For the FA's centenary, England faced a Rest of the World team—and won. 50 years on, we look back on the iconic game that gripped football fans worldwide
These days, an England versus the Rest of the World football match involves various ex-pros slumming it with a bunch of reality stars/YouTubers/Robbie Williams’ best mates who’d struggle to get into a Sunday league team.
But back in 1963, this fixture was taken a little more seriously than ITV’s Soccer Aid. In fact, three years before Alf Ramsey’s men lifted the World Cup, it was billed, without any sense of irony, as the Match of the Century.
To celebrate its 60th anniversary (October 23), here’s a look at the first and last time that the Three Lions and the cream of the international game went head-to-head—without a celebrity wannabe in sight.
1. It was a centenary celebration
England vs the Rest of the World 1963 was essentially the final part of a celebration trilogy. In 1938, the FA decided to honour its 75th anniversary by inviting their finest homegrown players to take on the Rest of Europe.
Thanks to goals from Willie Hall, Tommy Lawton and Len Goulden, the Three Lions ran out 3-0 winners at Highbury against a team largely consisting of Italians.
"The FA decided to honour its 75th anniversary by inviting their finest homegrown players to take on the Rest of Europe"
The away side were a little more as-described in 1953 for the 4-4 thriller at Wembley (then known as the Empire Stadium), which was staged to commemorate the FA’s 90th birthday, fielding players from five different nations.
But the governing body’s centenary match was the first to cast the net across the globe.
2. England’s team boasted seven future World Cup winners
England manager Alf Ramsey, who’d actually played in the FA’s 90th anniversary match, had only taken charge six months previously. And having boldly declared, “We will win the World Cup” on his appointment, the man was no doubt keen to put his money where his mouth was.
Ramsey fielded the strongest team at his disposal, including goalkeeper Gordon Banks, defenders Ray Wilson, Jimmy Armfield and Bobby Moore, midfielders Terry Paine and George Eastham and star forward Jimmy Greaves.
Three years later, these seven players were named in the squad that, just like Ramsey predicted, would lift the gleaming Jules Rimet.
3. The Rest of the World team were equally stacked
On paper, the Rest of the World team should have walked it. Managed by Chile boss Fernando Riera, the starting XI featured Soviet Lev Yashin (still the only ever goalkeeper to pick up the Ballon d’Or), former European Footballer of the Year Josef Masopust and Brazilian two-time World Cup winner Djalma Santos.
Raymond Kopa, Francisco Gento and captain Alfredo di Stéfano were part of the Real Madrid side that lifted three consecutive European Cups, while Eusébio had just twice won the same trophy with Benfica.
4. There were a few notable absences
The Rest of the World would have been even stronger had it not been for the red tape of various footballing bodies. AC Milan refused to release defender Cesare Maldini for the occasion.
"Poor winger Mikheil Meskhi wasn’t even informed about his invitation—the USSR Football Federation lied that he was injured"
Poor winger Mikheil Meskhi wasn’t even informed about his invitation—the USSR Football Federation lied that he was injured. And the 100,000-strong crowd who descended upon Wembley Stadium were denied the chance to see unarguably the world’s greatest player, Pelé, after his club Santos also acted as party poopers.
The slightly less iconic Burnley and Northern Ireland left-back Alex Elder would have been in the squad too, had he not broken his leg just weeks before.
5. Jimmy Greaves was man of the match
Greaves, of course, would lose his place in England’s starting line-up to Geoff Hurst at the 1966 World Cup after getting injured in the group stages. But he was undoubtedly the star of the show here.
The Spurs forward would have had a hat trick by half-time had it not been for the goalkeeping heroics of Yashin and a spectacular goal wrongly disallowed.
And after inadvertently setting up Paine in the 66th minute, Greaves finally, and deservedly, got on the scoresheet in injury time to gift England a dramatic 2-1 victory. For many, England vs Rest of the World was the striker at the peak of his powers.
6. But Denis Law was a close second
In a star-studded team which also included German Karl-Heinz Schnellinger and Czech World Cup finalists Svatopluk Pluskal and Ján Popluhár, it was perhaps surprising that an unassuming Scotsman proved to be their secret weapon.
As well as netting past Banks to briefly pull Rest of the World level in the 82nd minute, Denis Law regularly ran rings around the England defence, as sports historian Norman Giller later told Esquire: “[He was] at his electric, darting best and thoroughly deserved his goal. Surrounded by the best players in the world, Denis looked as good as any of them.”
7. The match wasn’t officially recognised
Look at Paine, Law and Greaves’ scoring records and you’ll notice that their England versus Rest of the World goals are strangely absent.
Yes, despite accepting the invitation to select the players in Riera’s squad, FIFA decided against giving the game an official status.
This meant that Paine’s first recognised goal for his country came a month later in the 8-3 win over Northern Ireland and that subs Ken Shellito and Tony Kay still only had one England cap to their name.
Banner credit: Bilsen, Joop van / Anefo, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL, via Wikimedia Commons
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