There was a FIFA World Cup once in which the actions of Adolf Hitler reduced the number of participating teams by one (and no, it wasn’t Germany pulling out).
There was another World Cup which had a winner without a final being played!
And did you know that the prized World Cup trophy was once lost, only to be found a week later by a dog named Pickles!
Or that the highest turnout at an edition of the World Cup came more than 25 years ago!
Here are the stories behind all of this, and many more such astonishing facts, in our special FIFA World Cup multimedia immersive.
THE RISE AND RISE OF
THE FIFA WORLD CUP
'Bigger Than Ever Before' Every Four Years
If you were alive between 14 June and 15 July 2018, that is, during the previous edition of the football World Cup, FIFA says there is a one-in-two chance that you would have tuned in to watch the World Cup!
That is over 8,200 times more than the first FIFA World Cup in 1930 when the only way to watch it was by going to the stadium physically.
The World Cup has grown by leaps and bounds, and one of the ways you can tell is by looking at the prize money on offer for the champions.
Till the 1978 edition, the trophy and the prestige were all that the champions of the World Cup received from FIFA upon winning the tournament!
It was only from 1982 that the winners also started getting prize money, which has since multiplied several times over the years.
AND THE CHAMPIONS ARE...
Which Part of the World Has Bragging Rights Over All Others?
Europe may have the edge over South America when it comes to total number of World Cups won, but can you guess which team has found the back of the net the highest number of times at the World Cup?
We now know who scored the most goals, but do teams score with the same frequency as they did once upon a time?
THE TIME INDIA MADE IT TO THE WORLD CUP BUT DIDN'T GO
And How The World Cup Took a While Before Becoming Truly Global
In the first seven editions of the World Cup, there had only been two teams from Asia (Dutch East Indies and South Korea) and one from Africa (Egypt) at the tournament. Each of the teams had only played at one edition of the World Cup.
The World Cups in 1930, '50, '58 and '62 did not feature either a team from Asia or Africa.
The reasons for such poor representation didn't always have to do with the quality of football. For example, owing to the difficulties of intercontinental travel, few South American teams were willing to travel to Europe for the 1934 and 1938 tournaments held in Italy and France respectively.
How India Missed Its Chance
India have long struggled to qualify for the football World Cup. In fact, India has never played a single match in the tournament. India did have a chance to play in the big event in 1950, but they did not. Why? You may have heard the oft-repeated story that the team was not allowed to play because they wanted to play the tournament barefoot – which is totally incorrect.
So, why did India miss the chance to play in the 1950 World Cup, despite being invited to participate in it?
The 1950 FIFA World Cup in Brazil was facing several challenges as the tournament was finally happening after a halt of 12 years, in the aftermath of the Second World War.
The qualifiers for the 16 places in the World Cup saw participation by only 34 nations. India received an invite when two other Asian teams - the Philippines and Burma (now Myanmar) - withdrew.
But the All India Football Federation (AIFF) decided not to participate. At the time, for India, the Olympics was a bigger deal than the football World Cup. So, the AIFF did not deem it fit to send a team halfway around the world via ship.
Ultimately, only 13 countries reached Brazil as Scotland and Turkey pulled out as well.
A senior AIFF office-bearer stated that the visit to the World Cup in Brazil would cost around Rs 1 lakh and that the federation didn’t have the money.
Though FIFA may have been ready to bear the cost, AIFF issued a press release stating, “India will not participate in the World Cup or the Jules Rimet Cup. Due to late information reaching India, the team will have to be flown to Rio resulting in cancellation of team selection. Since there is not much time, the Indian team will not be able to prepare and hence it will not be correct to send the team.”
All in all, India didn’t go for the World Cup, creating a missed opportunity that Indian football fans rue to this day.
Interestingly enough, the 1950 edition of the World Cup is the only one to have not had a final! The 13 participating teams were split into four groups - Group A and Group B had four teams each, Group C had three teams and Group D had only two teams - Uruguay and Bolivia.
The top team from each group went through to the final four - but instead of having semifinals and a final, the tournament had a round robin format instead to decide the winner! Each of the teams in the final four played the other three, and Uruguay ended up edging past Brazil to win their second World Cup.
The only team to have won the World Cup without playing a final!
THE HOSTS AND THE GUESTS
Fans Who Travel the World Over, and the Pride of Host Nations
No matter which corner of the world is hosting the World Cup, for some diehard football fans, attending the World Cup has become like a quadrennial pilgrimage. Like this couple from Kolkata, Pannalal and Chaitali Chatterjee, who attended every World Cup starting from 1982 Spain to 2018 Russia.
The Chatterjees have travelled far and wide on the World Cup trail, but how global has the tournament been when it comes to hosting rights?
The fans sure love turning out in large numbers everywhere, but some World Cups have seen bigger crowds than others.
THE UNLIKELY BEGINNING OF THE GLOBAL EXTRAVAGANZA
How the World Wars Changed the World Cup’s Plans
Until the second half of the 19th century, football was only played in the UK. The world's first international football match was played between Scotland and England in 1872. But by the onset of the 20th century, the sport started to gain widespread popularity in other parts of the world too.
Football made its debut in the 1900 Olympics but could only be contested by amateur players. It was only after the founding of the Fédération internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in 1904 that efforts were made to organise a tournament between nations.
The beginning of World War I in 1914 disrupted the attempts to materialise a global tournament of professional footballers as many players were sent off to war. After the war, nations were unwilling to play against their recent World War enemies. At one point, the very existence of FIFA came into danger.
Enter Jules Rimet, the third president of FIFA. He prevented its falling apart and brought together the member associations. FIFA became the organiser of the football event in the Olympics. Participation of 24 football teams in the 1924 Paris Olympics marked a successful event.
The success of the Olympic Football Tournament intensified FlFA's wish for its own world championship and the 1928 FIFA Congress in Amsterdam decided to stage a world championship. Uruguay was chosen to host the first such tournament in 1930.
And thus, the FIFA World Cup was born.
After the successful organisation of the first edition, FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) disagreed over the status of amateur players. And as a result, football was dropped from the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. The sport did return in the 1936 Berlin games after FIFA and IOC worked out their differences, but when it came to football, the World Cup had overtaken the Olympics in terms of popularity and prestige.
When Hitler Reduced the Number of Teams at the World Cup by 1
By the time of the third edition of the FIFA World Cup (France 1938), political developments in Europe were already pointing towards a second World War.
Austria had qualified for the 1938 World Cup, scheduled to be held in June. But less than three months before the World Cup was to kick off, Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany annexed Austria.
Austria, which got absorbed into Germany after the annexation, couldn't participate as a separate team. And hence, the 1938 FIFA World Cup, which was originally planned as a 16-team tournament, got reduced to a 15-team affair.
As the Second World War raged from 1939 to 1945, the football World Cup was also affected just like everything else in the world at the time. As a result, there was no World Cup in 1942 and 1946, which remain the only two occasions on which the tournament has missed its four-year cycle.
THE MANY ADVENTURES OF THE TREASURED TROPHY
Hidden in a Shoebox, Found by a Dog
Arguably, the most desired piece of silverware in the world, the FIFA World Cup trophy, has an interesting history behind it. The World Cup trophy, as we know it in its current design, did not exist at the time of the first World Cup in 1930.
Instead, the winners of the football World Cups between 1930 and 1970 received the Victory trophy made of gold-plated sterling and depicted Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.
The trophy, designed by French sculptor Abel Lafleur was renamed from Victory to Jules Rimet Trophy in 1946 to honour then FIFA President Jules Rimet, also regarded as the 'Father of the World Cup'.
At the onset of World War 2, the trophy was held by Italy, the 1938 champion. But due to the fear of Mussolini and his Nazi allies capturing the trophy, Ottorino Barassi, president of the Italian football association, secretly transported the trophy from a bank locker and hid it in a shoebox under his bed!
Before the 1966 FIFA World Cup in England, the Jules Rimet trophy was stolen during a public exhibition in London. Incredibly enough, it was found just seven days later under a car, by a dog named Pickles!
Thanks to Pickles, the England team got a chance to hoist the original Jules Rimet Trophy when England went on to win the World Cup on home soil later that year. Talk about being a World Cup hero for your country!
After Brazil won their third World Cup in 1970, the Jules Rimet trophy was permanently awarded to Brazil as it was stipulated that the first team to win the Cup thrice would get to keep the trophy perpetually.
However, in Brazil, the trophy was robbed again in 1983! Even though the thieves were caught later on, the trophy could not be recovered.
After shortlisting from 52 designs submitted by sculptors around the world, a replacement trophy was commissioned before the 1974 World Cup.
And since its crafting, the new trophy has become the ultimate prize of the world champions. Unlike its predecessor though, this trophy is not stipulated to be permanently awarded to one nation.
THE FAN FAVOURITES
Mascots, Logos & Posters: The Cultural Artefacts of the World Cup
What connects Crack, Tango, Challenge and Fevernova? They're all names of official FIFA World Cup footballs over various editions! Each World Cup is celebrated in its own unique fashion, loaded with the culture and symbols of their host nations. With each edition sporting a special mascot, poster, logo, and football, the diversity of these cultural artefacts is a testament to the diversity and global popularity of the tournament itself.
Here's a look at the different posters from every edition of the World Cup!
And now for the official ball of each World Cup since 1930.