By Dan Williamson
When we talk about international football, on the rare occasion when we’re not discussing Blattergate, it is usually eulogising the mega-nations and the world’s most high-profile players. Zlatan, Ronaldo, Bale, Messi; Germany, Spain and Brazil. However, there are 208 countries currently participating in FIFA-sanctioned football matches and tournaments. So what of the rest? Author Aidan Williams, with his first book, explores those nations at the other end of the rankings. The underdogs, the have-nots, the teams that celebrate if they manage to keep the scoreline in single figures or score a solitary goal.
The plight of American Samoa is covered, as they tried to bounce back from their 31-0 thumping at the hands of Australia in a 2001 World Cup Qualifier, a result that remains a record. Bhutan, the landlocked Asian Kingdom at the eastern end of the Himalayas, and the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat contested the “other final” on the same day as the World Cup final of 2002 and were the subject of the second chapter. At the time they met they had the undignified position as the two worst teams in the world. Stories from Guam, East-Timor (aka Timor-Leste) and the British Virgin Island’s are also explored by the author. English readers of a certain age will be most familiar with the subject of chapter eight, San Marino. The land-locked nation on the Italian peninsular embarrassed Graham Taylor’s dreadful England side by scoring the fastest goal ever in World Cup history. They were thumped 7-1 in the end but the damage was done. It was against the Sammarinese that Wayne Rooney recently equalled Bobby Charlton’s England goal-scoring record with a penalty.
Teams at the bottom end generally have tiny populations to choose from and little football history. They lack infrastructure, and the budget to improve the situation. Many of these nations were given FIFA membership during Blatter’s reign, and he was extremely generous with them, offering cash for facilities and often turning up for the inauguration. Being a cynic, and judging by the recent allegations, it seems as if Blatter was giving memberships and cash to curry favour and increase his power base. Regardless, if these small nations managed to put themselves on the map and build a football future it can’t be a bad thing.
The bottom of the rankings are fairly transient with a single draw or victory often sufficient to raise you off the foot. Some of the book’s protagonists are currently at all-time high in their short but colourful FIFA history: Guam are now 150th, Bhutan 173rd, American Samoa 164th and East-Timor 162nd. It’s unlikely that any of these teams will ever create a serious ripple at a major tournament, but for them improving and winning the odd game will more than suffice. Harshly, San Marino are currently ranked 196th, only 13 places off the bottom of the pile. It doesn’t help that they constantly have to play tough highly ranked nations such as England, whereas other international federations often pit minnows against minnows at the early stages of qualifying giving them more chances of picking up favourable results.
My one initial criticism was the length of the book. At just 139 pages, including the introduction and epilogue, it does leave you wanting more. That is due to the enjoyment of the book, and it makes it perfect for a lazy day by the pool/beach, or a miserable winter’s day at home. Luckily, there is a WordPress blog to follow if you wish to keep up with the series, which negates my criticism.
It’s easy to relate to the stories as the subjects are often people on the same level as a large slice of the assumed readership: accountants, post men and teachers with limited football ability. Just that these guys are living the dream that few will achieve of playing international football. The book is light-hearted and sympathetic without being patronising. It takes you into sporting arenas that few people have experienced, and brings them to life. Worst in the World is Aidan Williams’ first book, and judging by this effort it certainly will not be his last.