Socrates MacSporran

Socrates MacSporran
No I am not Chick Young, but I can remember when Scottish football was good

Monday, 8 December 2014

The Day The Magyrs Came To Hampden

TODAY is a significant anniversary for Scottish football, being the 60th anniversary of the day Hungary, then the best team in the world, visited Hampden, to play Scotland in a friendly.
In those pre-floodlight days, the Magnificent Magyrs - Puskas, Kocsis, Hidegkuti, Boczsik and Co had the cachet of a pre-2014 World Cup Brazil, they were the team everyone wanted to play against. West Germany might have beaten them in the World Cup Final earlier in the year 1954, but, like Muhamad Ali, the Hungarians were: "The People's Champions". They attracted over 113,000 fans to Hampden, that Wednesday afternoon.
There was a sub-text to the game. In November, 1953, the Hungarians had, of course, thrashed England 6-3 at Wembley, following that win up with an even more emphatic 7-1 humbling of the men in white in a pre-World Cup meeting in Budapest. National honour demanded that, if the Scots couldn't beat their Iron Curtain visitors - a result which not even the most myopic of the Tartan Army would bet on - then, at least, they had to lose by less than England, and thereby claim a moral victory over the Auld Enemy.
If Hungary's World Cup had ended in final disappointment, Scotland's had been a disaster, bundled out on the wrong end of a 7-0 score-line against holders Uruguay in the group stages. After this, there were calls for a total re-think, calls which were, naturally, all but ignored by the SFA's ruling elite.
They did make one concession. The idea of a Team Manager had been toyed with in the build-up to and during the World Cup, but, Andy Beattie, the scapegoat, sorry, chosen one, sensibly bailed-out during the Swiss disaster and, the SFA committee hoped, that idea had been put to bed.
So, they didn't appoint a manager for the Hungarian game, but, they did appoint an: "official in charge", none other than the Chairman of the Selection Committee, George Brown one of the Rangers' directors.
Now, as a former Rangers and Scotland captain and Head Teacher at Bellahouston Academy, Brown brought a certain gravitas to the position; and, to be fair, the SFA did approach the game with a modicum of planning - arranging trial games against Kilmarnock, Hibs and Falkirk, during which 21 different players were given their chance to earn a cap in the big game.
The selectors duly met and named the following team for the big game: Fred Martin (Aberdeen), Willie Cunningham (Preston North End, captain) and Harry Haddock (Clyde), Tommy Docherty (Preston NE), Jimmy Davidson (Partick Thistle) and John Cumming (Hearts), Johnny Mackenzie (Partick Thistle), Bobby Johnstone and Lawrie Reilly (both Hibs), Jimmy Wardhaugh (Hearts) and Tommy Ring (Clyde).
You will note the lack of Old Firm representation. Where were George Young of Rangers and Bobby Evans of Celtic, Scotland's two most-capped players of the 1950s? Why no Gordon Smith?
Haddock, Cumming and Wardhaugh were all making their Scotland debut, while this was the only Scotland team between 1947 and 1957 from which a fit Young was omitted; the only time he was dropped in his 54-cap Scotland career.
Match reports tell of a Hungarian team, not at full-strength; Gyula Grosics, then seen as the best goalkeeper in the world, was left out for disciplinary reasons, and not perhaps as slick as they had been before that shock loss to the Germans. But, they were still too-good for the Scots, taking a 2-0 lead through Bozsik and Hidegkuti, before  Tommy Ring pulled one back in 36 minutes; only to see Sandor restore the visitors' two-goal lead just before the break.
Bobby Johnstone made it 3-2 early in the first half and, although the Scots showed real dogged determination to get on terms, the Hungarians had too-much pure football to be overhauled, and, in injury time, Kocsis scored a fourth goal for them which, maybe, slightly skewed the result.
No excuses, the better team won. The Scots' spirit and determination was lavishly praised, Puskas thought Johnny Mackenzie was outstanding on the right for Scotland, but, in the end, soccer science had overcome endeavour.
The Scots hadn't liked the Hungarian's body-checking, the visitors weren't impressed by the tackling of Docherty and Cumming, while Reilly's attentions on defenders and goalkeeper were even criticised by the Scottish press.
Still, the SFA got the result they wanted - Scotland had lost be less than England; notch it up as a moral victory.
The feel-good factor was back in Scottish football, but, it didn't last. Next time out, we lost 7-2 to England at Wembley.

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