For the uninitiated, the FIFA World Cup match which became known as the ‘Battle of Berne’ was the quarter-final between Hungary, a.k.a. the ‘Mighty Magyars’, and Brazil, played at the Wankdorf Stadium in Berne, Switzerland on June 27, 1954. History records that Hungary won the match 4-2, before beating Uruguay 4-2, after extra time, in the semi-final and losing 3-2 to West Germany in the final.
However, the final scoreline was no reflection of the quality of the play on the field during what was, arguably, the most eventful 90 minutes. In a match played in treacherous, rainy conditions, Hungary took an early 2-0 lead, courtesy of goals from strikers Nándor Hidegkuti and Sándor Kocsis, before Brazilian right-back Djalma Santos pulled a goal back, from the penalty spot, after 18 minutes.
The scoreline remained 2-1 until half-time but, when Hungary were awarded a penalty, scored by left-back Mihály Lantos, after an hour, all hell broke lose. The Brazilian entourage invaded the pitch and, thereafter, the match descended into a free-for-all, with cynical, professional fouls and violent conduct very much the order of the day. Brazilian striker pulled another goal back after 65 minutes but, six minutes later, Hungarian midfielder József Bozsik and Brazilian left-back Nilton Santos came to blows after a foul by the latter and both were sent off. Brazilian striker was also dismissed for violent conduct after 71 minutes.
Kocsis scored his second goal of the game after 88 minutes to seal a 4-2 victory for Hungary but, by that stage, the final score was almost immaterial. After the final whistle, the violence continued, on the pitch, in the tunnel and even in the dressing rooms but, remarkably, FIFA took no disciplinary action against either country.
The man charged with maintaining order on that fateful day was Yorkshire-born Arthur Ellis. He would later become a familiar face on the BBC television game show ‘It’s A Knockout’ but, at that time, was one of the most famous referees in England. Having awarded 42 free kicks and two penalties, and issued four cautions and three dismissals, Ellis said, ‘Whether politics and religion had something to do with it I don’t know, but they behaved like animals. It was a disgrace. It was a horrible match….My only thought was that I was determined to finish it.’