Uruguay were chosen as the hosts for the first-ever FIFA World Cup. In those days Uruguay were the best team in the world and Jules Rimet did not hesitate to choose them as the hosts keeping in mind the enormous popularity of football in Uruguay and Latin America.
Quite expectedly Uruguay won the first-ever World Cup in 1930 by beating another Latin American giant, Argentina.
Francisco Varallo revelled in playing at the maiden World Cup. And lived until he was 100 years old to tell everyone about it, which FIFA.com had the privilege of discovering he loved to do.
Here the excerpts:
Francisco, thanks for having us. What are your memories of the first World Cup?
It was like a dream come true. Argentina had a fantastic team and I had only played one match with them, two months before the World Cup. I was just a boy and I was in awe of players like Luis Monti, Manuel Ferreira, Guillermo Stabile… In those days the coaches barely spoke, and it was the most experienced players who decided on the starting 11. On the day of my debut against France, I asked the captain, Ferreira, how I should play, and he replied: “Play the way you know how do what you want.” And things worked out well for me.
Argentina were just 45 minutes away from becoming the first world champions…
I injured my knee during the match against Chile, so I didn’t play in the semi-final against the USA because they were saving me for the Final. I was in pain and I shouldn’t have played in the Final, but when you want to give your all for your country… I played my heart out in the second half and I could feel it in my knee. We were down to ten men, and as the match went on, another was injured, and another. There were no substitutions then: we were left with eight players on the pitch. But they beat us fairly and squarely. What can you do? Eight against 11 had no chance. It was in the second half that the Uruguayans beat us. We were well beaten.
Over the last 80 years, many aspects of football have evolved. What was the training like in your day?
In the 1930s, we trained three times a week or less. But I used to also train by myself because I was very perseverant. When I was in La Plata, I used to go running in a park, and in Buenos Aires, they would let me practise on my own on the pitch at the Boca ground. I kept training up until a few years ago – I was always moving and I enjoyed it.
There were no nutritionists or anything of the sort. Stabile’s only recommendation was that we shouldn’t eat salami sandwiches. I always ate very well, a variety of things. I had a typically Argentinian diet, with a lot of meat. And before a match, I would ask for seconds. Roberto Cherro used to ask me: “Panchito, how come you eat more than the rest of us?”, and I would explain “If I don’t, I won’t score many goals.”
The food we ate was healthy and gave us energy; there was no alcohol or smoking. There were no fizzy drinks, and people didn’t eat as much pasta as today.
It must have been a good diet because I’ve still got my own teeth. Some of that is down to genetics, of course, but I was never fat and I maintained my muscles. I also never had a medical check-up during my career. The advances that have been made in that area are fantastic. I never fully recovered from the injury I sustained at the World Cup in Uruguay. Nowadays, players recover in no time from operations – it’s extraordinary, they walk out of surgery!
What was a footballer’s life like?
I grew up in a middle-class family, with my parents and three brothers. We never went hungry and we all had the opportunity to study. There was no such thing as holidays. Back then, people used to go to the countryside or to Buenos Aires, which was quite an outing, with all the theatres and galleries.
I started going to Mar del Plata in the 1930s, when you had to travel along 400 kilometres of dirt road. I used to swim there, I loved the sea. Playing for Boca made it possible for me to buy a car. I always liked speed. I drove until I was into my eighties and I never wore out the brakes! It took me four hours to get to Mar del Plata. Of course, back then there wasn’t such a crazy number of cars on the roads.
You clearly have a remarkable memory. Are you aware of your important place in the history of the World Cup?
I find it incredible that young people know who I am. When I was in France, people from Germany, Poland, England, Switzerland, they all wanted to meet me, with a lot of passion and respect. They still send me letters to my house. And some even send presents. They are unforgettable gestures that make me very happy. And it’s all thanks to football! Here in La Plata, everybody knows me: old folks, young people, children, they all say hello to me. I was named an ‘illustrious citizen’. Now that I’m old, more tributes are being paid to me than before. It seems I’m still important!