The English national team had suffered just one defeat on home soil against foreign opposition, which had been in 1949 against the Republic of Ireland.
This had created a climate of complacency; the English Football Association (FA) simply assumed that as the originators of the game, English players were technically and physically superior to their foreign counterparts. In addition, coaching and tactical advances from abroad were ignored, with the English national side and the majority of clubs persisting with the outdated WM formation. England did have a national manager—Walter Winterbottom—but he had no prior managerial experience in professional football. His duties included not only managing the national team, but also developing the overall standard of coaching in England—a vast remit that indicated either naivety or a lack of interest on the part of the FA. Furthermore, Winterbottom did not pick the England squad: that remained with the FA's selection committee, who frequently displayed little or no consistency in their choice of player.
The Hungary national team was a team creation of the Deputy Sports Minister Gusztáv Sebes in an endeavour to further sporting excellence in communist Hungary. Innovations included a precursor to "Total Football" several years ahead of the Dutch and the introduction of a deep-lying centre-forward position, occupied by Nándor Hidegkuti. The Hungarians had seen the virtue of creating fitness regimes as well as a club-like policy at an international level to give impetus to innumerable practice sessions; in addition, most of their players played for the State-sponsored Army team Honvéd, which ensured that each member of the team was familiar with the style and strengths of each of his teammates.
The British press referred to it as the "Match of the Century"—the originators of the game, against the finest team in the world at that time.