On March 5, 1946, during his Sinews of Peace address, Winston Churchill referred to the special relationship between the British Commonwealth and the United States. Through triumph and challenge, the relationship has continued to be close ever since, underscored by diplomatic and military cooperation. Today, replaying a hiccup in 1950, we took a time out.
That was the last time the United States and England played each other in a World Cup finals match. As the dominant favorite (or as they’d say, favourite), our British counterparts graciously invited the U.S. diplomatic corps in Ottawa to raise a few pints and watch the match at the High Commission. Shared language and geopolitical goals, for 90 minutes, gave way to revisiting a 60-year-old bitter rivalry. At least, it was bitter from their point of view.
The United States and England have played in World Cup group play only once before. In what has since been dubbed the Miracle on Grass, a plucky group of American amateurs upset the dominant team in the world, 1-0, after having lost its prior 7 international matches by a combined score of 45-2. So sure were the English newspapers that the wire report contained a typo, they published the score as a 10-1 England victory. Apparently, nobody in the United States knows about it because it happened over 20 years ago and because Disney never made a movie about it. Most everyone in England, however, remembers it like it was yesterday.
Once again, the United States found itself as a dominant underdog to a powerhouse English team. After exchanging pleasantries, thanking our hosts, and finishing my first pint of Speckled Hen, the match began. From the start, England dictated the pace and it seemed as if we were always on defense. After four minutes, the Three Lions’ captain, Steven Girrard, found the back of the net and our hosts went wild. The American section fell silent, imagining a long afternoon of polite smiles and embarrassed congratulations.
Although the Englishmen continued to attack, American goalkeeper Tim Howard made a series of miraculous saves. In the 40th minute, what looked to be an easy save slipped past Robert Green’s grasp and trickled into the English goal. It wasn’t pretty, but it gave the Americans an excuse to stand up and cheer. Our hosts couldn’t believe it.
The rest of the match, although a tense exercise of repelling repeated English attacks, reminded us why soccer will never become as popular in America. Lots of tension, but no scoring. It ended in a tie.
Although we could hold our heads high and claim the moral victory with a draw, it still felt unsatisfying. Just like the players in South Africa, we all shook hands and headed for the exit. At least the special relationship remains intact.