The Match of the Century by Matt Clough – Review
By Karl Hornsey
To claim that any football match is the ‘Match of the Century’ is a bold one, and I’m sure it’s been used to describe other memorable fixtures, but the clash at Wembley Stadium in November 1953 between England and Hungary is certainly one that justifies the tag. And Matt Clough’s forensic examination of the fixture, the various events that led to it taking place, and the impact on the English game and football in general worldwide is an excellent way to learn everything you need to know about this seminal sporting moment.
There are three teams that stand out as the best never to have won the World Cup – the Netherlands side of the 1970s and the wonderful 1982 Brazilians, but before those two, it had to be the Mighty Magyars of the early 1950s. Losing in the 1954 World Cup final to a vastly inferior West Germany only added to the mystique of a side that had become household names – largely due to the eponymous Match of the Century.
Clough’s attention to detail throughout is outstanding and the story is told in great depth without ever becoming a dry depiction, with the all-important social context of the time held in almost as much importance as the events on the pitch itself. To understand the match and its ramifications, one also needs to understand the situation that Hungary found themselves, behind the Iron Curtain and in the shadow of the Soviet Union, as well as the belief that England still had in themselves as the founders of football and seemingly unbeatable on home soil.
To say that belief was punctured by this match is something of an understatement, especially as Hungary went on to destroy England even more comfortably in the return fixture in Budapest just six months later. Clearly lessons hadn’t been learned, but they soon were, and English football was never the same again.
Sadly, not long after the World Cup, things weren’t the same again for the Magyars either, as the team broke up amid the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Clough doesn’t rush to get into the action, taking his time to document how Hungary, through their players largely playing for the Hungarian military side Honved, developed such an incredible understanding, and his patience can be seen in that the match itself doesn’t come along until chapter 11 of 13. Events on the pitch have been documented well enough elsewhere though, so it’s refreshing that Clough has chosen a wider picture to paint – and painted it remarkably well.
‘The Match of the Century – England, Hungary and the Game That Changed Football Forever’ by Matt Clough is published by The History Press