1904 - The Foundation of FIFA
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.
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
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
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.
A letter to nine organisations
The letter was send to nine organisations controlling association football in Europe. They consist of the following:
Union Belge des Sociétés de Sports Athlétiques (Belgium)
Nederlandsche Voetbal Bond (Netherlands)
Deutscher Fussball Bund (Germany)
Association Suisse de Football (Switzerland)
Oesterreische Fussball Union (Austria)
Svenska Bollspels forbundet (Sweden)
Association Madrilène des Clubs de Football (Madrid / Spain)
Federazione Italiana del Football (Italy)
Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques (France)
The letter included a draft treaty and suggested a congress at Easter on 3-4 April 1904 in Brussels to coincide with the Van der Straeten Cup won by Racing Club Brussels over Union St Gilloise.
Belgium and France made their international debuts in a match in Brussels. Just 13 nations had made their international debut before the founding of FIFA with only seven matches having been played on mainland Europe. There had been just four in the Americas.
1872 (30 November) Scotland and England
1876 (25 March) Wales v Scotland
1882 (18 February) Ireland v England
1885 (28 November) USA and Canada
1902 (20 July) Uruguay v Argentina
1902 (12 October) Austria v Hungary
1903 (5 April) Bohemia v Hungary
1904 (1 May) Belgium v France
1904 (21 May) Formation of FIFA
1905 (12February) Switzerland v France
1905 (30 April) Netherlands v Belgium
1908 (5 April) Germany v Switzerland
1908 (12 July) Sweden and Norway
1908 (9 October) Denmark v France
1910 (15 May) Italy v France
1879 - unknown
Dr Ernst Karding
Dr Ernst Karding was one of the prime movers behind the founding of FIFA. At just 24 at the time of FIFA’s founding he had been instrumental in drafting the regulations for the first congress, drawing on the experience of having been involved in the creation of the DFB four years earlier.
Whereas the launch of the modern Olympics had been imbued with all the pomp, philosophy, athleticism and romance of ancient Greece, FIFA’s foundation reflected the youth and enthusiasm of Karding and his fellow association secretaries in north-west Europe. Robert Guérin, André Espir, CAW Hirschman and Victor Schneider were all in their twenties - and like Karding all of them just wanted to play football. “In order not to have to debate before every game how the ‘off-side’ rule should be applied, we had to have a superior body that determined this with general validity.”
That was Karding’s motivation for both the creation of the DFB and FIFA. However, the final dates chosen for the first FIFA Congress presented Karding with a problem. It was being staged at the same time as the annual DFB meeting being held in Kassel, and as secretary he could not be in both places at the same time. So, despite having done much of the groundwork Karding would not be there with his fellow secretaries to witness the creation of FIFA.
7 August 1903
A congress is announced
On 7 August 1903 a newspaper report in Holland’s De Telegraaf stated that a congress to set up an international federation would be held in Paris from 14-17 August 1903. It failed to materialise.
International Football Federation
Reports have appeared in several French sports newspapers and also in the latest issue of Het Sportblad to the effect that a congress is to be held from 14 to 17 August in Paris on the premises of the Union des Sociétés française de Sports Athlétiques, the governing body of French amateur sport, with a view to setting up an “International Football Federation”. The agenda of this meeting is as follows:
1. Election of an international executive.
2. Drafting of an agreement between the European football associations (for association football only).
3. Discussions about the organisation of an “International Cup”.
4. Adoption of an association football code. According to the French sports newspaper L’Auto, the following associations are to be represented by the persons named below: “Union Belge des Sociétés de Sport Athlétiques”, Chevalier de Borman and Millinghaus; Swiss Football Association, Schneider; Spanish Football Association, Carlos Pedros; Dutch Football Association, Hekkenberg; Association of Berlin Ball Game Associations, Wüst; USFSA, Marschal and Robert Guérin.
The Football Association (England) has yet to take a decision on this matter. Mr Paul Champ, chairman of the “Paris Committee”, will give the opening address on 14 August and explain the purpose of the meeting in more detail.
These reports have appeared in various newspapers.
Pioneers? We didn't want to start a big sports movement. We wanted to play football, no more and no less.
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.
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.
21 May 1904
One of only few reports
Parisian newspaper L’Auto was one of the few publications to report on FIFA’s historic day. “In spite of the great difficulties which had to be overcome, the Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques succeeded in bringing together the ‘Congrès international de football association’”
It didn’t warrant a mention in any of the mainstream publications such as Le Matin, Le Figaro, or Les Temps. The sporting news of the day in France was dominated by the elimination rounds for motor racing’s Coupe Gordon Bennett.
22 May 1904
The first six articles of the “Treaty”
The first six articles of what L’Auto called the “Treaty” were agreed on the second day of the Congress, Sunday 22 May 1904.
The first of these was the creation of the “Fédération Internationale de Football Association” or in its anglicized form the International Federation of Association Football.
23 May 1904
"The very reason for the International Congress"
The final day of the first FIFA Congress saw the appointment of the officers for the new federation and the signing of the treaty.
To coincide with the congress, Belgian champions Union Saint-Gilloise played two matches in Joinville-le-Pont, against FC Paris and then the Société d’Encouragement. L’Auto’s report contained the following prescient paragraph:
“The referee, Mr. Boon, was whistled because of a slight difference in the rules of the game. He is right, and the whistlers are not wrong because the rule is not understood in the same way in France as in Belgium. Here it is, the very reason for the International Congress.”
The 1904 FIFA Constitution (document from 1955)
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.
Baron Édouard de Laveleye
The son of a famous economist, Baron Édouard de Laveleye spent much of his youth in England where he picked up his passion for football. A goalkeeper for the exclusive Brussels-based club Léopold, he was a founder and the first president of the Union Belge des Sociétés de Sports Athlétiques (UBSSA), a multi-sports body in which football dominated. Both Louis Mühlinghaus and Max Kahn, two of FIFA’s founders, served underneath him there.
With FIFA having limited impact in the year after its formation, Laveleye was tasked with persuading his old friend and trusted advisor Frederick Wall, the secretary of the Football Association, to embrace FIFA. “Mr. Wall was the adviser par excellence to the UBSSA,” wrote Laveleye. “If a difficulty arose, or a doubtful case of refereeing - and there were then! - I would write to Mr. Wall. The answers came regularly by return of post.” Thanks to the Baron’s diplomacy at the 1905 Crystal Palace conference, the English joined FIFA. As Laveleye put it, they were persuaded “to co-operate on more or less equal terms with neighbours, whom they still dominated from above.”
It wasn’t just at football that the Baron excelled. An accomplished swimmer, skater, rower and mountaineer, in 1905 he created and served as president of the Belgian Olympic Committee and it was in this capacity that he helped secure the 1920 Olympics for Antwerp. He was also a member of the IOC as well as the vice-president of FIFA from 1909-21.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.