Host City: Antwerpen, Belgium
Venue(s): Brood Street Stadium, Antwerpen; Duden Park Stadium, Bruxelles; Jules Otten Stadium, Gent; Olympic Stadium, Antwerpen
Date Started: August 28, 1920
Date Finished: September 5, 1920
Format: Bergvall System, with winners progressing to next round. Losing quarter-finalists plus losers to the winners played for 2nd and 3rd place.
At the 1984 Olympics, the qualifying round matches in the football tournament were spread all over the United States, a situation similar to that which exists in the World Cup tournament. The first time this occurred in international matches was in the 1920 Olympics. While the bulk of the matches were played in Antwerp (although in two different stadia), some early round matches were played in Gant and St. Gillis. From the quarter-finals onward, and including the second- and third-place matches, most of the matches were played in the Beerschot Stadium, the main Olympic Stadium.
Not all the world’s top football nations were present at Antwerp. Germany and Hungary did not compete, as the nations were not invited to the 1920 Olympics because of their role in World War I. Great Britain almost did not compete. In early 1919, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales withdrew from FIFA and formed their own federation, the Federation of National Football Association. Surprisingly, the United States protested Britain’s presence in the 1920 football tournament, since Great Britain was no longer a FIFA member. Belgium and France supported this motion, but Great Britain was allowed to compete. Among the original 15 entries, Switzerland withdrew for financial reasons, leaving 14 nations in the field.
The final round match of the 1920 football tournament was contested between Belgium and Czechoslovakia. The referee was supposedly neutral, John Lewis, a Brit. But the Czechs were not pleased with his selection, as according to the Czech player Sedláček, he had been the victim of violence at a match in Prague and wanted revenge on the Czechs. In addition, the crowd of 40,000 was decidedly in favor of the home team. Langenus described the scene, “Both by the side of the stands and by the side of the terraces, waves of people penetrated the stadium, overrunning all obstacles ... The Olympic trench had grown into an enormous gate via which thousands poured in. A cordon of soldiers was thrown round the sidelines in an attempt to at least keep the crowd off the playing field. All around the stadium, fans were handing like bunches of grapes from the colonnades and from the trees.”
Belgium took an early lead, scoring at the 6- and 30-minute mark to lead 2-0. The Czechs were becoming very upset over Lewis’s calls. Finally, after a foul was called against Karel Steiner on Robert Coppée at the 39-minute mark, the Czech team left the field, withdrawing in protest of the officiating. They could not be convinced to return to the field and the Belgians were declared the Olympic champions.
The Czechoslovakian team was disqualified and not awarded second place. Their protest was not allowed, the terms of which read as follows (translated from the French):
1.We were granted an English linesman, which was a contradiction against the published rules, in which it was noted that each participating nation had the right to two linesmen. This rules violation was an important prejudice against us, because the English linesman was not impartial and that is why we demand the annulment of the match.
2.Most of the decisions by the referee M. Lewis were incorrect and it was evident that he was prejudiced against our team. Also, both of the goals were marked by Belgians only, but after false decisions of the judge, and we demand a rigorous inquiry on this point.
3.In the course of the match, the Belgian soldiers were introduced as one, and they encircled the field and their provocative and menacing conduct prevented our team from being able to play a peaceful and regulated game.
After the regrettable incident at the end of the match, a wild mob of soldiers destroyed our flag at the end in a manner that we were unable to continue to participate until a satisfactory apology for the destruction of our flag was made to the entire team.
The football tournament was to be decided by the Bergvall System, in which teams losing to the champions then contested a new tournament for second place, and then a separate third-place tournament was held among all teams losing to the winners and runners-up. A new tournament was thus begun to determine the second place team. Czechoslovakia had been disqualified in the final, and thus did not compete in the second-place tournament. The second-place tournament began on 30 August, with teams that had lost in early rounds playing off to get into the tournament. The tournament proper began late on 2 September, after the final match “ended.” Many of the French players had already left Antwerp and were not available to play so the French did not field a team in the silver medal play-off tournament. As a losing semi-finalist, France would have been matched against the Netherlands, which lost in the semi-finals to Belgium. The other teams were playing off for the right to face the winner of the France-Netherlands match. When France withdrew, The Netherlands walked over into the second-place finals, where they faced Spain, losing 3-1.
In addition to their gold medals, the Belgian football team was awarded possession of the Challenge Prize that had been donated by The Football Association of Great Britain.