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FIFA’s Amsterdam years

From 1928 through 1931, FIFA was headquartered in Amsterdam, its offices looking out on the Royal Palace at Dam Square. 

Paleisstraat in Amsterdam

FIFA’s administration is carried out from its Zurich, Switzerland, headquarters, from which location such huge events as the World Cup are directed. Thus, Switzerland forms the heart of the world’s football empire, which it has been since 1934, 85 years now.

Remarkably, the spider in the international football web was at some time in the past situated by the Netherlands, more precisely at Paleisstraat 31 in Amsterdam. It was from this address that preparations were started for the first World Cup football tournament ever: the Uruguay 1930 edition. C.A.W. Hirschman conducted his work in his capacity as secretary of FIFA at said address, which he – of necessity and rather unglamorously – shared with the secretary of the Society for Actual Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The Vaderland newspaper reported on 27 September 1928: “The secretary of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, Mr C.A.W. Hirschman, has rented premises specially for the secretarial office, which premises are to be taken into use soon. The office will be accommodated at Paleisstraat nr. 31, in the near vicinity of Dam Square.”

Amsterdam Mayor De Vlugt is certain to have been honoured by the occasion, for only a few months earlier he had sung high praises during his speech that opened the FIFA Congress in his city. “It is not often that Amsterdam is honoured to be visited by an association with such import as this one“, he told the attending football administrators.

FIFA in 1928

Saviour of FIFA

The one person responsible for FIFA’s taking up residence in Amsterdam was Hirschman, banker as well as sports administrator. Hirschman played a major part in FIFA from its incorporation in 1904.In fact, following the death of President Daniel Burley Woolfall, in 1918, he kept the organisation alive almost singlehandedly. The circumstances under which he did were ridiculously difficult, with World War I still raging and causing enormous problems within FIFA between the warring nations, even after the ceasefire. If it had not been for Hirschman, the federation would likely have met an early demise.

It was not until the late 1920s that FIFA showed signs of renewed vigour. This newly found potency was evidenced by the introduction of the World Cup. Its first edition, awarded to Uruguay, was prepared by a committee, with – it almost goes without saying – Hirschman as a key member. During the process, FIFA concluded it required its own offices, which they found at Paleisstraat, a street adjoining Amsterdam’s Royal Palace on Dam Square. It was from these offices that Hirschman maintained extensive international correspondence and edited FIFA’s international handbook, and its bulletin.

C.A.W. Hirschman

At FIFA’s 25th anniversary congress, in 1929, praise was heaped on Hirschman for his services. He received a bronze sculpture as a gift from all associated members, and money was allocated to enable him to provide his offices with some decent furniture.”Mr Hirschman“, the De Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant daily reported, “was most touched.

Two years later, however, it all came crashing down, when Hirschman’s stock-trading company went bankrupt. Having invested money for FIFA, Hirschman nearly took FIFA with him in his downfall. The other board members sped to Amsterdam to discuss the situation. The Algemeen Handelsblad daily reported that FIFA would keep on its Amsterdam offices, so “funds and correspondence would be maintained from them“. Austrian board member Schricker would, however, assume Hirschman’s duties as honorary secretary and treasurer until the 1934 FIFA congress. It was at this congress, held in Rome, that FIFA decided to move its headquarters to Zurich, where it is still domiciled.

Today, about ninety years later, the pivotal role of a Dutchman at the heart of FIFA’s organisation has been all but forgotten. What has not been lost, however, are the construction drawings for the offices at Paleisstraat 31, a few years before Hirschman took up residence there. They can be found in Amsterdam’s City Archives online service: here. Thus, the blueprints have been preserved of the office where the foundation was laid for the sporting event that has billions of people all over the world glued to their television sets every four years.

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Jurryt van de Vooren
Specialist in sporterfgoed. Al meer dan 25 jaar de enige Amsterdammer, die is afgestudeerd op Feyenoord.