Year
1950
Month Day
June 25

U.S. World Cup team wins unlikely victory over England

On June 25, 1950, an American team composed largely of amateurs defeated its more polished English opponents at the World Cup, held in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Dubbed the “Miracle on Green,” the game is considered one of the greatest soccer upsets of all time.

The English team at the time, known as the “Kings of Football,” boasted a record of 23 victories, four losses and three draws in the years since World War II ended. Its members were professional footballers culled from England’s domestic leagues. The Americans, by contrast, had lost their last seven international matches. Hastily assembled just days before the match against England, the U.S. team included a dishwasher, two mailmen, a teacher and a mill worker. The Belfast Telegram described them as “a band of no-hopers drawn from many lands,” ostensibly because some of the men were recent immigrants to the United States.

By the time the two teams squared off at Belo Horizonte, bookies had given the Brits 3-1 odds to take the World Cup, compared to 500-1 for the Americans. The newly appointed American coach, Bill Jeffrey, apparently agreed with them, telling a British reporter, “We have no chance.”

The game began with the Americans on the defense as the English assailed them with one clear shot on goal after another. The goalkeeper, Frank Borghi, a former minor league catcher who now drove a hearse in St. Louis, managed to tip each one. Finally, with less than 10 minutes to go in the first half, U.S. midfielder Walter Bahr centered a ball from 25 yards out, and Haitian-born forward Joe Gaetjens scored with a diving header. England lashed back with a battery of shots throughout the second half, but nothing got past Borghi. The no-hopers had defeated the Kings of Football with a single goal. The 30,000 Brazilians in the stands went wild, knowing that a British loss could help their own team fare better in the tournament. Gaetjens, who would later return to Haiti and disappear during François Duvalier’s repressive regime, was carried off the field in celebration.

Appalled English fans could not fathom that the Americans had beaten them at their own game. In the United States, meanwhile, the improbable win barely made a ripple. Only one American journalist had traveled to Brazil for the World Cup in the first place: Dent McSkimming of the St. Louis Dispatch, who paid his own way when his newspaper would not send him. He later said that the American victory was “as if Oxford University sent a baseball team over here and it beat the Yankees.”

Why didn’t this David-and-Goliath story make American headlines? For one thing, soccer had never captured the same U.S. fan base as football, baseball or basketball. Newspapers also had a more alarming matter to cover: On June 29, four days before the game, North Korea had crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea, and President Truman had already ordered U.S. forces to intervene. Just six years after World War II, the country was once again on the brink of war.

After the upset, both teams were quickly eliminated and returned to their respective sides of the Atlantic–the Brits chastened, the Americans essentially ignored. It would be 16 years before England won its first and only World Cup title. The United States, meanwhile, would not even appear in the tournament again until 1990. On June 12, 2010, the teams met again at the World Cup in Rustenburg, South Africa, and again England was the favorite. That match, which was the fifth most-watched soccer game in U.S. history, ended in a draw.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia kills 19 U.S. airmen

On June 25, 1996, a tanker truck loaded with 25,000 pounds of explosives rips through the U.S. Air Force military housing complex Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. airmen and wounding nearly 500 others. The terrorist attack that blew off much of the ...read more

Union begins tunneling toward Rebels at Petersburg

Pennsylvania troops begin digging a tunnel toward the Rebels at Petersburg, Virginia, in order to blow a hole in the Confederate lines and break the stalemate. The great campaign between Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of ...read more

Teenager Debbie Gibson earns a #1 hit with “Foolish Beat”

Contrary to what some critics of teen pop might imagine, pop sensation Debbie Gibson saw herself not as the next Madonna, but as the next Carole King. And when her single “Foolish Beat” reached the top of the Biilboard Hot 100 on this day in 1988, she achieved something very much ...read more

Kim Campbell becomes Canada’s first female prime minister

In Ottawa, Kim Campbell is sworn in as Canada’s 19th prime minister, becoming the first woman to hold the country’s highest office. Born in Port Alberni, British Columbia, in 1947, Campbell studied law and political science before entering Canadian politics during the 1980s. In ...read more

Eisenhower takes command

Following his arrival in London, Major General Dwight D. Eisenhower takes command of U.S. forces in Europe. Although Eisenhower had never seen combat during his 27 years as an army officer, his knowledge of military strategy and talent for organization were such that Army Chief ...read more

Battle of Little Bighorn

On June 25, 1876, Native American forces led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull defeat the U.S. Army troops of General George Armstrong Custer in the Battle of the Little Bighorn near southern Montana’s Little Bighorn River. Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, leaders of the Sioux tribe ...read more

Viet Cong blow up a floating restaurant

Two Viet Cong terrorist bombs rip through a floating restaurant on the Saigon River. Thirty-one people, including nine Americans, were killed in the explosions. Dozens of other diners were wounded, including 11 Americans. ...read more

Eisenhower assumes command of U.S. troops in Europe

On June 25, 1942, General Dwight D. Eisenhower becomes commander of all U.S. troops in the European theater of World War II, continuing the steady ascent in military rank that would culminate in his appointment as supreme Allied commander of all forces in Europe in 1943. As U.S. ...read more

“King of Pop” Michael Jackson dies at age 50

On June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson, one of the most commercially successful entertainers in history, dies at the age of 50 at his home in Los Angeles, California, after suffering from cardiac arrest caused by a fatal combination of drugs given to him by his personal doctor. ...read more

Congress passes Mann Act, aimed at curbing sex trafficking

Congress passes the Mann Act, also known as the White-Slave Traffic Act, which was ostensibly aimed at keeping innocent girls from being lured into prostitution, but really offered a way to make a crime out of many kinds of consensual sexual activity. The outrage over “white ...read more

Korean War begins

Armed forces from communist North Korea smash into South Korea, setting off the Korean War. The United States, acting under the auspices of the United Nations, quickly sprang to the defense of South Korea and fought a bloody and frustrating war for the next three years. Korea, a ...read more

Last Packard—the classic American luxury car—produced

The last Packard—the classic American luxury car with the famously enigmatic slogan “Ask the Man Who Owns One”—rolls off the production line at Packard’s plant in Detroit, Michigan on June 25, 1956. Mechanical engineer James Ward Packard and his brother, William Dowd Packard, ...read more

Germans release statement on use of poison gas at Ypres

On June 25, 1915, the German press publishes an official statement from the country’s war command addressing the German use of poison gas at the start of the Second Battle of Ypres two months earlier. The German firing of more than 150 tons of lethal chlorine gas against two ...read more