Welcome to the Unofficial Football World Championships – probably the least known but most exciting football competition on Earth.
This is how it works: the Unofficial Football World Championships (UFWC) pitches real international teams into a continuous series of boxing-style title matches. Winners of UFWC title matches become title-holders, and Unofficial Football World Champions, and move up the rankings table.
UFWC lineage goes right back to the very first international football match in 1872, between Scotland and England in Glasgow. As Scotland and England were the only international teams in existence, the winner of this initial match could safely claim to be the best side in the world – the Unofficial Football World Champions, if you will. Unfortunately, neither side managed to win the match – the score was a rather disappointing 0-0.
So swiftly fast-forward to the second international football match, again between England and Scotland, and played in London on 8 March 1873. This time there were a full six goals – England won 4-2, and became the very first Unofficial Football World Champions. But they didn’t hold the title for long. In 1874 they were beaten 2-1 by Scotland, meaning the UFWC title passed to the Scots.
The UFWC title bounced backward and forward between England and Scotland, and then Ireland and Wales got involved. The British home nations dominated the UFWC during international football’s formative years, until the instigation of international tours and tournaments meant sides from all around the globe began to play each other.
Following the UFWC lineage through more than 800 friendly and competitive matches, we can trace how the title was passed between over 40 different nations during more than 140 years of international football. It has been held by most major European and South American teams, plus comparative footballing minnows like Australia, Israel, Ecuador, and the tiny Dutch Antilles. The title has been contested at World Cup finals and in seemingly meaningless friendlies. It has been won by the most celebrated players of all time, and by previously unknown and unsung heroes.
The UFWC also operates an all-time ranking system. Sides are awarded one ranking point for every title match victory. No points are awarded for a draw. As of 2013, Scotland top the rankings table, some way ahead of second-placed England. That is a source of debate, but in the early years the UFWC, like football in general, was dominated by sides from the British Isles, of whom Scotland have won most title matches.
If the Unofficial Football World Championships’ statistical roots can be traced back to 1872, the idea of an unofficial title was first born in 1967, and the foundation of the UFWC as an organisation began in 2002. In 1967 Scottish football fans claimed that, in beating World Cup holders England 3-2 at Wembley in 1967, Scotland had become unofficial world champions. In 2002, a caller to a football phone-in radio show echoed that claim, and threw down a tantalising statistical gauntlet. Who, the caller wondered, were the current holders of the unofficial title?
Identifying the current unofficial champions required tracing the lineage of title matches from 1872 right up to date. Various dedicated football stattos reached for their record books to undertake this mammoth task. Differing methods and rules meant that there were various inconsistencies, which the UFWC sought to iron out. The launch of the www.ufwc.co.uk website in 2003 saw a definitive set of rules and records created. The UFWC was ‘officially’ born.
The Unofficial Football World Championships remains very much, well, unofficial, but it has received a thumbs-up of sorts from FIFA. ‘As long as people have fun with football and that it is played in the spirit of respect for all involved, the non-violation of the Laws of the Game and the ethics of sport, FIFA is more than happy!’ exclaimed a statement from the FIFA Media Department. ‘We wish UFWC fans a lot of fun!’
And fun is what it’s all about. The UFWC isn’t going to usurp FIFA or supplant the World Cup any time soon, but it does neatly fill the four-year void between the official tournaments, and there is a good amount of enjoyment to be had in watching an apparently meaningless international friendly match with the knowledge that the victor will become the latest title-holder in an illustrious lineage that stretches back 140-plus years.
Every UFWC match is a cup final, and, for football fans, it doesn’t get more exciting than that. Game on.