The Unofficial Football World Championships is a well-established method of determining the best team in the world. But which is the worst team in the world? That’s a question that can be answered via the UFWC Wooden Spoon, a spin-off competition that’s been running over at the UFWC Forum. It works almost exactly like the main UFWC, only in reverse; that is to say, any time the current wooden spooners win a match, the team they beat become the new wooden spooners.
The story of the UFWC Wooden Spoon (or UFWCWS?) begins in 1873, when England beat Scotland in 1873 to become the first UFWC title holders, and Scotland became the first wooden spooners. Like the UFWC title, the wooden spoon stayed within the British Isles for many years (occasionally with England and Scotland, but mostly with Wales or Ireland). The first overseas team to inherit the spoon was Belgium, courtesy of their 5-3 defeat to England in 1926. Holland, Denmark and Norway all had stints as holders soon after.
Between 1929 and 1940, the spoon was shared by just four teams: Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Then, on the 5th August 1940, the Soviet Union annexed Latvia. Latvia were, suddenly, no longer an independent country, and their national football team was disbanded. This meant the spoon going vacant for 24 days – an irritating break in continuity that can be blamed directly on Stalin (although one has to say it was not the worst thing he was ever responsible for!).
The next international thereafter was a win for Sweden against Finland, so the Finns were the new wooden spooners. They did not manage to offload it until their 24th attempt (nine years later) – the longest run of failure in the competition’s history. The win they finally managed was against Denmark. However, the Danes beat Norway on the very same day (with an entirely different XI), so Norway were the new holders. Finland then took the spoon for yet another two years (1950-52), before Norway and Denmark got another look-in.
Switzerland inherited the spoon for the first time in 1953, before they won 4-2 in Paris; the French taking the spoon briefly. It then went on to the Republic of Ireland, and then Luxembourg. Unsurprisingly, they held the spoon for seven years, but then stunningly beat Portugal in a World Cup qualifier. Portugal then beat Bulgaria, but Bulgaria beat Portugal soon after.
Then, in April 1963, Portugal won 1-0 against reigning (official) world champions Brazil. Thus the incredible situation where Brazil were – simultaneously – both officially the best team in the world, and unofficially the worst! When they lost 5-1 to Belgium three days later, it seemed the latter was perhaps closer to the mark, but then they beat France 3-2 and the French, once again, held the spoon.
Via Bulgaria and Greece, the spoon inevitably returned to Finland, staying there from 1966-1972 (barring a brief period in 1969 – the Finns beat Spain in a World Cup qualifier, but Spain soon took 6-0 revenge in the return match). The next Finnish win was over Albania in another World Cup qualifier, but, once again, they lost the return match and regained the spoon. It then passed through the hands of Norway and Northern Ireland to Sweden.
In May 1975, Sweden beat Algeria 4-0 in a friendly in Halmstad – a result which would see the spoon leave Europe for the foreseeable future (thus far, the only non-European team who had inherited the spoon was Brazil). Algeria offloaded the spoon at the first opportunity, beating Saudi Arabia 3-1 in January 1976. It has remained in Asia ever since.
Stints as spooners for the UAE, Bahrain, UAE again and Oman saw out the 1970s. Bangladesh, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore all saw ownership of the poisoned chalice in the 1980s. The spoon returned to Oman in 1988, staying until 1993, when it went – surprisingly – to Malaysia. A few months later, Malaysia beat Macau 9-0, and the tiny colony looked like retaining ownership for a long time. In 1996, though, they beat the Philippines 5-1 (it was only their sixth attempt at an offload). The Philippines then needed 24 attempts to offload the spoon, thus equalling the Finland record of the 1940s.
The team the Philippines finally beat, Guam, came close to that record too, but won at their 22nd attempt. One could argue, though, that their tenure, although not the longest in terms of matches, might have been the most convincing display of ineptitude in the competition’s history. Their first two attempts ended in 19-0 and 16-0 defeats to Iran and Tajikistan respectively. They also suffered three enormous defeats (11-0, 15-0 and 15-1) to Hong Kong, hardly giants of the game themselves. Other defeats in the run included 11-0 to Palestine, 10-0 to Chinese Taipei, and 21-0 to North Korea.
It was Mongolia who, in 2009, suffered the ignominy of ending Guam’s nine-year reign as spooners. Over the following month, the spoon went to Macau, back to Mongolia, and then back to Macau again. Macau still hold it today, having lost all six games since they retook the spoon.
So the worst team in the world is Macau, and the immediate future of the spoon looks likely to remain in Asia, having been there since 1976. Smaller Asian nations like Macau virtually never play, let alone beat, teams from outside their own continent, and even the forthcoming Asian Cup will pass them by. However, the UFWC always throws up surprises, so who knows what the future holds for the UFWC Wooden Spoon?
You can follow the progress of the Wooden Spoon over at the UFWC Forum.