The first FIFA World Cup
The host is chosen
The day before the 1929 World Trade Fair in Barcelona opened, FIFA held its annual congress in the city with the 23 nations gathering to appoint the host nation for the first World Cup. Six countries had expressed a desire to host the tournament, with Spain and Italy having gathered significant support, while senior figures within FIFA were hoping that Paris would emerge as the preferred choice.
The idea that the tournament would be staged in one city, as in the Olympic football tournament, had yet to be questioned. Behind the scenes, a Uruguayan diplomat called Enrique Buero had persuaded a number of Central European nations to back Montevideo. Italy, realising it had been outmanoeuvred withdrew “in order to demonstrate its feelings of sympathy with Uruguay, where so many Italians worked and played football.”
The Netherlands, Hungary, Sweden and Spain quickly followed suite and Uruguay was appointed by acclamation. The date for the tournament was set from 15 July to 15 August 1930.
In a report sent back to Uruguay, Buero stated "I must tell you that the participation of teams from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Austria and Italy can be considered as certain. France, Belgium and Holland are probable. I think it will also be possible to include Portugal as well as the British teams.”
Over the following year Buero, who also became chairman of the World Cup organising committee, would be a very busy man trying to make that happen.
The Centenario – a miraculous apparition
Friday, 13 June 1930 All aboard!
The Mexicans were the first of the 13 teams to start their journey to the World Cup having travelled by boat from Veracruz to Hoboken, New Jersey via Havana. On the afternoon of 13 June they boarded the SS Munargo (pictured above) and were joined by the USA team. Peru had the longest journey of the South American teams, travelling by boat from Lima to Valparaiso in Chile, and then from Santiago to Buenos Aires over the Trans-Andean railway, before the final leg by boat over the River Plate to Montevideo.
The Romanian team that gathered at Bucharest’s Gara de Nord for the 8am departure to Genoa on the morning of 17 June was perhaps the least experienced of the four European teams travelling to Uruguay, but they were in good voice and kept their fellow travellers entertained with their enthusiastic singing on the 34-hour journey.
Worried about the sea journey across the Atlantic the football association had asked to take more players in case of sea sickness as none of them had been on a boat before. Awaiting them in Genoa was an ocean liner that was to become one of the most famous, if unlikely, symbols of the first World Cup – the SS Conte Verde.
This 13-day journey across the Atlantic would be the Conte Verde’s most famous taking it from Genoa to Villefranche-sur-Mer where it would pick up the French team, FIFA’s Jules Rimet and the Hungarian Maurice Fischer as well as the World Cup trophy.
Then on to Barcelona where the Belgians were waiting, to Rio de Janeiro where the Brazilians would board and then to Montevideo.
On 1 July the Munargo docked in Montevideo in what was described by the USA delegation head Wilfred Cummings “as a heavy downpour, it being the 92nd consecutive day of rain.” He was delighted by the welcome the Americans and Mexicans were given. “Notwithstanding the rain, a very large and enthusiastic crowd cheered our arrival from the docks and packed our lane of auto travel along the streets to the Florida hotel, a battery of cameramen, cartoonists and sportswriters dogging each and every individual of our party seeking first-hand information.”
Three days after the Americans and Mexicans had arrived, the SS Conte Verde docked in Montevideo and another huge welcoming party gathered at the docks to welcome the European teams although there was considerable anger in Uruguay against those Europeans who had not made the journey.
The tournament begins
The group stage
|13 July||FRA||4 - 1||MEX||Summary|
|15 July||ARG||1 - 0||FRA||Summary|
|16 July||CHI||3 - 0||MEX||Summary|
|19 July||CHI||1 - 0||FRA||Summary|
|19 July||ARG||6 - 3||MEX||Summary|
|22 July||ARG||3 - 1||CHI||Summary|
Saturday 26 July 1930
Agentina 6 - 1 United States
Broken bones and a bottle of chloroform
After their comprehensive wins over Paraguay and Belgium, the professionals of the USA were being touted as potential winners, not just over Argentina in the semi-final, but of the tournament as a whole. The 6-1 defeat at the hands of the Argentines would seem to have made a mockery of that, but it wasn’t quite so clear cut.
According to the head of the US delegation Wilfred Cummings in his report of the tournament, the crowd for the semi-final numbered 112,000, with everyone, fans and players alike frisked for knives and guns on entry. A military escort had ensured the teams could get through the thronging crowd outside the stadium and as usual the Americans made their way onto the pitch singing the Stein Song.
Sunday 27 July 1930
Uruguay 6 - 1 Yugoslavia
Uruguay into their stride
As with the semi-final the previous day, the match between Uruguay and Yugoslavia was not as clear cut as the 6-1 scoreline suggests.
The biggest crowd of the whole tournament crammed into the Centenario but were shocked into silence when Yugoslavia took an early lead. Uruguay fought back and were soon ahead, but the Yugoslavs had a goal disallowed which would have levelled the scores and they then complained bitterly that the ball had crossed the line (kicked back into touch by a policeman said some) before Peregrino Anselmo scored Uruguay’s third.
From then on it was plain sailing. All six Uruguayan goals came from crosses with Pedro Cea adding two more to the equaliser he had scored, the first of only three players to score a hat trick in a World Cup semi-final. After their timid opening game, the Uruguayans were now into their stride.
Champions of the world!
Wednesday 30 July 1930
Uruguay 4 - 2 Argentina
The atmosphere before the game was tense. Luis Monti received a death threat and spectators were once again closely searched before they entered the ground.
Argentina had used more players than any other team during the finals – 21 of their 22 with only defender Edmundo Piaggio missing out – and they made two changes for the Final, Arico Suárez in for Rodolfo Orlandini and young Francisco Varallo back in the side instead of Alejandro Scopelli.
Uruguay made just one change. Peregrino Anselmo excused himself with an injury – or was it nerves – so in came ‘Manco’ Castro. The first dispute Langenus had to deal with was the ball for the game with both sides preferring their own. Both had a half each.
Uruguay took an early lead with the honour of scoring the first-ever World Cup Final goal falling to Pablo Dorado. But by half-time Argentina were 2-1 up, the equaliser came from Peucelle while the second goal was scored by Guillermo Stabile, his eighth of the tournament, though Uruguay claimed offside.
In the second half Uruguay switched tactics. The short passing and clever patterns weaved in the first half were replaced by a more direct game in the second. Once again Cea scored an important equaliser while Santos Iriarte scored the winner from preposterously long range.
Varallo, who would go on to be the longest lived of all the players at the first World Cup, hit a post before Castro scored in the last minute to make sure for the hosts.
Thursday 31 July 1930
The Duillio sets sail
“My dear President. The 'World Cup' tournament ends in apotheosis. My thoughts at this hour evoke the day in 1924, at Colombes which are similar to the ones we have just experienced, and where, for the first time, the Uruguayan team was crowned world champion.
As today, an unexpected sunshine dominated the party as the flag of the Oriental Republic was hoisted to the top of the Olympic flagpole amidst the applause of an equally joyful and enthusiastic crowd. The continuation of the success has made the history of your national team a true epic: it authorises you to engrave on your emblems the three names - Colombes, Amsterdam and Montevideo - as the names of the great victories.”
Early in the morning some of the teams set off for home although the Belgian, French and Romanian players were kept waiting on the quay as the SS Duillio arrived a day late full of disappointed Argentine fans who had missed the game due to the fog.
If Jules Rimet had hoped that the medals made by Abel Lafleur would reach Montevideo before the end of the tournament, he was to be disappointed. Indeed, it wasn’t until three and a half months later that Enrique Buero brought them in person from Paris to Montevideo.
They were finally presented to the players at a ceremony at the headquarters of the Uruguayan football association on 11 November. It was the final act as the curtain came down on the first World Cup.
The legacy of Jules Rimet
It hadn’t been the easiest of births and it certainly hadn’t been a financial bonanza – that would come later. But the 1930 World Cup was a significant turning point in the history of association football. First and foremost, it proved that a world championship could be staged outside of the confines of the Olympic Games. Football was the first to try and it didn’t break FIFA as many thought it might.
Just as importantly it set in motion the process of breaking down the barriers between the different classes of players – amateurs, professionals and those in-between. There were no professionals at the 1930 World Cup apart from the Americans, but that was not the point. The dogma that was to divide sport for decades to come, no longer defined football. There were to be no barriers to entry at the World Cup, something that the devoutly amateur IOC would not fully confront at the Olympics for another half century.
And that, in short, was the genius - and the legacy - of Jules Rimet.