The best international side in the world is Scotland.
You may scoff at this particular statement, and suggest that such a thing would only happen when the Super Furry Animals play ‘Actua Soccer 2’, but it’s actually true. Unofficially, though.
Let me explain. The Unofficial Football World Championships was created by freelance journalist and author Paul Brown to discover who is, unofficially, the best team in the world.
This was because the World Cup is held every four years, which skews the view of who is the best international team, and the need to appreciate the historic roots of football.
The first World Cup was held nearly 60 years after the birth of international football, after all.
The Unofficial Football World Champions, therefore, utilises a simple boxing-style title system where the winners of title matches win one point – as well as becoming temporary title holders – and move up the overall rankings.
Scotland have accumulated the most points, since the very first international match between England and Scotland on 30 November 1872, making them the overall Unofficial Football World Champions.
After nearly 140 years of international football, 838 title matches and 47 title holders; doing a blog post on it would not do to the system justice.
Therefore, it made sense for Brown to release a book about it – in order to provide a guide about the system and the history of international football.
Instead of talking about how the system was formed, Brown sensibly goes down the alternate road of providing over 100 match reports on the title matches that have been played – which forms the large proportion of the book.
These match reports are brief – none of them last more than two pages – but they are detailed enough to be informed on what actually happened, as well as the historic purposes of the matches.
Brown also includes lots of entertaining facts about the matches, such as the original colour of England and Scotland’s kit in their first meeting and England playing a 1-2-7 formation in that very match, which helps to bring the action to life.
These little nuggets of trivia are also exceptionally entertaining and will keep you engrossed for hours upon end.
Quirky tales about Cambridge University forward and lawyer Tinsley Lindley’s goal against Scotland in 1888, Ireland’s eight-fingered goalkeeper James Lewis saving a penalty and conceding 13 in one match, and a naked William “Fatty” Foulke chasing a referee into a broom cupboard are particular highlights.
The book’s content is also structured and paced well enough, for Brown’s fine writing to remain fluent and organised throughout.
Brown’s substantial research, which is a remarkable feat considering the level of detail that has gone into describing matches from over 100 years ago, also makes you appreciate how the game developed in a new and previously misunderstood way.
No detail is spared in the book; whether it is discussing the first international match after the First World War, Sweden’s greatest goal-scoring achievement over Norway, Nils Liedholm’s classic goal against Brazil in 1958 World Cup Final or Ian Rush’s famous winner against Italy in 1988.
Even the more obvious inclusions – such as the 1974 World Cup Final, and Newcastle United and Luton Town legend Malcolm McDonald’s five goals against Cyprus in 1975 – are covered with great flair, humour and originality.
Brown also offers lots of nice touches in the book.
The inclusion of quotes from newspapers such as The Scotsman and in-depth profiles of various teams, events and players – including the Faroe Islands national side, Steve Bloomer, Gabriel Batistuta and the 1902 Ibrox Disaster – adds a different angle and some variety to the book.
It is fair to say, though, that ‘Unofficial Football World Champions’ gives a lot more of its coverage to the pre-Premier League era of football.
Jonathan Wilson’s seminal book ‘Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics’ also did the same.
The coverage of how tactics influenced the modern game, in Wilson’s book, ended up feeling like an afterthought as a consequence; a minor criticism of an otherwise flawless book.
It made more sense, though, for Brown to cover the pre-war period of football in such detail.
It allows him, for instance, to display his encyclopaedic knowledge of football and to also cover a topic that more mainstream publishers have shied away from in the past.
To Superelastic and Brown’s credit, even the most obscure modern international matches are covered from Zimbabwe’s 2-0 defeat of Angola in a 2005 World Cup Qualifier to Uruguay’s 2-0 loss to Georgia in a 2006 friendly.
Brown has also ensured that the book is impressively up-to-date, as it even manages to cover Japan’s 1-0 victory over Argentina in October.
The book also manages to include every Unofficial Football World Championship match result, its all-time leading goalscorers and the overall ranking table to give it a feeling of completeness.
Brown may describe his system as a bit of fun, but the book delivers so much more.
Not only does ‘Unofficial Football World Champions’ present a version of how the game historically developed in an informative and entertaining fashion, it is one of the most well researched and written football books to be released in recent years.
No ranking system is required to confirm that this essential and fascinating book won’t be bettered for a long time. And that is official.