Back in the USA

England may have lost twice to the United States but have inflicted frequent and often quite heavy revenge, beginning, as Gavin Willacy relates, with Tom Finney in 1953

Three years after their humiliation by the United States in Belo Horizonte, Alf Ramsey, Billy Wright, Jimmy Dickinson and Tom Finney were given the chance to gain some sort of revenge on those pesky Americans when the FA sent England on their regular tour of the Americas.

In the days before endless World Cup and European Championship qualifiers, England would embark on the sort of money-making summer tours that Premiership clubs do now. Almost ev­ery May they headed across the globe, playing three or four internationals en route. In 1953, they started in Argen­tina, where the game was abandoned after 25 rain-drenched, goalless min­­­utes, then moved on to Chile (won 2-1) and Uru­guay (lost 2-1). On their way home, England had a date in New York in a game to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s coronation.

“We had lived with the stigma of the 1950 World Cup defeat for three years and there was a genuine feeling of revenge in the air,” admits Finney, the Preston North End winger, in his new autobiography. “I was particularly excited as, like the vast majority of players in the par­ty, I’d never set foot in America before. I had the time of my life.”

That excitement turned to agony when Luis Cruz, a particularly violent Uruguayan full-back, decided that he was going to end Fin­ney’s threat down the flanks. “Brutal is the best description. I copped for a lot of the stick that was being dished out. It was ruthless.” Fin­ney ended the game with a gaping shin wound, which soon turned septic, courtesy of a ludicrously late assault by Cruz. The Pres­ton Plumber got an extra day to recover when the initial game was called off because of freak storms before, finally, England – who had managed a trip up the Em­pire State Building – made their bow under floodlights at the world-famous Yankee Stadium.

Unfortunately for the promoters, just 7,271 – a then record low for an England game – turned up at “the house that Babe Ruth built”, which had hosted some huge crowds for games between touring club sides. At one point those that had bothered heading out to the Bronx must have thought they were going to see anoth­er shock. The US had only played one game in the three years since the World Cup – a 6-0 hammering at Hampden Park a year earlier – and yet two minutes before half-time, it was still scoreless. “The initial signs were ominous,” recalls Sir Tom. “I don’t know if it was false lighting, if the gods were against us or if we were simply trying too hard.”

Ivor Broadis settled England’s nerves and, midway through the second half, England led 4-1 with two goals from Nat Lofthouse and one from Finney himself.

Then England got the bends again. The American referee awarded his countrymen what Finney des­cribes as “a joke penalty”, for handball against Harry Johnstone, and then they struck again to cut the lead to 4-3 and leave England sensing a stitch-up. Before panic could set in for the closing stages, the ever-modest Finney – who, according to reports, ran riot – got anoth­er and Redfern Froggatt made it 6-3. Phew.

The impact of two defeats by the States 40 years apart still overshadows the hammerings England have given them. So much so that it is almost ten years since the two sides met, during which time the US have play­ed over 100 friendlies and risen above England into FIFA’s top ten.

England seem keener to play in the Orient than make the shorter journey across the At­lantic or invite a team packed with Premiership stars to play Sven’s men in Blighty. Perhaps the FA demand too much money to take their stars stateside. Or are England simply scared of losing to the US of A? Finney and co could understand that fear.

More Atlantic Crossings

USA 1 England 8, Los Angeles

After losing in Brazil, Peru and Mexico, at half-time in the final match this tour looked like marking a new nadir in English football. The Americans, in their first game for two years, had an early goal disallowed then went ahead. England levelled before the break and saved face with a second-half onslaught, led by a Bobby Charlton hat-trick. Ron Flowers got two, Johnny Haynes one, fringe players Derek Kevan and Warren Bradley the others. The only striker not to score was Jimmy Greaves.

USA 0 England 10, New York City

England had a hectic May, winning in Portugal and Dublin before showing no signs of jet-lag against the US, who hadn’t played for a year. Everton striker Fred Pickering scored a hat-trick on debut, Roger Hunt got a record four, Terry Paine two and sub Bobby Charlton the other. Mike Bailey had a sound debut but broke his leg soon after and lost his chance of a World Cup medal, fame and fortune. US keeper Uwe Schwart didn’t play again and the stadium on Randall’s Island, an oasis of sports fields between the Bronx and Harlem, is now a pile of rubble. Three days later England were pulverised by Pelé in a 5-1 defeat in Rio.

USA 0 England 5, Los Angeles

Two decades of the NASL importing foreign stars had done the US team no good at all. They fielded five college students, a couple of indoor players and a goalie – Arnie Mausser – with no club at all. John Kerr, later of Millwall, started and local college boy Paul Caligiuri won the 14th of his 110 caps. Mausser never played again. Kerry Dixon and Gary Lineker scored twice, Trevor Steven got the fifth, as Bobby Robson gave Chris Woods the easiest possible debut in goal.

USA 2 England 0, Foxboro (near Boston)
The week that marked the beginning of the end for Graham Taylor. Designed as preparation for the next summer’s World Cup, this tour was the last thing England wanted after losing a vital qualifier in Norway. Taylor gave almost all the Oslo flops a chance to redeem themselves, except David Platt who was rested and replaced as skipper by Paul Ince. But goals from German import Thomas Dooley (pictured with Platt in 1994) and Alexi Lalas rubbed England’s noses in it. A draw with Brazil and defeat by Germany left England winless in six games, their worst run for 12 years, and Taylor on the brink.

England 2 USA 0, London
England finally swallowed their pride and invited the Yanks to Wembley. A new era of US soccer had begun: Lalas had joined Padova in Serie A, Cobi Jones was at Coventry and young Claudio Reyna had just signed for Bayer Leverkusen. Brad Friedel, making his second start in goal, had just left Newcastle because of work-permit problems. For once in two seasons of dire Wembley friendlies, Terry Venables’ England won comfortably in a game most memorable for the Americans’ shirts – denim-look with white star patches – and Lalas’s extraordinary beard.

From WSC 200 October 2003. What was happening this month