The foot­ball pitch be­comes a bat­tle­field

Brazil and Hun­gary’s World Cup quar­ter-fi­nal de­scends into an all-out brawl

BBC History Magazine - - Anniversaries -

The Wankdorf Sta­dium, Berne: 27 June 1954. As the rain pours down, the thou­sands of spec­ta­tors can barely con­tain their ex­cite­ment. To­day’s World Cup quar­ter-fi­nal sees Brazil’s glam­our boys play Hun­gary, pride of the com­mu­nist bloc and un­beaten for the last four years. Ev­ery­body ex­pects a feast of foot­ball.

What fol­lowed, how­ever, was one of the most no­to­ri­ous matches in sport­ing his­tory, known as the Bat­tle of Berne. The re­sult of the game was 4-2 to Hun­gary, but the real story was the vi­o­lence, which made head­lines around the world.

The trig­ger seems to have been Hun­gary’s sec­ond-half penalty, which pro­voked a pitch in­va­sion by Brazil’s coach­ing staff, jour­nal­ists and of­fi­cials. For the next half-hour the match was a glo­ri­fied brawl, which saw three play­ers – Brazil’s Nil­ton San­tos and Hum­berto Tozzi and Hun­gary’s József Bozsik – sent off for fight­ing. “Never in my life have I seen such cruel tack­ling, the cut­ting down of op­po­nents as if with a scythe, fol­lowed by threat­en­ing at­ti­tudes and sly jabs when of­fi­cial­dom was en­gaged else­where,” re­ported The Times cor­re­spon­dent.

At the fi­nal whis­tle, the Brazil­ians once again in­vaded the pitch, and the fight­ing in the dress­ing room was so in­tense that Hun­gary’s man­ager needed four stitches in his face.

For the ref­eree, Arthur El­lis from Hal­i­fax, the events that day were a ter­ri­ble dis­ap­point­ment: “I thought it was go­ing to be the great­est game I’d ever see. I was on top of the world,” he said later. “Whether pol­i­tics and re­li­gion had some­thing to do with it I don’t know, but they be­haved like an­i­mals.”

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