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England Postwar Lineups and Match Highlights
By Norman Giller, Football Author

Part 1:  1946-47 to 1949-50

Norman Giller, long-time football journalist and author of more than 60 football books, has generously sent us England lineups and match highlights from his recent Billy Wright biography, reviewed elsewhere on this website, and his book on England's managers, Don't Shoot the Manager (1994), with permission to reproduce them.

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No 1

Northern Ireland, Windsor Park, 28. 9.46. England won 7-2

Swift    Scott   Hardwick*   Wright   Franklin   Cockburn        

Finney1   Carter1   Lawton1   Mannion3   Langton1

Highlights: Raich Carter scored in the first minute of what was a memorable match for Middlesbrough team-mates Wilf Mannion and George Hardwick.  Mannion illuminated his debut with a hat-trick, and Hardwick was made skipper in his first official international. He was to make thirteen successive appearances for England, all as captain. There was a record Windsor Park crowd of 57,000 for this first Home International match since 1939. England were 3-0 up at half-time. This was England’s first game under the stewardship of Walter Winterbottom, a former Manchester United centre-half who was a university-educated intellectual whose depth of knowledge about the tactics and techniques of the game were unequalled. He was shackled and stifled by a team selection system that put all the responsibility on his shoulders but most of the power in the hands of amateur selectors. Winterbottom was lucky if he got his players together a day before an international match, and often they would arrive just a few hours before the kick-off. It was nothing unusual for England team-mates to meet each other for the first time in the dressing-room shortly before going out to play.

No 2

Republic of Ireland, Dalymount Park, 30.9.46. England won 1-0

Swift    Scott            Hardwick*   Wright   Franklin   Cockburn        

Finney1   Carter   Lawton   Mannion   Langton

Highlights: Tom Finney saved England’s blushes with a scrambled winner eight minutes from the end as the light started to fade in this Monday evening match. It was England's first ever game against the Republic of Ireland. There was a persistent drizzle throughout the game, and conditions handicapped the ball-playing England inside-forwards. The O’Flanagan brothers and right wing partners - Dr Kevin and Michael - were outstanding for Ireland. Both were also Irish rugby internationals. Manchester City left-half Billy Walsh, playing for Ireland, had been capped by England as a schoolboy. The team was skippered by John Carey, who played for both Northern and Southern Ireland and who was to become an outstanding captain of Manchester United. Billy Wright was the most authoritative of the England half-back line, but much of his work was wasted by forwards who struggled to find a way through a defiant Irish defence.

No 3

Wales, Maine Road, 13.10.46. England won 3-0

Swift      Scott   Hardwick*   Wright   Franklin   Cockburn        

Finney   Carter   Lawton1   Mannion2   Langton

Highlights: The Home International championship was considered the most important tournament on the football calendar, and nearly 60,000 fans attended Maine Road on a windy Wednesday afternoon in October 1946 to watch England against Wales.

 ‘Will o’ the Wisp’ Wilf Mannion scored two and laid on the pass for a Tommy Lawton goal against a Welsh defence in which Alf Sherwood was making his full international debut at right-back. Over the next ten years he missed only one match for Wales. Frank Swift, playing in goal on his home Manchester City ground, made half a dozen outstanding saves to break the hearts of the Welsh forwards. England were nearly always in command against the Welsh, but when they did break through Frank Swift showed just why he was rated one of the world’s great goalkeepers. Swiftie! What a player, and what a man. He had huge hands like shovels and often used to walk around the penalty area holding the ball with one hand as if it was a tennis ball.  His reflexes were exceptionally quick for such a big man, and his positioning was just about perfect. They say all goalkeepers are crazy, and Frank certainly came into that category when he used to dive head first at the feet of oncoming forwards. He was the bravest of the brave, and had the full respect of not only his team-mates but always of opponents.

No 4

Holland, Huddersfield, 27.11.46. England won 8-2

Swift    Scott            Hardwick*   Wright            Franklin   Johnston     

Finney1   Carter2   Lawton4   Mannion1   Langton

Highlights: Lawton scored four goals and might have had eight against a Dutch defence that had no answer to his all-round power. The selectors made their first change since Walter Winterbottom had taken over as manager, bringing in Blackpool skipper Harry Johnston for his England debut at left-half in place of Henry Cockburn. The Dutch held their own for the first 24 minutes on a rain-saturated pitch, and were then devastated by a six-goal storm in 20 minutes that included a Lawton hat-trick. During this spell, skipper George Hardwick missed from the penalty spot and Holland managed to pull a goal back to make it 6-1 at half-time. England took their foot off the accelerator in the second half before Raich Carter scored his second goal and Lawton his fourth. Outgunned Holland notched a late second consolation goal. Appalling weather restricted the Leeds Road attendance to 32,500. Dutch FA President Karel Lotsy told Tommy Lawton after the game: ‘You are the world’s greatest centre-forward.’  Anybody who saw his amazing performance will have agreed.  

No 5

Scotland, Wembley Stadium, 12.4.47. Drew 1-1

Swift    Scott            Hardwick*   Wright   Franklin   Johnston          

Matthews   Carter1   Lawton   Mannion   Mullen

Highlights: A crowd of 98,250  gathered for this first post-war international at Wembley. Victory or a draw would give England the Home Championship. Scotland were the superior side in the first half and deserved their 1-0 half-time lead from a goal by Preston inside-right Andy McLaren. England equalised in the 56th minute when Raich Carter finished off a sweeping movement involving Tommy Lawton and Wilf Mannion. With the score deadlocked at 1-1, Carter was racing unchallenged towards the Scottish goal in the dying moments when he heard a whistle and pulled up. The whistle had come from the crowd. Jimmy Mullen made his debut on the left wing, and Stanley Matthews was preferred to Tom Finney on the right wing. It was Stanley’s 18th peacetime international appearance and his first since before the war. Wright and Franklin were developing into the Britton and Cullis of peacetime football. There could be no higher praise. This match saw the start of the Matthews-or-Finney controversy that lasted throughout their careers. The selectors never seemed quite sure which to pick. They were both exceptionally gifted players, but it was considered it would be too much of a luxury to play them both. It started long arguments between fans, whipped up by newspapers, as to which of them should wear the number seven shirt.  

No 6

France, Highbury, 3.5.47. England won 3-0

Swift    Scott            Hardwick*   Wright   Franklin   Lowe           

Finney1   Carter1   Lawton   Mannion1   Langton

Highlights: The selectors continued to dither over whether to play Matthews or Finney. The Preston plumber got the nod this time, making his mark with the first goal in a 3-0 canter against a French team whistled and jeered for their shirt-pulling and spoiling tactics. Wilf Mannion scored the second goal with a delightful lob over French goalkeeper Da Rui, who had kept a blank sheet in the first half with a series of spectacular and unconventional saves. Eddie Lowe, making his debut at left-half, sent three defenders the wrong way with an outrageous dummy before passing the ball into the path of Raich Carter, who coolly slotted home England’s third goal.

No 7

Switzerland, Zurich, 18.5.47. England lost 1-0

Swift    Scott            Hardwick*   Wright   Franklin  Lowe

Matthews   Carter    Lawton    Mannion   Langton

Highlights: England’s famed and feared attack ran into a Swiss wall defence known as ‘The Redoubt’. Switzerland introduced the deep-lying centre-forward tactic that completely baffled England’s defenders. Left winger Jacques Fatton scored the only goal in the 27th minute. Tommy Lawton celebrated what he thought was a second-half equaliser, but the referee ruled it off-side. Once the Swiss were in front, they stifled England with a mass defence that was both disciplined and rock-solid. It was 33-year-old Raich Carter’s final match for England after an international career that stretched back to 1934. The small ground was so packed that they put seats alongside the touchline to cater for an overflow of spectators. This meant it was so cramped on the wings that England could not play to the strength of Stanley Matthews and Bobby Langton. What really threw the England defenders was the Swiss ploy of dropping their number nine back into the midfield, and it took them much of the first-half working out just which players each of us should be marking. It was a sad way for Raich Carter to end his wonderful run as an England player. He was one of the finest positional players fo any era, and always knew exactly where to be to get the best out of any situation. He could pass with great precision and had an accurate shot. In short, Raich was the perfect inside-forward.

No 8

Portugal, Lisbon, 27.5

5.47. England won 10-0.

Swift    Scott            Hardwick*      Wright  Franklin   Lowe           

Matthews1   Mortensen4   Lawton4   Mannion   Finney1

Highlights: The defeat by Switzerland panicked the selectors into at last agreeing that they should play their two aces, Matthews and Finney, in the same attack against Portugal in Lisbon nine days later. The effect was sensational.  England paralysed Portugal with two goals inside the first two minutes through debutant Stan Mortensen and Tommy Lawton. Matthews and Finney ran down the wings as if they owned them, and the Portuguese defence just caved in under the non-stop pressure. England were 5-0 up at half-time and then repeated the dose in the second-half after Portugal had substituted their goalkeeper, who went off in tears. Both Morty and Lawton scored four goals each, and Matthews and Finney got on the scoresheet. Wilf Mannion was the only forward who did not score, but his passes were an important part of the goals banquet. This was the closest thing ever seen to perfection on the football field. Everything England tried came off, and Portugal just didn’t know what had hit them. There was a dispute before the game over which ball should be used. Walter Winterbottom demanded the usual full-size ball that was common to most international matches, but the Portuguese coach wanted a size-four ball, the type used in English schoolboy football. The referee ordered that they should play with the full-size ball, and England had it in the back of their net within twenty seconds of the kick-off. It seemed to take the goalkeeper an age to retrieve the ball, and he was fiddling around on his knees appearing to be trying to disentangle it from the corner of the netting. England were back in possession within seconds of the restart and realised the goalkeeper had switched the ball for the smaller one, and a  minute later he was also fishing that out of the back of the net!  There has rarely been a more astonishing debut than Stanley Mortensen’s. A goal inside the first minute and four in all! Incredible. Stan was a real miracle man. Only two years earlier he had been dragged unconscious from a crashed bomber that he had been piloting, and had head injuries that threatened to end his life, let alone his football career. He and his Blackpool team-mate Stanley Matthews were magical together. This was the match in which Tommy Lawton jokingly complained to Stanley Matthews that the lace was facing the wrong way when he centred it.

No 9

Belgium, Brussels, 21.9.47.  England won 5-2

Swift    Scott            Hardwick*      Ward            Franklin   Wright        

Matthews   Mortensen1   Lawton2    Mannion   Finney2

Highlights: Many observers considered this the finest match Stanley Matthews ever played for England. The ‘Wizard of Dribble’ laid on all five goals and at the final whistle got a standing ovation from the Belgian crowd. Stanley started the slaughter after just 35 seconds when he crossed for Tommy Lawton to score with one of his typical headers.  It was raining cats and dogs and goals as England raced 3-0 clear before the Belgians pulled one back just before half-time. Belgium began to get a grip on the game as the sun came out in the second-half, and they made it 3-2 before Matthews took over again, laying on decisive goals for first Tom Finney and ñ finishing as he had started ñ crossing the ball for Lawton to head his second goal and England’s fifth. Derby County right-half Tim Ward made his debut, with Billy playing in the number six shirt. The game was played at the Heysel Stadium, the scene of the tragic  crowd disaster during the 1985 European Cup Final between Liverpool and Juventus. The ground had been used as a park for German tanks during the war and the pitch had been re-laid. It started to cut up in the downpour. The Belgian defenders were slipping and sliding all over the place as Stanley ran rings round them. It was an astonishing performance by the Maestro. Five Belgians tried to get the ball off him when he set up the fourth goal. He beat each one of them, then dribbled round another for a second time before passing to Tom Finney, who had the simple task of placing the ball into the net for his second goal that had Matthews written all over it. Even by Stanley’s standards, this was something very special.

No 10

Wales, Ninian Park, 18.10.47. England won 3-0

Swift    Scott            Hardwick*    Taylor     Franklin  Wright 

Matthews   Mortensen1   Lawton1   Mannion   Finney1

Highlights: Stanley Matthews continued where he had left off against Belgium in this first Home Championship match of the 1947-48 season. Wales brought in Arsenal’s redoubtable defender Walley Barnes for his debut, and gave him the thankless task of marking Matthews. “Stanley ran me dizzy,” admitted Barnes, who later became captain of Wales. England were 3-0 up inside the first fifteen minutes, with Matthews running riot on the right wing. Liverpool right-half Phil Taylor came in for his debut as the England selectors continued to fiddle with the line-up. England might have won more convincingly but for both Laurie Scott and Stan Mortensen pulling muscles. This was in the days before substitutes, and so England had two players hobbling through the second-half and had to close the game down.

No 11

Northern Ireland, Goodison Park, 5.11.47. Drew 2-2

Swift    Scott            Hardwick*   Taylor   Franklin   Wright 

Matthews   Mortensen   Lawton1            Mannion1    Finney

Highlights: Three goals came in the last eight minutes after Northern Ireland had battled to hang on to a 54th minute lead given to them by West Bromwich Albion centre-forward Davie Walsh. ‘Peter the Great’ Doherty headed a last-minute minute equaliser for the Irish following goals in quick succession for England by Wilf Mannion and Tommy Lawton. Mannion had a penalty saved in the 70th minute by Fulham goalkeeper Eddie Hinton. The roar that greeted the save from the predominantly Irish crowd could have been heard back in Belfast. It was the first time in 13 meetings with England that the Irish had avoided defeat, and the game had a suitably explosive finish for Guy Fawkes Day. It would have been an injustice had Northern Ireland not got a draw from this game. They were often the superior side, with Peter Doherty pulling the strings and playing with the skill that made him one of the world’s outstanding inside-forwards. He was carried off at the end by jubilant Irish supporters, who counted this as a victory. There were 68,000 shoe-horned into the Goodison ground, and most of them seemed to be shouting for the Irish who must have felt it was like a home game.

No 12

Sweden, Highbury, 19.11.47. England won 4-2

Swift    Scott            Hardwick*      Taylor    Franklin  Wright 

Finney   Mortensen3    Lawton1   Mannion   Langton

Highlights: Sweden, including the famous Nordahl brothers – Gunnar, Bertil and Knut – pulled back to 3-2 after England had powered into a three-goal lead. Stan Mortensen settled it with a classic goal to complete his hat-trick, beating three defenders in a run from the half-way line before firing in an unstoppable 20-yard shot. The game was billed as being for the unofficial championship of Europe at a time when the Swedes, coached by former Bury winger George Raynor, were rated one of the world’s leading football nations. Stan Mortensen was in magnificent form and might have had four goals had he not been upended in the penalty area when shaping to shoot in the first-half. After England’s bad recent record from spot-kicks, Tommy Lawton volunteered to take it and scored England’s first goal from a penalty since the war. The newspapers ran a story before the match that the Swedes were on a course of pep-pills. Their coach George Raynor later confided that they were just sugar-based pills, but that they had a great psychological effect on his players. Most of the Swedes were amateurs, and that following summer they won the Olympic final in London with some delightful football. Gunnar Nordahl was an exceptional centre-forward, who along with Nils Lindholm later starred with AC Milan.

No 13

Scotland, Hampden Park, 10.4.48. England won 2-0

Swift    Scott            Hardwick*  Wright   Franklin  Cockburn        

Matthews   Mortensen1    Lawton   Pearson  Finney1

Highlights: Finney and Mortensen scored a goal each in a rough-house of a match. Goalkeeper Frank Swift  insisted on playing on after being knocked out in a collision with ‘Flying Scot’ Billy Liddell. A crowd of 135,376 saw England clinch the Home Championship, despite having skipper George Hardwick limping on the wing with a knee injury that was to finish his international career. Finney gave England the lead a minute before half-time at the end of a four-man passing movement that started in their own goal area. Lifted by the famous Hampden Roar, Scotland dominated play early in the second-half, but a 64th minute goal from Mortensen after he had combined with Lawton knocked the fight out of the Scots. Swift later collapsed on the railway platform at Manchester and was wheeled off on a porter’s trolley for an examination which revealed that he had two broken ribs. The Scots kicked everything that moved, and often it wasn’t the ball! Stan Pearson, the Manchester United inside-forward, was making his debut and said afterwards that he was shocked by the viciousness of the tackling because he had always thought international football was gentlemanly compared with club football. It was one of the toughest ever home internationals.

No 14

Italy, Turin, 16.5.48. England won 4-0

Swift*  Scott            Howe J   Wright  Franklin  Cockburn        

Matthews   Mortensen1   Lawton1   Mannion  Finney2

Highlights: Frank Swift recovered from his rib injury against Scotland the previous month in time to become the first goalkeeper to captain England, taking over from the unfortunate George Hardwick. His first match as skipper was against the two-times world champions Italy. Italy were stunned in the fourth minute when Stan Mortensen sprinted 40 yards down the right wing before cutting in and scoring with a screaming shot from an acute angle.  Following a series of stunning saves by skipper Frank Swift, Morty laid on a second goal for Tommy Lawton, and two individual goals from Tom Finney finished off the Italians late in the second-half. Derby County defender Jack Howe, making his debut at left-back, was the first to play for England while wearing contact lenses. There were tears among the shirt-sleeved 58,000 spectators in Turinís Stadio Communale as the Old Masters conquered the side that had won the World Cup in 1934 and again in 1938. At the peak of Italy’s attempted revival in the first-half, it was Wright and Franklin together who did most to repel the wave upon wave of Italian attacks, with Swift always alert behind them as a magnificent last line of defence. He was so proud of being made captain that he was going to refuse to let anybody put the ball past him and spoil his big day. He saved at least half a dozen times when a goal seemed certain. The Italian team included six of the gifted Torino team that was tragically killed in an air crash a year later. Among the victims was skipper Valentino Mazzola, whose two sons later went on to play for Italy. It is chilling to think that both captains in the match against Italy, Frank Swift and Mazzola, were later to die in air crashes. Big Frank died in the 1958 Munich air disaster when travelling with Manchester United as a newspaper reporter.

No 15

Denmark, Copenhagen, 26.9.48. Drew 0-0

Swift*  Scott            Aston            Wright  Franklin  Cockburn        

Matthews  Hagan   Lawton   Shackleton   Langton

Highlights: English hearts stopped two minutes from the end when Danish right winger Johan Ploeger fired in a shot that went through the legs of Frank Swift and into the net, but the linesman’s flag was up for off-side. England’s forwards were unable to make an impact against a packed Danish defence on a heavy, rain-saturated pitch. The Danes were amateurs who two months earlier had finished third in the Olympics. This was their first ever match against professional opponents. John Aston, Jimmy Hagan and Len Shackleton made their international debuts in a game that brought crushing criticism for England’s shot-shy performance. It marked  the end of Tommy Lawton's England career after 22 games and 23 goals, not counting his 25 goals in wartime internationals. He was convinced he had scored another goal against the Danes, but the referee disallowed it because of a foul by Len Shackleton. For once, the Clown Prince had nothing to laugh about. Shack made his debut wearing a pair of rugby boots. ‘They’re more comfortable,’ he explained, ‘and they give better grip in muddy conditions.’ That certainly seemed the case when in the fifth minute he waltzed round the Danish goalkeeper and side-footed the ball towards goal. Shack turned ready to receive the congratulations of his team-mates, not realising that the ball had stuck in a mound of mud on the goal-line. Of all the players around in the immediate post-war years, Shack was the player with the most footballing tricks in his locker. There were often times when not only his opponents but even his own team-mates, and even perhaps Shack himself, did not know what he was going to do next.

No 16

Northern Ireland, Windsor Park, 9.10.48. England won 6-2

Swift    Scott            Howe J   Wright*  Franklin    Cockburn        

Matthews1   Mortensen3            Milburn1   Pearson1   Finney

Highlights: Billy Wright’s first of 90 matches as England captain. The two Stanleys - Matthews and Mortensen - dominated the match. Matthews scored the first and helped lay on a hat-trick for his Blackpool team-mate. The Matthews goal was a freak effort. His centre from the right curled and hit an upright. The ball bounced against the head of Irish goalkeeper Willie Smyth and into the net.  ‘Wor Jackie’ Milburn announced his debut with a neatly headed goal. Davie Walsh scored his second goal with the last kick of the match to bring a little respectability to a scoreline that flattered England. Five of the England goals came in a 30 minute burst in the second-half. The Irish more than held their own for the other hour, and might have had at least two more goals but for some desperate work by the England defenders..

No 17

Wales, Villa Park, 10.11.48. England won 1-0

Swift    Scott            Aston   Ward   Franklin   Wright*           

Matthews   Mortensen   Milburn   Shackleton   Finney1

Highlights: A crowd of 68,750 gathered at Villa Park for this mid-week Home International match. Laurie Scott limped off with a damaged knee ligament in the twenty-fifth minute and the ten men of England became disorganised as Tim Ward switched to right-back and Stan Mortensen to right-half. Tom Finney scored the only goal of a drab game on the hour after a typical sprint-speed run from Jackie Milburn had ripped open the Welsh defence. BBC television cameras were at the match and a commentator called Kenneth Wolstenholme made his debut at the microphone. Some people thought it was all beginning. It was now!

No 18

Switzerland, Highbury, 2.12.48. England won 6-0

Ditchburn   Ramsey   Aston   Wright*  Franklin  Cockburn        

Matthews            Rowley J1            Milburn1   Haines2    Hancocks2

Highlights: Jack Haines and Johnny Hancocks both scored two goals in their international debuts, but the goal that had the Highbury crowd roaring came from  another debutant, Manchester United’s Jack Rowley. He showed why he was rated to have one of the hardest shots in the game with a left foot drive that bulleted into the net from thirty-five yards. Haines, who scored both his goals in the first half, never got another chance of a  after collecting an injury with West Bromwich Albion. There were also debuts for Tottenham team-mates Ted Ditchburn and Alf Ramsey. Both gave sound performances in an England defence that was rarely troubled by a Swiss team that lacked its usual clockwork precision and never looked like repeating their victory of 1947. The game was postponed twenty-four hours because of persistent fog, and this explains why there were only 35,000 at Highbury to watch a confident performance by England. Jack Rowley’s goal was hailed as a masterpiece. Billy Wright played the ball through to him and everybody thought he had lost control when he slipped over. But while down on one knee he took his measure and as he got up crashed in a shot from thirty-five yards that had ‘goal’ written all over it from the moment it left his boot.

No 19

Scotland, Wembley, 9.4.49. England lost 1-3

Swift    Aston            Howe J   Wright*            Franklin   Cockburn   

Matthews   Mortensen   Milburn1   Pearson   Finney

Highlights: The selectors decided to make five changes in the team that beat Switzerland 6-0. With Derby County dynamo Billy Steel at his most potent, Scotland tore into England after Scottish goalkeeper Jimmy Cowan had almost played England on his own in the opening twenty minutes. Jimmy Mason, Steel and Lawrie Reilly put the Scots on the way to the Home Championship before Milburn snatched a consolation goal. Scotland’s goalkeeper Jimmy Cowan was rightly hailed as the hero because of a string of wonderful saves in the first twenty minutes, but the real match winner for the Scots was their left-back Sammy Cox. He usually played as a wing-half and everybody expected Stanley Matthews to give him a roasting. But Sammy cleverly cut Stanley out of the game by intercepting many of the passes meant for the Maestro.

No 20

Sweden, Stockholm, 13.5.49. England lost 1-3

Ditchburn   Shimwell  Aston   Wright*  Franklin  Cockburn        

Finney1   Mortensen   Bentley   Rowley J   Langton

Highlights: Even without the great Italian-based Gunnar Nordhal, Sweden were able to produce the power and precision that had brought them the 1948 Olympic gold medal. They scored their three goals  in the first half, with Eddie Shimwell being given a torrid time in his only international appearance at right-back. Chelsea centre-forward Roy Bentley was unlucky not to mark his debut with a goal in the opening minutes, and both he and Tom Finney hit the woodwork in the second half as Sweden battled to hang on to their three-goal lead. It was a Bentley dribble that set up Finney for England’s only goal in the sixty-seventh minute. Skipper Billy Wright lost the toss and ir proved crucial. The Swedes chose to play with a setting sun behind them and goalkeeper Ted Ditchburn complained of being blinded for two of the three Swedish goals.  But overall England could not complain about the result. The football Sweden played was a credit to English coach George Raynor.

No 21

Norway, Oslo, 18.5.49. England won 4-1 (own goal1)

Swift            Ellerington   Aston   Wright*   Franklin  Dickinson           

Finney1   Morris1  Mortensen   Mannion Mullen1

Highlights: Frank Swift, one of the all-time great goalkeepers, made his farewell appearance in a comfortable canter against the amateurs of Norway. Derby inside-right Johnny Morris scored on his England debut. Much of England’s play was of the exhibition variety, with Finney and Mannion parading their skill. Southampton right-back Billy Ellerington won the first of his two caps, and Jimmy Dickinson, Pompey’s Mr. Consistent, started his run of 48 England appearances. Wright, Franklin and Dickinson constituted as solid a looking half-back line as has appeared in England shirts since the days of Britton, Cullis and Mercer. They had an iron grip on the Norwegian forwards, and Wright found time to prompt the attack with penetrating passes.

No 22

France, Paris, 22.5.49. England won 3-1

Williams   Ellerington   Aston   Wright*1            Franklin   Dickinson   

Finney   Morris2   Rowley J            Mannion    Mullen

Highlights: Making his debut in the England goal, Wolves custodian Bert ‘The Cat’ Williams was beaten after just 28 seconds by an instant goal from French debutant Georges Moreel. The match was played under a boiling sun and on a Colombes Stadium pitch as hard as concrete. Billy Wright made it a match to remember in the twenty-sixth minute by scoring his first international goal. It was the first goal scored for England by a non-forward since the war. Johnny Morris netted twice, including a late victory-clinching goal in the eighty-sixth minute that silenced the 61,500 shirt-sleeved Parisian spectators.

No 23

Republic of Ireland, Goodison Park, 21.9.49. England lost 2-0

Williams   Mozley   Aston            Wright*   Franklin   Dickinson        

Harris     Morris   Pye   Mannion   Finney

Highlights: England were beaten on English soil by a non-British team for the first time in their history. Nine of the Irish players were with Football League clubs and two from Shamrock Rovers but all of them were born in Ireland. Johnny Carey was a magnificent captain, and Con Martin (penalty) and Peter Farrell scored in each half to produce a stunning result. Derby defender Bert Mozley made his England debut at right-back on his 26th birthday. It was an unhappy debut, too, for Wolves centre-forward Jesse Pye and Pompey’s John Harris, who struck a shot against the bar with the score at 1-0. It sounded as if the majority of the 52,000 fans packed into Goodison were supporting the Irish as they battled their way to an amazing victory. Even big-hearted Billy Wright could not turn back the green tide that swept across the Goodison pitch. It was one of those days when nothing would go right for England. They had a strong wind at their backs in the second half, but still could not break down the Irish defence in which captain Johnny Carey was a colossus. England might have had three or four goals, but the ball just would not go into the net.

No 24

Wales, Ninian Park, 15.10.49. England won 4-1

Williams   Mozley   Aston            Wright*   Franklin   Dickinson        

Finney   Mortensen1   Milburn3   Shackleton   Hancocks

Highlights: The four home countries had agreed to take part in the World Cup for the first time, and FIFA dictated that the Home Championship should be the qualifying stage for the finals in Brazil in the summer of 1950. The first two teams were to qualify, but Scotland announced that they would only go if they won the Home Championship.

This was the first ever World Cup qualifying match in which England or Wales had taken part. Jackie Milburn scored a spectacular hat-trick, and England won comfortably despite having Billy Wright struggling on the wing for most of the second-half with a torn thigh muscle. The game was virtually settled during an England blitz midway through the first-half when they scored three goals in twelve minutes. Milburn made it 4-0 when he completed his hat-trick to puncture an attempted revival by Wales, who had to be content with a late goal by Mal Griffiths after goalkeeper Bert Williams had saved brilliantly from Trevor Ford.  Even though he was a virtual passenger for much of the second half, Wright continued to have an influence on the match with his quiet words of encouragement.

No 25

Northern Ireland, Maine Road, 16.11.49. England won 9-2

Streten   Mozley   Aston   Watson  Franklin Wright*           

Finney   Mortensen2    Rowley J4            Pearson2   Froggatt J1

Highlights: Jack Rowley, deputising for injured Jackie Milburn, hammered four goals against an Irish team that had gone down 8-2 against Scotland in their previous match. Pompey’s Jack Froggatt scored on his debut. England Test cricketer Willie Watson won the first of four caps at right-half, and former amateur international Bernard Streten got his only full England call while playing in the Second Division with Luton. Fulham’s Irish goalkeeper Hugh Kelly had to pick the ball out of his net 28 times in five successive international matches.  

No 26

Italy, White Hart Lane, 30.11.49. England won 2-0

Williams   Ramsey   Aston   Watson  Franklin Wright*1         

Finney   Mortensen        Rowley J1  Pearson   Froggatt J

Highlights: England were outplayed for long periods by an over-elaborate Italian team, and only a series of fine saves by Bert Williams kept them in the game in a goalless first half. England snatched an undeserved lead fourteen minutes from the end when Jack Rowley scored with one of his typical thunderbolt left foot shots that the Italian goalkeeper could only wave to on its way into the net. The match was settled by a goal in a million from Billy Wright. His second goal for England was a complete freak. He lobbed the ball forward from a position just over the halfway line. It was intended for the far post. The Italian goalkeeper, unchallenged, came out to collect it just as a gust of wind made the ball change direction. He grasped at thin air as it curled over his head and into the net.

No 27

Scotland, Hampden Park, 15.4.50. England won 1-0

Williams   Ramsey            Aston   Wright*   Franklin   Dickinson  

Finney   Mannion   Mortensen   Bentley1   Langton

Highlights: Chelsea centre-forward Roy Bentley, playing a twin spearhead role with Stan Mortensen, scored the winning goal midway through the second half of his international debut. The goal confirmed England’s entry into the World Cup finals. The 133,250 Hampden Park spectators were left screaming their frustration because the Scottish Football Association had surrendered their chances of a World Cup finals place by electing to go only if they won the Home Championship. How those critics who had been calling for Billy Wright to be axed were forced to eat their words! He was the driving force behind this England victory that sent them flying all the way down to Rio. Magnificent in defence alongside the immaculate Franklin, he also found time to torment the Scots with a procession of passes that kept the top-form Tom Finney supplied. Soon afterwards came the bombshell news that master centre-half Neil Franklin did not want to be considered for the World Cup because he was joining an outlawed club in Bogota. Like Billy Wright, he had played in all twenty-seven England matches since the war and they had a terrific understanding on the pitch. Now England had lost their lynchpin with the World Cup just weeks away. It put the England selectors in a dither as to whom to play in the vital centre-half role, this in an era before the two central backs system. Everything at the back revolved around the pivotal position of the man in the number five shirt, and Neil Franklin was the best by a country mile. England had lost their anchor, and would soon be all at sea.

No 28

Portugal, Lisbon, 14.5.50. England won 5-3

Williams   Ramsey            Aston            Wright*   Jones   Dickinson        

Milburn   Mortensen1   Bentley  Mannion  Finney4 (2 Pen)

Highlights: Four goals from Tom Finney, including two from the penalty spot, and a spectacular effort from Stan Mortensen lifted England to victory. But there were worrying signs that the defence was creaking without the steadying influence of Neil Franklin. Laurie Hughes was the original choice to fill the centre-half vacancy, but he pulled out at the last minute because of injury and the job went to his Liverpool team-mate Bill Jones. Portugal, after trailing 3-0 at half-time, had battled back and England were struggling to hold on at 4-3 when Finney settled it with his second penalty. There was disturbing evidence that Billy Wright was missing that all-important understanding that he had with Neil Franklin. The Portuguese had been promised a trip to the World Cup finals if they beat England, and they played their hearts out. Their African-born centre-forward Ben David scored two of their goals, and as well as Bill Jones played it was obvious that England had lost a lot of stability in the middle of their defence. England had major problems, and the World Cup finals were just a few weeks away.

No 29 

Belgium, Brussels, 18.5.50. England won 4-1

Williams   Ramsey            Aston            Wright*   Jones   Dickinson        

Milburn (Mullen1) Mortensen1   Bentley1   Mannion1    Finney

Highlights: Wolves winger Jimmy Mullen became England’s first ever substitute when he replaced injured Jackie Milburn, and he scored one of the goals as England staged a second-half recovery after trailing 1-0 at half-time. Roy Bentley had a foot in three of the goals and scored the last one himself in this final warm-up before the World Cup.  The Belgians, trained by former Blackburn and Northampton goalkeeper Bill Gormlie, scored  their goal through centre-forward Joe Mermans. It exposed the fact that England were still struggling at the heart of their defence. The match was virtually won for England by a half-time tactical talk from Walter Winterbottom. He was often accused of being too long winded and technical with his instructions, but he got straight to the point and made it clear how England should tighten at the back and push forward in midfield. England followed his orders and comfortably outplayed the Belgians in the second half. Poor Bill Jones had failed to impress the selectors, and was not even in the squad named the following week for the trip to Brazil. He had been thrown into the team at the last minute, which was hardly the proper preparation for his debut in international football.  

For the record, the squad selected for the 1950 World Cup finals in Brazil was: Williams (Wolves), Ditchburn (Spurs), Ramsey (Spurs), Scott (Arsenal), Aston (Man United), Eckersley (Blackburn), Wright (Wolves, captain), Hughes (Liverpool), Dickinson (Portsmouth), Watson (Sunderland), Nicholson (Spurs), Taylor (Fulham), Cockburn (Man United), Milburn (Newcastle), Mortensen (Blackpool), Bentley (Chelsea), Mannion (Middlesbrough), Finney (Preston), Mullen (Wolves), Baily (Spurs), Matthews (Blackpool).  

No 30

Chile, World Cup, Rio de Janeiro, 25.6.50. England won 2-0

Williams   Ramsey    Aston    Wright*   Hughes   Dickinson        

Finney   Mannion   Bentley   Mortensen1   Mullen1

Highlights: England made a far from impressive start to their World Cup campaign against Chile but got away with a victory. The vast Maracana Stadium, with workmen still putting the finishing touches, held 200,000 spectators and it looked and sounded deserted with fewer than 30,000 watching the game. The FA saw fit to organise a goodwill tour of Canada at the same time as the World Cup finals in Brazil, and then ummed and ahhed when Manchester United requested that none of their players should be considered because they had arranged a trip to the United States. Walter Winterbottom, battling against this blinkered club-before-country attitude, almost had to get on his knees to have first choice for the World Cup. As it was, he had to go to Brazil without without England’s most famous player, Stanley Matthews, who was sent on the totally meaningless Canadian trip as a footballing ambassador. Special arrangements had to be made to fly him down to Rio for the World Cup, and he arrived after England had won this opening match 2-0 against Chile. Laurie Hughes replaced his Liverpool clubmate Bill Jones at centre-half. He won three England caps, all in this World Cup tournament. Stan Mortensen gave England a thirty-eighth minute lead against the run of play when he headed in a Jimmy Mullen cross. Mullen turned goal scorer just after the hour when he drove the ball into the net following neat approach work by Mortensen and Tom Finney. George Robledo, the Newcastle forward playing for his home country of Chile, rattled the England woodwork with a 30-yard free-kick, and neutral observers thought the Chileans unlucky not to get at least a draw. But an easier match against the USA was to follow!

No 31

USA, World Cup, Belo Horizonte, 29.6.50. England lost 1-0

Williams   Ramsey            Aston   Wright*   Hughes   Dickinson        

Finney   Mannion   Bentley   Mortensen   Mullen

Highlights: A deflected shot from Haitian-born centre-forward Larry Gaetjens eight minutes before half-time gave the United States a victory that caused a shock that could have been measured on the Richter scale. England hit the woodwork three times, and what seemed a certain face-saving goal from a Ramsey free-kick in the closing minutes was miraculously saved by the diving goalkeeper Borghi, a professional baseball catcher. Another Ramsey free-kick had earlier found the back of the net, but the referee whistled for an infringement. England spent eighty-five per cent of the game in the American half but finished up the losers. Nobody could have felt more frustrated than Stanley Matthews, who sat watching impassively from the sidelines. The goal-scoring hero Gaetjens was later reported to have died in an Haitian jail after helping to organise a guerrilla movement against the island’s dictator, ‘Papa’ Doc Duvalier. His name will live on in football history. The game was played on a cramped, narrow pitch that meant England were unable to make full use of their strength down the wings.  England had twenty shots to the vital one by the United States. Even their goal was a freakish affair. Bert Williams had a high centre covered, but Gaetjens ducked and the ball glanced off the back of his head and into the net. Even Alf Ramsey, who used to be expressionless throughout a game, threw his arms up and looked to the sky when his perfect free-kick was somehow saved by their unorthodox goalkeeper. Winterbottom had wanted to play Matthews in the second game against the United States, and Sir Stanley Rous argued the case for him with the chairman of the selectors, a Grimsby fish merchant called Arthur Drewry, who had been appointed the sole selector for the World Cup. ‘My policy is that I never change a winning team,’ the dogmatic Drewry said  dismissively. On one of the blackest days in English football history, England were beaten by the United States with Stanley Matthews among the spectators. It was like leaving Wellington on the bench at Waterloo.  It has been wrongly reported that the United States was made up of a team that came via Ellis Island. But all but three of the side were American-born.

No 32

Spain, World Cup, Rio de Janeiro, 2.7.50. England lost 1-0

Williams   Ramsey   Eckersley   Wright*            Hughes   Dickinson        

Matthews   Mortensen   Milburn   Baily   Finney

Highlights: England needed to win this match to stay in the World Cup following their embarrassing defeat by the USA. Spain took the lead through centre-forward Zarra in the forty-seventh minute and then dropped back into deep defence. Even with Matthews and Finney operating, England could not make the breakthrough and their World Cup challenge was over. Jackie Milburn had a legitimate-looking equaliser ruled off-side. Alf Ramsey and Bill Eckersley started a fifteen-match full-back partnership, and Tottenham pass master Eddie Baily got a long over-due cap. Tom Finney was tripped twice in the penalty area, but each time the referee waved play on. It was one of those games, one of those tournaments. England played their best football of the finals against Spain, but their finishing left a lot to be desired. Eddie Baily had a cracking debut, and his passing cut huge holes in the Spanish defence. Stan Mortensen and Jackie Milburn might have had a couple of goals each but for some brilliant saves by Barcelona goalkeeper Ramallets. Tom Finney was the most mild mannered of men, but even he got heated when the referee ignored our claims for penalties after Tom had twice been fouled. How different it might have been had Neil Franklin not defected to the outlaw league in Colombia. Losing him robbed England’s defence of the composure they had built up over the previous four years.

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PY/CG