Games of the I. Olympiad

Football Tournament

(Athens, Greece, 12th April 1896)

An Olympic football tournament was planned. The Organizing Committee of the Games in 1896 learned that four foreign clubs were interested in sending a team, and therefore decided on March 17 to include football on the programme.

However, none of the four clubs came to Athens, and at a meeting of the Greek Olympic Organizing Committee on March 28, it was in principle decided to delete football from the official Olympic programme due to the small number of participants. The deadline for both federations and clubs to sign up was six days later (April 3). By that day the Secretary-General had only received name lists from Greece and Denmark.

Football was thus (like boxing, cricket, horse racing, rowing and sailing) only unofficially part of the Olympic programme in Athens in 1896. The local organizing committee later awarded the Danish football players bronze medals.

The Danish players were members of either Københavns Roklub (KR) or Østerbro Boldklub (ØB), who both had red and white as their club colours – just like the Danish flag. KR (founded on October 20, 1866) and ØB (founded on September 1, 1894) had both been among the founding members of the Dansk Idræts-Forbund (DIF, Danish Sports Confederation), founded on February 14, 1896, which selected the team sent to Athens.
During the winter break between October 1895 and April 1896 several players left Boldklubben Frem, apparently for economic reasons. Two of them, Axel Andersen Byrval and Peter Mikkelsen, switched to B 93 and participated in DBU's tournament in the season 1895-96, while the others entered ØB, where they replaced those players of the club who were in Athens.

King George opened the Olympic Games (as in 1906); Crown Prince Constantine chaired the National Olympic Organizing Committee. His younger brother, George, Prince of both Greece and Denmark, refereed the football match.

Match Details

April 12, 1896; match started 15.40.

Podilatikos Syllogos Athinon (Greece)  lost to  Dansk Idræts-Forbund (Denmark)
NB: result given as 0-9 or 0-15 in various sources.

Podilatikos Syllogos Athinon (Greece):
Pavlos Kountouriotis, Kavalieratos Anninos, Konstantinos Zervoudakis,  
Dimitrios Petrokokkinos, Georgios Karamanos, Stavros Antoniadis, Spyridon Angonakis,
P. Gasparis, Epamaindos Harilaos, Georgios Nikolopoulos, Eleftherios Psaroudas.

Dansk Idræts-Forbund (Denmark):
Line-up unknown (team consisted of Danish sailors and businessmen, members
                 of the Østerbro Boldklub, who happened to be in Athens,
                 plus Eugen Schmidt and Holger Nielsen of Københavns Roklub)

Referee: George (Prince of both Greece and Denmark)
Attendance: 6,000, Neo Phaliron Velodrome

The reason why there is different information about the result of the football match and why it was more or less ignored, is a recommendation from Crown Prince Constantine, who publicly said that the sports, such as football, which were not part of the official Olympic programme, should not be mentioned. According to Raoul Fabens, a French member of the Organizing Committee, this reversal indicated the challenges in the preparations for the 1896 Games.
However, Olympic historians Erik Bergvall (Sweden), Fritz Wasner (Germany), Herbert Sander (Denmark) and Peder Christian Andersen (Norway) gave 11 points for the Danish delegation at the 1896 Olympic Games, based on its achievements. They gave 3 points for 1st place, 2 points for 2nd place and 1 point for 3rd place. They mentioned that Denmark had one 1st place, two 2nd places and three 3rd places, which would yield 10 points, and gave 1 additional point for Denmark for the football win – only 1 additional point and not 3 because the football competition was unofficial.
As an aside, note that all these four early Olympic historians also discussed the Intercalated Games of 1906 in Athens in their works, and there can be no question of a confusion between the football tournaments played in 1896 and 1906 in their publications. Today's statistical works give 10 points for Denmark at the 1896 Games, because they are not aware of the (unofficial) 1896 football competition.
Eugen Schmidt, who played in the football match, wrote a report about the Danish achievements at the 1896 Olympic Games. In 1896, only first and second place were awarded medals: first place got first prize (Silver medal) and second place got second prize (Bronze medal), while third place did not get any prize. In his report, Schmidt mentioned only the actual achievements of the Danish athletes, i.e. he only mentioned the first and second places, without mentioning the third places. Schmidt reported that the Danish athletes won four prizes in total, one first prize in weightlifting and three second prizes in fencing, shooting and weightlifting. However, Denmark did not win second prize in fencing. According to the 1896 official Olympic report and all other 1896 sources, Denmark finished third in fencing! Schmidt hid the football prize as a fencing one, apparently choosing fencing because it was Holger Nielsen who participated in the fencing competition (and finished third), and he also participated in the football match and won second prize (Bronze medal) – only second prize and not first prize because the football competition was unofficial. So clearly, Schmidt did not want to omit the Bronze medal won in the unofficial football competition but was not allowed to mention football (apparently because of the policy established by Crown Prince Constantine mentioned above) and therefore moved the medal to fencing. According to the 1896 official Olympic report and all other 1896 sources, Denmark really won one first prize in weightlifting and two second prizes in shooting and weightlifting, while the third second prize in football was never mentioned in any source, because they were not allowed to mention it.
Also, the Czech author Jiří Guth-Jarkovský, who was one of the founding members of the IOC in 1894 and was in Athens in 1896 as an IOC member, mentioned, in 1896, that Denmark had 12 participants in the 1896 Olympic Games, which explains how Denmark could field a whole football team. This report is in contrast to later reports stating that Denmark had only 3 participants in the 1896 Games. In fact, Denmark had 3 participants in the official competitions alone, not including the 9 participants who took part at the unofficial football match. All those reports only listed the Danish participants in the official competitions!

Finally, note that the "Guide des Jeux olympiques : VIIIe Olympiade Paris 1924", in which the football section is by far the longest chapter, was published on April 12, 1924, exactly 28 years to the day after the first (unofficial) Olympic football match detailed above; if this was not coincidental, this may have been because at the time that match often was considered to have been the first international football match (between "national teams") outside of the British Isles and as such of great significance in the history of the game.

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About this document

This document is a short English version of an article in Danish by the same author that will be published at the opening of the Danish Football Museum in 2026.

Note that the IOC does not acknowledge that football was played at the 1896 Olympics; however, there is incontrovertible evidence that the above match was played and part of the (unofficial) programme.


Prepared and maintained by Nitzan Zilburg

Author: Nitzan Zilburg
Last updated: 23 May 2024

(C) Copyright Nitzan Zilburg 2021/24
You are free to copy this document in whole or part provided that proper acknowledgement is given to the author. All rights reserved.