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England’s Chile ‘62 – Gazumped by Garrincha

In the latest of our recollections of past England World Cup campaigns we put the spotlight on 1962 in Chile. It would be the last World Cup before England’s 1966 triumph but there were few comparisons in terms of personnel and outcome…

When past World Cups are recalled through English eyes, low on the nostalgia list is 1962 in Chile. It was a World Cup blighted by poor attendances and physical play (the latter embodied by the infamous contest between Chile and Italy and David Coleman’s accompanying comments), while it could not be watched live back home – viewers having to wait two days before seeing delayed footage. And England were fairly underwhelming, winning just one game and bowing out in the quarter-finals after failing to match Brazil. They also played out one of their dullest ever matches along the way.

We’ve previously recalled how England had looked a favourite to win the 1958 World Cup prior to the Munich Air Disaster claiming the lives of three key players. While, mercifully, there would be no tragedy to strike England in the run-up to the 1962 tournament, Jimmy Greaves felt that the loss of established players through illness and injury derailed their hopes when glory was in their sights.

“In 1961 I firmly believed that England had a team that was good enough to go on and win the 1962 World Cup. I would go so far as to say that the England team of 1961 was actually better than the side that won the World Cup in 1966. Come 1962, however, the team that Walter Winterbottom created had received a series of cruel and telling blows,” Greaves wrote in the 2003 edition of his autobiography.

Certainly, England had been thriving in 1961 with a 9-3 demolition of Scotland and a 3-2 away win over Italy. But 12 months down the line some of the momentum was lost. Leading centre half Peter Swan fell ill and would spend his time in Chile on the sidelines and on his sickbed; forward Bobby Smith was ruled out injured; and Bobby Robson also ended up watching on due to injury.

That was three regulars lost in one go and Winterbottom had to make changes. Bobby Moore and Maurice Norman only made their debuts in the final warm-up international against Peru, while Gerry Hitchens was thrown into the attack due to Smith’s absence. Greaves could see the chance ebbing away. He wrote: “Though I never stopped trying, deep down inside I knew we weren’t going to win it.”

Count the crowd

Chile’s preparations for hosting the World Cup were dealt a devastating blow in 1960 due to a horrific earthquake. Two years on the nation was still recovering and only four grounds would be used to stage matches. Many people in Chile did not have the money to afford to watch World Cup matches and desperately low crowds would be recorded at many games. It hardly felt like a great football carnival.

The draw kept England apart from holders Brazil, placing Winterbottom’s side in a group with Argentina, Hungary and Bulgaria. The Hungarians had twice humiliated England in the previous decade, but their side was now almost unrecognisable. Argentina would be playing close to home, while Bulgaria had the most limited reputation of the four sides as they had never qualified before. It wouldn’t be easy, but England had the potential to advance beyond the group stage for only the second time at a World Cup.

If any players complain about feeling bored during the World Cup in Russia this summer, they should consider themselves fortunate not to have been part of England’s class of ’62. They spent the tournament in the isolated mountainous setting of Coya, without the benefits of modern technology we have today to help pass the time. Bobby Charlton later recounted a squad member expressing hope England would lose a key match so they could get out of there and go home. A joke it may have been, but few England players would ever contemplate returning to Coya.

The World Cup party was hardly in full swing once England took to the field for their matches in Rancagua either. Every match in the group was played at the same ground and no game managed to attract an attendance of more than 10,000. “I’d played in front of bigger crowds for Fulham reserves,” said England captain Johnny Haynes. England at least went into the finals with some cause for optimism after Greaves scored a hat-trick in a 4-0 away win over Peru. But the match that would matter was the side’s opening World Cup game against Hungary in the rain on May 31.

England fielded a side much changed from their 1958 World Cup team, with only Haynes and Bryan Douglas having made appearances in Sweden when Charlton – operating in 1962 as a first-choice player on the left flank – had been an unused squad member. But the intervening four years had seen the likes of Jimmy Armfield, Ron Flowers, Ron Springett and Ray Wilson begin to establish themselves and they took their place in the side.


The Hungarians had vowed to deal with Haynes – regarded as central to England’s plans – and the English captain would have a subdued game. Lajos Tichy gave Hungary a half-time lead and, although Flowers equalised from the spot on the hour mark (see above pic) after Greaves had a shot handled, England were beaten as Florian Albert converted on 71 minutes. “The Hungarians were probably just a fraction of a goal better in tactics, skill and ball play,” reflected The Times.

A vital win

There was little time to dwell on the loss as England played their next match just 48 hours later against Argentina. The uncapped Alan Peacock was preferred to Hitchens in attack. He didn’t score but made a telling contribution by earning a penalty when he had a shot handled on the line. Flowers again stepped forward and gave England the lead from the spot after 17 minutes.

The rivalry between Argentina and England had yet to properly ignite but this match was still very significant in terms of the World Cup destiny of the pair. England went 2-0 up with half-time approaching as Charlton produced a good finish and the win was wrapped up when Greaves struck his only World Cup finals goal on 67 minutes. Although Jose Sanfilippo pulled a goal back with nine minutes left, England had gained a vital 3-1 win and progression was in their hands. There was praise from the Daily Mirror: “The whole England team showed guts, determination and fire – qualities lacking against Hungary only 48 hours earlier.”

The sense that England would go through grew when Argentina and Hungary drew 0-0 the day before Winterbottom’s men played Bulgaria – who had been thrashed 6-1 by Hungary in their previous game and were already eliminated. As long as England didn’t lose they would progress.

The ultimate bore draw

With England knowing all they had to do was avoid defeat and as top spot was beyond them, plus with Bulgaria looking to avoid going home without a point, it was perhaps little surprise the game should end 0-0 after a dire 90 minutes. But England, wearing red, almost came unstuck as Bulgaria squandered a rare chance to win it in the second half. England had gained the point needed, but lost pride with their show of mediocrity and failure to beat a poorly-rated side.

It was a candidate for the dullest ever England World Cup match and, given how the spectacle had been slated in newspaper reports, it’s doubtful too many people made a special effort to sit through the BBC’s delayed coverage two days later. “I have always believed it was the worst game in which I was ever obliged to play,” wrote Charlton in My England Years. He would recount becoming embroiled in a row with Haynes afterwards, having opposed the captain for wanting to celebrate the 0-0 draw and progression. “The game was a miserable betrayal of all that I thought English football should stand for,” Charlton reflected.

The performance attracted plenty of criticism but England had surpassed their showings in 1950 and 1958 when they went out in the group stage. But not winning the group meant they faced a formidable obstacle as they were paired with holders Brazil in the coastal setting of Vina del Mar. At least the crowd would be bigger, the attendance being almost 18,000. England would not have to face Pele, who was out injured, but there was another great name to contend with – the ‘Little Bird’ himself, Garrincha.

And so it proved, Garrincha doing the damage by giving England the runaround. He scored twice in Brazil’s 3-1 win and played a major part in the second goal that was converted by Vava, after the recalled Hitchens had given England brief hope when he equalised shortly before the break. England’s performance did at least gain a more positive response from the watching scribes. The Times reported: “England gave their best performance of the championship but it was insufficient against the poise, polish and finishing power of the Brazilians.” Brazil would go on to retain their crown, with Garrincha taking much of the credit.

Greaves had a disappointing tournament by his prolific standards, scoring just once in four games. But he would make one memorable contribution to proceedings when, during the defeat by Brazil, he tried to catch a dog that had run on the pitch. He succeeded, but only at the cost of being urinated on by the four-legged pitch invader! It was a rare lighter moment in the tournament.

A Chile end for Winterbottom

England flew home having once more failed to get seriously close to winning the World Cup. They had played in four World Cup tournaments and won just three matches, twice going out in the group stage and never getting beyond the quarter-finals. With England to host the 1966 tournament, there was now some understandable concern over what the side could produce on home soil.

There was a gap of just four years between the 1962 mediocrity and 1966 triumph, but they feel like totally different eras. Only Charlton, Moore and Ray Wilson played in Chile of the side fielded in the 1966 final, with the remaining eight players yet to be capped. Although players such as Greaves and Armfield – who had an impressive tournament in 1962 – would still be in the squad come 1966, some others from the 1962 side were out of the picture.

Robson and Swan never played for England again after watching on in Chile, with life to get much worse for the latter when he was later found guilty of being involved in a match-fixing scandal and jailed. Haynes would also surprisingly never be capped again, a road accident later in the year ruling him out and he would never force his way back in.

But the most significant change would come off the field. Winterbottom had been handicapped in his long reign as England manager by the archaic selection committee calling the shots, but this did not exonerate him from criticism and he took particular stick after the draw with Bulgaria. He soon announced he would be moving on, staying in charge for the remaining games in 1962. Alf Ramsey may not have been first choice for the job but he would end up being appointed and the rest would be history.

Moore’s performances in Chile helped establish him in the side and a year later he would captain England for the first time. His promise represented one of the reasons for Ramsey to be optimistic as he took the job and sought to get England on top of the world – something they had seldom looked like being during the previous four World Cups.

englandmemories View All

Blogging about the history of the England national football team, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s.

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