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The World Cup’s violent beginnings

The players take to the field for the 1930 final

Brazil may be the country “most associated with the World Cup”, say Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook on The Rest Is History podcast, but it was the British who pioneered the sport in South America. In the 1890s, Charles Miller, the son of a Scottish-born businessman living in Brazil, returned home from studying at an English boarding school, proudly clutching a document. His father presumed it was his diploma – it was actually a list of the rules of football. Most Brazilians’ first reaction to watching football was one of “incredulity and horror”. “A group of Englishmen – a bunch of maniacs as they all are – get together to kick something that looks like a bull’s bladder,” read a report in a Rio newspaper. “It gives them great satisfaction or fills them with sorrow when it passes through a rectangle formed of wooden posts.”

The first official World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930. European teams made the 15-day journey on the Genoan cruise liner Conte Verde, which stopped to pick up the Romanian, French, Belgian and Brazilian teams en route. (The Egyptian team was meant to embark in Barcelona, but a storm delayed the first leg of their journey; when they arrived, the ship had left without them.) The first “World Cup brawl” broke out at the tournament’s semi-final, in which Argentina beat America 6-1. One US teammate insisted on playing on with a broken leg; another lost four teeth and had his lip ripped off. When the team’s manager approached the referee to complain about the butchery, he accidentally dropped and smashed the bottle of chloroform he’d been carrying and passed out on the spot.

🍔🛩 Today’s elite footballers are rather more pampered, says Vice, with high-end concierge services catering for their every whim. Requests include supplying two kilos of caviar and a private chef to make mini-burgers, or delivering a dozen Big Macs and McNuggets to a private jet. Premium Conciergerie, which charges about €4,800 a year for its special “FC” membership, was once asked to organise a whole wedding in nine business days. One footballer attending an all-white party asked the company to have his blue Ferrari altered to fit the theme with just 96 hours’ notice. “He went off to the party happy,” says the firm’s head. “The next day, he called to tell me how amazing it was – but that now, we needed to take the white paint off.”