On this day in 1930, Uruguay won the first ever FIFA World Cup. FIFA—the Fédération Internationale de Football Association—is the world’s governing body for football. Before 1930, international-level football competitions had only taken place as part of the Summer Olympics, starting at the 1908 games in London, and only included amateur players. Then on 26 May 1928—the opening day of the Olympic Football Tournament in Amsterdam, the Netherlands—FIFA President Jules Rimet announced the idea of a new tournament for professional players, the World Cup.
Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Uruguay all applied to host the event, and the latter were victorious. Uruguay, which was also preparing to celebrate the centenary of their first constitution, had generously offered to refund the expenses of all the teams that entered, and build a new stadium for the occasion. They were also the two-time reigning Olympic champions. They staged the competition over a couple of weeks from 13 July to 30 July, and all the matches were played in the capital city, Montevideo.
These days the World Cup features 32 finalists, from over 200 entrants, but back in 1930 only 13 teams took part: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, United States of America, and Uruguay from the Americas, and Belgium, France, Romania, and Yugoslavia from Europe.
The primary reason for the poor European turnout was the sheer distance and time involved in crossing the Atlantic by boat, which took over two weeks. In fact the Romanians only committed to the competition after the personal intervention of their newly crowned King Carol II, who chose the squad himself, and likewise the French were only persuaded by FIFA President Jules Rimet.
According to French forward Lucien Laurent—who would score the first ever World Cup goal on the opening day of the tournament, against Mexico in the 19th minute— “We were 15 days on the ship Conte Verde getting out there. We embarked from Villefranche-sur-Mer in company of the Belgians and the Yugoslavians. We did our basic exercises down below and our training on deck.” (As it turned out, Laurent was to experience far greater adversity in World War II, when he was called up to the armed forces, captured, and endured three years as a German prisoner of war.)
On 30 July 1930, the final was held at the Estadio Centenario in front of 93,000 fans, and Uruguay beat their Argentinian neighbours 4-2. It was a crazy day, with around 15,000 Argentinians trying to cross from Buenos Aires to Montevideo by boat, utterly overwhelming the port. Some of the players had received death threats from opposition fans, and Belgian referee John Langenus was so worried about his own safety that he asked for a boat to be prepared immediately after the final whistle, in case he had to make a quick escape. Like all the best sporting events, it was extraordinarily dramatic and is still remembered to the present day.