Top of the class!

USA captain April Heinrichs (R) receiving the USA's 1st place diploma from FIFA President João Havelange (L) after winning the inaugural FIFA Women's World Cup in 1991. © Phil Stephens Photography/FIFA Museum
USA captain April Heinrichs (R) receiving the USA's 1st place diploma from FIFA President João Havelange (L) after winning the inaugural FIFA Women's World Cup in 1991. © Phil Stephens Photography/FIFA Museum

At the 1908 Olympic Games football tournament in London, the winners received a diploma to honour their success. It was the start of a tradition that persists to this day in the FIFA World Cup.

The protocol for the teams playing in the Final of the FIFA World Cup is well established. At the end of the match, the squad of the losing team are presented with their runners-up medals first, followed by members of the victorious squad who receive their winner’s medals. The captain of the winning team is then presented with the trophy. For many years, the world champions then left for home with the trophy and returned it to FIFA just before the following tournament.

Olympic Champion 1908: Great Britain.
Olympic Champion 1908: Great Britain. Back row from left to right: Arthur Kinnaird (FA), "Kenny" Hunt, Walter Corbett, Herbert Smith, Horace Bailey, "Fred" Chapman, "Bobby" Hawkes, F. Davies (FA). Front row from left to right: Arthur Berry, "Harry" Stapley, Vivian Woodward, Claude Purnell, Harold Hardman (All rights reserved)

Now, however, FIFA takes back possession of the FIFA World Cup Trophy just before the winners depart for home and presents the team instead with the FIFA World Cup Winner’s Trophy – which the team keeps forever. The FIFA World Cup Trophy itself is then brought back to the FIFA Museum in Zurich, where it goes back on display until the next finals.

But that’s not where the protocol ends. It is a little-known fact that the teams finishing in first, second and third place respectively also receive a diploma from FIFA to mark their achievement. There is almost no publicity surrounding these diplomas, but they can trace their origins back to the first official international football tournament staged 113 years ago.

The champions' diploma awarded to the British footballers by the president of the British Olympic Council. (All rights reserved)
The champions' diploma awarded to the British footballers by the president of the British Olympic Council. (All rights reserved)

Association football first appeared in the Olympics as an official sport at the 1908 Games in London. The FIFA Museum is not aware of any medals to have surfaced from that tournament. It is not even certain that medals were given out at all for the winter team sports of association football, hockey and rugby, the tournaments for which were staged four months after the main summer games. But what does survive is a photograph of the diploma for the winners of the football tournament, which was presented to The Football Association in London.

The regulations for the first five World Cups contain no mention of diplomas, but the tradition was revived in 1958 and diplomas have been given to the top three teams at every World Cup since. In the FIFA Museum collection, we have a donation from the Dutch Football Association of their diplomas from the 1974 and 1978 World Cups, but when the Heritage team was looking through the FIFA archives in preparation for opening the FIFA Museum, it made a very surprising discovery….

Diploma prepared for the possibility of West Germany winning the 1966 World Cup. © FIFA Museum
Diploma prepared for the possibility of West Germany winning the 1966 World Cup. © FIFA Museum

In a large leather case, the team discovered a number of unused diplomas. The first diploma we encountered was from 1966 and said “Winners – West Germany”. Was this revenge on the part of the Germans for the so-called “Wembley goal?” In fact, the case was full of historical curiosities. Apparently, Italy won the 1970 World Cup; Brazil finished as runners-up in 1958, while Argentina were the winners in 1990! A bit of fun perhaps, but it did illustrate that FIFA came to the World Cup Final fully prepared for every eventuality.

All the FIFA President and the Secretary General had to do was sign the correct one!