Book Review: Unofficial Football World Champions by Paul Brown

Question: What is the link between the following? 1874 – Scotland, 1931 – Austria, 1963 – Dutch Antilles, 1979 – Paraguay and 2014 – Uruguay.

Answer: These are the years that these countries held the title of ‘Unofficial Football World Champions’ (UFWC).

However, that then leads to the supplementary question of, how do teams become UFWC? Well there is a logical answer. All football fans know that the FIFA World Cup first held in 1930 and every four years since (except 1942 and 1946 due to the Second World War), produces the ‘official’ World Champions. What author Paul Brown came up with was an alternative notion where, “football’s world champions were decided via a continuous series of title matches stretching back to the very first international football match”.

This meant that the first UFWC match took place in November 1872 between Scotland and England and is the starting point of an amazing trail that to date has entailed 879 games and has Uruguay as the current holders of the title. The UFWC ‘crown’ goes on the line on 05 March 2014 when Uruguay play Austria.

In the third edition of Unofficial Football World Champions, the reader is treated to a number of match reports from the UFWC fixtures, a complete list of the UFWC results and records including, amongst others, the ‘Top Goalscorers’ and ‘All-time Rankings’.

The reports are written with no little humour and a keen eye for detail, in that they not only provide information about the players and the match highlights, but some quirky facts and anecdotes. For instance, from the 1899 British Home Championship game between England and Ireland, which England won 13-2, Brown reflects that, “the fact that Irish goalkeeper James Lewis only had eight full fingers (he lost two fingertips in an accident) may have had some bearing on the final result”.

All manner of countries and competitions are covered as the reader sees the UFWC title change hands and it provides great interest, in that there are fixtures mentioned that without reading this book you would never have come across.

This book is not only interesting for the journey it covers, but for the sense of enthusiasm and sheer fun that come through its pages. It is also well supported by an excellent website which provides articles relating to upcoming games and a range of other information.

Brazil 2014 is on the horizon and if Uruguay stay unbeaten in their friendlies prior to the tournament, the UFWC ‘crown’ will be up for grabs too. You never know on 19 June 2014, England could be UFWC once more!


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Book Review: Goal-Post: Victorian Football Vol. 2 edited by Paul Brown

Back in September 2012, Paul Brown published his first anthology of Victorian Football writing and its success (and also that of The Victorian Football Miscellany), has ensured the recent issuing of a second volume of journalism from the 19th century.

The book is comprised of twenty one articles which date wise range from 1862 through to 1899. Contained within are pieces which include match reports such as the first FA Cup held in 1872 between Wanderers and Royal Engineers and a later Final from 1883 when Blackburn Olympic beat Old Etonians 2-1 “…a watershed result – the previously dominant public school old boys’ never won the cup again…” as well as an 1862 game between Sheffield and Hallam.

In addition there are a number of articles which look at how the game was expanding and which when read now, are thought-provoking to see in a modern context. For instance the piece written by England cricket and football international C. B. Fry, explores the sports in 1895 and their respective position and relationship. It makes interesting reading especially when set against the modern era of football (in the guise of the Premier League) and the recent rise of the England cricket team. Another article which makes for debate is that concerning the furore associated with the 1881 England v Scotland “…match by women in Edinburgh…” which was described as a game “…of the most primitive order…”; 132 years later the BBC has in recent weeks shown live two of England women’s World Cup qualifiers – what would a time travelling Victorian football journalist have made of it! Another significant extract is titled The Association Game that is taken from the “…influential 1887 text ‘Athletics and Football’…” by Sir Montague Shearman which looks at such areas as the development of tactics.

However, the writing is not all of a serious or heavy nature and there is a good helping of Victorian humour and the bizarre. In the comedy corner are two articles, the first A Little Game of Football from the Sporting Gazette of December 1864, with the second from Chums (October 1893) entitled the Trials and Troubles of a Football Secretary. As for the strange, the anthology presents the reader with reports of a contest between Sheffield Players and Zulus, held to raise funds for the families of those killed in the Anglo-Zulu War and an article from 1899 detailing a game between Clowns and Elephants (yes, you’ve not misread that).

As with Volume 1, this collection of Victorian writing provides the reader with a unique range of ‘food for thought’. The article which was my standout was that from R.G. Graham titled The Early History of the Football Association from 1899. The interest for me lay in the early rules which reflect the games early derivation from rugby and the clubs (many of which no longer exist), who were then members of the Football Association. It’s football gentlemen, but not as we know it…


Book Review: The Victorian Football Miscellany by Paul Brown

Back in 2012, Paul Brown edited an anthology of Victorian football writing, titled Goal-Post. This has now been followed up with The Victorian Football Miscellany.

Whereas Goal-Post focuses on twenty one articles taken from periodicals of the time dealing with specific players and games of the era, the Miscellany is a collection of “…trivia, facts and anecdotes from football’s earliest years…”

The amount of research carried out by Paul Brown can only be admired as the tales of Victorian ‘eccentricity’ spring forth from the pages of the book. Amongst my favourites are the following two pieces:

“…A curious game of football took place at the annual Windsor Revel in August 1840. The four-a-side game involved players having ‘their legs tied 15 inches apart, and their hands confined’. According to the Era newspaper, the winners were presented with a cheese…”

“…At Westminster school in November 1856, a football match was played that was billed as ‘Handsome vs. Ugly’. It was ‘a fine game’, apparently, and the Ugly XI won 3-2. ‘Luckily for Ugly,’ reported Bell’s Life, ‘this match was played in fog’…”

Whilst the examples above show that there is humour and quirkiness within the miscellany, there is also a great deal of material which provides glimpses of the serious issues of the day in terms of the developing game. Amongst these are the creation of the Football Association, the agreement of a uniformed set of laws, professionalism and the establishing of the FA Cup and the early international fixtures.

With no particular topic going beyond a page, this makes for a great ‘pick up and put down book’, so is ideal for those short journeys on the bus and train. However, it is such an alluring mix of stories, facts and figures that it makes you want to carry on reading, and indeed these ‘teasers’ made me want to go and investigate further many of the stories. The book is also helped by the fact that it is ordered chronologically which assists in providing a logical structure and flow.

In reading this book, it brought home the reality of how different football was during the Victorian era, especially when trying to visualise the game under the first ‘Laws of the Game’ as drawn up the Football Association. When these first rules came into being, there were no solid crossbars, goal-nets or penalty kicks. Whilst we look back on those early games in Victorian games will some incredulity, what would they make of the ‘Global Game’ we have now? As The FA celebrates its 150th Anniversary, this book is a cracking insight into those pioneering days – a veritable cornucopia of eclectic Victorian footballing splendour! Play Up! Play Up!