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.
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.
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.
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.