With this summer’s World Cup in Brazil in full swing, the official Chelsea website takes a look at our players who have represented their country on the global stage in previous tournaments.
Prior to 1998, when France – including Frank Leboeuf and the recently-acquired Marcel Desailly – lifted the trophy on home soil, nine Chelsea players had played at a World Cup, dating back to Roy Bentley’s appearance in 1950.
The increasingly cosmopolitan nature of both England’s top flight and, indeed, our squad, meant there were no fewer than 10 Blues that played in France in 1998. That number dropped to five in 2002 but has risen sharply in the past two tournaments, with 15 and 12 players appearing in 2006 and 2010 respectively.
In the first part of our feature, we focus on those Blues that appeared in the 1950 and 1958 World Cups, beginning in Brazil, where just like this year the host nation were favourites to lift with the trophy…
World War Two had put a halt to the planned World Cups of 1942 and 1946, and in the wake of so much devastation it understandably took FIFA plenty of time and effort to get their show back on the road. In the end only 13 teams competed in Brazil. France, India, Scotland and Turkey all withdrew at late notice, while Germany and Japan, still under occupation, were banned from entering.
England were making their World Cup debut, having left FIFA in 1928. Hopes were high. Their squad included superstars of the day: Stanley Matthews, Billy Wright, Tom Finney, Jackie Milburn and our very own Roy Bentley. The then 26-year-old (pictured above left with Stan Mortensen in pre-tournament training) had just enjoyed his most productive season at Stamford Bridge, in terms of goals anyway, netting 23 in all competitions. He had also helped lead Chelsea to the FA Cup semi-finals, the first time we had reached that stage of the competition since 1932.
A year after the Superga air disaster, in which the whole Torino team were killed when their plane crashed, Italy chose to go to Brazil by boat. England flew, with the 31-hour marathon including stops in Paris, Lisbon, Dakar and Recife. On landing in Rio three men with gas masks stepped on board and sprayed the plane with pesticide.
Despite the suspect conditions in Brazil, which included rat-infested dressing rooms, England got their maiden World Cup campaign off to a winning start, beating Chile 2-0 at a half-empty and half-built Maracana. Bentley led the line in a WM formation that was effectively 3-4-3, and our striker went very close to scoring with a trademark header. The Times reported that ‘Mannion, Mortensen, Bentley, and Wright were prominent for England, who had most of the game territorially, and were the better team.’
The shock of the tournament, at least until Uruguay defeated Brazil in what was the equivalent of the final, followed next. It wasn’t pretty for England. In an old bullring in Belo Horizonte they lost 1-0 to the United States, whose part-time players had lost their last seven international matches, dating back to the 1934 World Cup. Despite plenty of chances for England, including for Bentley, who moved to the right wing in the second half, they could not find a way past the inspired American keeper. Winning goalscorer Joe Gaetjens is pictured below being carried off the pitch by excitable fans.
‘Probably never before has an England team played so badly,’ mused The Times reporter.
Bentley was not picked for England’s final game, a 2-0 loss against Spain which signalled the end of their involvement in the tournament, which Uruguay would thrillingly go on to win.
Bentley nor any of his club team-mates were selected in England’s final World Cup squad in 1954 (though Ken Armstrong was put on standby), so Peter Brabrook was the next Chelsea representative at the tournament, in Sweden in 1958. Along with Peter Sillett, Brabrook was on the bench for England’s three group games, which all ended in draws.
However our forward (pictured below left playing for Chelsea in 1958), who made over 250 appearances for the Blues during his seven-year stay at the Bridge, was drafted into the starting line-up by manager Walter Winterbottom for England’s play-off with the USSR. Tied on points in the group, the result would determine which side advanced to the quarter-final stage.
A frustrating evening in Gothenburg ensued, with Brabrook the most unfortunate not to score, hitting woodwork twice and having a goal disallowed.
‘Brabrook showed in passing spasms some of his purple patches that the customers of Stamford Bridge know,’ wrote The Times reporter at the game.
‘I can scarcely bear to think of those shots from Brabrook which rebounded from Yashin’s posts, nor easily forget the way he flashed home a left-foot shot gloriously but only after he had flicked the ball down in full flight with his hand. If only he could have done that some other time legitimately.’
The 1-0 loss spelled the end of England’s aspirations in Sweden. It would be 12 years before a Chelsea player featured at a World Cup again.
By Rupert Cane