It’s often said that England considers itself special in the world of football, as the founders of the organised game. For once, on October 23rd 1963, this attitude was actually appropriate, as England celebrated the centenary of the Football Association (the world’s first, of course) by taking on a team organised by FIFA representing the rest of the world. In the latest of our classic programme series, here’s the cover, courtesy of footysphere:
The next day, the Times of London headlined that “England Regain Football Birthright”. The England team included Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore, Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Charlton, while the Rest of the World featured Lev Yashin, Raymond Kopa, Denis Law, Alfredo di Stefano, Eusebio and Ferenc Puskas.
The Times could not praise enough the game and the performance of the England team, saying “The afternoon was worth every penny of it,” for the 100,000 crowd, “and it was not so much that England won with a deciding goal by Greaves in the dying minutes — rounding off a century of growth — as that the game itself triumphed royally.”
The Times went on:
Quickly the vast company settled down to savour the fare, hugging itself with joy at many of the glorious touches produced. And if England have not reached such heights for a long time let it be said at once that it was this world side that inspired them, lifted them, as it were, from the ruck of the rough and tumble game that too often passes for football here and there.
England, and all Britain, gave the game to the world in the first place. Now, at this historic celebration, it was as if the world, having refined and purified its arts over the last half-century, had handed back the birthright. And the original masters were big enough not only to recognize the fact but even to make capital of it.
This, indeed, was how football should and can be played. It was a beautiful sight. Only once was a trainer required on the stage for repairs and this of a mere minor character; we scarcely heard the referee’s whistle; there seemed always space to play the ball in spite of the closest defensive shadowing and counter-checks; and violent physical challenge was eschewed without the battle ever becoming emasculated.
The crowd roared its applause–much the same sort of crowd perhaps that on another day and in another context might well call for blood and thunder. Yet now the assembly, like the England team itself, seemed suddenly to recognize that it was in the presence of a game of chess played by masters. Everyone reacted accordingly; everyone enjoyed it hugely and the only sadness came with the final whistle. By popular demand it could have gone on for the next century.