The Battle of Highbury (November 1934) | @GJ_Thomas


10th June 1934 - Italy win the second ever FIFA World Cup 2-1 after extra-time against Czechoslovakia. The trophy was won on home soil to the immense pride of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini with a side featuring the likes of Giuseppe Meazza, Raimundo 'Mumo' Orsi and Giovanni Ferrari. In November 1934, the new 'world champions' would arrive in England to take on the self-proclaimed 'inventors' of football.

Italy lift the 1934 FIFA World Cup

Despite 1934 being a 'world' cup, the tournament still did not represent some of the major footballing nations of the world. As a governing body, the English Football Association joined FIFA in 1905, but refused to back or participate in the first World Cup. Charles Sutcliffe, one of the FA's key men, believed that FIFA "magnified the midgets" in giving each association an equal vote (1). This stance was agreed with by the other 'home nations' and continued in 1934 too, with Sutcliffe calling the competition a "joke" (2).

After Italy's World Cup victory, the British press were very limited in their coverage. The Tamworth Herald for example, took six days to report the event, writing just a sentence that didn't even include the score: "Italy won the Association football 'World Championship' by defeating Czechoslovakia in the final." [3]

Come 14th November 1934, it was time for a mega clash between the official world champions and the long self-acknowledged 'best team in Europe'. The Liverpool Echo previewed the fixture:

"England is still looked upon as the best football talent in the world, although the FA will not join in so-called world championships. Italy bears on its stamps the title "Football champions of the world" and all our exiles are asking that we shall beat them, because they will not be able to hold up their heads if defeat comes to us on our own ground. The team chosen for the home eleven is made up of stout hearts and brainy football feet. Italy is fast and strikingly clever; every one of our men who have seen them play say they are a revelation." [4]

The fixture was even a big one in the Welsh press, the Western Mail discussing the starting XIs and pre-match practices before the mid-week tie. They reported how "greatly impressed" Tottenham players were watching the Italians who shared their training ground, noting how Signor Pozzo's men "excelled" in their "ball manipulation" [5].

The Western Mail reported how impressive the Italians were pre-match

Not only was this game billed as a titanic clash on the pitch though, but it was also a political minefield off it too. With a key factor of Benito Mussolini's fascist rule of Italy being physical dominance, Il Duce was desperate for success for his sportsmen. He would order to all who represented Italy was: "Remember… When you compete abroad, the honour and sporting prestige of the nation is entrusted to your muscles and above all your spirit" (6). For this game, Mussolini was so keen for victory, that he was thought to have offered his countrymen an Alfa Romeo car, £150 (in old money), as well as the possibility of escaping their compulsory military service if they beat the English.


The Line Ups:

England:



Position
No
Name
Age
Club
Caps (incl v ITA)
Goals (incl v ITA)
Gk
1
Frank Moss 
25
Arsenal FC
4
0
RB
2
George Male
24
Arsenal FC
1
0
LB
3
Eddie Hapgood (c)
26
Arsenal FC
9
0
RH
4
Cliff Britton
25
Everton FC
2
0
CH
5
Jack Barker
27
Derby County FC
2
0
LH
6
Wilf Copping
27
Arsenal FC
7
0
OR
7
Stanley Matthews
19
Stoke City FC
2
1
IR
8
Ray Bowden
25
Arsenal FC
2
0
CF
9
Ted Drake
22
Arsenal FC
1
1
IL
10
Cliff Bastin
22
Arsenal FC
9
4
OL
11
Eric Brook
26
Manchester City FC
10
7


Italy:



Position
No
Name
Age
Club
Caps (incl v ENG)
Goals (incl v ENG)
GK
1
Carlo Ceresoli
24
Ambrosiana-Internazionale FC 
2
0
RB
2
Eraldo Monzeglio 
28
Bologna 1909 FC
18
0
LB
3
Luigi Allemandi
31
Ambrosiana-Internazionale FC 
15
0
RH
4
Attilio Ferraris (c)
30
SS Lazio
26
0
CH
5
Luis Monti
33
Juventus FC
16
1
LH
6
Luigi Bertolini
30
Juventus FC
24
0
OR
7
Enrique Guaita
24
AS Roma
7
3
IR
8
Pietro Serantoni
27
Juventus FC
4
0
CF
9
Giuseppe Meazza
24
Ambrosiana-Internazionale FC 
28
24
IL
10
Giovanni Ferrari
26
Juventus FC
24
9
OL
11
Raimundo Orsi
32
Juventus FC
33
13

Attendance: 51,000-57,000 (various reports)

England lined up with an inexperienced squad, a string of injuries preventing some of the usual starting line-up making the cut. Every player featured possessed fewer than 10 caps, a young Stanley Matthews making just his second national team appearance. It was also the first time (and only time since) that 7 players started all from the same club, Arsenal, also enjoying home ground advantage.

Italy, unlike England (who were selected by a committee), were aided by a permanent coach named Vittorio Pozzo. Pozzo is the only coach to have won back to back World Cups (1934 & 1938), as well as two Central European International Cups and an Olympic Gold medal in 1936. He was known as Il Vecchio Maestro (The Old Master) led his side on an unbeaten run from December 1934-1939. 

Pozzo is credited with having further developed the Metodo (2-3-2-3) formation. Whilst the WM formation of Herbert Chapman was popular in England, Pozzo's Metodo became the WW (below). It saw the half-backs press higher up the pitch to support counter-attacks and the central halfback helping to keep the team solid defensively. This formation has further developed over the decades since and was notably adapted by Pep Guardiola. His Barcelona dreamteam (2008-2012), saw Sergio Busquets taking the central halfback role (now CDM), Dani Alves and his various left backs playing the wide ‘halfback’ positions and Xavi and Andres Iniesta taking the creative ‘inside forward’ spots (seen below).

Pozzo's 'Metodo' formation, similar to Pep's Barcelona (Via)

The Match

With so much at stake, the first 45 were incredibly fiery as the match kicked off at Highbury. Forward Ted Drake broke the foot of key Italian Centre Half Luis Monti after only two minutes, and with no substitutions allowed in those days, Monti played on for quarter of an hour. As the injury worsened, Italy were forced to play the rest of the game with 10 men.

The Italians, perhaps feeling the injury to Monti was deliberate, seemingly set out for revenge. This turned the match into a blood bath. England saw injuries to Ray Bowden (ankle), Jack Barker (hand), Ted Drake (leg and a punch), Eric Brook (broken arm) and to Captain Eddie Hapgood who broke his nose and had to depart the field for 15 minutes.

Attilio Ferraris and Eddie Hapgood shake hands before battle begins

Hapgood recalls that it was "the dirtiest football match I have ever played in", remembering how one newspaper signed their report of the game as "by our war correspondent". Hapgood himself showed the spirit of footballers in the 1930s, after recieving treatment in the changing room on his broken nose, he "jumped up and ran out on the field again" [7].

However, the football itself was a different story as England dominated early on. Eric Brook missed a penalty in the first minute after a foul from Italian keeper Carlo Ceresoli, who promptly saved the spot kick. Brook redeemed himself only 2 minutes later, as Cliff Britton floated in a free kick which Brook headed home and then Brook added a free kick of his own after 10 minutes. Debutant Ted Drake, who was already more than involved, made it 3-0 in the twelfth minute as a 10 man England (when Hapgood was off the pitch for treatment) attacked down the right and the centre forward finished the move off to cap an eventful first 15 minutes!

HT England 3-0 Italy

The Azzurri settled into the second half and despite their man disadvantage, began to play like the world champions they were. Italy had the beginnings of a great partnership between Giovanni Ferrari and more notably Giuseppe Meazza, whose 33 international goals have only been topped by Luigi Riva (35).

Giuseppe Meazza - One of Italy's greats

Meazza, for whom the San Siro is still officially named after when Inter play at home, scored his first after 58 minutes, created by Enrique Guaita. His second came only four minutes later when he headed in from Attilio Ferrari’s free kick and suddenly it was very much ‘game on’! Unfortunately for the Italians, it seemed everything was against them as Meazza struck the cross bar and England goalkeeper Frank Moss pulled off some incredible saves as England hung onto their tight lead.


FT England 3-2 Italy

England held on to beat the Italian but who was truly superior? Well, that was not really decided, as the Italians were dubbed The Lions of Highbury having successfully gained everyone’s respect by playing so long with 10 men, very nearly levelling the game from 3-0 down. Their "amazing" and "magnificent" fight back detailed below.

The Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail credited Italy's impressive fightback in the second half - 14 November 1934 [8]

The Football Association and some members of the British press though, were enraged at the violent treatment of their players, leading to some calls for England to withdraw from internationals altogether. With Hapgood, Drake, Bastin, Bowden and Copping ruled out of domestic fixtures as they recovered from their war wounds. The Guardian reported that a player told them how: “It was not a game of football, it was a battle”, and ran editorials with public and footballing opinions on what they had witnessed [9].

Italy would go on to keep dominating the 1930s, Pozzo's WW Metodo seeing them lift the 1938 World Cup in France on the brink of the Second World War. For England, the victory perhaps vindicated their continued rejection of the FIFA World Cup. They had played and beaten the world champions and so, why bother paying any attention to this false tournament claiming to appoint global kings? Who knows what would've happened if England had lost their fixture? But one thing is for certain, the Battle of Highbury should not be forgotten!

The post-battle treatment room

This piece was originally written by Gareth Thomas on 25/07/2013 and was updated in July 2020, you can follow him on Twitter: @GJ_Thomas  & @TFHBs.

Footnotes
[1] David Goldblatt (2006), The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football.
[2] Matthew Taylor (2005), The Leaguers: the making of professional football in England, 1900–1939.
[3] Tamworth Herald - Saturday 16 June 1934, via the British Newspaper Archive. 
[4] Liverpool Echo - Tuesday 13 November 1934, via the British Newspaper Archive. 
[5] Western Mail - Tuesday 13 November 2013via the British Newspaper Archive. 
[6] Simon Martin (2011), Sport Italia: The Italian Love Affair with Sport.
[7] Eddie Hapgood (first published in 1945), Football Ambassador
[8] Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - 14 November 1934, via the British Newspaper Archive.
[9] The Guardian reported at the time, and re-published on 12 November 2008, via their website.


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