With the 2018 World Cup about to get underway tomorrow in Russia, we at Mysteries of Holborn thought it a good time to cash in on –
Erm, not to cash in, no siree. Rather, by pure happenstance, the following bizarre tale leaked from the Holborn Dodecahedron just in time for the World Cup…
Both Brazil and Germany had wanted to host the planned 1942 World Cup tournament, which was of course shelved due to the outbreak of World War II in 1939. At least, that’s the official story.
However, in this in-no-way-made-up report, cribbed from the pages of the Secret Files of The Football Association, we reveal that the World Cup was contested during the summer of 1942 – right here in war-torn Holborn.
The World Cup? In Holborn? Hmm. How can this be, you may think? Aside from London still reeling from the Blitz in 1942, why would anyone host an international football tournament in Holborn of all places? Somewhere where, admittedly, there was a dearth of impressive football stadia of the sort usually used to host World Cup matches?
Well, according to the Secret Files of The Football Association, it was decided that Wembley Stadium would have been too obvious a target for German bombers, and so where better to hold a World Cup than somewhere no one would think of looking for one?
Holborn fitted the bill perfectly, according to the Secret Files of The Football Association. Eight nations competed for the Jules Rimet trophy: the four home nations all put out a team, along with France and Poland – both of which had numerous soldiers stationed somewhere in England during the war. The USA had been asked to send a team, though declined, with General Patton muttering something about “We ain’t ready to whup y’all tea-drinking butts at soccer until the 1950 World Cup. In Brazil.”
What foresight. Ahem. And so, controversially, the numbers were made up by teams of prisoners from Germany and Italy, who were allowed to compete in a totally coincidental Escape To Victory-type reversal twist.
The Italians had won the two previous World Cups in 1934 and 1938, and would have been hot favourites for the 1942 trophy – if any of Italy’s top footballers had been taken prisoner, that is. As it was, fortunately, their team was made up from ordinary footie-loving soldiers captured during the North Africa campaign.
With two groups of four drawn by lots for the group stages, Group A saw England face Wales, France and Italy, while Scotland played Northern Ireland, Poland and a team of German POWs in Group B.
England’s opening match was against the Welsh, who led 1-0 at half-time. It is rumoured that Prime Minister Winston Churchill was ejected from the Holborn Ground during the interval after drunkenly shouting: “We will fight them in the valleys, down the coalmines and during the eisteddfod,” at the Welsh fans, though the Secret Files of The Football Association is somewhat vague about this.
Anyway, England fought back to draw 1-1, before defeating the bedraggled Italian POWs 1-0 in the next match. Needing to beat the French in their final group match to progress to the final, there was not a great deal of entente cordiale during the game, especially after, with the match goalless, England were awarded a controversial late penalty, courtesy of a Russian linesman [Note: what ever happened to him? Where did he end up in, ooh I don’t know, 1966 for example?].
Ahem. Suffice to say, the far-too-heavy leather football that they used in them days was blasted in off the bar of the French goal by England’s centre forward Charlie Bubbles. This simultaneously won England the match, broke the goalscorer’s foot and demolished both the French net and took out several spectators behind the goal, including a disgruntled Charles De Gualle, who limped off muttering French obscenities which, thankfully, this reporter can’t translate into English, having not paid enough attention during French class while at school.
Ahem. And so, with Charlie Bubbles injured and out of the final, England had to face the Germans without a recognised striker. Step forward Roy O’The-Rovers, a new recruit to both the Holborn Light Infantry and the England War Team. Despite his suspiciously Irish-sounding surname, O’The-Rovers was English right down to his love of bacon and cabbage, four-leaf clovers, celidih music and running a small farmhouse just outside of Irishtown, County Cork. In Ireland. And not a ringer brought in under an assumed name, no siree.
Ahem again. And so to the World Cup Final of 1942. England versus Germany…
The German team, comprised like the Italians of Prisoners of War, were glad to have been captured by the Allies, and enjoyed the relative freedom of Britain’s POW system to pursue more typically German pursuits – diligently practicing penalty-taking, being organised at the back, and fulfilling stereotypes of not laughing heartily – than they’d been used to under Nazi rule.
Jules Rimet hid the World Cup trophy named after him under his bed during the occupation of France [*], and as it was to remain occupied until 1944, the British Top Brass rustled up a substitute trophy for the victors.
[* actually true, by all accounts]
The Final kicked off at Holborn Ground before a capacity crowd of squaddies on leave, WRENs, Air Raid Wardens (like that miserable one in Dad’s Army), and the ubiquitous minor Royal with no interest in football but who, nonetheless, is forced to attend cup finals.
England took the lead just before the break thanks to Roy O’The-Rovers barging the German keeper, paratrooper Bert Trautmann [who later played in the 1956 FA Cup final for Man City with a broken neck – also true] over the line despite him having both hands of the ball, which, incredibly, you were allowed to do in them days.
The England team’s half-time orange – a segment each, due to rationing – was swiftly eaten, and beer and cigarettes wolfed down before the restart [The Top Brass had a three-course feast brought in from The Savoy, as befitted their status as superior to the rank and file soldiers, according to Secret Files of The Football Association].
The second half got underway with the Germans reinvigorated, swiftly equalising and then taking the lead while the English defence slept off its half-time booze and wheezed after its cigarettes. But in the last minute, Roy O’The-Rovers broke through and chipped Trautmann from the edge of the box. As extra time loomed, England manager Major Ralf Amsey enunciated in his Received Pronunciation accent that “You’ve already beaten them once; now beat them again!”
With no further inspiration required, from the restart England quickly gained possession of the ball and O’The-Rovers let fly a mighty, all-or-nothing, Nayim-from-the-halfway-line-type shot which crept into the top left corner as Trautmann back-pedalled, arms aloft, to no avail. 3-2 to England.
According to the Secret Files of The Football Association, there were some squaddies on the pitch. They thought it was all over. Seconds later, when the referee blew his whistle, it all was.
England had won the World Cup; surely the first of many such triumphs, thought the crowd. And the whole world would know that England were World Champions…
Alas, due to restrictions on reporting during wartime, D-notices and some embarrassment that the PM had once again run amok, this time reportedly stubbing his cigar out in the trophy at the final whistle and flicking the V’s at the defeated Germans (claiming, as he often did, that this was a “V for Victory” sign and not rude), the Secret Files of The Football Association informs us that World Cup 1942 had to be hushed up until after the war. Indeed, it had all but been forgotten, lost in the post-war jubilation of VE Day, and later superseded by England’s triumph in the 1966 World Cup.
Forgotten that is until this latest flotsam floated into the Holborn Dodecahedron, just in time for the 2018 World Cup, when this reporter was looking for a World Cup mystery to write about for the HCA blog…
Nonsense by Notes “Come on England!” Smudger