BELO HORIZONTE Brazil (Reuters) - As if early exit from the World Cup in Brazil was not depressing enough for England, now they return to the scene of their infamous loss to a team of American amateurs six decades ago.
It was in Belo Horizonte, where the current team play their last Group D match against Costa Rica on Tuesday, that then much-feared England lost 1-0 in 1950 to a feisty, blue-collar U.S. side in one of the World Cup's greatest ever upsets.
"The English were known as the kings of football at the time, so it was a really black day for them," said U.S. author Geoffrey Douglas, whose 1996 book "The Game Of Their Lives" is the definitive version of what happened on June 29, 1950.
"I think it would be rubbing salt in the wound to remind today's team of what happened then," he told Reuters, referring to the English gloom after losses to Italy and Uruguay rendered their upcoming game in Belo Horizonte a meaningless farewell.
So cocky were the 1950 England team before the game at the Independence Stadium versus the 500-1 against supposed nobodies from the U.S. that they left out wing wizard Stanley Matthews to be fresh for more illustrious opponents later on.
The American lineup included a postman, hearse-driver, wallpaperer and various construction workers.
In front of about 10,000 spectators, the match at first appeared to be going to script as a talented team boasting the likes of Stanley Mortensen, Alf Ramsey and Tom Finney bombarded the U.S. goal with six shots in the opening 12 minutes.
Then, in the 37th minute, the unthinkable happened.
New York dishwasher Joe Gaetjens, playing up front for the Americans, dived for a cross and saw the ball glance off his head for a 1-0 lead. His team mates could barely believe it.
Some said the goal was a fluke, coming off the back of Gaetjens' head without him realising. It did not matter.
"The English got a little mad about that," chuckled team mate and defender Harry Keough, reliving the moment in a FIFA film. (To see it, click: http://bit.ly/1npejb)
The rest of the game was backs to the wall for the Americans, with goalkeeper Frank Borghi coming time-and-again to their rescue. The mainly Brazilian crowd got behind the underdogs and, amazingly, they somehow held on.
"They (the English) dominated the game completely... maybe 85-90 percent," Keough said. "England were much better than us but that was one day that doesn't happen very often."
There was no live coverage in those days, so when the New York Times received a wire with the result, a disbelieving editor assumed it was a mistake and left it out.
Legend also has it that some London media assumed a digit was missing and 0-1 actually meant 10-1 to England.
Instead of returning as heroes after the World Cup, the Americans had a quiet homecoming to their wives and friends. Some were docked pay and one apparently lost his job due to their absence in Brazil.
"It was just so not on the map here," added Douglas, an adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts.
"These guys for thirty or so years after the game never heard anything more about it. They were blue-collar guys who played soccer at the weekend. They just played for pride and fun, not the six- or seven-figure salaries of today."
Call it sour grapes, but there was controversy after the match. England first claimed they had a goal unfairly disallowed, then complained three of the Americans did not have citizenship, including the Haitian-born goalscorer Gaetjens.
While the United States have come a long way since those days, they remain outsiders at this year's World Cup despite a cracking start with a 2-1 win over Ghana in Group G. They face tough games with Portugal on Sunday and Germany on Thursday.
Although most football fans will know the 1950 tournament for Uruguay's famous win over hosts Brazil at the Maracana that secured the trophy, Americans will perhaps be seeking inspiration from a certain dishwasher and his pals.
(Additional reporting by Girish Gupta in Caracas; esditing by Ken Ferris)