Category: The Game of Their Lives News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: August 1, 2003 | Publication: Daily Record | Author: Brian Mciver
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IT was the result so shocking that the public back home blamed it on stuttering teletype machines and smudged newspaper print: ENGLAND 0, USA1.

A rag-tag bunch of part-timers and enthusiastic amateurs dressed in the United States of America football strip had just defeated the mighty England of Tom Finney, Alf Ramsey and Billy Wright in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.

And three expatriate Scots were involved in the victory that sent shockwaves around the globe.

The game, which had been billed as the ultimate mis-match between the old and new football worlds, provided the ultimate upset in World Cup history, as the Americans won in Belo Horizonte.

And, as news of the amazing result filtered through to the UK, Scots had more reasons to cheer England's defeat than usual - the

American side had been both captained and managed by expat Scots. And now, 53 years later, the tartan influence on that game is to be recognised in a new Hollywood film being made about the game that shook the world.

Scottish actor Gerard Butler is to star as the American goalkeeper in The Game of Their Lives which recounts the story of the bizarre group of immigrant and home- based players who took on England on that scorching day.

He will be joined on screen by Scots rock star and Bush lead singer Gavin Rossdale, who will make his film debut, starring as one of the defeated English players.

The movie is currently being filmed in the American city of St Louis, where most of the players originated from, and Brazil, featuring hotly tipped American Beauty actor Wes Bentley.

But the biggest star of the film, due for release next year, is the incredible result itself, and its impact on world football.

The only goal of the game was scored by Haiti-born striker Joe Gatjeans, with an acrobatic diving header in the first half.

According to UEFA historians, the USA side, which had already lost 3- 1 to Spain in the opening tie, were so doubtful of success against the English side that, in true Scots style, they enjoyed a late night in the Brazilian city before the game.

For the match, Greenock-born star Eddie McIlvenny led the USA side out, after being chosen as captain precisely because he was Scottish and could inspire the team against the Auld Enemy.

THE midfielder led his strong and resolute side in the game which turned out to be a virtual 90-minute siege on the American goal.

But despite the pressure, England, who had left legendary Stanley Matthews out of the game they had taken for granted, couldn't break down the hungover side, who were clinging on for dear life.

Five minutes before half-time, restaurant dishwasher Gatjeans, who was later murdered by secret police in his homeland Haiti, scored a cracker of a header.

Despite hitting the post four times, stars such as Tom Finney, Billy Wright, Alf Ramsey couldn't get past US keeper Frank Borghi - set to be played by Butler.

England's ego was shattered and they were dumped out. So too, eventually, were the Americans who couldn't maintain their luck against Chile and Spain. Will Lunn, the President of the US National Soccer Hall of Fame, said the game's impact was being felt to this day.

He said: "When it happened, there wasn't the knowledge or awareness of the World Cup or the sport in general.

"Although it was a huge shock, it didn't make the front pages of the time and the only American journalist at the game was there on holiday.

"So while it didn't make much of an impact then, it has become more important over time because as more and more Americans take to soccer and follow the World Cup, they are finding out about the team's history prior to the 1990s.

"People like to look back and realise that the USA team did so well against a side who had some great players, and who, we believe, thought they were going to beat us very well.

"But although they hadn't really played together before, the USA side was not a bad team, and there were a lot of good players, as the result shows."

The Scottish football manager stereotype was fully lived up to by the heavy -set and gruff but fair coach Bill Jeffrey.

Born in Edinburgh in 1892, the Scot was a semi-professional player before emigrating in 1920 to the States where he played for American league teams such as Altoona, Homestead, Braddock and Bethlehem.

He made an early move into management and became player coach of Altoona in 1925 before moving into the booming college football leagues with Pennsylvania State in the same year.

HE spent the rest of his managerial and coaching career with Penn State and coached the USA side to the shock victory in 1950, accompanied by his trusty Scots sidekick Chubby Lyons.

According to Will Lunn, however, he is one character who may be sidelined by the film, which focuses on the players.

He said: "From what I've heard, they have Jeffrey as more of a grumpy administrator type for dramatic purposes, but I'm assured by the surviving players I have spoken to that he was far from that.

"They all loved him, and everyone speaks very highly about his coaching and tactics. He had a good sense of humour and the players used to imitate his Scottish accent in the dressing room.

"And to this day, he is still very well regarded in soccer circles. He was a great coach."

Greenock-born Eddie McIlvenny was famously christened The Yank from the Tail o' the Bank when he returned to Scotland.

Eddie, who died in 1989 aged 64, was one of the only pro footballers in the USA side, and returned to the UK a year after the big match when Matt Busby signed him for Manchester United.

His widow Sheila, 71, said that while he was always modest about his achievement, she and her children Shona and Stuart are immensely proud of her late husband's contribution to history.

Speaking from their home in Eastbourne, she said: "He never talked about it much, but he was very proud of what he had been part of.

"When we first met a year or so after the game, he was introduced to me by a friend as the Scot who captained the USA team to victory over England.

"He never really had much recognition for it over here, but it really was incredible and a real piece of history.

"Shona and Stuart played football as children because of him and we kept a lot of photos and memorabilia from the match. Much of it is in the Manchester United museum, but we have plenty to remember it by as well.

"My only concern about the film is that his part as the captain will be overlooked as they'll want to focus on a Yank. But we'll always know what he did."

Scottish Football Museum historian Richard McBrearty said that, despite their great efforts, the Scots influence was never properly recognised in their homeland.

He said: "The England team were one of the favourites for the tournament, so it was a huge shock.

"But unfortunately, the nature of the game and the media was such that none of the Scots were well-known over here and there wasn't much reference to the Scottish involvement. It only emerged later.

"But Bill Jeffrey, Eddie McIlvenny and the other Scots played a huge part in a very important piece of football history."

Copyright 2003 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday Mail Ltd.