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Lucien Laurent, the Unlikely Protagonist in the World Cup’s Origin Story

The story of a French factory worker who embarked on a transatlantic voyage to South America to score the very first World Cup goal

Daniel Zalkus

The Ringer’s 22 Goals: The Story of the World Cup, a podcast by Brian Phillips, tells the story of some of the most iconic goals and players in the history of the men’s FIFA World Cup. Every Wednesday, until the end of Qatar 2022, we’ll publish an adapted version of each 22 Goals episode. Today’s story involves Lucien Laurent, a French factory worker who scored the first goal in World Cup history.

1. Devastating Emily

I cannot prove this, but it’s possible—it’s very possible—that the World Cup owes its existence to a fungus.

How is that possible? Well, let me take you back to the 19th century—the golden age of fungus.

In the mid-1800s, the British colony of Ceylon was a major exporter of coffee. You probably know Ceylon by its modern name, Sri Lanka. It’s an island in the Indian Ocean, just off the southeastern tip of the Indian subcontinent. If you imagine India as a soccer player, Sri Lanka is the ball.

In the 1860s, when it was still called Ceylon, and still run by the British, the island was full of huge coffee plantations, which brought in vast sums of money for their European owners. Good for those guys, I guess. But in 1869, a plant disease called coffee rust started popping up around the island. Coffee rust causes a yellow-orange powdery substance to appear on the leaves of the coffee plant, weakening and eventually killing it.

The source of coffee rust is a fungus called Hemileia vastatrix. This fungus spread quickly and ruinously over Ceylon’s coffee fields. Planters started calling the Hemeleia vastatrix fungus “Devastating Emily.” I have a sister named Emily. I am really glad I’d never heard of the Devastating Emily fungus in junior high, because my sister has a mean right hook.

Within 15 years, Devastating Emily obliterated the Ceylon coffee industry. Picture formerly thriving coffee plantations, now abandoned and grim. We’re up at high altitudes here. Steep green hills, a lot of trees, a lot of mist. Not a lot of coffee anymore. Beautiful, yet tragically caffeine-deficient.

However, the island’s climate was also well-suited for growing a plant essential to a different type of hot drink.

Enterprising British tea-growers started buying up Ceylonese coffee plantations for basically nothing. Footnote one, see colonialism. Tea empires were born overnight.

A Scottish grocer called Thomas Lipton bought four or five plantations and created basically the world’s first vertically integrated tea company. He grew Lipton tea, exported Lipton tea, packaged Lipton tea, and sold Lipton tea—sold it for unprecedentedly low prices, in brightly colored boxes aimed at working-class buyers.

Thomas Lipton got wildly rich. By the early 1900s, he was also wildly famous. If you look at pictures of Thomas Lipton now—there are a lot of them, a lot of grainy black-and-white portraits of a sepia-tinted gentleman leaning on the railing of a ship, or holding the steering wheel of a yacht—you see a portly looking fellow with a walrus mustache, dressed exclusively in clothes that the Penguin would have worn in Batman, and with a happy twinkle in his eye, as if he knows he’s getting away with something.

It’s called economic exploitation, Thomas. Fascinating life, though. He was gay—he was in a 30-year relationship with one of his male shop assistants—which was not easy, socially, in the early 1900s. And to keep the media from prying into his personal life, he affected this persona as a huge playboy, a real lady’s man, always flitting from one heiress to the next, never letting himself get tied down.

And this worked! People called him the “world’s most eligible bachelor,” which is an incredible accomplishment for a dude who looked like Teddy Roosevelt crossed with Uncle Junior.

Everything is very funny and also very sad.

Anyway, Lipton was a sports fan. Apart from the tea-magnate thing, he was actually best known for being obsessed with the America’s Cup yachting trophy. He tried to win it five times with his yachts called Shamrock, Shamrock II, Shamrock III, Shamrock IV … they were all called Shamrock. He failed to win it each time, and he was eventually given a special trophy for being “the world’s best loser.”

Amazing trophy concept. You know who I really want to meet, though? I want to meet the world’s second-best loser.

Who’s the silver medalist of losers? Who lost in the finals of the tournament of losing?

Probably me, just now, when I expressed a sincere fear of getting decked by my baby sister. Devastating Emily. That’s what I would say as I picked myself up off the floor and massaged my aching jaw.

“Devastating, Emily.”

Thomas Lipton. Spectacularly rich thanks to a coffee fungus. Sports fan. One of the sports he likes is soccer. Soccer in the early 20th century is exploding in popularity around the world. Picture terraced stands full of working-class men in Peaky Blinders newsboy caps, cheering for teams with names like Scunbridge Peregrinators and Flintsnitch Ironworks.

A great time for the game. But there’s just one problem: Soccer is popular all over the world. But it still doesn’t have a world championship.

FIFA was founded in Paris in 1904, initially to govern competition among a handful of European countries. But there was still no World Cup. Soccer was contested in the Olympics as early as 1900, but only amateur players were allowed.

In 1908, an Italian sports magazine called La Stampa Sportiva organized a tournament for teams from around Europe. But this tournament, the Torneo Internazionale Stampa Sportiva, was seen as suspect—not a true world championship—because it didn’t feature an English team.

England was the birthplace of soccer. England set the standard for the game for pretty much the entire era when uniforms were made out of wool. You couldn’t crown a champion of the world without at least giving the top stars from Scunbridge and Flintsnitch a chance to defend their crown.

The stage was set for an international playboy tea magnate who excelled at losing in yacht races.

In 1909, Thomas Lipton and his mustache teamed up with the Italian royal family and their mustaches to inaugurate a new international sporting competition. The Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy would be contested by teams from the four corners of the globe, 1909-style. That’s England, Germany, Italy, and for a real taste of the exotic, far-flung Switzerland.

Now, national teams were not really a thing yet, so these were club teams. Three of the four countries sent club sides that ranked among their very best. Italy sent Torino. Switzerland sent Winterthur. Germany sent Stuttgarter Sportfreunde, an absolutely killer unit whose name, if I am not mistaken, translates as “the Stuttgart Sports Friends.” I’m rooting for those guys. Though I think of my true sports friends as you, the readers of this essay.

England … did not send an elite side. The English Football Association in those years was deeply resistant to all attempts to internationalize the game. England did join FIFA around 1905, but the FA—the English Football Association—saw itself as the highest authority in the game. And the FA got skittish whenever they thought a foreign authority was trying to supplant them.

So now, in 1909, the FA took one look at the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy competition and went, This is not happening.

The FA was a British institution. The FA was easily threatened by any institution bigger than it. And since no British institution is bigger than tea, the FA couldn’t go anywhere near the Lipton Tournament. Nobody caffeinates the FA!

So to get an English team in the competition, the Lipton Trophy had to invite an amateur side. They asked West Auckland FC, a tiny club whose players were mostly coal miners.

The competition for the Sir Thomas Lipton tournament was held in Turin. The coal miners of West Auckland beat the Sports Friends of Stuttgart 2-0. They faced Winterthur, the exotic Swiss side, in the final, and beat them 2-0.

West Auckland—and by extension England—were, unofficially, the soccer champions of the world. The FA could complain all it liked, but if there is one rule you can always count on in this mixed-up life, it’s that the English can do anything if you get them close to tea.

The Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy was not a FIFA-sanctioned competition. It wasn’t the first attempt to stage a truly international soccer tournament for players at the highest level, and objectively, it wasn’t a very good attempt to stage a truly international soccer tournament for players at the highest level. No offense to the many mustaches who collaborated on the project.

But it captured a lot of attention. It was the most credible world championship anyone had tried up to that point.

It was a proof of concept. It showed that a world championship for professional soccer players could work. And to this day, there are still people who call the Thomas Lipton Trophy the first World Cup.

2. All That Jazz

Now, we have discussed a lot of stuff in this series so far. Lightning has fallen on numerous people and objects, dogs have been detectives, and God has been sued in county court.

But today we’re going back to where it all started. We’re here to talk about the origins of the men’s World Cup, and about a French factory worker named Lucien Laurent, who scored the very first World Cup goal.

We’re going back to the era of silent movies, steamships, big bands, and aviation daredevils. We’re going back to 1930—to the end of the Roaring ’20s and the start of the Great Depression.

How did the World Cup come into existence? How did this whole carnival of beauty, excitement, and transparent graft get dreamed up in the first place?

Did the international coffee market ever recover? Who can say [takes a long, delicious sip of coffee]? Who can say?

We’re going to talk about all of this, and along the way, we’re going to learn way too much about the practicalities of international soccer, history-style.

How do you conduct training drills on the deck of an ocean liner? How violent was soccer in 1930? What happens when you have a World Cup match and no one shows up? And what does it look like when you hold a World Cup game in the snow?

There is a question hanging over this essay like an airborne spore over an exploitive system of agriculture. The question is, How do you start an international soccer championship when one has never existed before?

This is not a soccer essay, this is an origin story. Let’s tear open the cellophane and get into it.

3. The Best Damn Free Safety in Antwerp

OK. So! Before we really get going, I’m going to zoom through the early years of FIFA. Just to get us fully up to speed.

FIFA, again, was founded in Paris in 1904. Stands for Fédération Internationale de Football Association. Which is French for International Federation of Association Football.

“Association Football” means football as codified by the Football Association in England. Back in 1904, there were a bunch of different versions of football that were competing for attention, and people needed ways to distinguish them. Like, “I like CSI.” OK, but do you like CSI, do you like CSI: NY, do you like CSI: Miami?

You like CSI: Miami, admit it.

So there was rugby football, identified with the Rugby School in England. There was gridiron football, identified with the distinctive markings painted on the field. And there was association football, identified with the association of—basically—toffs from a group of elite British schools who had gotten together and agreed on a single set of rules some years before.

Trivia! The word “soccer” probably comes from “association football”—this is disputed, but it’s likely. There were nicknames for different football codes. People called rugby football “rugger” and if you take the s-o-c out of the middle of “association,” and add the insouciant e-r, you get—slowly lowers Ray-Bans while looking significantly into camera—you get soccer.

Anyway, FIFA is founded at a moment when the game is taking off internationally. It’s not big only in the U.K. anymore. Sports friends, in Stuttgart and everywhere else, are catching on. We need a governing body.

Initially there’s a feeling that England should take the lead and play a prominent role in FIFA, but as we discussed, England doesn’t want to. It’s like … well, imagine if some French guys founded an international organization for American football. Probably a lot of us would think it’s kind of sweet that, like, Belgium and Romania want to play NFL-style games against each other. But we wouldn’t take it that seriously. We’d feel confident that the Super Bowl was still the real world championship.

That’s the vibe in England circa 1904.

The FA declines even to join FIFA initially. Can you Brexit from an organization you haven’t even joined? Can you Brexit preemptively? Get Boris Johnson on the phone! (Please don’t do that.)

But for the early years of FIFA, the history of the game can probably best be read as a struggle for control—sometimes overt, sometimes covert—between the English FA and continental Europe.

England was talked into joining FIFA in 1905 or so. There’s some disagreement about the exact date. They joined reluctantly, with sort of the same spirit that I could be talked into joining my neighborhood association. Like, Oh, god, I gotta bring fruit salad to this barbecue and all I really want to do is stay home and make a team of coal miners go in my place.

Speaking of coal miners, the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, the proof-of-concept World Cup, had a second installment in 1911. West Auckland went down to Italy and won it again. Beat Juventus 6-1 in the final. Unfortunately the club had to pawn the trophy to clear a debt to their landlady. Barcelona fans are nodding along like, Yep, been there. They got it back decades later, but then the trophy was stolen in 1994 and never recovered. Get a border collie on the case!

Anyway, there’s this push-pull between England and FIFA. FIFA wants a true world championship, and the Lipton Trophy showed it could be done. But then, in 1914, there’s a small hiccup in the form of World War I, and by the time it’s possible to get a global tournament together, England has resigned from the organization. Actually they’ve resigned twice. They first resigned in 1920, then they came back in 1924, then they quit again in 1928.

There are reasons why. My pledge to you is that I will never explain them to you or expect you to know what they are. I will throw my body in front of the bus of your ever having to remember details of century-old bureaucratic disputes among soccer administrators.

The point is that England would have been the obvious first choice to host the first men’s World Cup. But they can’t, because they’re too busy not being in FIFA. So the planners have to turn to the next most obvious choice to host the tournament.

The small South American nation of Uruguay.

That’s right. The first-ever World Cup kicks off, not in London, not in Paris, not in Rome, but in Montevideo.

And the thing is, this is not a joke. Uruguay is a small country, but in the late ’20s, it’s a soccer powerhouse. Uruguay has won the Olympics twice. It has a very legitimate case to host the tournament. It’s also, crucially, the only country that wants to host the tournament. Possibly because the Uruguayan economy is booming, and the rest of the world is not looking so hot after the 1929 U.S. stock market crash did a Devastating Emily to most of the global economy.

The thing you have to realize about the first World Cup is that it’s not clear to anyone whether this idea has legs. People aren’t terribly excited about it. There are 16 slots for teams, and only 14 even bother to enter. There are no qualifying rounds, because not enough teams even want to play in the tournament.

The tournament eventually kicks off with 13 teams, because Egypt literally misses their boat and sends a telegram saying they can’t make it. I did exactly the same thing last time we had a neighborhood barbecue.

By the standards of modern soccer, the first World Cup is scrappy, low-budget, experimental, and largely ignored—at least at first—even in Uruguay.

Only four teams from Europe enter, and they have to travel by sea. Which is tough for the players, because most of them are not making a living playing soccer—they have jobs, and to leave their jobs for over a month to spend two weeks sailing to Uruguay and two weeks playing soccer is a big ask in an era that predates the concept of the weekend. The king of Romania has to intervene personally to make sure the Romanian players will still have jobs when they get back.

Everything is very funny and also very sad.

4. The Titanic, but Make It Fun

The man who scored the first-ever goal in the World Cup was born in Saint-Maur-des-Fosses, outside Paris, on the 10th of December 1907.

Lucien Laurent was a working-class kid. He had an older brother, Jean, and they both loved soccer. Lucien and Jean both wound up working at the Peugeot factory in Montbéliard, a city in eastern France, building cars. The Peugeot factory had a soccer team for workers, and the Laurent brothers were both on it. Jean was a defender. Lucien was a forward.

When France entered the World Cup in Uruguay, they were both invited to go with the team. And they were able to get time off.

Three of the four European teams playing in the tournament traveled to South America on the same ocean liner. France, Belgium, and Romania. The ship was called the Conte Verde. It was a transatlantic passenger ship in the old, grand style—picture the Titanic, from the movie, and you’ll be in the right general vicinity. When it was launched, in 1923, the Times of London described its opulence by noting that “the library is in the Tuscan renaissance style, with stained-glass windows and ceiling paintings.”

There was a swimming pool on the ship. There was a string quartet. There was a cinema.

The Conte Verde also carried Jules Rimet, the president of FIFA, who brought the World Cup trophy with him in his suitcase. The World Cup at this point is basically a regional bowling tournament. Like, Earl’s got the trophy in his gym bag. But it’s also got a bit of Downton Abbey in it. I guess the earl’s got the trophy in his gym bag (old chap).

Anyway. The voyage to Uruguay took something like 15 days, and I really love thinking about this trip. Here you’ve got this extremely grand vessel, with its library in the Tuscan renaissance style, and then you’ve got all these young working-class players who are basically on vacation from the tire factory—players who are definitely not used to this level of luxury.

Seems like a fun combo. Seems like a Preston Sturges movie.

I just like to imagine what this was like for Lucien Laurent. You know, he’s not some kind of bumpkin; he’s lived in Paris. But he’s never traveled across the ocean on a skyscraper-sized ship. And I think it’s safe to say that he’s spent minimal time listening to string quartets in Tuscan renaissance libraries?

How did he look at all this stuff? How did his teammates look at it? I’d like to believe that chandeliers might have been swung from, at some point?

Perhaps a bit of cognac was drunk. Who’s to say—[takes a long, delicious slurp of cognac]who’s to say?

What we do know is that the players had to spend part of their time training for the tournament. You can’t just spend two sedentary weeks at sea and then go play in a world championship.

So they trained on the ship. Ran drills right out on the deck.

I love picturing this. The sun gleaming on the waves. A mist of spindrift in the air. A phalanx of dudes with slicked-backed hair and long trousers and sweaters jogging in formation around the railing.

French national soccer team players pose
The French men’s national team on the deck of the Conte Verde while traveling to the 1930 World Cup in Uruguay
Photo credit should read STAFF/AFP via Getty Images

They ran up and down the stairs. They lifted weights below decks. I just love it. Here’s how Lucien Laurent later described the experience.

It was like a holiday camp. We didn’t really realize the full enormity of why we were going to Uruguay. Not until years later did we appreciate our place in history. It was just adventure. We were young men having fun.

Just lovely. I think an aquatic training period should be a requirement for all World Cup teams, possibly?

I just want to read about, like, Karim Benzema at sea? I want to read about Neymar diving during a training session and actually landing in two thousand fathoms of salt water.

I want Cristiano Ronaldo’s experience of pouting on boats to finally be put to good use.

Maybe we reinstate the ocean voyage as the default way for teams to reach the World Cup? Maybe we make it a race.

Hear me out. It’s a race. The race is televised. It’s like America’s Cup. Someone gets a World’s Best Loser Trophy. Tell me you wouldn’t watch this.

What is our podcast gonna be called? 22 … Life … Preservers? 22 … Fathoms? We’ll work on this. We’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Anyway! The Conte Verde stopped off in Rio to pick up the Brazilian national team. That’s four World Cup squads now on the same ship, for anyone who’s counting. Just imagine how much food poisoning would end up happening if anyone tried that today. The ship made its way down the coast of Brazil and docked in Montevideo on the Fourth of July.

5. The First-Ever World Cup Match

The first World Cup match of all time took place nine days later, in Montevideo, on the 13th of July, 1930.

Actually there were two matches that kicked off simultaneously. So four teams can legitimately claim to have been among the first to play in a World Cup. They are France and Mexico, who played each other at the Estadio Pocitos, and the United States and Belgium, who played each other at the Estadio Gran Parque Central.

So yes. If you’re American, as I am, and anyone tells you you don’t live in a soccer country, you can tell that person that literally no one played in the World Cup before we did.

Sure, they got good at it faster. Fine. But our history goes back to the very start.

It is winter in Uruguay. July is a cold month in the Southern Hemisphere. Snow is falling on the pitch at the France-Mexico game. The players are wearing just the most 1930s uniforms you can imagine.

There’s a photo of the French team lined up. They’ve got on shorts, long socks, V-neck sweaters with a colored border around the V, and collared shirts. They look great. Lot of pomade. Heavy-looking leather soccer ball at their feet. The French captain is holding a huge bouquet of flowers, and he looks like he just won Wimbledon. Killer fits on our Gallic lads. They look cold, though—a couple of guys are rubbing their hands together, and one of them has his hands tucked under his arms.

One of the referees at the first World Cup—actually the referee who officiates the final, this Belgian guy called John Langenus—wears a coat, a tie, and knickerbockers in all his games. Knickerbockers are those baggy-kneed pants that you tuck into your high socks. Payne Stewart, the golfer, used to wear them. The ref looks great too.

The Bolivian team wears berets on the pitch. I am a big fan of the 1930 World Cup, sartorially.

The France-Mexico match kicks off in a gently falling snow. Just a small crowd in the stadium to watch the World Cup begin. There’s no film of this match. There are barely any photographs. Even the old newsreel summaries you’d get a few years later aren’t really a thing yet.

So we don’t know too much about how the game unfolded. What I can tell you is that Lucien Laurent was a little guy. His nickname was “Petit Lulu”—little Lulu. He was about 5-foot-3 and weighed a little over 140 pounds.

My sense is that he was an elusive striker. I don’t know, but I picture him playing off the shoulder of the defender—carefully, because we’re still in the era when you’re considered offside if you’re level with the defensive line. You have to leave clear space between yourself and the last defenders. But I picture him looking for gaps in a sort of slippery way and wriggling free of much larger defenders to get onto the ball.

What we know for sure, from interviews and reminiscences the players have offered over the years, is that in the 19th minute, the French goalkeeper, Alex Thépot—does that mean teapot?—plays the ball to a central defender, and the defender gets the ball out to the French right winger, Ernest Libérati. Libérati beats his man, he gets by the fullback, and goes tearing down the right side of the pitch.

Laurent breaks toward the goal. He’s just outside the area. Libérati sends in a cross, and Laurent gets to the ball—5-foot-3 and he’s out here playing like a target man. He gets to the ball, hits it with his right foot on the volley, and sends it past the Mexican goalkeeper, Óscar Bonfiglio, and into the corner of the net.

Óscar Bonfiglio becomes the first goalkeeper to ever give up a goal at the World Cup. And thus, in a very real way, is the patron saint of this series.

Laurent has no idea what he’s just done. He later describes the goal as “nothing special.” Nothing special?! Lucien—oh, Lucien—if you only knew about the vast horde of internet readers you’re inspiring decades later. It’s not that vast. About the modest … horde of genuinely very inspired internet readers—all 11 of us love you, Lulu.

It was his first-ever goal for France. But goal celebrations aren’t really encouraged in 1930, especially in overwhelmingly empty stadiums in the snow. So Laurent probably just shook hands with Libérati and got on with the game.

France would score three more goals en route to beating Mexico 4-1. But the second goal ever scored in the World Cup was scored across town, in the 23rd minute of USA-Belgium, by the American winger Bart McGhee.

That’s right! America did not manage to secure the all-important first-ever World Cup goal, but we got the second.

Does that make us the world’s best loser? Nope! Because we beat Belgium 3-0, made the semifinals and ended up finishing third at the first-ever world soccer championship.

Remember how I said I wanted to meet the world’s second-best loser? My fellow Americans, it turns out it was us all along.

6. Argentina Saves the World Cup (by Pissing Everyone Off)

After those first two matches, won by France and the United States, it didn’t exactly seem like the World Cup was off to a roaring start. European and American papers showed almost no interest in the tournament. Even Uruguayan fans weren’t all that fired up about it.

To this day, the all-time record for the smallest crowd at a World Cup is thought to belong to Romania versus Peru in 1930.

It’s thought that about 300 people turned out to cheer on what, in fairness, looks like a super-random matchup even today. What’s the big narrative heading into a Romania versus Peru World Cup game in 2022? Vampires versus … vampire bats?

This is why they only let me write about old World Cup games, because I’d be like, “All eyes are on Qatar, where Romania will play Peru to determine who has the superior hematophagous nightmare-creature.” And no one wants that, except me.

Fans were not into the early rounds of the first World Cup. It’s not clear that the players were all that into the early rounds of the first World Cup. Montevideo had a big French population, and Bastille Day—a major holiday in France—is on July 14. The Argentine team was kept awake in their hotel late into the night by Bastille Day celebrations outside.

The next day Argentina played France, and they seem to have looked at the game not as a chance to advance in the tournament but basically as a chance to take out their annoyance on some French dudes. They played rough. At the very beginning of the game, poor Lucien Laurent got injured by the Argentine player Luis Monti. There were no substitutions in 1930, so he had to limp through the rest of the game.

After the match, some of the Uruguayan fans were so disgusted by the Argentines’ behavior that they threw rocks at the team as it left the pitch.

The captain of Argentina, Manuel Ferreira, left the team after that game. He was in law school, and he had to go home to take a test. Please try to imagine the global anarchy that would result if Leo Messi withdrew in the middle of the World Cup to take a midterm.

In Argentina’s third game, they instigated a huge brawl against Chile, which had to be broken up by the police. Yikes.

In the semifinal against the United States, Argentina’s Alejandro Scopelli hit Raphael Tracey with a nightmare tackle 10 minutes into the game. Broke the American’s leg. Tracey kept playing until halftime … with a broken leg.

Another American player, Andy Auld, had four teeth knocked out.

Imagine what would have happened if that match had been correctly officiated and America had advanced to the final. Maybe the whole history of soccer would be different.

Funny thing, though. Argentina—which is Uruguay’s next-door neighbor, geographically—ended up being so unpopular with soccer fans in Uruguay that they needed 24/7 police protection at their hotel by the end of the tournament.

Argentina also made the final. Against Uruguay. And it turns out that having the most hated team in the tournament play the home team in the final is a really good recipe for getting people interested.

I know. Who could have foreseen it?

The later rounds of the tournament see a huge upswing in attention. Ninety thousand people show up for the final. There are rumors that players are getting death threats. There are rumors that traveling fans are showing up with pistols. Basically pure seething chaos, along with, still, quite a large number of V-necked sweater vests. Armed guards with rifles and bayonets circle the field during the match. Fans storm the fences and attack ticket booths to catch a glimpse of the action. The start of the tournament was sleepy and snowy, but the end takes place in full World Cup lunacy mode.

Firecrackers keep going off during the match, so that the referee—remember the Belgian dude in his knickerbockers?—later said it sounded like revolvers were being shot in the stands.

Uruguay comes back from a 2-1 deficit to defeat the hated Argentines 4-2. The crowd loses its mind. It took a lot of American teeth getting knocked out for us to reach this point, but the World Cup is now officially a thing. Uruguay is now so fired up about the tournament that a grateful nation furnishes every member of the winning team with a new house.

Even the European newspapers are finally forced to take note of the tournament. In England, the prominent newspaper the Guardian publishes one solitary paragraph about the match, mostly focusing on the wild enthusiasm of the fans.

They get the score wrong.

Nevertheless. We’re seeing the future of soccer flickering into existence. What was initially a struggle for supremacy between England and France is now—thanks entirely to the 1930 World Cup—starting to look like a struggle for supremacy between Europe and an ascendant South America. And in many ways, that’s the story of soccer for the rest of the 20th century.

We are underway.

7. Roots and Blossoms

Remember the question we asked earlier? The airborne spore question? The question is, how do you start an international soccer tournament when one has never existed before? And the answer, at least for FIFA in 1930, is you just blunder ahead and do it.

You let things take their course. You hope you find a way to give people a hero and give them a villain. If you do that, and you give them some drama and an explosion of joy at the end, they will come back for more.

You don’t need a colonialist tea magnate to hold a soccer world championship, because the game itself is better than caffeine.

Lucien Laurent went back to France to his job at the Peugeot factory. He played for the French team for five more years and scored one more goal, against England, fittingly enough, in 1931.

He fought in World War II. He was taken prisoner by the Nazis. He spent three years in a prison camp and when he returned home after the war, he discovered that the Germans had stolen his World Cup jersey. Fortunately, as he later said, “All my memories were there, well established in a corner of my old head. No one can steal those from me.”

He moved back to his hometown and ran a bar for many years. He played soccer in a weekly pickup game in the park for decades. He finally hung up his boots for good at the age of 86.

And in 1998, Lucien Laurent, then in his early 90s, was present at the Stade de France to watch Zinedine Zidane and France win the World Cup for the first time in French history with a 3-0 win over Brazil.

Laurent was the only member of that first French World Cup team in the stadium. He was funny and charming and he entertained the media with stories about his time in Uruguay.

He died at the age of 97, in 2005, having lived long enough to understand the historic significance of the trip he took on a lark, as a kid, to play in the first World Cup.

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