Williams recalls 1950 England loss
England's World Cup match against United States in June will bring
back memories Bert Williams would rather forget.
Now 90, Williams was the goalkeeper who conceded the only goal of the game when a team of journeymen Americans beat a talented England side in Brazil in 1950, one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.
Joe Gaetjens scored a first-half goal for the U.S., but the result was such a shock that some parts of the media queried whether the score was 10-1 to England instead of 1-0 to the Americans.
In the U.S. media, it was labeled the "Miracle on Grass," in the same way that the Americans' famous ice hockey victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics was called the "Miracle on Ice."
"It's been 60 years. It's taken a lot of forgetting as far as I am concerned," Williams said.
Williams spent almost the entire 90 minutes watching England make wave after wave of attacks in the group game at Belo Horizonte only to see a defense-minded American lineup block every move on the edge of their area.
Behind a team that included England greats such as Tom Finney, Stan Mortensen and Alf Ramsey, who coached the team to its 1966 World Cup triumph, Williams said he was little more than an onlooker.
"As soon as England played a good ball through, the whole American team retreated to the 18-yard line," the former Wolverhampton Wanderers player told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
"You could hardly see their goal. We hit the crossbar and the upright three times to my knowledge but we could not get the ball past this crowd of players."
Williams said some of the American players arrived at the ground smoking cigars and wearing "cowboy hats."
"You have got to give them a certain amount of credit," he said. "But they came there not with any intention to win. They didn't think they had much chance to do that. That came with the intention of avoiding a hatful of goals against them.
"We thought the score should have been 8-1, 10-1 even - and I was virtually one of the spectators."
Williams said the Americans' good fortune didn't only extend to their defending.
"I don't remember a great deal about the goal," Williams said. "I had the ball covered and it was a deflection off one of their players who was standing in front of me. I was going the right way. It just happened."
Although Williams played only 24 times for his country, he was one of the most recognizable names. When he played in a 2-0 victory over Italy in 1949, the Italians nicknamed him "The Cat" for his spectacular saves.
England may have been attending its first World Cup in 1950 but the team was expected to go for the title. Instead, the loss to the U.S. team was followed by another 1-0 defeat to Spain and elimination.
"There was no shaking of hands after the game, but no animosity at all. Just utter, sheer dejection. We just couldn't believe it," Williams said. "I think what lost us the match against Spain was the utter dejection from losing 1-0 to the Americans. Our spirits were so low. I felt sorry for everyone who was on that tour.
"In those days, the World Cup didn't have anything like the same euphoria as it does now. People didn't really pay very much attention to it. But they did in South America and the conditions were so different for us - it was so hot and the euphoria there was terrific."
Now the oldest-living England international player, Williams has teamed up with 1966 World Cup winner Martin Peters and goalkeeper Peter Shilton from the 1986 team for a TV advertisement for Mars, an official supplier to the current national team.