When FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) was formed in 1904 it’s membership was comprised of only seven teams, all from Europe. Over the next 20 years more and more national sides joined FIFA and the 1924 Olympic football tournament was the first one to involve non-European teams with Uruguay, the United States, Turkey and Egypt all taking part. Uruguay won the gold medal and would go on to retain it four years later.
But the Olympic football tournament, organized by FIFA starting with the 1920 edition, was only open to amateurs which meant many of the world’s best players were unable to take part. Therefore in 1926 FIFA – led by their president Jules Rimet and the secretary of the French Football Association, Henri Delauny – decided to create their own tournament which would be open to all players, amateur and professional. After two years of deliberations FIFA announced that the new tournament, the World Cup, would begin in 1930 and take place every four years.
Five countries – the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay – put themselves forward as hosts of the tournament. Both the Netherlands and Sweden then decided to withdraw themselves from the race and instead decided to offer their support to Italy. However, Jules Rimet’s preference was Uruguay as not only would this give his new tournament a more global flavour it would mean that the host country was probably the strongest national side in the world at that time, thanks to their gold medals from 1924 and 1928, albeit with a team of amateurs. Despite this success it was still a rather surprising choice of host with Uruguay having a population of only 2 million and due to a shortage of suitable stadiums all the games would have to be played in the Uruguayan capital Montevideo.
The first World Cup in 1930 was the only one for which there was no qualification. Instead of a qualifying tournament all FIFA members were invited to take part with a deadline of 28th February 1930. At that time FIFA consisted of 41 members made up of 25 from Europe (but not including England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland who had withdrawn from FIFA in 1928 following a dispute over payments to amateur players, they wouldn’t return until 1946), one team from Africa (Egypt), two from Asia (Japan and Siam – modern day Thailand), six from North and Central America and seven from South America.
Many of the teams from the Americas showed interest in participating in the tournament but in the end only eight (Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and the United States) actually applied. The sole African FIFA member, Egypt, also decided to enter. The four beaten applicants for hosting the tournament plus Hungary refused to enter as a protest against the decision to award it to Uruguay. Other countries such as Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany and Switzerland were put off by the exhaustive three-week sea voyage needed to reach Uruguay, as well as the fact that the players involved would have to be away for up to three months in total, despite the Uruguayan FA offering to pay all travelling expenses.
They even approached the Football Association to ask them to take part despite the fact that England was not a member of FIFA at the time but the request was quickly dismissed. A number of other countries such as Belgium, France, Yugoslavia and Romania were as yet undecided. By the time the entry deadline of had been reached no team from Europe had decided to enter the tournament. The South America representatives threatened to withdraw from FIFA in protest at the reluctance of the Europeans to take part, which they considered to be an insult. Something needed to be done, and quickly.
Jules Rimet, the president of FIFA, whose imitative initially led to the creation of the World Cup tournament finally managed to persuade his home country of France to enter although their coach, Gaston Barreau (he was replaced by Raoul Caudron), and their best defender, Manuel Anatol, chose to stay at home. FIFA’s vice-president, Rodolphe Seeldrayers of Belgium, also convinced his own country to take part. Their best player Raymond Braine, who had scored 141 in 142 games for Beerschot in his eight years with the club, was banned from the tournament after opening a café in order to supplement his income which, as Belgian clubs were only amateur at that time, only included unofficial payments based on performance. The Belgian FA then decided that players who carried out such a practice would be banned from the national team.
In Romania King Carol II only took possession of the royal throne one month before the tournament started. One of his first acts as king was to grant an amnesty to all Romanian players who had been suspended from football for whatever reason. He also persuaded the companies, including an English oil company, for which many of his best players worked to give their employees paid leave to take part in the World Cup by threatening to close them down if they refused. He then chose the Romanian squad himself. Carol also had a hand in persuading Yugoslavia to enter although their team was made up only of young Serbians as the Croatian players refused to play for the national team.
The Romanian squad set sail from Genoa on 21st June aboard the Italian steamboat Conte Verde. The ship would then stop in the Cote D’Azur to pick up the French team, the FIFA president Rimet, the trophy named after him and the three other non South American referees (the final one being the Romanian head coach Costel Rădulescu). In Barcelona there was another stop to collect the Belgians. After crossing the Atlantic the Brazilians came aboard in Rio de Janeiro. The Conte Verde finally reached Montevideo on 4th July, just over two weeks after setting off.
By the time the Yugoslavians had decided to take part in the World Cup the Conte Verde was fully booked and so they had to look for an alternative mode of travel. After a three-day train journey to Marseille they set sail on the mail steamship the Florida. They were supposed to be joined onboard by the Egyptian team but their boat from Africa was slowed down due to a storm in the Mediterranean Sea and they missed their connection. This meant that the tournament would go ahead with only 13 teams.
The first ever World Cup game was played between France and Mexico on July 13th, 1930 at the tiny Estadio Pocitos stadium. The stadium, which was owned by the reigning Uruguayan champions Penarol, had a capacity of only 1000 and it was a crowd of this size who saw the 22 year-old French forward, Laucien Laurent of FC Sochax, score the first ever World Cup goal after 19 minutes to help France to a 4-1 win in Group 1.
But it would be Argentina who would go on to win Group 1, made up of four participants (Chile being the other team involved), thanks to three wins out of three. The other three groups contained only three teams. Yugoslavia, whose complicated trip to the tournament obviously did not hinder them too much, won Group 2 thanks to victories over Brazil and Bolivia. Uruguay came out on top of Peru and Romania in Group 3 whilst the United States triumphed over Paraguay and Belgium in Group 4.
In the United States 3-0 win over Paraguay confusion over the identity of the scorer of the American’s 2nd goals meant that, for 76 years it was thought that the first ever World Cup hat-trick had been scored by Guillermo Stábile of Argentina in their 6-3 win over Mexico two days previously. It was only in 2006 that the 2nd US goal was finally credited to Bert Patenaude, who had scored their other two goals against Paraguay thus giving his the credit of the first hat-trick instead.
Yugoslavia, the only European team left in the competition, were thrashed 6-1 by the hosts with Pedro Cea scoring a hat-trick Amazingly the score-line was repeated in the other semi-final with Argentina triumphing over the hapless United States. After being 2-1 down to their South American neighbours at half-time Uruguay scored three second-half goals to make the final score to add the first ever Jules Rimet trophy to their two Olympic gold medals. Stábile’s 37th minute goal gave him eight in total for the tournament, three more than Pedro Cea of Uruguay.