The 1942 World Cup

I don’t have a clue what this is.  When it was written, or why.  It’s obviously not complete, but it looks like it could be one day.  So here it is, a taster for a tale that I’ve not yet written.

The 1942 World Cup

It was, we all thought, just one of grandad’s tales.  It was also one of his favourite expressions, reserved for those special occasions when a simple “yes” wasn’t good enough.  “Are you going to the pub tonight?” grandma would ask; or, “shall I switch over for Match Of The Day?”; and he’d shoot back with that self-evident truth, and there was nothing left to be said.  “Did England win the 1942 World Cup?”  Of course.

He used it on other occasions, of course.  Did you take the dog for a walk, do you want a scramble for lunch, is the Pope Catholic – you get the picture.  And sometimes he’d elaborate, if we grandchildren looked like we needed a diversion, or if the modern game let him down so far that he couldn’t help but wander back to older days, happier days.

Replay the Scots’ trip to Wembley in 1967, to snatch the mantel of world champions away from Alf Ramsey’s England, and what do you remember?  The triumphant skirling of 50,000 bagpipes?  I hear grandad.  Rerun the third German goal in the 1970 World Cup Quarter Final, with Bonetti flapping helplessly as Teutonic efficiency stuffed English enthusiasm.  You hear the collective sigh of a nation’s dying hopes.  I hear grandad.  Consider any of those moments – and there were certainly enough of them – between 1967 and 1972 when the pride of England’s footballing youth took another pratfall at the feet of some jumped continental side, and Grandad’s response was always the same.  “You’d never believe it to look at them, but this is the team that won the 1942 World Cup.”

By the age of 12, I’d already committed the victorious England team to memory, as firmly enshrined in the back of my mind as the names on the fronts of my Esso World Cup coin collection – and, so far as I was concerned, as real as any of them.  It was only when I turned to the juvenile bibles that were constant reading room companions throughout those years, that doubts began to creep in.  The News of the World, Charlie Buchan’s, Topical Times, all of them told the same story.


1930 – Uruguay

1934 – Italy

1938 – Italy

1942 – competition suspended due to war. 

So, did England win the 1942 World Cup?  Actually, no.

Further evidence mounted up against grandad.  The Home Countries – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – didn’t even join FIFA, the world game’s governing body, until after the war, meaning they didn’t compete for the World Cup until 1950.  And, even if they had, it wouldn’t have made any difference.  To quote the ARP warden in Dad’s Army – compulsory viewing and hands on education at that time – “don’t you know there’s a war on?”  There was no time for playing international football in those days – hell, there was barely even time to recruit an army, which is how Hitler got to the English channel without anybody even noticing.

Finally, just around the beginning of the 1972/73 season, I plucked up the courage to confront Grandad with my findings.  He yawned and lit a cigarette.  “Of course you’re probably right,” he said.  “And I suppose Bath City were never runners-up in the Football League in 1943, either.”  Years later, I found out that they were.  But how many 12 year olds in the early 1970s knew that?

Grandad died in 1986, a few weeks short of watching the hand of Maradona deflect the ball over Peter Shilton in another World Cup travesty and, to be honest, I’d forgotten all about the 1942 World Cup by then.  Even when my grandmother handed over the boxes full of football memorabilia that he’d been hoarding since his own youth, time… work… money… my own family… meant there was no time for anything more than a cursory glance through the myriad scraps, half-hoping for pre-Great War Cup Final programmes, but knowing the nearest he ever got to Crystal Palace was a few desultory weeks watching the Southern League side scrap around Selhurst Park.

A few mountains of yellowed newspaper cuttings, torn and dog-eared London area programmes, a few Topical Times annuals with the weekly results filled in with blue pencil, some wartime single sheeters in desperate need of restoration and,  everywhere, the musty evidence of a lifetime spent in damp attics and water-filled basements.  Occasionally, late at night on a weekend, I’d pull out a box and just wade into it, patiently trying to loosen those thickly gummed pages, or peeling off acres of old, yellowed sticky tape.

That’s when I found it, on a night when it was too still to sleep, and too late to worry about trying any longer.  A folded blueish sheet of paper, printed in German and translated in pencil, with the date – MCMXLII – and event flanked between two swastikas.

I didn’t even need to look at the two team line-ups to know exactly what one of them said – and behind me, a voice I’d not heard in four years.  “Okay, smarty-pants, who thinks they know it all.  Did England win the 1942 World Cup?”

You know, it rather looks like they did.

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