Imagine if, following Argentina's 4-1 victory over Spain last September, they had assumed the mantle of champions in the football world. The World Cup comes around only every four years, and did not exist for the professional game's first few decades. To fill the gap, there is the Unofficial Football World Championships.
From the first official international game between Scotland and England in 1872, the title has been passed on, with the victors of any 'UFWC title match' taking the crown. The idea first emerged after Scotland beat World Cup winners England in 1967 and, in Unofficial Football World Champions, author Paul Brown traces its history from 1800s through to October 2010.
Clearly, the concept has flaws. While the games that took place across the British Isles in the game's formative years had the requisite competitive edge, there have been a number of UFWC title matches in which the oblivious 'champions' have lost while fielding a second-string team. That Netherlands Antilles at one point claimed the title indicates that the system often does little to identify the world's best at a particular moment.
Nonetheless, the system does provide the opportunity for the author to detail a variety of games throughout history, and it's in the stories that the book succeeds. Brown wisely neglects to provide an exhaustive account of each game and instead lends his focus to the upsets, the forgotten characters and the unlikely incidents.
Inevitably, even taking a selective route through the UFWC's history, some entries lack sparkle, while the matches are, for the most part, covered in one- or two-page entries, and this episodic structure makes it, perhaps, something to be dipped into.
Even so, the breadth of the research and desire to uncover interesting facts make for a book that is, during its peaks, thoroughly engrossing. Its coverage of international football's formative years are particularly successful, given that the UFWC is able to trace the history to good effect with only a few teams engaged.
As the number of teams and games have increased, the UFWC title has, on occasion, belonged to sides outside the World Cup winners and, unless the reader places genuine merit in the UFWC concept, Unofficial Football World Champions relies on the entertainment provided through its stories. It is to the author's credit that it does so to fine effect.
For more information and to follow the latest Unofficial Football World Championship developments, visit www.ufwc.co.uk