Dec 16

Unofficial Football World Championships vs the World Cup

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We love the World Cup here at the UFWC, and we’re excitedly looking forward to Brazil 2014, which starts in just two months’ time. To add to the excitement, there’s a good chance that the Unofficial Football World Championships title will be contested at the World Cup tournament. Current UFWC champions Uruguay are on course to take the title to Brazil, although they have a couple of tricky title matches to negotiate first.

If the UFWC title does go to Brazil, it won’t be the first time the unofficial and official tournaments have crossed over. The UFWC and World Cup lineages are very different, but they have come together several times during football’s long and entertaining history. Today we’re looking back at the history of UFWC / WC crossovers, and from next week we’ll be remembering some of the best UFWC title matches that have been played at World Cup tournaments.

The UFWC’s lineage runs back to the first international football match in 1872. The first World Cup match wasn’t played until 1930, but the UFWC and the WC remained completely separate. The first World Cup tournament took place in Uruguay in July 1930, some 58 years after the first international football match.

FIFA had been around since 1904, and had already organised amateur football competitions under the umbrella of the Olympic Games. Uruguay won footballing gold at the Olympics in 1928, and that country was duly selected to host the first independent world football tournament in 1930. But there were problems from the start. Europe was in economic turmoil, and many nations decided they couldn’t afford to send teams on the long sea journey to South America. There was no qualifying competition, and the 13 participants were selected by invitation only.

The Unofficial Football World Champions – then England – were invited to participate, but refused. In fact, FIFA and the Uruguayan Football Association made several attempts to get British involvement in the fledgling tournament, to no avail. All four British and Irish football associations had resigned from FIFA in 1928 in protest at the international organisation’s increasing influence over the game. They wouldn’t return to the FIFA fold until 1946, so no pre-war World Cup featured any sides from the British Isles.

Instead, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales stuck to their own British Home Championships – arguably a more competitive competition at this time than the World Cup – and of course they continued to contest the UFWC. Over in South America, Uruguay won the World Cup tournament, and the Victoire aux Ailes d’Or trophy, to become the first official football world champions. But Uruguay had never played nor beaten England. So England remained Unofficial Football World Champions.

The unofficial and official tournaments wouldn’t crossover until 1950, when UFWC champions England took the title to Brazil. Overall, the UFWC title has been contested at 11 World Cup tournaments. The unofficial and official titles have been ‘unified’ at 8 of them. Here’s a World Cup run-down showing the UFWC and WC champions at the end of each tournament:

1930 UFWC: England WC: Uruguay

Not contested. Unofficial champions England did not participate.

1934 UFWC: Wales WC: Italy

Not contested. Wales did not participate.

1938 UFWC: Scotland WC: Italy

Not contested. Scotland did not participate.

1950 UFWC: Chile WC: Uruguay

Contested but not unified. Unofficial champions England participated, but lost to the USA, who lost to Chile, who were eliminated at the group stage.

1954 UFWC: Paraguay WC: West Germany

Not contested. Paraguay failed to qualify.

1958 UFWC: Brazil WC: Brazil

Unification. Champs West Germany lost to Sweden in the semi final, and Brazil won both unofficial and official titles in the final.

1962 UFWC: Mexico WC: Brazil

Contested but not unified. Spain were UFWC title holders, but lost to Czechoslovakia, who lost to Mexico, who went out at the group stage.

1966 UFWC: England WC: England

Unification. The USSR took the UFWC title into the WC, but lost to West Germany in the semi final. England won both the UFWC and WC in the final.

1970 UFWC: Switzerland WC: Brazil

Not contested. Switzerland failed to qualify.

1974 UFWC: West Germany WC: West Germany

Unification. The Netherlands went into the WC as UFWC title holders, and held on all the way to the final before being defeated by West Germany.

1978 UFWC: Argentina WC: Argentina

Unification. France were UFWC champs, but lost to Italy, who lost to the Netherlands, who again lost in the final, this time to Argentina.

1982 UFWC: Italy WC: Italy

Unification. UFWC Champs Peru lost to Poland, who lost to Italy, who won the undisputed title.

1986 UFWC: Argentina WC: Argentina

Unification. West Germany lost the title to Denmark, who lost to Spain, who lost to Belgium, who in turn lost to eventual champions Argentina.

1990 UFWC: Greece WC: West Germany

Not contested. Greece failed to qualify for the World Cup.

1994 UFWC: Colombia WC: Brazil

Contested but not unified. UFWC title holders Romania lost to Switzerland, who lost to Colombia, who were eliminated at the group stage.

1998 UFWC: France WC: France

Unification. Argentina were UFWC champions, but lost the title to the Netherlands, who lost to Brazil, who were defeated by France in the final.

2002 UFWC: Netherlands WC: Brazil

Not contested. The Netherlands failed to qualify for the World Cup.

2006 UFWC: Uruguay WC: Italy

Not contested. Unofficial champs Uruguay failed to qualify.

2010 UFWC: Spain WC: Spain

Unification. The Netherlands took the UFWC title into the WC and won every game through to the final – where they lost to Spain, who took both the unofficial and official titles.

2014 ?

Uruguay are the current UFWC champions, and they have qualified for the 2014 World Cup. However, they must first face Northern Ireland and Slovenia in a pair of World Cup warm-ups that are also UFWC title matches. If Uruguay win or draw both matches, and remain unofficial champions, they will take the UFWC title to Brazil. Uruguay will be online favourites to do that given their excellent recent form.

But if Northern Ireland or Slovenia win, they will take the title from Uruguay and become unofficial champions. Neither Northern Ireland or Slovenia are going to Brazil, but Northern Ireland do have to play qualifiers Chile before the World Cup gets under way. So, as it stands, wither Uruguay or Chile could take the UFWC title into the 2014 World Cup. Or Northern Ireland or Slovenia could keep the title at home while the World Cup goes on without them.

Whatever happens, we’re looking forward to the World Cup. Our build up continues on Monday with the first in a series of classic UFWC/WC crossover matches. In the meantime, you can find a complete history of the UFWC, including World Cup crossovers, in the brand new edition of the official UFWC book, Unofficial Football World Champions, which is out now.

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