by Stuart Moriarty-Patten

13 July 1930: The first World Cup goal

Frenchman Lucien Laurent scored the first ever World Cup goal in the nineteenth minute of France’s 4-1 win over Mexico on the opening day of the 1930 tournament held in Uruguay.

Laurent who was born on 10 December 1907 began his career semi-professionally with Cercle Athletique de Paris in 1921, and stayed with them for nine seasons before transferring to Peugeot Sochaux who were subsidised by the Peugeot factory where he worked.  He was called up to the World Cup team along with his brother Jean, who would travel as part of the squad but not make an appearance.

The idea for a World Cup had been formulated by FIFA president Jules Rimet, and, in 1929, the organisation had agreed to implement the idea.  The first tournament was held in Uruguay after their offer to hold it beat off other offers from Italy, Sweden, Holland and Spain.  The fact that Uruguay retained their title of Olympic champions in 1928, plus the country was the celebrating the centenary of its independence helped FIFA’s decision to go with them, as did Uruguay’s offer to not only fund all travel and hotel expenses but also to build a new stadium.

Eight weeks before the start of the tournament there were no European teams confirming entry.  The British FAs were not part of FIFA at the time and others had been deterred by the length and expense of the trip.  Eventually four European countries, France, Yugoslavia, Romania and Belgium finally agreed to take part after an offer from FIFA president Jules Rimet to underwrite all their costs not being met by the Uruguayans.  Eventually thirteen teams were set to compete for the first World Cup.  Along with the four from Europe were seven from South America consisting of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru joining Uruguay, and Mexico and the USA.   The French, Belgians and Romanians left Barcelona on 22 June aboard the SS Conte Verde for the two-week trip to Uruguay.  Also on board was Jules Rimet himself escorting the solid gold 12 inches high ‘Goddess of Victory’ trophy that was to be presented to the winning team.

Peugeot had given Laurent leave to attend the World Cup, but like most of the French players he would receive no pay during his absence and only minimal expenses from the French FA.  Nonetheless Laurent has described how he thoroughly enjoyed his trip describing the ship as like being on a holiday camp, although the players took time to keep themselves fit.  Every morning they had a training session on the deck and in the afternoon they would run on the spot, due to the limited space on the ship. As well as the training though, Laurent has described how they were entertained by comedians and musicians and got to spend time in the on-board cinema and swimming pool.  After stopping off in Rio de Janeiro to pick up the Brazilian squad the ship landed in Montevideo and was greeted rapturously by thousands of Uruguayans.

The participating teams were divided into four groups for the tournament, with the winner of each group reaching the semi-finals.  France were drawn alongside Mexico, Argentina and Chile, and it was to be Mexico who they would meet first.

With it being in the Southern hemisphere it was winter and snowing in Uruguay when the game was played.  There was only a small crowd of 1000 spectators there to see the event held in the Estadio Pocitos the home of Penarol in Montevideo.  All the games in the cup were played in the Uruguay capital, but much to Laurent’s expressed regret France never got the chance to play in the brand new 95,000 capacity Estadio Centenario that was not quite completed. Building work had been delayed by heavy rain and it was not finished until five days after the tournament had started, just in time in fact for Uruguay’s first game, meaning that the first few games had to be played in smaller stadiums around Montevideo.

The first ever goal in a World Cup came 19 minutes into the France v. Mexico game, after Laurent fired a volley from the edge of the box after receiving a pass from teammate Ernest Liberati.  At the time the importance of the goal was understated.  Football was in its infancy and no one could envisage how big the World Cup would become.  In an interview with a newspaper in 1998 Laurent, then aged 91, described how his goal was celebrated with just a pat on the back and a hand shake from his team mates and how, back in France, his goal had barely registered a mention in the press.

France went onto win the game 4-1 but their stay in Uruguay was to be short-lived as they lost their next two games to Argentina and Chile.  Laurent, who had the nickname ‘Petit Lulu’ on account of his lack of height, he stood just 5 feet 3 inches, only played a small part in the rest of the tournament.  A crude challenge in the next game by Argentinean defender Luisito Monti left him with an ankle injury that severely limited his contribution in the game and forced him to miss the next.

Aside from Yugoslavia, all the Europeans were knocked out in the first group stage.  The semi-finals saw Uruguay line up against the Yugoslavs while Argentina met United States. In the semis, the Argentineans, for whom centre-forward Guillermo Stàbile was in great form, thrashed the USA 6-1, while the Yugoslavs were beaten by Uruguay by the same score. The hosts were living up to their billing as tournament favourites with winger José Andrade, reckoned by many to be the first great black player, starring. The final then pitched the two fierce rivals from across the River Plate together, and despite Stàbile notching up his eighth goal of the tournament and putting the Argentineans into a 2-1 lead, Uruguay scored three times goals to see them win the inaugural World Cup.

Injury prevented Laurent appearing in the 1934 World Cup in Italy.  In total from his debut in a 2-0 loss against Portugal in February 1930 to his final appearance in a 2-0 win over Hungary in Paris in May 1935, he would play for France 10 times, including an appearance in France’s 5-2 thrashing of England in 1931 in which he scored his only other international goal.

At club level Laurent played for a number of clubs after his trip to Uruguay before settling with Strasbourg for a couple of seasons before the intervention of the Second World War in 1939.  He was called up to the army and was captured by the Germans, spending three years as a prisoner of war in Saxony.  He was released in 1943 but found that the occupying German army had stolen all his possessions, which had been placed in storage for him.  Sadly, amongst his belongings was his 1930 World Cup jersey.  He played three seasons of war-time football for Besancon in eastern France before retiring in 1946.  He remained in Besancon and opened a bar but he still kept up an interest in football, coaching a number of local sides and even playing in social games until he was 86.

Laurent’s name was largely forgotten after 1930 but when France hosted the 1998 World Cup he found himself in demand by the media as he was by now the only living member of that first World Cup team.  He was present at the World Cup Final when France beat Brazil 3-0 to pick up the trophy for the first time.

Laurent passed away in 2005 aged 97; having achieved the recognition in his later years that he deserved for scoring that first goal in what is now the long history of the World Cup.