The midwinter fog, which had smothered Montevideo all morning, was finally beginning to lift, burned away by a bright mid-day sun. Beneath the sun baked a vast crowd, eagerly awaiting kick-off in the city's majestic Centenario stadium.
"You could fit the whole of the Roman Coliseum inside the Centenario," marvelled one journalist, yet even so, Uruguayan poet Eduardo Galeano noted that in the stands "you couldn't fit a pin." Holding more than 93,000 fans, the stadium could have been filled twice over, such was the demand for what was the most significant game in world football. At 2.30pm on July 30, 1930, Uruguay would take on their bitter rivals from across the River Plate, Argentina. Only this time, they'd be playing for the very first World Cup final.
More than 30,000 Argentinians had attempted to make the 130-mile journey in specially scheduled packet boats, though only 15,000 had reached Montevideo as fog had prevented half the flotilla of boats from reaching the port on time. In Buenos Aires city centre, thousands of Fedora-wearing fans had collected to listen to the game through loudspeakers, set up to amplify the voices of journalists charged with converting a stream of telegrams into a fluent match commentary.
The climax of a competition which, though largely ignored in Europe, had clearly captivated South America, and little wonder. Uruguay and Argentina had revolutionized the way football was played, substituting the dour Victorian hit-and-hope of the English game with the more Latin qualities of grace, flair and invention. Dubbed rioplatense - or River Plate football - their take on the game was embellished by clever dribbling, neat short passes on the run, pirouettes and back-heels. The approach had turned the rough sport of association football into the beautiful game.
Neither Uruguay nor Argentina had been playing the game long, but then they hadn't existed for long. Shortly before inventing football, the British had invented Uruguay, set up as a buffer state between Argentina and Brazil in 1828. They'd drawn up its constitution in 1830 and the World Cup competition formed part of the tiny country¹s first centenary celebrations.
Argentina had drawn up its own constitution in 1816 and by the latter half of the century the two capitals either side of the River Plate, Buenos Aires to the west and Montevideo to the east, had become magnets to British investors, who built railways and factories and founded banks. The Brits liked to keep themselves to themselves and spent their leisure time playing their favourite sports - cricket, rowing and football. The latter drew the most attention, with the locals amused to see colourfully-clad men in shorts with interesting facial hair chasing a ball around. Soon enough though, amusement turned to curiosity, and the locals started playing 'the crazy English game' themselves. Its popularity quickly spread across the country and as early as 1893, the Argentinians had formed a league competition. Seven years later the Uruguayans followed suit.
An annual South American Championship had been running since 1916 (44 years before the Europeans got their act together and introduced the European Nations' Cup). Uruguay and Argentina had dominated the competition, for while the Brazilians were good, they were not quite Brazilian good.
The Republics of Uruguay and Argentina had largely enjoyed a 'fraternal¹ diplomatic and cultural relationship, but like many such relationships it was one which was fraught with competitiveness, particularly on the football field. On July 30, 1930, that competitiveness reached new levels.
At 2.10pm that Sunday afternoon, the two teams emerged into the sunshine of the Centenario. As they lined up in their 2-3-5 formations for kick off, the noise grew: 'Argentinos, Argentinos,' yelled the visiting fans, though they struggled to make themselves heard beneath the deafening roar of 'Uruguayos, Uruguayos'.
As dictated by the fashions of the day, the players donned baggy shorts and cotton shirts with buttoned necks, Uruguay in sky blue, Argentina their now-famous blue and white stripes. In the sartorial stakes, however, the players lagged some way behind Belgian referee Jean Langenus, who strode to the centre circle in a jacket and tie, and pair of plus fours. His first task was to settle an argument about which football to use. The Argentinians didn't trust the Uruguayan ball, specially imported from England, so Langenus came up with a compromise: the Argentinians could use their ball in the first half, then they would swap. As both balls were heavy and laced up, making them painful to head, several of the players wore berets filled with newspaper to soften the blow. Uruguay won the toss, and struck the first blow by inviting Argentina to play the first half with the sun in their eyes.
The sporting rivalry between Argentina and Uruguay could not have been much more intense. Uruguay's players had put the tiny country on the sporting map in 1924, when they became the first South American team to play in Europe, touring Spain and playing in the Paris Olympics. Travelling third-class to save money, they'd won all nine matches in Spain against the likes of Atletico de Madrid, Valencia, Real Sociedad and Athletic de Bilbao.
Even so, this collection of amateurs were still seen as rank outsiders in the subsequent FIFA-run Olympic competition, an 'amateur' prototype of the World Cup. When Uruguay were drawn to play against the powerful Yugoslavs in the first round, their opponents sent spies to their training camp to learn more about the South American style of football. What they saw was a session full of skewed shots, misplaced passes and theatrical diving, as the Uruguayans cottoned on to their ruse. Heartened by the reports, the Yugoslavs turned up to the game expecting a rout, which is what they got: Yugoslavia 0 Uruguay 7.
Having beaten the hosts and favourites France 5-1 in the quarter-final and Holland in the semi, Uruguay took gold in front of 60,000 against Switzerland. The French took the South Americans to their hearts, especially Jose Leandro Andrade, the black right half, a subtle defender of the ball who linked up play with the forwards. In one game he carried the ball 20 yards on his head and the French dubbed him La Marveille Noire - the Black Marvel.
When the Olympic champions returned triumphantly to Montevideo, they were instantly challenged by Argentina to a two-leg 'friendly'. The Argentines, who'd chosen not to send a team to the games, ground out a hard-earned 1-1 draw in Montevideo and approached the second leg in Buenos Aires with confidence. The return was blighted by crowd trouble, however, with a pitch invasion causing the abandonment of the game. When they tried again four days later, Uruguay's Andrade, at right-half, had to stay 15 yards in from the wing to avoid bottles thrown from the crowd. Argentina prevailed 2-1, 3-2 on aggregate, with one of their goals coming direct from a corner: such goals are still called 'Olympic goals' in the Spanish-speaking world. With the win, the Argentinians proclaimed themselves 'moral world champions' (much like Scotland after their 1967 win over England) and their press had a field day, one paper running the banner headline 'Olympics ha ha ha'.
Four years later both teams entered the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics and, inevitably, met again in the final. This time Uruguay prevailed in a replay, only for Argentina to have their revenge on their way to the 1929 South American Championship, defeating their rivals 2-0 in the group stage.
The following year, on the day Argentina arrived in Montevideo for the World Cup tournament, Buenos Aires newspaper El Grafico ignited the blue touch paper by proclaiming: 'The World Champions return to Montevideo'. "This was a declaration of war," remembered the future Uruguayan football coach Ondino Viera, "and the 1930 tournament developed into a great war."
Although the foot soldiers in the'war' were household names in their countries, they were still as poor as the fans who came to support them. As well as Andrade, who shined shoes for a living, Uruguay boasted a wealth of talent. Captain Jose 'The Terrible' Nasazzi was the first sweeper in the game, a resolute, uncompromising defender, while up front was Hector 'El Divino Manco' Castro, the handsome striker who'd lost his right hand in an accident with an electric saw when he was 13. Alongside him was the inside-left Hector Scarone: nicknamed 'El Mago' (the magician), he practiced by knocking bottles off the crossbar from 30 yards and possessed a gravity-defying leap.
For Argentina, Luis Monti was the truly dominant force, a Desperate Dan-jawed centre-half nicknamed 'Doble Ancha' (double wide) for the vast tracts of pitch he covered. Monti was a fearsome opponent, a breaker of noses and legs, but also a skilful passer of the ball and a gifted goalscorer. His side were younger than their opponents, with fledglings such as inside left Francisco Varallo (now the only living participant in the first World Cup final) and centre forward Guillermo Stabile bursting onto the scene.
It would have been interesting to see such players against the strongest European opposition, teams such as England and Scotland, who themselves played a short-passing game with some success, not to mention Austria's 'Wunderteam' and Spain, who had just defeated England 4-3 in Madrid. It was not to be, however, for the first World Cup ran into problems months before it started in a dispute over where it was to be held.
In a FIFA committee meeting in Barcelona in 1929, Uruguay's bid was considered alongside those from Italy, Hungary, Holland, Sweden and Spain. When the South American bid was chosen, their rival bidders withdrew from the competition, claiming they could not afford the time or money to make the necessary three-month round trip (this was before the days of commercial air travel). The Uruguayan government offered to pay their costs, but to no avail.
The British teams were not a part of FIFA at the time, loath to play against former WWI enemies and in dispute with the organisation over 'shamateurism' - illegal payments to supposedly amateur players in the Olympics. Nevertheless they were invited to play by the Uruguayan FA: the presence of the inventors of the modern game would lend the competition credence. The FA, however gave the Uruguayans short shrift: buried deep in the minutes of the FA Committee meeting of November 18, 1929 is a four-line rejection. 'A letter was received from the Uruguayian (sic) FA asking the Football Association to send a team to the World¹s Championship to be held in Montevideo in 1930. The committee regretted their inability to recommend to the council that the invitation be accepted.'
A deadline of February 28 1930 was set for teams to accept Uruguay's invitations. Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia, the United States and Mexico all registered in time, but the date passed without a single trans-Atlantic country agreeing to play. It was time for silver-haired FIFA president Jules Rimet to use his influence and after much cajoling, four European teams finally agreed to make the trip: France, Belgium, Yugoslavia and Rumania. None of those nations were significant forces in European football at the time, indeed the Rumanian team was chosen by the country's King Carol who, despite knowing little about the game, saw a diplomatic opportunity.
His team boarded the Italian steamboat Conte Verde in Genoa on June 17, 1930, with the ship picking up the French and Belgian players en route. The Yugoslavian team made their own way there on a steamboat from Marseille. Egypt were also scheduled to be on board, but they very literally missed the boat.
The journey took 19 days and was punctuated by bare-chested squads of players jogging round the decks. When the boat finally arrived in Montevideo a week before the tournament began, it was met by a vast crowd, keen to greet the players and fellow traveller Jules Rimet. The Frenchman had boarded the ship with his compatriots and carried with him the first ever World Cup trophy; a $40,000 Art Deco statuette, a solid gold winged figure representing victory.
"In the Montevideo air there is the sensation of football," wrote journalist Rafael Maluenda, as World Cup fever swept the country. "You can breathe in shots, and when the coastal wind blows a thousand balls fly through the air looking for a goal to score in." Montevideo was a bustling city, whose population of 900,000 constituted nearly half that of the country. Under the democratic government of Jose Batlle y Ordonez, the 1920s had seen a boom in construction with grand hotels, monuments and bridges being built. The latest building to grace the city was the Estadio Centenario, built specifically for the tournament and to this day the home of Uruguayan football. The construction of the first-ever concrete stadium, then the biggest in South America, had been a race against time, with three shifts of workers toiling day and night and hundreds of fans turning up daily to follow their progress.
FIFA had originally planned for the tournament to be a straight knock-out competition, which would have been somewhat harsh on first-round losers who'd spent nearly a month getting to Montevideo. They eventually decided instead on four groups in a round-robin format.
The Argentines, drawn in the World Cup's first 'group of death' against France, Mexico and Chile, made heavy weather of it. France, with a win already under their belts, were their first opponents and a second victory for the Europeans would considerably threaten the 'Gauchos''
progress to the next round. It didn't help that the Argentinian players got little sleep the night before the game as Uruguayan fans, ostensibly celebrating Bastille Day, made a racket all night long outside their hotel windows. Things were no easier inside the stadium the following day, for the majority of the crowd were Uruguayans who made no secret of their support for the French.
Luis Monti appeared to have disappointed them when he scoring with a deft free-kick on 80 minutes, only for the French to launch a breakaway attack just four minutes later. But, as centre forward Marcel Langiller bore down on goal, one on one against the keeper, the Brazilian referee Almeida Rego blew the final whistle before he could score. Cue mayhem: the players ran to their dressing rooms as Uruguayan fans invaded the pitch, outraged by what seemed to be blatant cheating. In the time it took for the police to restore order, the referee was alerted to his mistake by a linesman and had called the players back onto the pitch to play the final six minutes - even though several of them were already showering.
Despite being now down to 10 men - going somewhat against their modern-day stereotype, their defender Francisco Cerro fainted when he was told he had to go back onto the pitch - Argentina held out and were met by a 500-strong crowd of brick-throwing locals when they finally boarded their bus.
The following day the Argentinian FA threatened to pull out of the tournament. "The affair might gravely affect our country's fraternal feelings with Uruguay," they said, and only an apologetic Uruguayan press convinced them to remain in the competition.
A 6-3 victory against Mexico in the following game proved less eventful, and paved the way for a decider against Chile, with the winners going through to the semi-final. Argentina won 3-1, but only after a massive pitch brawl was sparked by a Luis Monti foul on Torres which needed 30 policemen to break it up.
In the semi, Argentina drew the United States, nicknamed 'the Shot-Putters', a burly team including four Scots and an Englishman who played in 'the English style', all long balls and shoulder-barges. USA manager Jack Coll stated before the game "I'm not worried about Argentina, I'm already working out how to play in the final."
He needn't have bothered as the USA were beaten 6-1, though Coll was so enraged by the referee Langenus's performance that he ran onto the pitch and threw his physio bag at the Belgian. Unfortunately for the coach, a bottle of chloroform fell out and smashed, leaving Coll to be led off the pitch dazed and confused and somewhat less irate.
In contrast, Uruguay's run to the final had been far less contentious. In front of a full house in the inaugural match at the Centenario Stadium, they laboured to beat a defensive Peru side 1-0, but made amends with a stunning 4-0 win over Rumania. They drew Yugoslavia in the semis, and won 6-1 despite having gone a goal down. The Yugoslavs, who had previously put Brazil out of the tournament, pulled out of the 3rd/4th play-off against the USA, infuriated about a disallowed goal which would have made the game 2-2; Uruguay ran riot in the second half and everybody had the final they wanted.
The final itself didn't disappoint, with the opening 10 minutes played out like a basketball game; both teams taking turns to attack at a breathless pace. After 12 minutes the hosts made the breakthrough, an incisive passing move making space for Pablo Dorado to hammer home past the ineffective Botasso. Even the soldiers, guarding the pitch from anybody who could scale a 15ft fence and a deep moat, dropped their bayoneted rifles and began hugging one another amid the ensuing mayhem.
But in no mood to roll over, the Argentines came back strongly and soon assumed a grip on the game. It was little surprise when they drew level just eight minutes later; Marino Evaristo's cross headed by Stabile into the path of Peucelle, who shot past Enrique Ballesteros. The Uruguayan keeper was only playing in the tournament because, days before it started, the hugely popular Olympic keeper Andres Mazzali had broken the strict curfew imposed on the cooped-up Uruguayan team to go dancing with a mystery blonde.
With the goal, the Argentines in the crowd found their voice again, waving their flags and throwing their felt hats onto the pitch for good measure. By half-time, those hats were pitchside again as Luis Monti set Stabile free to add a second. The young Argentine striker had appeared at least two yards offside when he raced clear, and during the break the whistles and jeers of an irate home crowd filled the Centenario. "This crowd are going to kill us if we win," said Jose Della Torre at the break, while Monti complained: "I'm damned if I'm going to be a martyr just for a game of football."
His concern was fully understandable, for it was later revealed that Monti had received death threats both to himself and to his mother if Argentina won the game. He'd planned not to play in the final at all, until injury forced his country's hand. Some attribute the threats to Uruguayan fans, others to the Italian mafia, trying to lure Monti to Italy after the game to play for Juventus, figuring his popularity back home would plummet after a poor game. Pepe Nasazzi later confirmed that he was surprised at how poorly Monti had defended. "He was capable of winning the game on his own," remembered the Uruguayan captain. "But he just didn¹t play."
But then he wasn¹t alone Uruguayan back Ernesto Mascheroni later revealed that the hosts had not performed how their fans might have expected, having been warned by their FA to play to the rulebook or risk the game being suspended. At half-time their delegates visited the dressing room and praised the players for their gentlemanly conduct. "They congratulated us, even though we were losing 2-1!" laughed Mascheroni.
Their captain, however, was less content. "At the bottom of the wooden steps that led up to the pitch, Nasazzi gathered us up before the second half and told us to get stuck in," recalls Mascheroni.
The advice paid off and within 25 minutes of the second half, the final had been turned on its head once more. First Pedro Cea drew Uruguay level with a simple tap-in, then Irlate struck from 25 yards to reclaim the lead. As Santos Iriate's goal went in, hundreds of Argentinian supporters turned and left, jeered by the Uruguayans around them.
But if their fans thought the game finished, their players saw it differently and mustered enough energy for one last effort. Playing the ball around with typical patience, the Argentines waited patiently for an opening. When it finally appeared, Varallo ran through and beat Ballesteros - only for the ball to cannon off the post.
It was to be Argentina¹s last meaningful attack. With the crowd cheering every pass, Uruguay played keep-ball for the final 15 minutes until, with just seconds remaining, Dorado put in a cross and Castro directed a clever header past the keeper.
Bar much shouting, it was all over, and as the national anthems boomed out, both warmly applauded by the Centenario crowd, Jules Rimet presented the World Cup trophy to Uruguay captain Pepe Nasazzi.
Curiously, the lifting of the trophy was not the moment which came to symbolize the victory, though. The biggest cheer, the biggest outlet of emotion, came when the Uruguayan flag was raised on the top of the 150-metre Torre de los Homenajes, a flag pole built into the side of the stadium. Uruguay, a country with a mere two million inhabitants, had won the first ever World Cup.
Argentina's FA officials didn¹t take defeat well, complaining to journalists about the death threats made to Monti, and the way the crowd had whistled their players. Equally irate, the crowds back in Buenos Aires greeted defeat with anger, throwing rocks at the Uruguayan consulate until police opened fire above their heads.
In the aftermath, Argentina broke off relations with the Uruguayan FA. Eight of the Argentina team that had played that afternoon never represented the country again, including Luis Monti. Branded a 'coward¹ by the press, the centre-half joined Juventus shortly afterwards (for $5,000 a month, a car and a house) and went on to play for Italy in the 1934 World Cup.
Back in Montevideo, however, the party went on long into the night. Ships blasted their fog horns, drivers sounded their klaxons, fireworks lit the night and "the alcohol," wrote Pepe Nasazzi, "was flowing in torrents."
The government proclaimed a national holiday the following day and the party continued.
Life was not always to be so good in Montevideo: Uruguay were to boycott the next two World Cups, and, in the crippling aftermath of the Wall Street Crash, the democratic government of the country fell to a military coup in 1933. There were troubled times ahead, but on July 30, 1930, Uruguay were truly on top of the world.