The way it wasn’t

Posted on December 17, 2012 12:16 am

People who saw the 2005 movie Game of Their Lives, since retitled The Miracle Match, are familiar with the fact that shortly before it left for the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, the U.S. national team played a game in New York against a touring English FA team.

I have long ago gotten used to historical inaccuracies in the many movies I watch about non-soccer historical events, so a lot of those in Game of Their Lives didn’t bother me very much. Concerning this New York game, however, those inaccuracies are piled pretty deep.

Before this movie was made, some people feared that Hollywood was going to distort the record so much that it would have the United States team beating England in the World Cup by 8-1 and going on to fame and riches. They were glad when the correct score was preserved and the game in Belo Horizonte was presented accurately. Hollywood knew better than to alter a well-known game too much. But if you believe everything you see in the movie, then what you will believe about the lesser-known game in New York is that it was played at night, in a downpour, on what looks like a high school field, and that a United States team that played in warm-up suits because it hadn’t been given uniforms and was led by the grimly solemn Walter Bahr suffered a 4-0 humiliation at the hands of an English team led by the sneeringly arrogant Stan Mortensen. Let’s see how many inaccuracies there were in that last sentence. I count at least seven of them.

The New York game actually was played on a sunny afternoon at the 22,000-capacity Downing Stadium on Randall’s Island. The United States team wore the uniforms of a local American Soccer League team, Hakoah, because its own uniforms had already been shipped to Brazil. Walter Bahr was and is a smiling, jovial man. The late Stan Mortensen was a polite, friendly man, 180 degrees opposite from the creep he is portrayed as, but maybe the one in the movie is a different Stan Mortensen anyway, since the famous one wasn’t even on that English FA team. The game was a moral victory for the American team, which suffered only a 1-0 defeat at the hands of a team that had just scored 66 goals in nine games in Canada.

The inaccuracies concerning that game are only some of many in that movie. Others that this soccer history buff particularly noticed are the fact that the St. Louis players and the eastern players are portrayed as being unfamiliar with each other until a tryout game a few weeks before the World Cup (many of them had been teammates in the 1948 Olympic Games and the 1949 World Cup qualifying series, or opponents in the U.S. Open Cup), and the fact that a man who died in 1976 is shown being interviewed at an MLS game.

Despite those problems, I didn’t think it was a bad movie. I enjoyed it. But I wouldn’t rely on it too heavily if someone were to want to know exact details of what happened in 1950.

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