The football pitch becomes a battlefield
Brazil and Hungary’s World Cup quarter-final descends into an all-out brawl
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.”