England, as you may have heard, will play the United States at the 2010 FIFA World Cup on June 12th of this year. This series will look at past encounters between the two; and no, we’re not starting in 1950. Instead, we will look at a hyped-up contest that took place between the two teams, on May 29th 1959. It was not, though you would not know it from the press, the first time the U.S. had played England since 1950: there had already been some vengeance in a 6-3 win by the English in New York on June 8th, 1953.
But this match in Los Angeles six years later caught the imagination of the local media much more strongly. England were arriving in the United States on their way back from a high-profile tour further south in the Americas. The match was scheduled for Wrigley Field, the lesser known of two baseball fields named after chewing gum tycoon William Wrigley Jnr., and the England team featured just one player who would have a personal recollection of England’s humiliating defeat to the U.S. nine years earlier in Brazil at the World Cup: captain Billy Wright.
The U.S., meanwhile, had failed to qualify for the 1958 World Cup, and had not played a full international since that failed campaign, which saw them routed by both Mexico and Canada.
A letter printed in the Los Angeles on May 22nd 1959 highlighted some excitement for the event:
The Los Angeles Times gave the contest extensive coverage in the days after the letter was printed. Looking forward to it on May 24th, one piece called England a “considerable favorite”, pointing out the inclusion of Bobby Charlton, “a 21-year-old lethal-shooting center forward, who was the sensation of the English season.” But, the paper said, “the memory of that 1-0 upset in Brazil will spur the Yankee team forward.”
Upon their arrival, England were greeted at the airport by the president of US Soccer.
The article went on to highlight England’s disappointing tour so far, which had seen them lose 2-0 to Brazil, 4-1 to Peru and 2-1 to Mexico. “Naturally we have been disappointed,” manager Walter Winterbottom said. “Brazil, the World Cup winner, was too strong, but we just didn’t play well against Peru or Mexico. The combination of the heat and altitude also hurt us in Mexico city. However, this is a young England team and we are rebuilding, preparing for the 1962 World Cup in Chile. Our average is only 23 and I believe the entire team will be ready for the world by then.”
Another piece by the LA Times’ Sports Editor Paul Zimmerman on May 26th headlined that the U.S. team was “loaded”, predicted a sold-out crowd and “the finest soccer match ever staged in Southern California,” with an undercurrent suggesting that the U.S. could give the English another scare.
The LA Times again previewed the contest on the day: “Twenty-two men who can do more with a round inflated ball with their feet and heads than can 22 monkeys will have at each other this evening at Wrigley Field. The game is soccer. The teams are the best procurable in the United States and England.”
The result, an 8-1 mauling by England behind a Bobby Charlton hat-trick, was a crushing disappointment for the United States team. The LA Times could do nothing but headline that “England Ruins U.S. Stars, 8-1”, with a “disappointing crowd of less than 13,000 fans” in attendance.
Suddenly, the LA Times’ enthusiasm for the game waned. Dick Hyland wrote a devastating piece on soccer as a second class sport in the United States three days after the match, managing to disparage the U.S. team while still accusing the English of some underhanded tactics that may have skewed the result.
The day after the game, the Times of London featured a report from “An American Football Correspondent”, who suggested the English soccer players might go on and dominate the American form of football too. The English, it seems, had found a little more vengeance for their 1950 humiliation, and were ready to start making fun of American soccer again.
The New York Times, meanwhile, was rather more succinct about the victory of the English “booters”, suggesting the result went little noticed outside of Southern California and England.