10th FIFA Congress, Copenhagen 1913. Group picture.

1904 - The Foundation of FIFA

1900, Plan of Paris, France. At 229 rue Saint-Honoré FIFA was founded.
1900, Plan of Paris, France.

The founders may have dreamed about it, but when FIFA was founded in 1904 nobody could have imagined the role the association would play in the sporting world in the future. The foundation of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association took place on 21 May 1904 at 229 rue Saint-Honoré, the headquarters of the Union of French Athletic Sports Societies (French: Union des sociétés françaises de sports athlétiques (USFSA)) in Paris.

Although the address in the first arrondissement of the French capital might have suggested grand ambitions, FIFA’s origins were in fact very humble. There were just six people present to witness the birth of FIFA in a small backroom at the USFSA. The picture above shows the participants of the 10th FIFA congress in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1913. It is the oldest documentation of FIFA that we know of and not only features several of FIFA's founders, but already shows how large the association grew in less than ten years.

Paris, La rue Saint-Honoré
Paris, La rue Saint-Honoré

Frenchman Alphonse Fringnet welcomed the five delegates - fellow countrymen Robert Guérin and André Espir, as well as the three foreigners, the Swiss Victor Schneider, Ludvig Sylow from Denmark and CAW Hirschman from the Netherlands. The Football Association in London, the world’s leading body in association football and the founder of the game, sent its apologies for being absent. The Belgian duo of Louis Mühlinghaus and Max Kahn arrived a day late after missing the train from Brussels, while Germany’s Gustav Manning never got there after missing the ferry from England. But it is with Hirschman that the story of the creation of FIFA must start.

First steps towards an international federation

Two years earlier, on 8 May 1902, CAW Hirschman had posted a letter in Amsterdam addressed to Frederick Wall, the secretary of The Football Association in London. In it, Hirschman expressed the desire to create an international federation. It was a letter that was to change the history of the game, setting off a chain reaction that over the next decade redrew the map and structures of football around the world.


Hirschman received a reply from Wall that his suggestions would be put to the International Football Association Board (IFAB) at the next meeting on 16th June 1902.

Excerpt of the minutes from the IFAB meeting of 16 June 1902

These excerpt of the minutes from the IFAB meeting of 16 June 1902, show that Hirschman's letter had in fact been read to the IFAB and a copy was send to the associations of Scotland, Ireland and Wales. But then the trail went cold.

It wasn’t until April 1903 that The FA contacted Hirschman again with the news that they were planning to arrange an international conference. In the intervening year Hirschman had approached the secretaries of the recently formed football associations in Europe.

As the game began to spread inexorably beyond the shores of the United Kingdom, an increasing number of international club games were being played and it was becoming apparent to players on the continent that an international federation would be useful to control the process and to ensure uniformity, especially of the Laws of the Game.

The scene is set

The national teams of Belgium and France in 1904

On 13 January 1904 Robert Guérin, the secretary of the French USFSA, sent out a letter with draft regulations for an international federation, drawn up in conjunction with CAW Hirschman, Louis Mühlinghaus and the secretary of the DFB (German FA), Dr Ernst Karding.

Over the next four months, letters were exchanged in the hope of organising a congress to establish such a federation. An unsuccessful attempt had been made in August 1903 and fearing another failure, Guérin sent a letter on 26 April 1904 proposing the 21, 22 and 23 May in Paris.

The proposal gained impetus when a France team organised by Guérin’s USFSA travelled to Brussels to play an international match on 1 May 1904 against a Belgian team organised by Mühlinghaus’s UBSSA (pictured above). The 3-3 draw was the first international match played by both nations.

Though not the first to be played outside of the United Kingdom the meeting gave the final impetus for the congress three weekends later. Frederick Wall sent a letter indicating that although he was unable to attend, The Football Association would be organising the long-promised conference at the annual England v Scotland match – on 1 April 1905.

Pioneers? We didn't want to start a big sports movement. We wanted to play football, no more and no less.

Dr Ernst Karding
Secretary of the DFB and one of the prime movers behind the founding of FIFA.

21 May 1904 FIFA is created

Two years after CAW Hirschman had sent his famous letter to the Football Association, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association – FIFA – finally saw the light of day.

Page of french daily 'Tous les Sports' from 28 May 1904 describing the founding of FIFA and its articles.
Page of french daily 'Tous les Sports' from 28 May 1904 describing the founding of FIFA and its articles.

At the three-day congress held on Saturday 21 May, Sunday 22 May and the morning of Monday 23 May 1904 the initial five delegates – Robert Guérin and André Espir from France, Ludvig Sylow from Denmark, Switzerland’s Victor Schneider and CAW Hirschman from the Netherlands – were joined by Louis Mühlinghaus and Max Kahn on the Sunday.

All seven were present on the third day to sign the final version of the ‘Treaty’, as it was referred to. Perhaps the most notable provision in the treaty was article nine which gave FIFA the sole right to organise an international championship. And a copy was given to each association to take back for ratification. Alas, there are no surviving copies.

As the congress coincided with the DFB’s annual meeting in Kassel, Ernst Karding couldn’t make it and both of his replacements failed to arrive on time. So, despite doing much of the groundwork Germany had to adhere by telegram. Two other organisations were represented by proxy - Espir acting for Carlos Padros of Madrid FC, while Sylow represented one of the two bodies vying for control of football in Sweden.

The aftermath

According to the words of Belgium’s Baron Édouard de Laveleye, for the first year FIFA existed on paper only. “Nothing serious in association football could be undertaken without the agreement, support and even cooperation of the mother and creator of the sport, Great Britain.”

Laveleye, president of the Belgian association, was given the task of getting The Football Association in London on board while Robert Guérin let it be known that he was ready to step aside. “I understood that the right of the presidency should go to The Football Association of England,” he wrote.

Daniel Woolfall, the Honorary Treasurer of The Football Association, pictured after becoming the 2nd President of FIFA in June 1906. He served until his death in 1918 when he was replaced as President of FIFA by Jules Rimet.
Daniel Woolfall pictured after becoming the 2nd President of FIFA in June 1906.

And so on 1 April 1905 Laveleye led a delegation of 14 people from nine countries to the conference organised by The FA at the Crystal Palace in London. The English were persuaded to join FIFA and affiliated officially on 26 June 1905. FIFA was now at the head of European football and would soon take the lead in world football, although the International Board (IFAB) retained control of the Laws of the Game.

Thus, wrote Laveleye, “the embryo of FIFA had taken shape, which in a very short time was to become the fountainhead of an organisation of which the president can now say that the sun never sets.”

At the second FIFA Congress, two months after the Crystal Palace conference, Laveleye was appointed as the first honorary member of FIFA in gratitude. At the third FIFA Congress, in 1906, Daniel Woolfall replaced Guérin as president, while CAW Hirschman took over as secretary. FIFA was now set up for a period of rapid expansion.

The second edition of the official FIFA Bulletin and drawings of the seven FIFA founders in the exhibition of the FIFA Museum.

The Founders

A drawing of CAW Hirschman (NED) 1877-1951

CAW Hirschman (NED) 1877-1951

To start with, it’s never Cornelius Hirschman... always CAW Hirschman. Born in 1877, Hirschman was a precocious 25-year-old when he wrote to The Football Association in London proposing the creation of an international federation and an international championship. it is a testament to his perseverance that he would be there at the birth of both.

Drawing of Robert Guérin (FRA) 1876-1952

Robert Guérin (FRA) 1876-1952

Robert Guérin was FIFA’s first President and at just 28 when he was appointed at the first FIFA Congress in 1904. He remains the youngest to have held the position. Born in 1876 in Reims he attained degrees in Law and Engineering although his chosen career was as a journalist.

Drawing of Ludvig Sylow (DEN) 1861-1933

Ludvig Sylow (DEN) 1861-1933

Of the seven delegates at the first FIFA Congress, Denmark’s Ludvig Sylow was by far the elder statesman. At 42, he was the only one of the founders born before association football had been codified. An early member of Københavns BK, he played for Denmark’s oldest club for a number of years before becoming its president.

A drawing of André Espir (FRA) c1878-unknown

André Espir (FRA) c1878-unknown

André Espir was one of two French delegates at the founding of FIFA in 1904, representing not just the USFSA but also Carlos Padros, a member of the Madrid Football Club who was trying to establish an association in Spain. Espir, who hailed from Alsace, was an all-round sportsman who excelled at athletics, rugby and football but who also took part in cycling, swimming and horse riding!

Drawing of Victor Schneider (SUI) 1876-1948

Victor Schneider (SUI) 1876-1948

If all had gone to plan, Victor Schneider would not have been a founding father of FIFA. A congress to create an international federation had been organised for August 1903, but it was cancelled at the last moment due to a dire lack of participants. However, no-one told the Swiss delegate, a Mr Mieklinghaus, who dutifully arrived in Paris. Nine months later it was Victor Schneider who boarded the train from Geneva to Paris to secure his place in the annals of football history.

Drawing of Louis Mühlinghaus (BEL) 1870-1915

Louis Mühlinghaus (BEL) 1870-1915

Louis Mühlinghaus was the second oldest delegate at the founding of FIFA in 1904 and was a natural choice to be appointed as the first secretary-treasurer. It was a position that the 34-year-old also held at the Union Belge des Sociétés de Sports Athlétiques (UBSSA) in Brussels having been appointed on that body’s foundation in 1895. Along with CAW Hirschman, Ernst Karding and Robert Guérin, Mühlinghaus was a key figure in pushing for the creation of an international federation.

Drawing of Max Kahn (BEL) 1871-1959

Max Kahn (BEL) 1871-1959

Max Kahn was one of the most prominent sportsmen in Belgium during the final decade of the 19th century. He excelled at both athletics and football and was Belgian champion at the 110 meters hurdles five times and at high jump once. Because of his speed he was initially an outfield player in football but towards the end of his career he became a goalkeeper.