For football fans, nothing builds excitement quite like the World Cup. Each nation gathers its best players into a team, and builds up an army of excited fans, before heading off to compete against the rest of the world to see who will bring home the FIFA World Cup Trophy.
Now the most recognized competition in all of football, the World Cup has had somewhat of a varied history, from humble beginnings in Uruguay, to the theft of the original Jules Rimet World Cup trophy.
To give a little more background to the most famous sporting competition in football, here is a brief history of the World Cup.
The driving force for the creation of the World Cup was the ban on professional athletes competing in the Olympics. In the 1930s the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) decided to hold the first official football World Cup in Montevideo, Uruguay.
There were only 13 teams in the first World Cup; Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, France, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Romania, Yugoslavia, Uruguay, and surprisingly, the United States, where 'soccer' may once again be on the rise.
The competition wasn’t an immediate hit, with the odd location and the limited number of teams meaning that some matches, like Romania vs Peru, has less than 300 spectators in attendance. Despite this, the first World Cup did have some fairly significant impacts.
The hosts, Uruguay, won the final to become the first World Cup holders by beating Argentina. This defeat so inflamed the Argentinian people that they took to the streets in protest.
The 12 Year Break
The World Cup was held twice more, in Italy in 1934 and France in 1938 before it had to be put on hiatus for 12 years because of situation on the world scene. Tragically, many of the players who participated in the first three World Cups were killed during this time. The World Cup was on hold, as the world had different priorities.
In 1950, it was decided that the World Cup should be restarted as a way of bringing the nations of the world back together. The resurgent World Cup in the 1950s still only had 16 teams, and this would stay the same until 1978 when it was increased 24. This number then jumped to 32 in 1998. In 2017, FIFA decided to increase the number of teams playing to 48 after 2026.
Since the 1950s, the World Cup has been played every four years and acts as both a symbol of national pride from the teams competing, and as a way for all nations to come together to participate in friendly competition. The current record holders for most wins are Brazil, who have won five times and are also the only country to have competed in every World Cup finals series.
The Theft of the Jules Rimet Trophy
The original World Cup Trophy, named after Jules Rimet, a French football administrator who was the 3rd President of FIFA, and created by Tiffany, was stolen while on exhibition in London before the finals on the 1966 World Cup. An anonymous ransom letter was found demanding £15,000 for the return of the cup.
In a truly strange twist of fate, the trophy was found under a hedge by a dog called 'Pickles' and his owner, David Corbett, whilst they were out walking in Norwood, South London. Mr. Corbett was rewarded with a sum of £3000 and the original thief was eventually found and jailed for two years.
The Impact of the World Cup
The World Cup has grown from a tournament with only 16 teams, and some matches drawing less than 300 spectators, to a world-wide football phenomenon.
Fans in their millions no longer just tune in for the football, they also come to watch the extravagant opening ceremonies put on by the hosts, purchase World Cup merchandise, including the maligned Vuvuzela, take advantage of websites like Skybet to check the chances of their team actually winning, and play World Cup inspired video games such as Fifa.
Over its long and somewhat tumultuous history, the World Cup has survived an unstable start, one of the greatest and most tragic wars in human history, and even the theft of its iconic trophy. However, nothing has slowed the competition down and with the addition of new teams by 2026, it keeps going from strength to strength.