It was the 'Match of the Century' – the originators of the game against the finest team in the world at that time. The British media's pre-match build-up may have seemed hyperbolic, but England v Hungary at Wembley on 25 November 1953 remains a watershed fixture.
Olympic champions Hungary walked out under the Wembley towers unbeaten in nearly four years. England, though, had never lost at home to a side from outside the British Isles and, as the Sunday Times put it, "hardly anybody was prepared to accept that England no longer ruled the world".
Such rigid views were reflected on the pitch, where manager Walter Winterbottom deployed the WM formation – since referred to as 3-2-5 or 3-4-3. Their visitors, by contrast, fielded a positively avant-garde 3-5-2, akin to the 'Total Football' espoused by Johan Cruyff's Netherlands nearly two decades later, with Nándor Hidegkuti a deep-lying striker stationed behind Ferenc Puskás and Sándor Kocsis.
"It was an imaginative combination of exacting ball control, speed of movements and esoteric vision that knitted together to formulate a style of football that was as innovative as it was productive," said England's influential Stanley Matthews later. "Long before the final whistle, the glory of our footballing past had been laid to rest."
Hungary, for all of their class and confidence, had approached the match with some trepidation, though a chance meeting before the match had helped to calm Puskás. He recalled: "I was in my kit, hanging about in the corridor, when I saw the England inside-right [Ernie] Taylor, who wasn't very tall. I popped back into the dressing room and said to the others: 'Listen, we're going to be all right, they've got someone even smaller than me'."
Referred to as the 'Galloping Major' because he was technically in the army, Puskás spearheaded a performance that left most of the 105,000 spectators rubbing their eyes. Hidegkuti put Hungary in front inside a minute, drawing the hosts' defence out of position with a neat swerve before finishing from outside the area. Jackie Sewell equalised but the tone had been set: swifter, smoother and more skilful, Hungary were 3-1 in front midway through the first half.
The third of those goals remains etched in the memory of all who saw it. Gil Merrick appeared to have his near post covered but Puskás – labelled as "that little fat chap" by a somewhat over-confident England player before the game – pulled the ball back so adroitly, so seamlessly, that England captain Billy Wright was on his backside and the ball in the net in the blink of an eye. "Billy Wright rushed into the tackle like a fireman racing to the wrong fire," read the Times' match report.
There was plenty more to marvel at before the game was up – Hidegkuti completed his hat-trick and József Bozsik got in on the act – as English eyes were opened. "We saw a style of play, a system of play that we had never seen before," said future England manager Bobby Robson, who had watched with wonder. "None of these players meant anything to us. We didn't know about Puskás. All these fantastic players, they were men from Mars as far as we were concerned."
As if to reaffirm the changing of the guard, Hungary condemned England to a 7-1 defeat in Budapest exactly six months later. It all came in the midst of a 50-game period during which time their only defeat was the 1954 FIFA World Cup final. They won 42 and drew seven, scoring 215 goals along the way. That day at Wembley in November 1953, though, may have been the high-water mark – "carthorses playing racehorses," as England forward Tom Finney, who missed the game through injury, so memorably put it.
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