The advent of the World Cup was probably inevitable from that day in Glasgow in 1872 when Scotland entertained England in the first ever international game.
That, of course, was still a world where travelling was anything but easy, especially for the inhabitants of Great Britain who had the sea to cross should we wish to take on nations more exotic than those on our doorstep, but in mainland Europe, as the twentieth century dawned and the Wright brothers started to get their act together, football internationals became an increasingly regular part of the landscape, often between nations who would be trying to slaughter one another in rather more deadly fashion off the field.
The advent of FIFA in 1904 was an attempt at codifying the global game but, ironically enough given the furore over Team GB these last few weeks, it was the London Olympics of 1908 that gave us the first real international competition. Great Britain took the gold medals, but with the Olympics then being a truly amateur competition, the professionals had to sit it out.
The success of football in the Olympics in London and then in Stockholm in 1912 led the authorities to begin scheming about a stand alone world football tournament that utilised the cream of the game, the pros, but the arrival of the Great War in 1914 put the kibosh on those plans.
It was down to the Olympics to take up the baton again in the post-war world and the competitions between 1920 and 1928 saw football become increasingly important and influential at the Games and, as a consequence, the World Cup was an idea whose time had come.
This was all the more true in the aftermath of the war, the ‘20s being a decade where sporting competition was promoted ever more strongly as a means of bringing countries together, painting a more civilised picture of the future compared with the one that had all too recently featured muck and bullets.
FIFA’s president, Jules Rimet, was the man on the footballing case and it was his enthusiasm for the project that saw it come into being when FIFA decreed in 19028 that Uruguay – consecutive winners of the Olympics – would host the inaugural competition in 1930, also marking the centenary of the nation’s independence.
This was, of course, an era before long haul passenger flight had come into being and so any European nations that fancied taking part would need to embark on a gruelling voyage across the Atlantic, enough to turn the bulk of countries off the idea, even though there was an open invitation to compete to all the major nations, with no qualifying tournaments to endure.
Scotland and England – not even members of FIFA at that stage such was our insularity – had absolutely no interest in travelling all that way just to take on countries that they believed they were better than anyway, and so they stayed at home, leaving just four nations to wave the flag of Europe in South America – Rimet’s France, Romania, Belgium and Yugoslavia – remember them? They joined Uruguay, the hosts, Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, Peru, Paraguay, Chile, Mexico and the USA in that inaugural competition, the teams split into three groups of three and one of four, the winners of each group progressing to the semi-finals.
World Cup football commenced on July 13th, 1930 as France took on Mexico in Montevideo and the USA were simultaneously confronted by Belgium in the same city, which was to host the entire competition across its four stadia. With the southern hemisphere in winter, snow raged across the pitch in this inaugural game, where the honour of scoring the competition’s first goal went to Lucien Laurent of France, 19 minutes into their game.
It started off a routine march towards victory for the Frenchmen, 4-1 winners in the end, Andre Maschinot helping himself to two goals. Amid a somewhat lopsided fixture list, France were involved in the next Group 1 game some two days later, facing the altogether greater threat of Argentina. In a close fought game, it was the South Americans who finally prevailed, Luis Monti scoring nine minutes from the end. It was a game fraught with incident and controversy, the French goalkeeper going off injured after 20 minutes, leaving them down to ten men. Worse still, the referee blew the final whistle after just 84 minutes before eventually resuming play for the final six minutes.
Chile finally made their appearance a day later, thumping Mexico 3-0, then maintaining their 100% record in a game with France which they won 1-0, sending the Europeans on their way home. When Argentina beat Mexico 6-3 later that same afternoon, Guillermo Stabile registering a hat-trick, it set them up for a winner takes all final game with Chile, Stabile had them 2-0 up after 13 minutes, but Chile halved the arrears by the quarter hour mark, leaving the game on a knife edge until the 81st minute when Mario Evaristo’s goal secured Argentina’s passage into the last four.
Group 4 would provide Argentina with their opposition and after the USA got off to a winning start against Belgium, defeating the Europeans 3-0, they were clear favourites to top the three team group. They duly completed the job in the group’s second fixture when they were too good for Paraguay, Bert Patenaude scoring the World Cup’s first hat-trick as they completed a second 3-0 win, leaving Paraguay to beat Belgium 1-0 in a pointless final game.
We take it for granted at each World Cup these days that Brazil will be installed as favourites, but it wasn’t always so. Certainly they were fancied to do well in 1930 given they had the advantage of playing on their home continent, but those hopes were quickly dashed when they came up against the Yugoslavia. Brazil were 2-0 dow in half an hour and though they tried to mount a comeback, were beaten 2-1.
The Europeans then had to play Bolivia, knowing a win would see them through. The Bolivians wore shorts emblazoned with a single letter which, when they stood together before kick-off, spelt out “Viva Uruguay”. Such wanton crawling to the hosts proved useless however as Yugoslavia’s powerful game simply dismantled them, all the goals coming in the last half hour. Already out of the competition, Brazil took their anger out on the Bolivians, winning by the same 4-0 margin in the final game.
Romania beat Peru 3-1 in the first game of the group that also featured the Uruguayans, the Peruvians then eliminated in game two as the hosts wriggled past them thanks to a goal from their one armed striker, Hector Castro, on the hour. In the decider, Uruguay shrugged off the tension of that first game and thrashed the Romanians 4-0, all the goals coming in the first half.
The first semi-final, Argentina against the USA, was played out on a rain sodden pitch and it quickly degenerated into an all-out brawl after the States lost Raphael Tracy when he had his leg broken after 10 minutes. Having got in at half-time with a one goal lead, Argentina’s numerical advantage and their physical approach, which bordered on the brutal, was too much for the USA. South America had its first finalists, as Argentina romped to a 6-1 win.
Europe’s sole survivors, Yugoslavia, were all that stood in the way of the hosts and their appointed slot in the final, and Uruguay weren’t going to pass up the chance. Although Yugoslavia seized the initiative with a goal after four minutes, Uruguay were irresistible and three goals in each half were enough to sweep away the Yugoslavs, again by six goals to one. Had Yugoslavia not had a goal chalked off for offside just before the interval when the score stood at 3-1 though, who knows what might have happened.
It set up a repeat of the 1928 Olympic final, a game Uruguay had won, beating Argentina 2-1. Home advantage would clearly play a big part but Argentine fans flooded the Uruguayan capital in an effort to get to the game which kicked off in front of a crowd said to be 93,000 strong.
If adidas think they’ve got it tough these days, that’s nothing compared with 1930 when the teams couldn’t even agree about the ball to be used, Argentina providing one for one half, Uruguay doing likewise for the other. Meanwhile, the Belgian referee John Langenus only took charge of the game when he was assured that there was a boat in dock ready to set sail within an hour of the final whistle should he need to make a dash for his life from irate fans of either side, in spite of all spectators being searched for weapons. What do you reckon to that, Howard Webb?
Pablo Dorado gave the home team a great start with a goal just 12 minutes in, but, having scored 16 goals in four games to that point, Argentina were not to be discouraged and after 20 minutes, were on terms thanks to Carlos Peucelle. Such was the fluidity of the Argentine play, it was no shock when Stabile scored just before the break, giving him eight goals in the competition.
The interval helped the home team regather their composure and, feeling the breath of history on their neck, they began to dominate. Even then, Monti missed a chance to make it 3-1, and that was to prove the turning point. Pedro Cea equalised just before the hour mark and from there, it was all Uruguay. Santos Iriate recaptured the lead in the 68th minute and from there, they were in control until Hector Castro completed the scoring a minute from time to make it 4-2 as Uruguay added the World Cup to the Olympic title they already held. The 1930 tournament and the legacy it created would soon render the Olympics little more than a footballing footnote.
Now try our 1930 World Cup Quiz