Start Believing: France rides the crest of a wave

The tale of les Bleus' arduous journey from Nice to Montevideo for the first ever World Cup features in the latest of our series chronicling the extraordinary power of belief.
On Saturday June 21, 1930, FIFA president Jules Rimet and the French team boarded the Italian luxury liner, SS Conte Verde in the small harbor town of Villefranche-sur-Mer, four miles east of Nice. The liner’s ultimate destination, after stops in Genoa and Buenos Aires, was Montevideo, capital of Uruguay, which was hosting the inaugural World Cup.

One of the biggest issues for the French team was how to fill the time. After the Belgian and Romanian teams boarded in Genoa, much of their time at sea was spent keeping fit. "It was a really tough trip because in those days the only way you could reach Montevideo was by boat," recalled French player Edmond Dalfour. "[Raoul] Caudron, the coach, was insistent that our players needed to stay busy and keep themselves occupied."

Despite Caudron’s best efforts, his players still had too much time to kill, and grew fascinated with watching the waves when the ocean grew choppy. So much so in fact, that the French players grew quite obsessed with the vagaries of the ocean on the 14 day voyage.

If the waves wash above deck two days in a row, we’ll win the tournament"

One night, Dalfour told the French players: "If the waves wash above deck two days in a row, we'll win the tournament." It was a bold claim, given that South American powerhouses Uruguay and Argentina were the overwhelming favorites. But sure enough, after a rough 48 hours, sea water washed above deck on two consecutive days.

When the SS Conte Verde finally docked in Montevideo, ecstatic crowds greeted the boat's arrival and the French were convinced that they would prosper. They won their opening match – and the first ever World Cup game - against Mexico 4-1, before sliding to defeat against Chile and eventual finalist Argentina. Alas, Dalfour's nautical superstition had been a load of baloney, but he had plenty of time to ocean watch on the long fortnight voyage back home.