Millonarios and Everton Meet Again 67 Years Later at the Florida Cup

Millonarios and Everton will play for only the second time at the Florida Cup on Sunday. The two clubs last met in July 1954, at the Temporada Internacional de Bogotá with Millonarios winning the game 1-0. Much like the Florida Cup, the Bogotá tournament held special significance during a period when clubs in Europe and South America spread the game by touring the world. The two historical clubs will face each other again at Camping World Stadium, reaching out to adoring fans traveling both near and far to see their heroes.

Throughout soccer’s history, only a handful of teams have achieved success and beauty while elevating the game’s standards of technique and strategy. Leading up to the summer of 1954, Colombia had some of the most attractive football teams in the world, and Millonarios was at the center. After launching its first professional league in 1948, the División Mayor del Fútbol Profesional Colombiano, or DIMAYOR, Colombia broke away from Adefútbol, the current amateur governing body, and received a ban from FIFA that lasted until 1954. Losing FIFA’s backing could have threatened the growth of the game in the country, but during that era, known as El Dorado, the Colombia league became lucrative for players. Free from sanctions, Colombian clubs had the flexibility to sign players from all over the world without the restrictions of transfer fees in what became an early version of open free agency.

To Millonarios’ fortune, a football player strike in Argentina coincided with the new Colombia professional league and brought a number of stars to Bogotá. Millonarios signed Adolfo Pedernera, or El Maestro, who was a five-time champion with River Plate and winner of the Copa America in 1941 and 1946 with Argentina, earning the tournament’s best player in the second victory. With Millonarios, Pedernera scored 31 goals in 88 appearances and was a player-coach from 1951-53. Millonarios also signed many of Pedernera’s River teammates, including Néstor Rossi, Julio Cozzi, and Antonio Báez, but it was the addition of his understudy who would change the world’s game over the next decade.

Alfredo Di Stéfano grew up in a suburb of Buenos Aries where he attended school with Pope Francis and learned to play football in what he called “the academy of the streets.” He made his debut for River in 1945 at the age of 19 and became River’s leading scorer in the 1947 title-winning season. The same year, he helped Argentina win the South American Championship, scoring six goals in six matches in his only appearances for his home country.

Known as La Saeta Rubio, or the blond arrow, Di Stéfano possessed speed, skill, and an intelligence in the game that allowed him to play faster than his counterparts. In Di Stéfano’s obituary in 2014, The Guardian quoted Bobby Charlton’s first impression of seeing him play in 1957. “Who is this man? He takes the ball from the goalkeeper, he tells the fullbacks what to do; wherever he is on the field he is in position to take the ball, you can see his influence in everything that is happening.”

Di Stéfano scored 90 goals in over 100 appearances for Millonarios, and the club won its first title in 1949, beating Deportivo Cali in the final with goals from Di Stéfano, Alcides Aguilera, and Pedernera. In 1951, Millonarios won the league again with 28 wins and 4 draws, losing only twice as Di Stéfano scored a league-leading 31 goals. In 1952, Di Stéfano led the club in scoring again, and Millonarios won the league as well as the Colombia Cup. That summer, Millonarios participated in a tour of Spain that ended with a 4-2 win over Real Madrid, inspiring the term Ballet Azul due to their creative, flowing style. Real Madrid came to Bogotá later that year seeking revenge, but Millonarios won both times.

The crowning achievement for Millonarios came at the Small Club World Cup in 1953. A precursor to the Intercontinental Cup, the tournament attracted the best teams from South America and Europe. After finishing runners-up the year before, Millonarios defeated River Plate, Rapid Vienna, and Espanyol to claim its first and only world championship. Di Stéfano left Colombia later that season for Real Madrid, but the club still maintained many of its stars until 1954 when the Colombian league agreed to remove its foreign players in order to be reinstated by FIFA.

With Real Madrid, Di Stéfano won eighteen Spanish trophies in eleven years, won five straight European Cups, and set the club’s scoring record with 308 goals, which stood for almost half a century until eclipsed by Raúl and Cristiano Ronaldo. In the 1960 European Cup final at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland, 127,000 spectators watched Di Stéfano score a hat-trick in a 7-3 win over former Florida Cup participant Eintracht Frankfurt. He won the Ballon d’Or in 1957 and 1959 and is considered by many retired players, among them Pelé, to be the greatest to ever play the game.

Everton, on the other hand, arrived at the Temporada Internacional de Bogotá in 1954 after climbing out of a three-year period in the English second division, finishing second in the 1953-54 season to earn promotion. That was the last time Everton have played in the second tier as the Toffees are currently the second-longest serving First Division club in England.

The prelude to Everton’s first meeting with Millonarios goes back decades before when the Toffees were at the top of English football in the early 1930s. In the 1930-31 season, Everton won the league title with Dixie Dean scoring 45 goals. In the 1933 FA Cup final against Manchester City at Wembley, Dean became the game’s first number nine as the two sides wore numbers on their jerseys in a game. Everton wore 1-11 while City wore 12-22. Everton won the game 3-0.

After Dean left in 1937, concluding a career in which he scored 383 goals in 433 games, Tommy Lawton took over his goal-scoring duties and led Everton to the championship in the 1938-39 season with 38 goals in 34 games. But three games into the next season, soccer was halted in England due to the outbreak of World War Two, and when the league resumed in 1946, Lawton was playing for Chelsea and Everton were caught in a rebuild.

From 1946-1951, Everton’s performances declined, moving from tenth to fourteenth to eighteenth, and eventually twenty-second. Jack Dodds led Everton in scoring with 36 goals in 58 games from 1946-48 and after retiring from the game, he started a new career as a scout and semi-agent, recruiting players from England to join the Bogotá clubs in the new league. Eddie Wainwright was Everton’s leading scorer after Dodds left, and John-Willie Parker led the club from 1951-1955 with 89 goals in 176 appearances, including 31 in 1953-54. Ted Sagar had been one of the mainstays in the Everton side going back to 1929 with 500 appearances. Known for his ability to defend crosses, the goalkeeper kept 120 clean sheets over 24 seasons and retired in 1953 as the oldest player to appear at 42 years and 281 days. He along with captain TG Jones helped Everton transition from the pre- to post-war eras, ensuring the club’s revival.

The club’s identity heading into the summer of 1954 can be traced to striker Dave Hickson, who scored 109 goals in 243 appearances and created his own legend during Everton’s run to the FA Cup semifinals in 1952. Hosting Manchester United in the fifth round at Goodison Park, Everton countered United’s opener before Hickson sustained a gash above his eye and was forced off. In a time before substitutes, Everton appeared headed toward defeat until five stitches and several minutes later, Hickson returned and scored the winner, sending the club into the quarterfinals where he scored another winner. Unfortunately, Everton lost to Bolton before reaching its first FA Cup final since 1933.

Everton secured their promotion with a 4-0 trouncing of Oldham in late April with two goals from Parker, one from Jones, and one from Hickson, whose goal was described in The Guardian as “much like the wild untamed rush of a runaway steer as could be imagined: an impression heightened by the way Hickson blundered through two attempts to bring him down and by the way he miskicked what proved to be a scoring shot into the net.”

During the early to mid-1950s, Everton fans packed Goodison Park every Saturday, accumulating the largest crowds in club history. After sustaining damage during the war, the first football stadium in England received government funds for repairs and welcomed a record 78,299 on September 18, 1948 for the Merseyside derby. 77,920 fans watched Everton play Manchester United in February 1953, and 76,839 attended the league game against Preston in August, a 1-0 win that pushed the Toffees to the top of the table after three games in a scene described in The Guardian as “pleasant and picturesque to the eye as, say, some old print depicting the galleries of medieval tiltyard.” 

After meeting in Bogotá, Millonarios and Everton continued their success in the decade that followed. Millonarios won the league in 1959, then added four more titles from 1961-1964. Everton progressed up the table for the next several seasons, winning the league in 1961-62, the Charity Shield the next season, and the FA Cup two years later. In Orlando, the two clubs with square off again seeking to add another trophy to their crowded cases. Will Millonarios win again or will it be Everton’s turn?

By: Greg Oldfield

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