was not as fiercely competitive as it is in the modern times. But still there was one notable absentee from the first three World Cups – England.
The Three Lions finally made their bow at the world stage in 1950 in Brazil. And the high esteem in which the English footballers were held in those times made them amongst the favourites to win the coveted trophy at the first time of asking.
They were placed in a fairly easy group as well with Spain, Chile and the United States, and almost all the bookies had their money on the Three Lions to successfully progress from the group into the final round of the tournament.
And when Walter Winterbottom’s men defeated Chile 2-0 courtesy of a goal each from Stan Mortensen and Wilf Mannion, it appeared that they were on course to reach the promised land.
Next up for the Englishmen were the minnows United States, whose team comprised of a ragtag bunch of amateurs. The team had a knitting machinist, a mailman, a hearse driver, a paint-stripper and a dishwasher amongst a host other sundry professionals.
Needless to say the inventors of the beautiful game were considered to be strong favourites to spank the Stars and Stripes and remain on course to win their first ever World Cup. No one gave the minnows a chance and the odds were stacked 500-1 against the United States.
However, things were completely different on the pitch as the United States’ players put on a gritty display to deny England any goals and eventually scored one of their own to shock the footballing world.
The result was so astonishing that when the scoreline after the game was transmitted to England, many of the newspapers thought of it to be an error and believed that the result was actually 10-1 in their teams favour!
But of course, the amateurs had defeated a footballing superpower in what still remains one of the biggest upsets in not just football, but all of sports. The match is now referred as the Miracle on Grass.