TEAM USA 1 ENGLAND 3 – US Bicentennial Tournament – JFK Stadium, Philadelphia – 31st May 1976

Gerry Francis gatecrashes a photograph of two legends – http://www.phillysoccerpage.net

 

The final match of the tournament to celebrate 200 years of US independence saw the host nation face up to the Mother Country from which they had fought a war of Independence in 1776, in the city where their freedom from the British Empire was officially signed.

Fittingly for a country which on its most iconic landmark asks the world to “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, Team USA was not a side made up of US nationals, but was a collection of footballing immigrants, drawn towards the States by the fledgling, and highly glamorous, NASL. With the US national side considered far too weak to give anyone a decent game, the team was supplemented by the stars of the domestic league. It meant that Don Revie’s side would face a collection of household names such as Pele, Mike England, Tommy Smith and Giorgio Chinaglia, as well as a ragtag collection of  journeymen from the Football League like Dave Clements and Stuart Scullion. Prehaps most incongruous of all, England’s greatest ever player, Bobby Moore would take to the field against the country he had led to the World Cup just ten years earlier.

For England, this was the last chance to tune up before the vital World Cup qualifier against Finland the following week, and that meant that Don Revie selected a pretty much full strength side, hoping to gain some confidence and get some shooting practice against the scratch side opposing them. Only Phil Thompson, Mick Channon and Trevor Brooking remained from the side that started in the win over Italy. Kevin Keegan returned to the side which was skippered by Gerry Francis. However the match was not deemed to be a full international, and no caps were awarded. England would also be wearing an unfamiliar yellow shirt for only the fourth time in their history, and the first in the Admiral era.

ITV had coverage of the game, which kicked off at 5pm in the UK, but chose not to show the match live, instead showing highlights later that evening. Attendance at the JFK Stadium was poor, unsurprising that just across the street the Philadelphia Phillies were playing a double-header against the Chicago Cubs, the national pastime proving to be a far bigger draw than this still alien sport.

It was Team America that had the first chance of the game, with Stuart Jupp crossing from the left for Pele who sliced an effort wide of the goal. England responded through Trevor Cherry, the Leeds man firing a shot just wide from 25 yards out.

The first clear-cut chance fell to Mick Channon after some nice play down the right hand side by Keegan, the Liverpool man crossing into the area, where the ball was flicked on for Channon to meet with a diving header which was well held by Bob Rigby in the Team America goal.

Rigby was tested again moments later by Francis, the England skipper trying a trademark long-range effort which was straight at the keeper. The game though was not the one way traffic expected and Pele tested Ray Clemence with a 20 yard free kick, which forced Clemence to push away at full stretch.

Brian Moore in the commentary box for ITV was relishing the opportunity to emphasise the name of Team America’s winger Julio Veee, particularly when he made an impressive 60 yard run which drove him into England’s penalty area. However attacks from the home side were sporadic as England continued to pepper the Team America goal.

Trevor Brooking was unlucky to see a 25 yard effort deflected behind for a corner and then US keeper Bob Rigby found himself dislodging the goal posts from their moorings as he backpedalled to deal with an overhit cross from Francis.

England finally took the lead on 24 minutes. Keith Eddy was penalised for a challenge on Brooking, 25 yards out from the Team America goal just to the left of the penalty area D. The West Ham man rolled the free kick to Kevin Keegan who drilled a low strike into the bottom corner of the net, a goal which bore an uncanny resemblance to his UEFA Cup clinching goal against Bruges a few weeks earlier.

England were very much on the front foot now, and Stuart Pearson went close to making it 2-0 when he headed just wide from a cross by the increasingly influential Brooking. England did double the lead on the half hour mark, Keegan again the scorer this time turning in a pass from Channon.

The home side still retained a threat, as you would expect from any side which contained Pele, and it was the Brazilian legend who went close to pulling a goal back, forcing Clemence into another fine save as he turned the ball around the post.

There was another real scare for the English moments later. Mick Mills was adjudged to have brought down a charging Chinaglia, despite appearing to have won the ball. The decision would have seen an instant red card in the modern game as the Italian was clean through on goal. Unsurprisingly it was Pele who took the free kick, getting the ball up and over the wall, but once again Clemence produced a superb save at full stretch to deny Team America.

England had one last chance before the break, Brooking capping an impressive first half display by driving into the American penalty area before feeding Pearson who put the ball over the crossbar.

England put the game to bed just four minutes into the second half as Gerry Francis made it 3-0 , collecting a long ball, rounding Rigby in the Team America goal and rolling the ball into the net.

England had chances to extend the lead as the game wore on and played some lovely football at times. More neat build up play saw Keegan create an opportunity for Channon, but the Southampton striker fired wide from the edge of the area.

However it would be Team America who would have the better chances in the closing portion of the match. Pele was once again close with a free kick, firing just wide from 35 yards out. Moments later Clemence was again forced into action as Chinaglia latched onto a long ball over the top and outmuscled Brian Greenhoff only to be denied by the onrushing keeper who got out well to block the shot.

It was turning into the Chinaglia v Clemence show as the Liverpool keeper produced another good save to deny the Italian, positioning himself perfectly to clutch an effort fired straight at him.

Chances were few and far between for England but they should have gone 4-0 up when Keegan played in Francis who was left one on one with Rigby. but the skipper lost control of the ball as he rounded him and allowed the keeper to get back and grab the ball.

The hosts finally got the reward their 2nd half performance deserved when they scored their first goal of the tournament. Chinaglia drove forward from midfield and with a clever spin rolled the ball into the path of substitute Stewart Scullion, a Scot who had plied his trade with Watford before joining the Tampa Bay Rowdies, who drilled the ball low and hard past Clemence from the edge of the area.

The goal lifted the home side and Clemence made one more stunning save before the final whistle. A Scullion cross was only half cleared by Mills towards another substitute Dave Kawalek who hit a superb volley from the edge of the box which the keeper held at full stretch.

The final whistle brought to an end a pretty successful tournament for England. Brazil won the competition, sealing the deal with a 4-1 win over Italy, but Don Revie was satisfied with how his team had performed. Speaking to ITV’s John Brackley on the pitch after the match the England manager declared he was happy that “we’ve moulded together as a side.” 

And that was the purpose of the trip after all. With a World Cup qualifier coming up against Finland and a psychological blow struck over the Italians, England looked ready for the road to Argentina.

 

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