In English eyes and hearts it is the greatest sporting event of the year. In American terms, it is a Kentucky Derby and a World Series rolled into one.
It would take all the color and excitement of both U.S. classics, with perhaps a heavyweight championship boxing match thrown in, to match the outpouring of affection, enthusiasm and passion that is released late in the springtime in Britain when the two best soccer football teams in the land face each other in London's great Wembley Stadium before 100,000 spectators to whom, for this precious afternoon, nothing else matters in the whole wide world. This is the Cup Final; the ultimate battle for the world's most famous soccer trophy, the silver Football Association cup which stands 19 inches high and weighs 175 ounces. It is worth around $70 in cash—and it could not be bought for a maharajah's weight in diamonds.
This year the mixture was as before. Queen Elizabeth was there with the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Margaret. The two finest teams were there to fight it out: Manchester City and Newcastle United, giants of professional soccer's first division, the survivors of the Football Association's eliminations which began last August. The 100,000 who paid $140,000 to watch the final were considered the luckiest people in Britain. Certainly 500,000 would have bought tickets if there had been room for them; $7 tickets were selling for $140 on the black market. Every year, competition for tickets is so keen that fans try all sorts of ruses to gain admission. In 1952 a man almost slipped through the turnstiles with a 1932 ticket. The day before each year's game, attendants carefully search the entire stadium and invariably flush out fans who paid to enter Wembley for some other entertainment a day or so earlier and then hid themselves on tops of girders, in rest rooms, in holes and corners—anywhere, whatever the discomfort, just so they could sneak out on Cup Final afternoon. Some have even tried to dig tunnels under the gates.
However they get there, the spectators arrive early to enjoy the pregame Wembley spectacle. An hour before the game a community singing leader persuades almost everyone to join in well-known hymns which build up to a misty-eyed, lump-in-throat chorus of 100,000 voices in Abide with Me.
May 22, 1955
With the Coldstream Guards in scarlet, blue and gold against the rich green of Wembley's grass carpet, the final five minutes before game time are unnerving to spectators and players alike. Not only are there the hymns and the music of the bands, but there is also the arrival of the royal party, the brandishing of pennants and rosettes in the colors of the favored teams and finally there is the ear-splitting roar which greets the two teams as they jog up the tunnel under the stands and onto the field.
No soccer professional is ever quite impervious to the Wembley "final" atmosphere. Not that there is a lot of money in it for him—a mere $56 if he is on the winning side, plus a cut in $1,540 shared by approximately 25 teammates on his club roster. It is always easy to spot a nervous soccer player at Wembley. He can't step off a pitching mound to wipe his forehead nor out of a batting box to knock mud from his cleats, so he prances up and down even on a warm day as if he sought to restore his circulation—anything rather than stand still in the face of the drama before him.
As drama, this year's Cup Final had practically everything. First of all, it was an upset. Manchester City was favored to win. The club stood higher than Newcastle in the league table. When Hungary whipped England at Wembley two years ago and proved that England could no longer claim to be unquestioned world soccer masters, Manchester City was the only club which decided to change its style of play. Traditional British style is for the center forward to lie well up in the field while his two inside forwards hang back to feed him the ball. Manchester copied the Hungarians by pushing up their inside forwards and pulling back the center. This had the result of drawing the opposing center half, whose job it is to take care of the center, too far from his own goal, creating a gap which was exploited by the other Manchester attackers.
These tactics took Manchester close to the head of the league this season and made them 2-1 favorites to beat Newcastle at Wembley.
Newcastle, though, had something important in its favor: luck. It is a team apparently born under a lucky star. It was playing its 10th final (no other club has reached the final so often) and its third at Wembley in five years. "Wembley, indeed," remarked The Times, "has become to Newcastle what coal is to Newcastle."
THE MANCHESTER POETS
This season, Newcastle reached the final unimpressively, scraping through narrow wins against weak clubs. More than once they had won only by a lucky-looking goal. But the truth is that they made their luck, playing tough, straightforward, opportunistic soccer. The morning of the Cup Final, Scottie Hall summed it up in the London Daily Sketch:
"Manchester are the poets, the creators of soccer beauty. Newcastle are the sound jobbing plumbers. But unlike the race of plumbers, Newcastle never forget to bring their tools to the job. I hereby nominate Newcastle."
In the Mirror, Bob Ferrier agreed:
"Their [Newcastle's] blundering indiscretions and sheer audacity go beyond belief. Just as they are the masters of not doing the obvious, so they are masters at making the most of 'today'...they have the marrow of greatness in their bones.
"But there is something more. They walk in company with the gods that guard this game of football. They are the chosen, the darlings, the silver-spoon boys. Call it second sight or a sporting sixth sense—whatever it is, Newcastle have it, and it always brings them home when all seems clearly lost."
Just before the start of the game Newcastle looked like a team sure of its destiny. The players were relaxed as they stood at attention to shake hands with the Queen and the Duke. Manchester looked tense, keyed up.
Newcastle coolness brought one of the quickest goals in Wembley history. From the corner flag their winger, Len White, banged the ball to the head of Jackie Milburn, standing, unforgivably unmarked, 12 yards outside the Manchester goal. Milburn swayed back, then snapped his head forward, hitting the ball with all the strength his neck could summon. It went like a bullet to the underside of the crossbar of the Manchester goal, bounced down on the right side (for Milburn) and Newcastle was one up 45 seconds after the kickoff.
MEADOWS IS INJURED
Worse was to follow for Manchester. In the 19th minute their right fullback, Jimmy Meadows, raced for the ball in competition with Newcastle's will-of-the-wisp left winger, Bobby Mitchell. Meadows forgot the dragging power of the unusually thick Wembley grass: the cleats of his right shoe caught in the turf and he fell, tearing the ligaments of his knee, which might be enough to put him out of soccer for good. Certainly it ended his appearance at Wembley, and luckless Manchester was left with 10 men.
Since substitutions are not permitted in British soccer, the dice were now heavily loaded in Newcastle's favor. Just the same, it was under this handicap that Manchester began to play high-class football, rewarded 30 seconds before the end of the first half with an equalizing goal, brilliantly headed by Bobby Johnstone.
In the second half the strain told, and Newcastle put the game on ice with two more goals. In the closing minutes the Manchester goalkeeper, Bert Trautmann (a former German POW who is now the idol of Manchester fans), was mercilessly peppered by the Newcastle forwards, and the score might easily have been much higher. Scenting victory, Newcastle supporters around the great bowl began to chant Blaydon Races, the triumphant tribal song of northeast England.
Then it was the long final whistle, and Jimmy Scoular, Newcastle captain, getting the cup from the hands of the Queen, and the Manchester squad, tired and sweating, trotting into the tunnel, heads low. Then wave after wave of cheers crashing across the arena as Scoular walked over the field, happily waving the cup, his colleagues in the black-and-white striped shirts waving too and grinning in the greatest moment of their lives. Finally the crowd, reluctant to leave, thinning slowly.
Another Cup Final was history—and Newcastle luck had held.
AND HERE AT HOME
Two of the top English soccer teams, Sunderland and Huddersfield, and a crack German eleven from Nuremberg are currently touring the U.S. and playing local and all-star teams in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis. Sunderland, which went to the semifinals in the English Challenge Cup competition, and Huddersfield, which went to the sixth round, also will play in Montreal, Winnipeg and Toronto before the tour ends on June 5. Nuremberg, with several players from the world championship West German team in its lineup, was scheduled to conclude its U.S. tour against Sunderland at Ebbets Field, Brooklyn this week.