World Cup Classics – USA, 1950

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Having boycotted the previous three World Cups, England had high hopes as they travelled to Brazil take part for the first time in 1950.

They were 3-1 favourites to win the competition outright. So confident were they that Stanley Matthews was held back for their opening group game, a 2-0 win over Chile, having joined the squad late, with big warm-up victories over Italy and Portugal recorded in his absence.

The England selectors opted to choose the same 11 for their second outing against the United States, who had lost 3-1 against Spain, their seventh straight defeat. Their coach Bill Jeffrey described his team as “sheep ready to be slaughtered” ahead of the meeting in Belo Horizonte.

With both countries preferring white shirts with dark shorts and socks, the US won the toss, with England lining out in blue shirts and white shorts. A red diagonal stripe (not a sash, clothes-nerds, as it was broken by the right sleeve – in any case it wasn’t on the back) lifted the US shirt above the mundane and it would become a design held in high regard.


After early saves from US goalkeeper Frank Borghi, they improbably went ahead through Joe Gaetjens before half-time. While England pressed in the second half, coming closest through a Jimmy Mullen header which looked to be heading in only for a miracle save by Borghi, the Americans held out. It was such a surprise win that, when the result came in on the wires in English newsrooms, it was assumed in some quarters that it should have read England 10 USA 1.

Shell-shocked, England lost their remaining game 1-0 to Spain while the US went down 5-2 against Chile, but in any case only one team qualified for the four-team final round – Spain would draw with eventual champions Uruguay and then lose to Brazil and Sweden.

In terms of the game’s influence on kits, Nike have periodically drawn upon the style, with near-replicas worn as third shirts in 2003 (albeit with navy instead of red) and 2004, as well as 2007 red away and then tonally for the 2010 World Cup home, while the away was navy with white. If you were being really brave, you could say adidas gave a nod to it in 1985 and again in 1991, though both were template designs.

For England, it largely meant the end of darker (i.e. royal or navy, not sky) blue shirts for more than half a century. Red replaced it as the back-up, though partly out of necessity as the next time they had to change was against Argentina. Blue was used again Peru in 1959, but it wasn’t until September 2011, and the launch of a navy shirt, that they reverted back to something similar to their historical second-choice colour.

2 comments on “World Cup Classics – USA, 1950

  1. denishurley

    Cheers Kieran, just checked and it wasn’t on the back either so I’ve amended it further!

    Yeah, I was going to elaborate further on Gaetjens but it would have been hard to know where to stop. Thanks for the kind words!


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