When Britain beat the rest of Europe in the “Match of the Century”

This day in football history

On 10 May 1947, a unified British team defeated a Rest-of-Europe XI in a game billed as the “Match of the Century.”

The concept of a British national team dates back to 1908, when a team styled as “Great Britain” won the gold medal at the Summer Olympics. Despite the name, however, the side included only Englishmen. They repeated as champions in 1912, but all four Home Nation associations — England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland — subsequently withdrew from FIFA over disagreements about the role of professionalism in the sport, bringing the united team to an end.

The 1947 match celebrated the return of the Home Nations to the international fold, with the proceeds going to help FIFA recover losses sustained by the interruption of play during World War II. England manager Walter Winterbottom selected the British team, which included five English players, three from Scotland, two from Wales, and one from Northern Ireland. The European team, chosen by Swiss national team manager Karl Rappan, included one player each from France, Switzerland, the Republic of Ireland, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, and the Netherlands, as well as two each from Sweden and Denmark.

Played before a crowd of over 130,000 at Glasgow’s Hampden Park, Britain (wearing navy blue shirts and socks with white shorts) rolled to an easy 6–1 victory with goals from Englishmen Wilf Mannion (22′, 33′) and Tommy Lawton (37′, 82′), Scotsman Billy Steel (35′), and a 74th-minute own-goal from the Europeans. Sweden’s Gunnar Nordahl scored the only goal for the Rest of Europe in the 24th minute.