Riddle of the wrong World Cup
In 1930, world champions Uruguay paraded a cup at the Estadio Centenario that has barely been seen since. Why? No one knows, so FFT began its own investigation
Uruguay had just fought back to beat Argentina 4-2 and win the first World Cup final in July 1930. The triumphant hosts paraded around the Estadio Centenario turf trailed by a gaggle of ecstatic kids, while in the stands 90,000 fans gleefully waved fedoras in the air.
The players, in their famous sky blue shirts and with tears running down their faces, waved hands, caps and bunches of flowers. Central to the party mood in Montevideo, held proudly aloft into the summer sun, was the cup.
However, this wasn’t the iconic golden Jules Rimet Trophy. Instead, Uruguay’s players were waving an entirely different one. The first ever world champions had been given the wrong cup.
It’s right there in the black-and-white photographs taken at the final, and in the flickering, Fifa-restored official film of the 1930 tournament. Referred to in the archives simply as a “symbolic cup”, it appears to be a silver goblet or chalice, around 20 inches tall with a long stem and separate base.
Photos show the mysterious trophy in the hands of a euphoric Pablo Dorado, the scorer of the game’s opening goal, and the film displays it being thrust into the air to the delight of celebrating fans. Nowhere in any photos or footage of the first World Cup final is there any sign of the actual World Cup.
There is no doubt the real trophy was in Uruguay for the 1930 tournament, as Jules Rimet himself (above, left) carried it across the Atlantic on Glasgow-built ocean liner, the Conte Verde.
The 12-inch high gold cup, on a blue lapis lazuli base, was created by French sculptor Abel Lafleur and featured the winged figure of Nike, the ancient Greek goddess of victory. Its initial name was the Victory Trophy – it was renamed the Jules Rimet Trophy in honour of the FIFA president in 1946. However, it was more commonly called the Coupe du Monde, or the World Cup.
Rimet and his golden goddess arrived in Montevideo following their two-week voyage from Europe to quite a fanfare. The Frenchman was pictured waving at crowds as he disembarked with players and officials from France, Brazil, Belgium and Romania. The following day, he was pictured handing the cup to Uruguayan FA president Raul Jude for safekeeping.
Apart from a few promotional outings, the cup was kept under lock and key for the duration of the finals.
It was snapped while surrounded by excited Uruguay players at their training camp ahead of the final. And by rights, it should have been presented by Rimet to the victorious captain, Jose Nasazzi, after La Celeste’s stunning second-half display to overturn a 2-1 interval deficit. So why didn’t that happen?
The World Cup 1930 Project, set up by Dean Lockyer, is a blog collecting archive material covering a competition virtually ignored in Britain at the time.
“The 1930 tournament has not been documented as well as the other World Cups and I’ve found inconsistencies and myths,” he explains. “It was not widely covered in Britain because none of the British nations were involved, but there is a lot of original source material from Uruguay and elsewhere.”
According to Lockyer’s research, both countries were supposed to ascend the steps of the Olympic Tribune stand at the end of the match, with the winning nation’s flag flown from the top of the Estadio Centenario’s distinctive Tower of Homage while their national anthem played out.
“After that, Jules Rimet would present the Victory Trophy to the winning captain,” says Lockyer, “as well as gold medals for the winning players and silver medals for the runners-up.”
Instead, Uruguay’s players remained on the pitch facing the Tower of Homage as the Sun and Stripes flag was raised into the sky. “Then they went on a lap of honour,” adds Lockyer. “And that’s where we see some grainy footage of players hoisting what looks like a silver trophy, which is too big to be the World Cup trophy. And then we have the photographs of Pablo Dorado carrying the silver trophy in one hand and what appears to be the base in the other.” According to Dean, the silver imposter could have been used as a substitute in place of the Jules Rimet Trophy because the actual World Cup was too valuable to be let loose on the pitch. “There had been security fears before the match, due to the tensions that had been stoked up by the press from both nations,” explains Lockyer. “It was reported that fans were searched on entry to the stadium, and something like 1,600 weapons were taken away. Eyewitnesses spoke of about 200 soldiers surrounding the pitch with fixed bayonets, and there were real concerns about violence and crowd trouble. That is perhaps why the presentation never took place.” The Uruguayan players eventually received their winners’ medals, though that presentation was not made until November, four months after the final.
The gold medals featured the Victory Trophy’s goddess on the front, with an inscription on the back.
Nasazzi’s medal was sold shortly after the right-back’s death in 1968 for less than its scrap value. It was subsequently sold by Bonhams auction house in 2008 for the relatively small sum of £29,000.
Nasazzi may not have been presented with the actual World Cup, but he did at least get a couple of replicas.
In 1930, the Uruguayan FA gave him a shoddy-looking plaster imitation. The crumbling copy was sold at auction in 2014 for £2,500, and in 1950 Nasazzi was also presented with a gold-plated bronze replica by a body of the nation’s sportswriters. Bonhams flogged this in 2013 for £3,500.
The silver trophy, meanwhile, remains an enigma, its identity and whereabouts unknown. FFT asked FIFA to investigate the mystery and an official request was made to the Uruguayan FA, but they had no knowledge of the trophy.
A number of enquiries were also made at the Uruguayan Museum of Football, within the Centenario, and the National Football Museum in Manchester, which possesses one of the two balls used in the 1930 World Cup Final. Investigations in Montevideo drew a blank.
“The trophy that Pablo Dorado has in his hands is not in the museum,” said Mario Romano, the Uruguayan Museum of Football’s director.
Nor could the elusive cup be found in Manchester. “We don’t have this trophy in our collection,” insisted the National Football Museum’s Alex Jackson. “Sadly it looks like it might remain a mystery.”
As for the Victory – or Jules Rimet – Trophy, it had a more than eventful life. During the Second World War, Italian FA president Ottorino Barassi concealed it from pillaging Nazis in a box under his bed. In 1966 it was stolen from a glass display case at Westminster Central Hall and found, stuffed in a hedge, by Pickles the dog. And in 1983, robbers pinched it from the headquarters of the Brazilian Football Confederation. It’s never been discovered, and is thought to have been melted down.
By then, the current World Cup trophy, produced using gold and malachite and depicting two Atlas-type figures holding up a globe, had replaced it.
It’s the famous golden globe trophy that will be awarded in Moscow on July 15, and this time the winning team will accept no substitute.
The search for the original understudy, however, continues…
“EYEWITNESSES SPOKE OF 200 SOLDIERS WITH FIXED BAYONETS, AND THERE WERE REAL CONCERNS ABOUT CROWD TROUBLE”