I remember it well

The headline in The Times said it all: 'A new conception of football'. England, the inventors of the game, had never seen anything like it.

Hungary's 6-3 destruction of Walter Winterbottom's shell-shocked team at Wembley Stadium on 25 November 1953 was not only a defining moment in English football history but arguably the moment the baton passed from one sporting age to another.

As Ferenc Puskas, Nandor Hidegkuti and Sandor Kocsis passed devastating patterns around a dumbstruck England side, they did so with a style of play never seen before on these shores, dragging their opponents kicking and screaming into a new era.  Nowadays, when barely two years go by without the England national team suffering some kind of catastrophic defeat, it is hard to imagine a time when the country that gave the world the game still considered itself football's best practitioners.

Unbeaten at Wembley against countries from outside the British Isles, a record stretching back to 1863, England went into the friendly with Hungary over 60 years ago expected to win handsomely despite the absence of the brilliant forward Tom Finney.

England captain Billy Wright exchanges pennants prior to kick-off with Hungarian counterpart Ferenc Puskas

Jackie Sewell, who was the most expensive signing in British football when he joined Sheffield Wednesday from Notts County for £34,500 in March 1951, remembers the game like it was yesterday. "Of course people thought we'd win but we got taught a proper lesson that day," Sewell, one of the England team's two remaining survivors, told me. "I don't think we were that bad but they were marvellous, easily the best team I ever saw play football.  "Their movement was incredible. They just passed around us all day long. They played the little triangles, the give-and-go ones you see everyone trying to do now. But no-one did it back then, no-one I'd seen anyway."

For England, who had for years played in the WM formation - since referred to as 3-2-5 or 3-4-3 - even the way the Hungarians lined up was unfamiliar, manager Gusztav Sebes sending his team out in a 3-5-2 with the brilliant Hidegkuti as a revolutionary deep-lying striker behind Puskas and Kocsis.  Even in the days before football on television, Hungary should not have been an unknown quantity. Ranked by Fifa as the number one team in the world, they were unbeaten for nearly four years and had won Olympic gold in Helsinki in 1952.  Adapting and improving on the style of play of the great Austrian team of the 1930s, Hungary were playing a brand of Total Football made famous by Johan Cruyff and the Dutch at the 1974 World Cup before anyone had ever even heard of the phrase.

The great Sir Stanley Matthews, in the autobiography that was published just before his death in 2000, admitted England were "outpaced and outmanoeuvred" as Wembley witnessed "football history being made".  The way the final curtain was brought down on England's proud home record by a country from behind the Iron Curtain was as ruthless as it was sublime. Barely a minute had passed before Hidegkuti smashed the ball past Gil Merrick in the England goal, though Sewell did manage to slot home a leveller 15 minutes later.  "That was the only time I enjoyed any of it," said Sewell, slightly tongue in cheek. "I nipped in between two defenders to equalise but they weren't bothered, they just carried on as they were taking us apart and 13 minutes later we were 4-1 down."

Hungary were not only clinical, they were artful with it. Their third was a goal of rare beauty and mesmerising skill, the 'Galloping Major' Puskas expertly dragging the ball away from Billy Wright "with the art of a bullfighter", according to Sewell, before crashing a shot high into the roof of the net. "Wright rushed into that tackle like a man racing to the wrong fire," surmised Geoffrey Green in the Times the next day.

Puskas, who Sewell describes as "a one-legged player who could do just about anything with that left leg" and who went on to score 84 goals in 85 games for Hungary, would later star in the great Real Madrid team of the late 1950s and early 1960s, securing his place in football's hall of fame. "He was the greatest player I ever saw," added Sewell, whose admiration has not dulled over the ensuing years.  Braces for Hidegkuti and the portly Puskas stunned a packed Wembley. Stan Mortensen pulled one back before the break but England were run ragged. "We didn't say anything at half-time, we were just knackered," said Sewell. "Walter was talking tactics but I'd spent 45 minutes running after the ball and not getting it. They made us look silly."

Hidekguti completed his hat-trick after half-time and Jozsef Bozsik made it 6-2 before Alf Ramsey's penalty produced another consolation for England. When the final whistle went, Hungary had taken 35 shots compared to England's five.

Were the Hungarians of the 1950s the best football team of all time?

The impact of the defeat reached far and wide. Ramsey, England's ageing right-back that day, was opened up to a whole new world of possibilities - it was his decision to play without wingers that helped England's 'Wingless Wonders' win the World Cup on home soil in 1966. Two more future England managers were watching on from the stands - Ron Greenwood and 20-year-old Fulham forward Bobby Robson.  "We saw a style of play, a system of play that we had never seen before," said Robson years later. "All these fantastic players, they were men from Mars as far as we were concerned. The way they played, their technical brilliance and expertise - our WM formation was kyboshed in 90 minutes of football.  "The game had a profound effect, not just on myself but on all of us. That one game alone changed our thinking. We thought we would demolish this team - England at Wembley, we are the masters, and they are the pupils. It was absolutely the other way."

As if to prove their point, the rampant Hungarians demolished England 7-1 in a friendly in Budapest six months later. The old way of playing was over but a bond between the teams that would last several decades had begun.

In November 1993, the remaining survivors were invited to Budapest for a grand dinner to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Hungary's famous win. "I've never experienced the sort of camaraderie with anyone else that we had with that team," Sewell told me. "There was a terrific bond between the players and it never went away.  "We were shown around Budapest, taken to some vineyards and then plonked on a big stage with TV cameras around where they presented us with these gold cups. It was marvellous, they really looked after us - but that's the sort of people they were."  Sadly for that magical Hungarian side, they did not quite fulfil their extraordinary potential. Having obliterated the opposition by scoring 25 goals in four games to reach the 1954 World Cup final, they lost a controversial final 3-2 to West Germany despite going 2-0 ahead after eight minutes, a game the Germans still call the Miracle of Berne.

The statistics show that this was a Hungary side incomparable not only in its era but in any.  In a six-year, 50-game period, the World Cup final was their only defeat as Puskas et al won 42 games and drew seven, scoring a breath taking 215 goals along their way.  Think about that figure, 50 games with one defeat, truly inspiring.

Indeed, the Hungarians of the mid-1950s are the highest ranked team of all time. "Imagine the best team you've ever seen - that Hungarian side is easily as good, if not better," said Sewell. "It wasn't just us who were baffled by them. Everyone was."

Truly, the Magical Magyars are a team that should never be forgotten.

© Soccer Nostalgia 2017

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