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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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