The 1924 and 1928 triumphs are still a colossal achievement in the history of football, but I find few supporters who know how incredible these campaigns really were. From the book, “100 Years of Glory: The True History of Uruguayan Football”, I will be taking you back to this era and will be uncovering rarely heard stories (and pictures) that add to the magic of what many consider to be the true birth of the mythical Sky Blue on the World stage. This article will cover the 1924 campaign and in a few days, I will be posting the 1928 campaign.
The fight to get to Paris 1924- the Olympic and FIFA World Championship
It is a story that has never been equalled. In 6 years, with the same base of players, Uruguay won 3 FIFA World Championships (1924, 1928, 1930) and three South American Championships (1923, 1924, 1926). There are many historians that still claim this could be the most momentous and influential national team in the history of football.
Many newer football fans are mistaken when trying to pinpoint the exact moment where football became a international phenomenon. In Europe, football had become a continental obsession way before 1920. What they did not know was that football had been growing at an alarming rate in South America for years; specifically in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. In 1923, Uruguay had organized and won their second South American Championship (now known as the Copa America), defeating Argentina 2-0 in front of a packed and fanatical Parque Central.
Atilio Narancio, a Uruguayan Football Association delegate, decided that it was time to take Uruguay to Europe and compete in the first ever FIFA organized World Championships (under the guise of the Olympic Games) in Paris. Words cannot express how revolutionary this idea was. Most people in South America (and even in Uruguay) felt this was a mad venture. The fear was that there was no time to prepare a team to go to Europe, there was no money and more importantly there was a fear that Uruguay would get humiliated in Europe. What they were attempting to do had never been done before. Many of the players could not afford to leave their jobs for this long. Uruguay’s captain and World legend José Nasazzi was a marble worker during the week and played for Bella Vista during weekends. He actually got the news that they were finally going to Europe while we was working.
The trip to Paris
After some political lobbying, the Association Uruguaya de Futbol managed to convince the Uruguayan Parliament that the venture would bear fruit. Uruguay began their journey to Europe by boat. It was actually the cheapest boat they could purchase, a 3rd class vessel. Uruguay’s legendary goal keeper Andrés Mazali (only 21 at the time) was in charge of Uruguay’s physical preparation. He had been a South American rowing champion in 1920, so he knew a thing or two about physical conditioning.
Note: Notice how all of Uruguay’s great keepers’ last names start with the letter “M”? Mazali (1924-1930), Maspoli (1950), Mazurkiewicz (1966, 1970), and Muslera (2010)…
The ship arrived to a huge reception in Vigo, Spain. In order to pay for the trip, Uruguay had agreed to play many friendlies vs. the best club teams in Spain. For the Spanish, it was a matter of national honour so they actually combined many famous clubs in order to give themselves the best chance to win. Nothing seemed to work for them as Uruguay managed to win every single game in Spain. They beat clubs by wide margins (3-0, 4-1), even beating Atletic de Bilbao, and Racing (both powerhouses at the time) 2-0 and 3-0 respectively. A month later, they convincingly beat Atletico de Madrid in front of 20,000 people and the King of Spain himself, el Rey Alfonso. The match had gotten a lot of press and Atl. Madrid actually added talent from Barcelona, Sevilla, Bilbano and Irun in order to finally beat the South Americans. They were desperate not to lose. It was recorded by the Uruguayan Association that many dodgy calls were made, including false offsides to stop Uruguay from scoring and two phantom penalties, which were both saved by Mazali. Uruguay was causing an uproar in Spain. They won all nine of their matches.
Paris 1924: The World Championships Begin
Article: No doubts exist. Uruguay are four time FIFA World Champions”. http://www.lacelesteblog.com/?p=6538
This was officially the first ever excursion by a South American national team in Europe ever. A lot of Europeans had no idea what to make of this group of players dressed in a majestic Sky Blue. The Uruguayan players were all filled with emotion as they first set their sights on the Tour Eiffel. For them, it was an impossible dream come true to be here, but things quickly started to go sour as soon as they arrived to their accommodation.
To say it was inadequate is being mild. The coaching staff was worried that this cramped, dark and depressing residence would negatively affect the morale of the team. the Uruguayan team began to walk around Paris in search for their own homestead. They ended up finding “Le Chateau D’Argenteuil”, an installation filled with large beautiful gardens for the players to make asados on.
The players were being taken care of by an elderly woman who would become an cherished friend during the 1924 and 1928 campaigns, Madame Pain, a woman that took care of their every need with extreme kindness. Here Mazali led the team in their daily exercises and Nasazzi was in charge of tactical work with the rest of the coaching staff. A plaque there still remains which says: “Ici on habite dans la villa. Olympiade les footballeurs uruguayens, champions du monde” . Translation: Here we live in the city. Olimpiad Uruguayan footballers, champions of the World.
Uruguay vs. Yugoslavia, the funniest practice of all time
As stated before, Europe had no idea about South America’s rapid grown in football, particularly in the River Plate region. During the last practice before the start of the tournament, the Yugoslavian team had send two spies to the Uruguayan football practice. This is a famous story amongst many fans of Uruguay throughout the world. Once the spies were noticed, the Uruguayan team purposefully held the most awkward display of incompetence ever seen in a major tournament. Players would shoot the ball twenty meters wide, they would screw up simple touches, miss open net shots, head the ball backwards, trip and bump into each other. It was a hilarious display that the Yugoslavians took completely seriously. After the practice had finished, the Yugoslavians revealed themselves to the Uruguayan coaches and calmly offered their sympathy: ” We are saddened that these young South Americans are so clumsy and awkward. They have come from so far and will have to return after their first game”.
The tournament begins and football is changed forever
The tournament had been organizes as a straight knockout competition. To understand why this game is so momentous, you have to understand how football was played and changed forever on this day. The way Europeans played football was described as “Rugby with Feet”. It was limited to intense and direct rushes as players essentially crashed their way through defenders to score. Uruguay and Argentina, for many years at this point, had been developing a type of football that we know today. It was the first time that Europeans had ever seen a team play with short passes, give and goes, beautiful runs leading to crosses and even masterful through balls. It was shocking for them to say the least. Uruguay ended up defeating Yugoslavia 7-0 in the opening game!
Quick Anecdote: José Nasazzi had the idea to win the locals over by carrying the French flag onto the field.
In the next round, Uruguay easily dispensed with the United State 3-0. Word began to spread about this footballing phenomenon. After this match, members of the Spanish team met with the Uruguayans in a bar and assured them: “You are the future Champions”
The next match, Uruguay’s legend as the World’s ultimate party poppers began as they defeated the French hosts 5-1. The French were actually the great favourites to win the tournament.
The Phenomenon Grows: The Semi Final vs. the Netherlands and Final vs. Switzerland
As word spread around France and Europe of Uruguay’s ability, they began to gain celebrity status around France. It was known that the players became obsessed with winning the competition and they all agreed that they would all stay in their homestead to concentrate for the tournament. Beautiful women would actually show up at the door to offer themselves to the players, but they were quickly turned away. They could sense that this was history they were experiencing.
From a Uruguayan player’s diary about these women: “Venian las muchachas haste la entrada del castillo, para ver las fieras y nosotros ni bolilla.”
The Netherlands gave Uruguay their toughest fight, and it was a close game. With the game tied, Uruguayan star Hector Scarone won a very controversial penalty to win the game late. The Dutch were absolutely livid and protested the decision to FIFA before being quickly dismissed.
The Grand Final The stadium was absolutely packed and anxiously waiting for both finalists: Uruguay and Switzerland. On the day of the final, Madame Pain actually gave each player a kiss to symbolize the prayers of everyone of their friends and family. In Uruguay people were ecstatic over the final and looked to their local newspapers to get telegrams on how the game was going. As they left their homestead, the players decided to walk from Argenteuil to Colombes while doing a Murga (popular Carnival theatre filled with singing and drums) on the way to the stadium. It was meant to raise their morale and give them courage before the final.
Quick Anecdote: The players kept singing in the dressing room, which was right beside the Swiss one. They could not understand how Uruguay could be so calm before a game that all of Europe was anxiously waiting on. Apparently the Swiss players were also mortified and confused by the singing and sent a delegate to ask the Uruguayans to stop singing. The Uruguayans agreed and an eerie silence was felt between the players as the pre-match nerves began to sink in. This silence might have affected the morale of the team, but it was suddenly broken by another legend, Pedro Cea. He had been reading a French magazine called “La Fire” that included Pornographic pictures, and sarcastically exclaimed: “Who should know how to speak French”. This one line broke all the tension as the entire team broke out into laughter!
As the players came out, it seemed as though the entire stadium was supporting Uruguay as a grand majority of fans were waving tiny Uruguay flags. 60, 000 people witnessed this historic final, the first official FIFA World Championship final. Uruguay ended up running out comfortable 3-0 winners with more goals to spare. The standing ovation that the players received was historic. After Uruguay’s anthem had finished playing, the ovation was still so loud that the players decided to walk around the pitch, waving at fans in thanks of their support. This was the first ever “Lap of Honour” (that we commonly see happen at the end of any football tournament today) or “Vuelta Olimpica” as it is known in the Spanish speaking world for this moment. The players were very emotional and soon left back to Argenteuil where even Japanese reporters were awaiting their return.
La Gazzetta del Sport (Milan) reported: “The World football championship of the Olympic Games- emigrate to America. This sport, typically European, has found its masters in a place almost unknown 10 years ago”… The world spoke of the best players on earth that had just been discovered by Europe: José Nasazzi, Héctor “El Mago” Scarone, Pedro Petrone, José “el Negro” Andrade (also dubbed the “Black Marvel” by the French media). Uruguay’s stay had been so successful that the players had been asked to help out i nthe closing ceremony as another show of appreciation by the home crowd. Before they left back to South America, the players had gotten invitations from elite clubs from Spain, Austria, England, Scotland and Germany. The players returned home to a euphoric reception, recognized as “Champions of the World, as recognized by FIFA”.
Thus ends the first part of our story. The events of the 1928 FIFA World Championship tournament would unfold much like a sequel or sorts, with Argentina and Uruguay’s rivalry rising to heights never before seen and culminating in an epic, era defining encounter that was as fierce as this generation’s culminating battle during the 1930 FIFA World Cup Final.