World Cup Tales: Hector was the First of the Gang (1930)

1930

Uruguay, 1930

The story of the World Cup begins in Paris on 21st May 1904. Robert Guerin, President of the French Sports Union, arranged a meeting between representatives from the leading European nations. Those representitves included Louis Muhlinghaus and Max Kahn from the Belgian Sports Society, Ludvig Sylow representing Scandinavia, Carl Anton Wilhelm Hirschmann of the Dutch Football Association, and the meeting would mark the establishment of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, better known as FIFA. By 1905, Austria, Hungary, Italy and England had joined FIFA, and Hirschmann went about arranging an international tournament, inspired by the Home Nations Championship. The original idea for the competition would involve four groups comprised of European nations, with  the home nations comprising one, and the rest of Europe being split into the remaining three. Unfortunately, with the date of the proposed tournament in 1906 drawing ever nearer, a lack of interest from the invited nations led to the plans being shelved. In a bid to strengthen their grip on the game, FIFA then cosied up to the Olympics Committee and took charge of football played during the games. The first Olympic Football tournament under FIFA’s watch in 1908 saw leading nations enter teams for the first time, and Great Britain ran out winners. With each subsequent Olympics football became increasingly popular, and it was left to Henri Delauney, the Godfather of international football, to signal FIFA’s intent for the game.

Two months before the 1928 games in Amsterdam, FIFA finally renewed plans to host its own tournament and, having won the football event at the subsequent Olympics, Uruguay were chosen as the inaugural hosts. The small country on the East coast of South America was due to celebrate its centenary year in 1930, and as reigning unofficial world champions FIFA president Jules Rimet saw it fitting to award the very first World Cup to them. The choice of a South American host for the first edition of the tournament proved controversial, particularly since the founding members of FIFA had all been based in Europe, and Italy, Hungary and Spain had all expressed interest in becoming the maiden hosts. Eventually the committee were swayed by Dr Adrian Beccar Varela, FIFA’s representative for Argentina who pointed out that, not only were Uruguay the unofficial world champions and celebrating their centenary year, but they were also willing and able to stump up the finances needed to host a tournament of this kind of magnitude. The other host candidates duly withdrew, and the World Cup was heading to South America, though sadly Varela wouldn’t be alive to see it – he contracted typhus shortly after the decision, and a month later had died.

The prize for winning the tournament was a trophy christened the Victory Statue, but later renamed the Jules Rimet trophy after the President of FIFA. Designed by French sculptor Abel Lafleur, the trophy was modelled on the Winged Victory of Samothrace statute that dates back to Ancient Greece, and since 1883 has been displayed the Louvre.

The location immediately caused problems, as very few countries were prepared to allow their sporting representatives to embark on the mammoth journey across the South Atlantic, while the British governing bodies deemed the event beneath them, and chose to boycott the tournament. Eventually, thirteen teams were entered into the competition, with the majority arriving in Uruguay from North and South America, while four teams from Europe also made the journey. Initially, the first World Cup was due to be a straightforward knockout competition comprising 32 teams, but due to the lack of entrants, FIFA were left with a format not dissimilar to the modern day, with four groups (one of four, three of three), the winner of each progressing to the semi-finals. Argentina came into the tournament as the second-favourites after the hosts, and breezed past Chile, France and Mexico with three wins out of three. Yugoslavia stamped their credentials on the international scene by finishing ahead of Brazil in their group, and the United States were the surprise winners in Group Four, though the challenge offered by Belgium and Paraguay was hardly the strongest.  In Group Three, hosts and favourites Uruguay were struggling against fellow South Americans Peru until their one-armed striker broke the deadlock.

Hector Castro was born in Montevideo on the 29th November 1904 (the year that FIFA was formed). At the age of 13 he suffered an accident involving an electric saw, and amputated his right forearm, but in a remarkable show of courage and willpower, he recovered to join local side Athletic Club Lito at the age of 17. By 19 he had joined Nacional, one of the most famous club sides in Uruguay, and in the same year he received a call up to the national team. By now Castro had been given the nickname El Manco (the maimed), and had discovered how to use his disability to his advantage, either by gaining leverage when jumping with a defender, or offering sly digs into the faces of his opponents when the referee wasn’t looking. Though he wasn’t considered a first choice striker for Uruguay by the time the World Cup came around, an injury to Peñarol’s Peregrino Anselmo meant that Castro made the cut for the first game and, 65 minutes in, scored the only goal of a tense affair against Peru to set Uruguay on their way to the final. Anselmo returned, and scored, against Romania in the next group game, and hit a further two in the 6-1 hammering of Yugoslavia in the semi-final but left the pitch injured, opening the door to El Manco for the final. In the other semi-final, Argentina replicated Uruguay’s scoreline, though against inferior opposition, as the United States were brushed aside thanks to five second half goals.

The final was an entertaining, end-to-end affair with Pablo Dorado giving Uruguay an early lead before Carlos Peucelle and tournament top scorer Guillermo Stabile sent Argentina in ahead at half-time. Pedro Cea equalised for Uruguay just before the hour, and Santos Iriate’s goal on 68 minutes put the hosts within 25 minutes of winning the first World Cup. With time ticking away, and Argentina pushing for an equaliser, Uruguay broke forward, the ball was launched into the box, and Castro flung himself at it, heading past Juan Botasso and sealing the win.

It later emerged that El Manco had been offered a 50,000 peso bribe to help Argentina win the final, or suffer the consequences if he refused. Clearly not one to be intimidated, Castro’s performance was one of the outstanding moments from the first World Cup, and he went on to add further trophies in his club career, winning three national championships with Nacional, before moving into coaching and adding to his tally with five titles as Nacional manager. A fervent drinker, smoker and gambler, Castro died aged just 55 of a heart attack, but his influence on the World game, and his inspirational performance in the face of adversity, means his legacy will live on.

You can read more about Hector Castro, Uruguay’s footballing history and more in Andreas Campomar’s excellent book ¡Golazo!: A History of Latin American Football’.

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