Daniel Woolfall - the Blackburn man who inspired Jules Rimet to create the World Cup
PUBLISHED: 15:58 10 July 2018 | UPDATED: 14:18 11 July 2018
FIFA’s second president organised one of the first international football competitions.
You may have heard already, but football’s coming home. And when we’re talking of the World Cup, that means Blackburn.
The England team face Croatia tonight in their first World Cup semi-final since 1990 and if they do go all the way and win the trophy, you can bet the celebrations will be centred on Wembley.
You can also bet Three Lions might be sung once or twice. But had things worked out a little differently, that catchy chorus could have been:
‘Three lions on a shirt
Dan Woolfall still gleaming
Thirty years of hurt
Never stopped me dreaming’
Daniel Woolfall was a plumber’s son from Blackburn. He was born in June 1852 and attended Blackburn Grammar school (now Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School) before becoming an accountant who worked as the inspector of taxes for Blackburn.
And when he wasn’t inspecting taxes, he was helping the development of football. He was there in the early days of Blackburn Rovers and held various posts with the Lancashire FA.
He was among the crowd when Blackburn Rovers lost the 1881-82 FA Cup Final 1-0 to Old Etonians and accompanied the club on several of their early European tours, to Germany, Austria and Hungary, and he was heavily involved in the creation of the offside rule and the professionalisation of the game.
He started work for the English FA in 1901 and became FIFA’s second president in 1906, a post he held until his death 100 years ago, in October 1918.
His European adventures with Blackburn had sown a seed and during his time with FIFA, Mr Woolfall organised the first international football competition of note, at the London Olympics in 1908 – the final (in which a British team beat Denmark 4-0) was refereed by Blackburn Rovers founder John Lewis.
Among his colleagues at FIFA was a young Frenchman called Jules Rimet and they would have been delighted that the football tournament at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm saw more countries enter (although Team GB won again).
Under his stewardship, FIFA grew and the idea of an international tournament outside the Olympics was taking root. But the rise of the international competition was stalled by World War One and by the time the conflict ended, Daniel Woolfall had died and been buried in Blackburn Cemetery.
With the war over, Jules Rimet became president and continued Mr Woolfall’s work to bring international teams together on the football field. He is credited with launching the first World Cup, with the original trophy named in his honour. He travelled to the first tournament in Uruguay by ship, carrying the trophy in his bag.
England weren’t involved in that first tournament – they didn’t play in the World Cup until in 1950 – and have famously only lifted the trophy once.
Now if they can win just two more matches (put like that, it seems easy, doesn’t it?), they will be able to bring Daniel Woolfall’s dream home.