The Dishwasher’s Goal That Cleaned Out Mighty England

When the USA shocked Brittania in the 1950 World Cup

So TikToking Son comes up to Antediluvian (Google it, kids!) Dad, chuckling incredulously at his iPhone … something about the USA beating England once upon a time — and in the World Cup!


Primeval Dad hitches up his loincloth onesie, clears his throat, visibly expanding with smugness, and grins a maddeningly superior smile …

“No, dear boy, it’s not fake news …

“It happened in 1950, in Brazil … in a place called Belo Horizonte …” continues Obsolete Dad, who still reads books and shouts at the Taoiseach on proper TV.

Unlike Meme-Generation Son who reckons the moon landing is definitely a hoax, and usually allows Dinosaur Dad one minute max to tell a story or explain anything.

But for those of a certain age, 1950 and Belo Horizonte was one of those things they never stopped banging on about in soccer magazines Shoot and Goal in the 70s and 80s, like they were still coming to terms with it.

It was right up there with England’s top defeats, or national humiliations.

You know the ones …

Braveheart Gibson  ready for kick-off at Stirling Bridge

The Battle of Stirling Bridge (Braveheart himself, William Wallace, and his men scatter the numerically vastly superior and better-equipped English) in 1297 …  The Spanish Armada scuttles the much larger English fleet in 1589 … and little Joe Gaetjens unwittingly deflects the ball into the net and Mighty Blighty are whupped by a crowd of dishwashers and part-timers on June 29 in 1950.

England World Cup 1950 manager Walter Winterbottom

Poor old Walter Winterbottom’s England, 3/1 tournament favourites, beaten by the 500/1 no-hopers, whose ranks included a mailman, a paint-stripper, a dishwasher (Gaetjens) and a hearse driver …

Indeed the success did little to change their lives, their success meriting just a couple of paragraphs in the New York Times the next day.

And things did not end well for Gaetjens.

From Haiti, he went to play in France before returning to his country.

His niece, Mary Gaetjens, now living in Oakland, Florida, told The Guardian years later how he was taken from Port-au-Prince in 1963 to Fort Dimanche jail by the Tonton Macoute, the militia of the dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and killed soon after.

“He was a national hero. He thought the goal would protect him,” she said.

Goalscorer Joe Gaetjens chaired off the field in Belo Horizonte

The family was sore that the US refused pleas to help him, either by pushing Duvalier to grant him an amnesty or to grant him US citizenship and the protection that might have provided.

The US did honour him posthumously, inducting him, along with the rest of the team, into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1976.

But what a blow the defeat was to the England of 1950, part of a Britain still recovering from World War 11.

They were getting there …

There was near full employment as the teeming coal pits fired up another industrial revolution and the gleaming factory stacks billowed far and wide.

The NHS had made healthcare available to all, regardless of income, and armies of hobnailed navvies and Hush-Puppied engineers were clearing the blitzed-out slums and laying down the tarmac, brick and high-rise future.

Boys would come in from mimicking the stutter of machine gun fire and dive-bombing imaginary Nazis in the back garden, to clipped BBC tones announcing another England success on the football field

But meat, butter, cheese, sugar and sweets were still in short supply, India had just left the declining Empire that same year, and the old wartime values of respectability and conformity still largely held sway.

It was still a time of open fires and closed minds. Rock was still to roll there and stay-at-home mums scrubbed, polished and cooked while dads came in from work or the pub and rustled the paper impatiently for their dinner.

That year the West Indies cricket team won a Test series in England for the first time and popularised calypso music in Britain.

But there was always the football.

Boys would come in from mimicking the stutter of machine gun fire and dive-bombing imaginary Nazis in the back garden, to clipped BBC tones announcing another England success on the football field.

Only on this sad June day, jaws dropped beside crackling bakelite radios across the land as one the biggest upsets in the fabled tournament’s history was described, and England’s most embarrassing defeat laid out. A 1-0 rout.

Like something out of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Impossible but true.

And the name of the United States’ goalscorer, Joe Gaetjens, a Haitian dishwasher, has long been saved to Condescending Dad’s memory hard-drive.

The defeat would endure in collective English hearts, serving as a reminder of the hardships endured before Britannia, in the form of Alf Ramsey’s red-shirted heroes, once gain defeated the dreaded Hun, or at least the Western part, at Wembley in 1966, to rule the football world.

Moore and Jules-2
When they were fab … Booby Moore lifts the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966

Despite witnessing England’s routine comeuppance in every major tournament since he was a lad, YouTube Son, just like Primitive Dad when he was a boy, still believes, somewhere, in the age-old guff about England being the sleeping giant of the game, just one good manager away from emulating the Boys Of 1966.

Is it any wonder other countries, not just their wild colonial conquests, revel in seeing them lose?

Not something Prehistoric Dad shares, actually, as he loved England doing well in the 1990 World Cup —  Nessun Dorma and Gazza’s tears equally unforgettable — and the 1996 Euros, when football almost came home.

England was dreaming, as was a furtive cache of soccer-loving Irish fans — or maybe just those brain-washed by Shoot — and retaining the graceful Jules Rimet trophy was a real possibility

He can still effortlessly summon up the fevered build-up to the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, the first big tournament he would follow on TV.

The Esso World Cup 1970 coin collection

Collecting those Esso World Cup coins — “not Jack Charlton again! — and feeding on the words of Bobby Moore in his weekly column in Shoot, he devoured the reports and stories in every newspaper or magazine he could get his hands on.

England was dreaming, as was a furtive cache of soccer-loving Irish fans — or maybe just those brain-washed by Shoot — and retaining the graceful Jules Rimet trophy was a real possibility.

Even Johnny Foreigner’s sleazy efforts to stitch up Moore for allegedly robbing a bracelet in Bogota weeks before the big kick-off only made them even more determined to win.

Sure didn’t they win the war on their own every week in the Victor comic?  

We all know what happened, of course. Not that they went down easy, with many convinced England would have beaten old foes West Germany in that fateful quarter-final if the great Gordon Banks hadn’t gone down with food poisoning and poor old petrified Peter Bonetti let in those awful goals as a 2-0 lead became a heart-scalding 3-2 defeat.

Bobby and Alf-2
Bobby Charlton and England boss Alf Ramsey after losing to West Germany in 1970

Still the hype machine rattles on, every time, swelling England’s qualifying progress from easy Euro or World Cup groups into a tsunami of anxious expectation, followed by the inevitable crash and ritual media shaming. 

Maybe one day, with realistic expectations, a decent manager, and players in real form, not puffed-up Sky pundit form, their fans might witness an actual positive Belo Horizonte, or beautiful horizon.

Maybe in Fortnite Son’s time.

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38 comments on “The Dishwasher’s Goal That Cleaned Out Mighty England

  1. While I cant say I was there, like you this 1950 incident is etched into my memory. I enjoyed learning some extra knowledge from this post, etching it further in to my unwanted memory.

    Maybe one day, England will enjoy those tournament winning highs once again. Fingers crossed in this prehistoric Dad’s time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wasn’t there either — or alive then— Ian!! But it sure shook ’em up for years and years. Until 1966 anyway!


      • Ian Northeast

        I wasn’t insinuating you were there or alive. Perhaps I should have picked my words better.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Funnily enough, this game was confined to the history books by the time I was growing up, and then 1966 came along and everything was forgotten. Bonetti was only one factor in 1970: the other was typical English arrogance in substituting Booby Charlton at 2-0 to save him for the next round. I suspect that there is no chance of our winning the World Cup again in my lifetime – more chance of losing to Iceland again 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • The name is Bobby Charlton … bit Freudian that, Clive, Hehe. Ironically, Bonetti was brilliant in that season’s FA Cup final and replay for Chelsea, but he was badly at fault in Mexico. Banks was brilliant. Yes, they were at fault, in retrospect for substituting Charlton. But it was viciously hot and they were trying to save him for the next game. It was his last game for England, of course


  3. Well spotted, that’ll teach me to proof read! I’m not so forgiving of Alf Ramsey: the game isn’t won till the final whistle goes, and he was counting his roasted chickens too soon.


    • AhJaysus, Clive … the guy is long dead. Besides he did what no other England boss has done. And not far off it in torrid Mexico heat. OneI feel sorriest for is the great Jimmy Greaves in 1966

      Liked by 1 person

      • English football fans have long, unforgiving memories. As a Spurs supporter I was outraged that he dropped Greavesie, but then some guy took his place and scored a hat trick in the final.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing this story, and especially the story of not only the game, but of Mr. Gaetjens. While I am not horribly sports minded, I love a good story and I think there is something important about remembering people’s names and something of who they were, what they did, what they accomplished, in a way that honors them. (Even if they beat the home team!)


    Liked by 1 person

    • It happened in Btazil, so neither was the home team, Michele! It was a huge shock at the time, and it was sad to hear how Mr Gaetjens ended up

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow! I learned a lot of soccer…I mean football…history today. So, a defeat 70 years ago still stings in England? Amazing how the history of the country and sport are interwoven. Thanks for teaching me something new today.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This pre-historic Mum has learned a lot today. I do pretend to be interested in football sometimes. Hey, I even watch a lot of World Cup matches. I can’t say I have heard about the 1950 match before, poor Gaetjens 😦 We have a coin collection somewhere, I remember getting one every time I filled up at the garage and we ended up with them all. I also have a big sticker book which is almost completed. Me and the big son (who is not interested in football) spent an age sticking in the stickers and then we were really proud of ourselves for recognising ‘our stickers’ playing on the pitch. I’ll shut up now. If it’s any consolation, the husband is a big football fan. (p.s. I was sent a huge box of stickers from Panini in return for a tweet.)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As a Scot living in England, the sheer adoration of football will never be something that I understand. Flags everywhere for any sort of match and so much emotional attachment to each individual’s own team. As my husband cheers on Everton I just smile and nod. Thankfully I’m not one to bring up Mr Wallace and I’ve only ever noticed complete camaraderie between the Scots and the English, in Liverpool anyway! #wotw

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well if your husband supports Everton he must be a true-blue fan in every sense. he’s certainly not jumping on the bandwagon in that city!


  8. I have to admit I didn’t know that England had lost to the USA in a World Cup match. So interesting to read some of the history though and how awful that Gaetjens ended up being imprisoned and killed. I’m not really into football and rarely get caught up in watching matches even during big tournaments although I do remember all the hype during the 1990 World Cup and 1996 Euros. #WotW

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Never give up hope. I wonder what Fortnite son will be called by then? #wotw

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I feel like I’ve had a history lesson, thanks Enda! And I may have only been 9 at the time, but I definitely remember Gazza’s tears. #KCACOLS

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The William Wallace photo made me chuckle out loud. Interesting post (very said ending for the Haitian tho….) #Dreamteam

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Well you learn something new every day! I feel like this knowledge will be useful in a pub quiz one day! #DreamTeam


  13. Enda, I’ve long admired your writing, but today I’m wowed. You see, I am probably less interested in sports than anyone on the planet, and yet I happily read every word of this! That’s quite a testament to your talent! #GlobalBlogging

    Liked by 1 person

    • How kind if you to say so, Jean. I take that as the ultimate comment, a non-sporting person enjoying a sports article!


  14. Goes to show how little most Americans think of soccer ( sorry, football ) that I’ve never heard of this before. We certainly like to gloat and make movies about things like that to rub in people’s faces. #KCACOLS

    Liked by 1 person

  15. What an interesting fact. Like most of the comments, I’d never heard of the defeat to the States. However, like the Eurovision, I fear (actually not bothered at all) we shall never win a major championship again. #KCACOLS

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I love how you’ve written this! I’m afraid that football quite literally flies over my head these days, but this made for a brilliant read. I suppose at the end of the day where there’s a will, there’s a way. I’m sure the stars will align.. one day! Thank you for joining us for the #DreamTeamLinky 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Annette … some things are bigger than football, and this time the USA being the minnows and beating England, the giants, was an epic story


  17. Definitely a history lesson for me. Having a football loving hubby, i’ll be sure to keep this one up my sleeve in an attempt to surprise with my football knowledge. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next time.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I am not at all interested in football but it does seem of be an integral part of the English psyche. Thanks for linking up wth #globalblogging and please update our badge when you get a chance

    Liked by 1 person

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