BY CHRIS ETCHINGHAM
On 13th July last year, over 74,000 fans crammed into Brazil’s Maracana Stadium to see Germany beat Argentina to win the World Cup for the fourth time. As Philip Lahm hoisted the trophy aloft, both he and his teammates had achieved the dream that every player in the world strives for – to be world champion. Every player wants to be the best in the world and play for the best team. For a select few, however, their aspiration is different, they simply do not want to be the worst in the world. We hear very little about these players and teams, yet thanks to Aidan Williams and his remarkable book “Worst in the World” we now have the chance to.
Williams examines those teams at the bottom of the FIFA rankings and their efforts to avoid propping up the rest of the world. From the Pacific Islands to the Caribbean, Asia to Europe, one thing that stands out is that for every player who gives up their time, and in many cases paid employment, representing their country means the same to them as it does for any world champion German. The book manages to convey the feeling that these players have a hunger to succeed and an incredibly desperate will to win, both for their own professional pride, and to boost their country’s standing of at least not being the world’s worst national football team. There is also a humanity to the book too, especially with the retelling of the story of Nicky Salapu, the hapless American Samoan keeper who conceded a world record 31 goals against Australia in April 2001 and how he finally overcame his demons as his team beat Tonga and finally won a football match.
The book has a fantastic amount of detail, from the geographical settings of where these smaller teams play their matches through to a detailed breakdown of how the FIFA rankings work – and how if a team doesn’t play official fixtures for long enough then they drop out of the bottom of the rankings system and then are no longer the worst in the world! There is also an examination of how larger teams feel about playing against their smaller counterparts. Archie Thompson who scored a world record 13 goals in the infamous rout of American Samoa stated that “you have to look at the teams we are playing and start asking questions. We don’t need to play these games”. The relative giants of Sri Lanka were rather more disparaging about playing the smaller nation of Bhutan; that is until they were beaten.
There is also some examination, which with the benefit of hindsight may look a little more untoward, of FIFA and their GOAL investment programme. Smaller nations do need a degree of investment in training pitches and equipment, but does that come at the price of a continuation of the status quo at the upper echelons of the sports governing body?
All the chapters of the book discuss these matters in depth though, with a narrative of a match to be played too. This method seems to work very well as the book does not get bogged down in debate or detail, but it does give an interesting glimpse of what players have to go through in a bid to fulfil their dream and participate in an international football fixture – the Montserrat players took a week to travel from the Caribbean to play in Bhutan in a fixture between officially the two worst national teams in the world.
Overall the book opens a door to a world well below any level of international football that one is likely to see on TV. It is obvious that Williams is a football geek (meant in the nicest way) who has relished the chance to write a book like this. It is researched with painstaking detail and written in a way that really sets the scene for how these matches are organised and played, as well as the background story for those who play them. If you are a fan of James Montague’s 31-0, this is a book highly recommended as something that you would enjoy too.
YOU CAN BUY WORST IN THE WORLD BY AIDAN WILLIAMS THROUGH ANY OF THE FOLLOWING CHANNELS:
YOU CAN FOLLOW CHRIS ON TWITTER @CArmband AND CHECK OUT HIS BLOG https://emancipationforgoalposts1.wordpress.com/ HE IS ALSO THE HOST OF THE NEW TWFP PODCAST AND THE AWARD WINNING MAN ON THE POST PODCAST