The 1934 World Cup: Coppa Del Duce

1934 - The world was gripped by economic depression, a depression that had started with the Wall Street Crash in 1929. Adolf Hitler's rise to power under the slogan 'Arbeit und Brot' (Work and Bread) had led to him being elected Chancellor of Germany in 1933 before assuming the role of Fuhrer in 1934. American President Woodrow Wilson's idea of a 'League of Nations' to keep peace following the Great War (1914-1918) was failing and extreme beliefs were prospering across Europe. Into a melting pot of tension and uncertainty, the second ever addition of FIFA's 'World Cup' was due to take place.

Italy were led by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and his policy surrounded the 'cult of personality'. Il Duce, as he was known, prioritised being seen as the perfect man and perfect leader, done through both propaganda and force. With plans of Italian expansion in mind, a war of revenge in Africa with Abyssinia (Ethiopia) would follow in 1935. Part of Mussolini's methods of winning support and public approval were through the promotion of sport. Il Duce was a keen follower of football and active sportsman himself, the chance to host a World Cup in 1934 was the ideal opportunity to magnify Italy on a grand stage. A mass propaganda campaign followed in Italy with posters, stamps, cigarette cards and anything else promotional available used to ensure Italy would be glorified through the feast of football.

A major role in this 'cult of personality' was sport because Mussolini saw it as a means of expressing fascism’s demand for "individual dedication to the greater collective need". His order to all competitors who represented Italy was: "Remember… When you compete abroad, the honour and sporting prestige of the nation is entrusted to your muscles and above all your spirit" (1). Much greater than playing abroad, these Italian footballers had the daunting honour of standing for their country on home soil.

The World Cup would take place from 27th May-10th June 1934 with 16 nations joining from four different continents. The tournament was hosted across eight different host cities, from Naples in the South to Milan in the North as thousands of football fans from across Europe travelled to Italy to enjoy the fortnight of competition. This would also become the first international football competition to be broadcast live on radio, the action being sent to listeners in 12 of the competing countries (2). However, current World Cup holders (1930), Uruguay refused to take part in the proceedings, as form of protest against nations who did not travel to their tournament four years previous. Uruguay were also joined in boycott by the four 'Home Nations', meaning no British representation would be present.

Rome's Stadio Nazionale PNF would host the Final

The English FA were particularly vocal in their disapproval of the FIFA World Cup, football's new global tournament. They firmly believed that they, the FA, had founded modern football in 1863, and therefore any ursurpers were not worth their time nor attention, Charles Sutcliffe, one of the FA's notable administators during the 1930s despised FIFA and believed that their system of giving each association an equal vote "magnified the midgets" (3). Sutcliffe branded the 1934 edition of the World Cup a "joke" (4), believing that the Home Nations Championships was the tournament that truly declared who were world champions. This would not bother Italian dictator Mussolini though, the lack of English presence (as well as Uruguay) allowing for Italy's route to the final to be simplified.

The 1934 World Cup would be structured as a straight knock-out tournament, with eight seeded teams (based upon FIFA rankings) avoiding each other in the first round of competition: Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Hungary, Italy and the Netherlands. These First Round ties would all kick-off simultaneously (can you imagine that today!) and plenty of surprises were provided in the first couple of fixtures. Spain saw off Brazil 3-1 thanks to a double from Athletic Bilbao's Inside Forward José Iraragorri, whilst Switzerland dispatched the Netherlands in the San Siro, Milan, by three goals to two. 1930 finalists Argentina, were hit by a dispute not unlike those common today in the Argentinean international football. This meant that not a single member of their squad who reached the final four years prevously would feature for the South Americans as they were defeated by the Swedes 3-2.

Italian goalscorer Giovanni Ferrari
Italy were pre-tournament favourites and started in a rich vein of form, destroying USA 7-1 in front of Mussolini (who had made a scene of queuing with the general public to purchase his own ticket). Angelo Schiavio, Bologna legend and future Italian national manager, netted a hat-trick, whilst Giovanni Ferrari, one of the greatest Italian footballers of the 1920s and 1930s also got himself on the scoresheet. The victory for Italy set up a fiery tie with the Spanish in the Quarter-Finals, a tie that would have to go to a replay but also saw both sides pick up a number of injuries due to the brutality of the contest. After drawing 1-1 in Florence, Ferrari again netting for the hosts, it would take a strike from Inter Milan hero Giuseppe Meazza to secure the 1-0 win a day later and place Italy into the Semi-Finals.

The Quarter-Finals were made up of soley European teams, the only time the in World Cup history the final eight has been from one continent. Joining Italy in the Semis were Austria, who saw off old friends/rivals Hungary 2-1, Germany who defeated Sweden 2-1 and also Czechoslovakia who had firstly beaten Romania before sending Switzerland home with a 3-2 win thanks to a late winner from their talismanic Inside Forward Oldřich Nejedlý.

The Semi-Final draw saw Italy face off against a strong Austrian side who featured Matthias Sindelar, known as the 'Mozart of Football’ and likened to a "pre-war Pelé" (5). The Azzurri were resolute in the Semis, putting on a 'classic Italian' defensive display to hold firm against the Austrians and seize a 1-0 victory. Argentinean born forward Enrique Guaita, who plied his trade for Roma, scored the only goal for Italy in the 19th minute of proceedings, securing Italy a shot at glory on 10th June 1934. In the second Semi-Final, controversy would abound as Rinaldo Barlassina, Italian referee would be accused of bias. With Czechoslovakia the less fancied side versus Germany, some believe Barlassina helped tip the balance towards Czechoslovakia to give Italy the best shot at lifting the trophy. Despite any bias that may/may not have existed that day, it would be Oldřich Nejedlý who would steal the headlines for his nation. A hat-trick blasted the Czechs through, 3-1 winners, Nejedlý's goals securing him the Golden Boot award with five strikes across the tournament.

Oldřich Nejedlý - Golden Boot winner with 5 goals

The final was sorted then, hosts Italy would line-up for their shot at glory in Rome, the home of the great Colusseum, the home of the Roman gladiators and in 1934, the home of the Fascist Party Stadium (or Stadio Nazionale PNF). 55,000 spectators packed into the arena on 10th June to watch Italy in blue versus Czechoslovakia in red for the title of 'world champions'. Mussolini's desire for showing off his country saw him commission an extra cup: the Coppa Del Duce, "whose dimensions dwarfed the real thing" (6). Czechoslovkia's short-passing game and the boots of Nejedlý certainly had the potential to trouble the Italians and for the first-half, the score remained at 0-0.

With under 20 minutes remaining, Mussolini's fascist World Cup party was almost derailed as Czechoslovakia opened the scoring. Prolific Outside Right Antonín Puč, of Slavia Prague, found the back of the net and the Czech's had a shock lead. However, with just 9 minutes left on the clock, it would be Juventus' Mumo Orsi who would level the game at 1-1; the South American born Orsi rescued the game and sent the match into 30 minutes of extra-time. 5 minutes into the extra-30, Meazza picked up the ball out wide and crossed it into Semi-Final goalscorer Guaita. Guaita played the ball into the feet of his teammate Schiavino and he found the back of the net for the fourth time that summer. Italy held on and manager Vittorio Pozzo had led his men to the top of the World Cup podium. A rapturous party broke out as the Jules Rimet throphy was presented to the victors as well as Mussolini's giant Coppa Del Duce.

The post-match party begins after Italy win the World Cup 

Western Daily Press - Monday 11 June 1934 (7)
The reaction in Britain to Italy lifting the trophy was markedly quiet, the snippet (right) taken from Bristol's Western Daily Press, a six-lined corner of the paper dedicated to the final. Just mentioning the scoreline in Rome and not even allowing for credit for the goalscorers themselves. The Tamworth Herald (below) meanwhile was even more succinct in its reporting of Italy's victory some six days after the event - 2 1/2 measly lines that didn't even include the score! The attitude of the British was set to be maintained until after the Second World War, British teams refusing to participate on the global stage. However, in November 1934 England and Italy would get the chance to slug it out on English soil. The Battle of Highbury (read more here) was known in the media to be the 'real world championships' as the FIFA World Cup holders Italy, faced off against the originators of the game, the forever great... England. The Guardian reported that “It was not a game of football, it was a battle” and England held on to win 3-2 at Highbury, an event that would further purported the story that England were truly undisputed world champions.

Tamworth Herald - Saturday 16 June 1934 (8)

It is impossible to view this World Cup without considering the European context of the time. Just days later, as a jubliant Benito Mussolini would travel to Venice for a historic meeting with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (whose Germany earned a third-placed finish in Italy). Hitler and Mussolini agreed to support each other, a decision which would lead to the beginning of the Axis powers. Just a fortnight or so later, Hitler would order the 'Night of the Long Knives' where high profile political enemies and friends too would be executed. For Mussolini, the success of a World Cup victory for the sports-mad Il Duce would help solidify his role in public office. The next four years would see the situation in Continental Europe deteriate, meaning when the next World Cup was hosted in France, the world would be on the brink of war.

Hitler & Mussolini meet in Venice (June 1934) - llustrated London News - Saturday 23 June 1934 (9)

By Gareth Thomas (@GJ_Thomas & @TFHBs) - Make sure you check out The Football History Boys' podcast here!

(1) Simon Martin (2011), Sport Italia: The Italian Love Affair with Sport.
(2) FIFA website.
(3) David Goldblatt (2006), The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football.
(4) Matthew Taylor (2005), The Leaguers: the making of professional football in England, 1900–1939.
(5) These Football Times website (2015).
(6) FIFA's report of the final. 
(7) Sourced from: The British Newspaper Archive (online).
(8) Ibid.
(9) Ibid.

The Football History Boys, 2019


Popular Posts