IT is understandable if the attention of the world is currently zeroed in on the ongoing World Cup of football. After all, we are talking here of the most watched sporting event in the world, one that even exceeds the Olympic Games. The World Cup first appeared on television in 1954 and it has been racking in blockbuster ratings ever since. By the time the 2014 World Cup in Brazil comes to a close, the accumulated revenue for the television commercials and advertisements is expected to be in the ballpark of US$11 billion.
Of course, the history books tell us that everything was not that rosy when the World Cup was just starting to make its presence felt. There was even a time when violence on and off the field threatened the very existence of the tournament.
According to the 'Book of Sports Trophies,' the game of football traces its roots to China, some two hundred years before Christ. The game went by the Chinese name “isu chu” which meant “kick ball.” Believe it or not, the Chinese game was part of military training and the decapitated head of an enemy warrior was used as the ball.
It was not until the 16th century when the game started to spread its influence. In England, the game was originally known as “mob football” and it was banned by law at one time because of the brutal manner by which the game was played. The games usually ended with one side forcing the ball through the other team’s goal. King Edward of England enacted the Act of 1314 which outlawed football and ordered the imprisonment of anyone caught playing the game.
The rules of the game were eventually refined and in 1863 formal rules were set up by the Football Association, a group made up of eleven London-based football clubs. In May 1904, four Frenchman, lawyer Robert Guerin, banker C.A.W. Hurschman, printer Henri Delaunay and publisher Jules Rimet, met in Paris and decided to form a worldwide organization for football. This was the beginning of Fifa, the International Football Association. However, it was not until 26 years later, in 1930, that the first World Cup competition was actually staged.
Uruguay was the very first venue of the World Cup. To show its commitment to the game, Uruguay built a 100,000-seat stadium in just eight months. The host country also agreed to pay all the expenses of the participating teams. Four European teams took part in the first World Cup – Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia. They were joined by Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay and the United States.
The first World Cup was anything but a walk in the park. A total of 18 matches were held and just about every game was marred by violence. France squared off with Mexico in the first game and a Frenchman goalkeeper was knocked unconscious after taking a brutal kick to the jaw. In the semifinals, Argentina openly used physical tactics and nearly injured all the players from the United States. Halfway through the game, an American trainer raced to the field, confronted an official and then threw his medical bag to the ground to show his disgust. The bag, however, contained a bottle of chloroform and when it broke, fumes engulfed the trainer and the official. The weakened American trainer had to be assisted to the sidelines. Argentina defeated the United States, 4-1, to advance to the championship match opposite Uruguay.
Fans poured into the stadium for the very first World Cup championship game. Soldiers armed with bayonets surrounded the field to ensure the game’s security. Argentina led, 2-1, at halftime, but Uruguay made a huge comeback in the second half by scoring three goals en route to crowning itself as the first World Cup champion. The World Cup trophy that was awarded to Uruguay was simply known as the “Coupe du Monde” or the “World Cup.” In 1946, the name of the trophy was renamed after Fifa president Jules Rimet, the one who set up the very first World Cup tournament.