Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Tue 22 July 2008

Premier League champions - unofficially

Way back in March 2007, it was Some People Are On The Pitch's undoubted pleasure to tell you about an interesting project that was being run by Paul Brown. It centred around a simple premise and in order to remind you what it was, we have to take you back to 1872 - a time when football was in its infancy and Teddy Sheringham was a fresh-faced 36-year-old.

It was the year of the very first international football match, and the two competing teams were England and Scotland. Technically speaking, whoever won the match could claim to be the unofficial football champions of the world, given the fact that there were no other countries with a team back then. It was a historic game, an auspicious game and sadly a goalless game too. Not the best of starts for international football, it's fair to say.

The following year, however, saw a second match between the two teams and this time England were the victors by four goals to two. The English were able to laud themselves as the best team on the planet, but when the Scots beat them for the first time in 1874, the notional title went to them.

And so it went on with more and more countries taking part in international football and more and more countries claiming the title of Unofficial World Champions. It was this constant to-ing and fro-ing that led Paul Brown to study the results from the ensuing hundreds of friendly and competitive matches around the world in a bid to establish who the current champions were.

The answer can be found on Paul's website - http://www.ufwc.co.uk/ - and the fruits of his extensive research can be found in his book, The Unofficial Football World Championships: An Alternative Soccer History which you can still get from Amazon.co.uk if you hurry along there quickly enough.

A wonderful thing, we're sure you'll agree, and it got us thinking: if you applied the same approach to last year's Premier League campaign, who'd be the Unofficial Premier League champions now? Without further ado, we grabbed a pencil, whetted the end and started frantically scribbling some calculations on the back of a signed photo of Robbie Savage. We now know the answer.

Before we go on, a couple of things you need to be aware of. Firstly, we began our exercise with Manchester United as they were the official Premier League champions going into the start of the 2007/08 season. We could have traced back through the records to see who won the first ever game of football played at club level and started with them, but that would have taken too long. You have to be reasonable about these things, and there's only so much scribbling you can cram onto the back of a signed photo of Robbie Savage.

Secondly, draws. Using Paul Brown's system, if the 'challenging' team fail to beat the current title holders, they fail to take their title. Even if they draw, that remains the case. It's a bit like a boxing title fight - if you don't beat the man with the belt, you can't take it off him.

With all that in mind, we begin with Man United striding out onto the Old Trafford pitch to play Reading on Sunday 12th August 2007. Just as in that England v Scotland game earlier, this one finished 0-0 as well so United retained the Unofficial Premier League (UPL) title going into their next game away to Portsmouth. The result of that: another draw - 1-1.

So far, so shaky, and it was no surprise when United's run came to an end on August 19th when they made the short trip to near neighbours Man City. A 31st minute goal from Brazilian Geovanni ensured the UPL title would head to the blue half of Manchester and out of the clutches of Sir Alex 'What is this UPL nonsense anyway?' Ferguson.

Sadly for City, they didn't hold the title long, for in their next match they faced Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium and lost 1-0. An embarrassingly short run perhaps, but this was the first in a thirteen game unbeaten run for The Gunners. During this four month spell, Arsenal would remain UPL champions despite challenges from Liverpool, Man United, Tottenham and Portsmouth right up until December 2007.

In the end it was Middlesbrough who wrestled the title from Arsene Wenger's side in a 2-1 defeat at the Riverside, but they in turn handed the baton to West Ham who dished out a 2-1 defeat of their own against Gareth Southgate's men just before Christmas.

Keeping up so far? Good - just checking...

West Ham's run as Unofficial Premier League champions lasted for just three games, although one of them was a 2-1 home win over Manchester United. The Hammers' undoing came at the hands of Arsenal in a 2-0 win at the Emirates, so back the title went to North London where it stayed for another nine games.

By the time Arsenal played Chelsea on March 23rd 2008, Arsenal had been UPL champions for 23 of the first 31 games, but Chelsea had other ideas. A 2-1 win featuring a brace of goals from Didier Drogba meant Arsenal would lose the title again, but could Chelsea hang on until the end of the season?

With The Blues hitting top form, only Man United could realistically stop them when the two played on April 26th at Stamford Bridge. There was just a week to go before the Champions League final that would feature both teams but Chelsea would not be distracted. This time Michael Ballack popped up with a pair of goals to beat United 2-1 and that effectively secured the UPL title for Avram Grant's men.

A win over Newcastle and a draw on the last day of the season against Bolton enabled Chelsea to end the season as Unofficial Premier League champions. Sadly there was no trophy for winning, nor any medals for the players, but after losing to Man United in the Champions League final, Chelsea would've needed something to crow about. What better, then, than this great virtual honour we've created?

So there it is - something for Chelsea fans to brag about down the pub... and just think what might have happened if they'd lost that last game to Bolton?

It would have made a complete mockery of the whole concept...

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