by Stuart Moriarty-Patten
18 August 1933: The birth of Just Fontaine, France’s record goalscorer
Just Fontaine was born on 18 August 1933 in Marrakech, Morocco to a French father and Spanish mother. He is still the holder of the record of the most goals scored in a single World Cup with 13 in the 1958 tournament held in Sweden.
Fontaine was a squat, strong player, good in the air and gifted with both feet while having a seemingly supernatural awareness of who was around him on the pitch. He began his career as an amateur with USM Casablanca who he played for between 1950 and 1953. He soon attracted the attention of clubs in France as he scored 62 goals in his three seasons with the club and won both the Moroccan Championship and the North African Champions’ Cup in 1952.
In 1953 he moved to Nice where he stayed for three seasons. He continued his prolific goalscoring with them netting 62 times in 48 games helping them to win the French Cup, beating Marseille 2-1 in 1954, and the League in 1956. After that title-winning season he parted with Nice to move to Stade de Reims, then one of the leading clubs in France. He carried on scoring goals at his new club, getting 121 of them in six seasons. More silverware came as Reims won the League and Cup double in 1958 with Fontaine’s 39 goals in 32 games contributing enormously.
While at Nice he had made his debut for the national team on 17 December 1953 scoring a hat-trick in an 8-0 win over Luxembourg. In seven years he was to score 30 goals in 21 games for France but he will always be best remembered for the 13 goals that came in six games during that 1958 World Cup. Before the World Cup though Fontaine was by no means a regular with the national side or assured of his place. Despite the hat-trick on his debut he was not picked again for another three years, missing out on the 1954 World Cup, and he arrived in Sweden having scored only one international goal in over four years only and having played only 5 times since his debut five years previously. Fontaine’s chance of a place in the team though was helped when a rival striker, Rene Bliard, went home injured after a warm-up game.
France, who had never finished in the top four of a World Cup were not highly fancied before the tournament but, with Fontaine and Europe’s Player of the Year Raymond Kopa leading the attack, they outscored everyone in that World Cup with 23 goals, and, in the end, were disappointed to finish third. Fontaine was to forge an immediate understanding with Kopa, who was voted player of the tournament. Kopa’s steady flow of passes helped Fontaine score in all France’s six games starting with a hat-trick in a 7-3 win over Paraguay. In the next game he scored twice in a 3-2 loss to Yugoslavia, before finding the net and making the other for Kopa in 2-1 win over Scotland that sent Les Bleus through to the quarter-finals. Here they met Northern Ireland and Fontaine grabbed another two goals as France won 4-0.
In the semi-finals France were involved in what was widely considered the game of the tournament against Brazil. In the ninth minute Fontaine scored to equalise Vava’s second minute opener, but the French were up against it after their captain and defender, Robert Jonquet broke a leg. No substitutes were allowed in those days so the French were effectively reduced to 10 men with Jonquet a passenger on the wing. A goal by Didi six minutes before half-time saw Brazil go into the break 2-1 up, and then a second-half Pele hat-trick saw the game finish 5-2 to the Brazilians, who went on to beat Sweden in the final by the same score.
Fontaine went into the third place play-off game against West Germany two behind the Hungarian Sandor Kocsis’s record of 11 goals, which he had set in the 1954 World Cup finals. In the event Fontaine scored four times as the French won 6-3, taking his total to the still unsurpassed 13. He had scored seven with his right foot, five with his left and one with his head, but it could have been more as, against Scotland, he had hit the bar twice. He had also scored in every game, a record he shares with Uruguayan Alcides Ghiggia who did the same in 1950 and Brazil’s Jairzinho who scored in every game in 1970. Furthermore Fontaine is one of only four players to score two World Cup hat tricks, along with Kocsis, Gerd Muller & Gabriel Batistuta, and he is the fourth all time scorer despite playing only that single tournament. He lies behind Ronaldo (15 goals in 4 tournaments), Gerd Muller (14 in 2) and Mirosla Klose (14 goals in 3 tournaments).
No golden boot was awarded in those days to the top scorer so Fontaine had to make do with an air rifle presented to him from a local Swedish newspaper in recognition of his sharp-shooting. However, forty years later he was presented with one by Gary Lineker as part of a documentary being made on World Cup history.
Fontaine’s form continued after the World Cup with Reims where, despite the loss of their title, he scored 10 European Cup goals in six games to put Reims into their second European Cup Final in four seasons. In 1956 they had lost 4-3 to Real Madrid and they were destined again to lose, this time 2-0, to an all-conquering Real Madrid now featuring Fontaine’s partner from the World Cup Kopa.
Kopa returned to Reims that summer and immediately the understanding him and Fontaine had developed in the World Cup was renewed. Fontaine scored 28 league goals as Reims won another League Championship, and making him the leading scorer in the league for a second time. Sadly the partnership between the two stars was to prove to be short-lived. Fontaine was forced to retired at the young age of 28 in 1961 after twice breaking his leg. This injury also saw him miss the inaugural European Nations Cup that was hosted by France in 1960.
After retirement Fontaine helped set up the French Football Players’ Union, of which he was president until 1964. He briefly managed the national team in 1967 but was replaced after only two games, both friendlies against Romania and the USSR that ended in defeat. After a short spell with Luchon he joined Paris St Germain, who he led to promotion to the top flight in 1974, before later spending a season with Toulouse. In 1979, Fontaine returned to the country of his birth to take charge of the Moroccan national team, leading them to the semi-finals and ultimately a third place finish at the African Nations Cup in 1980. That proved to be his last job in management and he eventually retired to Toulouse, where he still lives and will no doubt be celebrating his upcoming 80th birthday.
Perhaps Just Fontaine’s unique achievement in the 1958 World Cup has been somewhat overshadowed by Brazil’s first World Cup victory and the emergence of a 17 year old prodigy called Pele but he is still well remembered. In November 2003 he was named as the French representative of Europe’s 50 greatest footballers in the UEFA 50th Jubilee Awards, and in March 2004 he was lauded by Pele as one of the 125 greatest living players named in celebration of FIFAs 100th anniversary.
Although some may dismiss Fontaine’s record as coming in an era when goals were easier to come by the man himself has been quick to point out that the state of the ball and pitches, difficulty in travel, and lack of support from the backroom staff, plus less protection for forwards from referees, actually made the game more difficult in his day, plus he notes he wasn’t even wearing his own boots when he set his record, having borrowed a pair from a team mate after his own had fallen apart, and which he had to return after the tournament. Furthermore he has mentioned that in today’s larger World Cup Finals forwards can boost their goals’ total against weaker opposition such as the Asian teams.
While Fontaine said all the above with his tongue firmly in his cheek the truth is, regardless of circumstances, he set a record which has already lasted for over 50 years and seems unlikely to be broken anytime in the foreseeable future.