1930 Uruguay

With fully six minutes to go
Argentina led France one zero
But the French with swift feet
Had just the 'keeper to beat
When the ref for full time he did blow.

Uruguay may seem a strange choice as host for the first World Cup, ahead of Italy, Holland, Spain and Sweden. Back in 1930, the country had a population of just 2 million. It really came down to 4 reasons.

  • Uruguay were reigning Olympic champions from 1924 and 1928
  • Financially, Uruguay offered to cover the travel costs and costs of supporting all the participating teams
  • It was 100th Anniversary of Uruguayan Independence in July 1930
  • They agreed to construct a new stadium “Centenary Stadium” in Central Montevideo, holding 80,000 – 100,000 people

What was going on in the world in 1930?

  • First frozen foods of Clarence Birdseye go on sale in Springfield, Massachussets
  • Mahatma Gandhi commences civil disobedience
  • Amy Johnson lands in Darwin, becoming the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia
  • Haile Selassie is crowned emperor of Ethiopia
  • The last giant Aye-aye dies and the species becomes extinct

Famous people births and deaths

  • Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Steve McQueen, and Richard Harris from the acting world were born
  • Ross Perot, George Soros and Princess Margaret were all born
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and DH Lawrence both died

Back to the World Cup – The Visionaries: Henri Delaunay and Jules Rimet

Two Frenchman were the visionaries behind the World Cup, which was conceived as an idea in 1904 at a FIFA members meeting in Paris. The biggest supporters of the idea were Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, whose professional systems were developing fastest, thus causing them to be excluded from the Olympics. However, none of these actually made the trip to Uruguay.

The Frenchman we have all heard about was Jules Rimet, whose name is synonymous with the trophy itself. He was President of FIFA for a record 33 years from 1921 to 1954 and always made sure he was the centre of attention around the World Cup and its presentation. If there was an unsung hero who did all the real work to get the World Cup up and running it was Henri Delaunay, Secretary of the French Football Federation from 1908 to 1956.

After a playing career for the Paris team Étoile des Deux Lacs, he became a referee. He retired from refereeing following a bizarre incident during a match between AF Garenne-Doves and ES Benevolence, when he swallowed his whistle and broke two teeth on being struck full in the face by the ball.

As a member of FIFA, he sat on its board as deputy from 1924 until 1928. Along with Jules Rimet, he was an early architect of the World Cup. He was also a very early proponent of the European Champions Cup, the trophy of which is named after him, having first proposed it in 1927. The first tournament took place in 1960.

Heroes and Villains

Hero: King Carol II of Romania

If Henri Delaunay was the hero behind the birth of the World Cup, then the hero for the 1930 tournament was King Carol II of Romania, without whose efforts it is questionable whether it would have gone ahead, and certainly it would not have been a "world" event.

Securing participation from European teams was a major headache, as one by one, the previously enthusiastic Europeans dropped out. Two months before the start of the tournament not a single European team had entered, with absence from home for two months and how to pay the players being the main issues. England had left FIFA (again!); Italy, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Germany and Switzerland all declined.

Belgium agreed to join France as participants, largely after pressure from Jules Rimet and Rodolphe Seeldrayers of the Belgian Federation. But it was the personal intervention of King Carol II in Romania, which was the tipping point to get critical mass from Europe.

Newly crowned, King Carol II of Romania was a passionate football supporter and the founder of the Federation of Romanian Sports Societies. He selected the Romania World Cup squad himself, but most players were employees of an English oil company, and had to negotiate leave from work. Initially they were told they would have to give up their jobs, but King Carol II intervened and telephoned the oil company to obtain their release, with a return to their jobs guaranteed.

He managed to obtain three months leave for the players and so also took the team home via a leisurely tour of New York. Romania's inclusion and transportation arrangements ensured that Yugoslavia were then able to accept too, as they could travel on the same boat. The Europe boat then picked up Brazil en route. With the addition of Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico, and USA, this made a complement of 13 teams for Uruguay 1930; all of course, were World Cup rookies!

Villain: Almeida Rego

Some of the refereeing in the tournament was not surprisingly somewhat bizarre, given language differences and the general lack of international consensus on standard guidelines. Hence a charming fantasy dominated some of the matches. The Bolivian, Ulysses Saucedo, with a rare light-heartedness, granted no fewer than 5 penalties in the course of Argentina's 6-3 victory over Mexico.

However, Brazilian referee Almeida Rego, went too far in the match between Argentina and France. The French were holding on remarkably well against one of the favourites, with luck on their side, but in the 81st minute went behind following some quick opportunism from Luis Monti at a free kick. France did not lie down and 3 minutes later, left-winger, Marcel Langiller, raced the length of the field towards the Argentine goal and had only the goalkeeper to beat to equalise. Suddenly, Almeida Rego whistled for full time in the 84th minute!

With fully six minutes to go
Argentina led France one zero
But the French with swift feet
Had just the 'keeper to beat
When the ref for full time he did blow

Argentine players hugged and kissed each other. Already the Argentina players were surrounded by rapturous supporters. The French surrounded the referee. Meanwhile mounted police had entered the pitch and were trying to restore order in the crowd. Eventually the players were called back, the French from their dressing room, and the police cleared the pitch. After 15 minutes, the match restarted and the additional 6 minutes were played, but for France, the chance was gone.

Argentina protested to the Organizing Committee about crowd support for France and threatened to pull out of the competition.

Tournament Facts and Records

  • Frenchman, Lucien Laurent scored the first ever World Cup goal
  • Guillermo Stabile of Argentina was top scorer with 8 goals
  • The shock of the tournament was Yugoslavia beating Brazil 2-1 and going on to the semi-finals
  • Bolivia and Belgium was the weakest perfromers with no points and no goals
  • The USA finished third with a team including 6 ex-British professionals

Violence and Slapstick

1930 set the scene for what was to follow in subsequent World Cups, notably in 1938, 1954 and 1962, namely extremely violent matches. The ones in later years have been labelled "the Battle of…" but two such games in 1930 have not been similarly tagged. Perhaps this is becuase all matches were played in Montevideo. In any case the "Battle of Montevideo" term refers to a 1967 Intercontinential Cup match between Celtic and Racing Club de Avellaneda. The two brawls in 1930 were:

  • Argentina v Chile – a mass brawl took place, even including both goalkeepers, and was only ended by massive and energetic police intervention. There were several bleeding faces, and amazingly the game recommenced as if nothing had happened, and at the end of the game the Chileans came forward to shake the hands of the victorious Argentinians
  • Peru v Romania – this match was more of a pitched battle than a football match. Steiner had his leg broken in a scuffle and was taken off to hospital. Finally the referee sent off Peru captain, De las Casa, even though he was not involved in the worst incidents

In the semi-final between Argentina and USA, there was a moment of pure slapstick when the American medical attendant advanced towards the referee to give him a piece of his mind, and in the process of remonstrating, threw his medical bag to the ground causing some breakage of the bottles inside. As the smell of chloroform rose up, the medical attendant was overcome by the fumes and had to be helped off the pitch!

Who should have won but didn't?

The final was between the two great rivals, Uruguay and Argentina in a repeat of the Olympic final of 1928, and they were the two stand out teams in the competition. 90,000 tickets were sold, but it is likely that there were more fans than that in the stadium. In an odd incident, which could not happen today, both teams wanted to use their own national ball! The referee, John Langenus, tossed a coin and Argentina got their way.

Uruguay prevailed 4-2 despite trailing 2-1, and Jules Rimet stepped up to present the trophy. Uruguay were worthy winners, but Argentina took the defeat very badly. An Argentine crowd stoned the Uruguayan consulate in Buenos Aires, and complained of Uruguayan brutality and unfair refereeing. Argentina broke off football relations with Uruguay and only played in Italy in 1934 when Uruguay declined to come. Subsequent disputes with Brazil further compounded their participation as they missed 4 successive tournaments.

Here is footage from the final

Quick Facts

  • Teams: 13
  • When: 13 July 1930 to 30 July 1930
  • Final: 30 July 1930
  • Matches: 18
  • Goals Scored: 70 (average 3.9 per match)
  • Attendance: 590,549 (average 32,808)

Verdict: Good, Bad or Ugly?

This was a good World Cup; it was happily chaotic, but the first tournament was always going to very tough to get off the ground and the important act was that the precedent of the World Cup as the pre-eminent football tournament in the world was established. It was a relatively short period for the World Cup's cache to grow, driven to a large degree by the Olympic movement's refusal to accept professionalism.

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