Journey’s end for Belgium’s beach boys
For these Belgian players, dry land had never looked so good. After three weeks at sea, covering the 11,000-plus kilometres between Europe and South America, their euphoria at reaching Uruguay and the inaugural FIFA World Cup™ was understandable.
Due to the time, cost and distances involved in 1930, and with commercial flights not yet an option, Belgium had initially been among a majority of European countries intent on declining their World Cup invitation. Only two teams from the continent – Romania and Yugoslavia – had applied to take part, and it took some relentless lobbying from Jules Rimet to convince the Belgians and the FIFA President's native France to join them.
Having talked them round, Rimet would travel to Uruguay on the same passenger liner as both teams. Also on board that Glasgow-built Conte Verde were the Romanians, three referees and the World Cup Trophy itself.
Balls and training equipment were, though, conspicuous by their absence, requiring the teams to seek creative ways to stay fit during the long weeks at sea. The French, for example, used the ship’s furniture as makeshift hurdles. But if such preparations were not ideal, they did not serve to hinder the Europeans’ early progress, as three of the continent’s four teams opened their campaigns with victories.
Sadly, the sole exception were our buoyant Belgians, pictured here cavorting on the sands of Montevideo. Les Diables Rouges lost to both USA and Paraguay without scoring a single goal, and were left to face the same, long journey home after a World Cup lasting, for them, just one week.
One of their countrymen did enjoy a more fruitful tournament though. Remarkable as it might seem now, John Langenus was combining his job as referee at the finals with reporting for German magazine Kicker. More remarkable still, this multi-tasking did not prevent him being chosen to oversee the first-ever World Cup Final: Uruguay’s historic 4-2 win over Argentina.
Did you know? Some of the longest and most arduous World Cup journeys are the subject of a special blog on the FIFA World Football Museum’s official website.