Cris Freddi trawls further through the dustbins of 20th century football by selecting champion crap sides from the merely awful
This is a category you know you’re not going to be able to cover properly. For a start, there are so many poor teams around, at every level. Selkirk losing 20-0 in the Scottish Cup, Hyde 26-0 to Preston in the FA Cup, the Austrian club who lost every match in a season except the one in which their opponents didn’t turn up because they’d folded. There’s always some schoolboy side cheerfully conceding double figures in every game. We could all make acceptable lists and none would look the same.
Take the worst side in English league football, for instance. Do you go for Hartlepool and their 11 applications for re-election? Or Doncaster for their eight points in 34 games in 1899-1900 and 20 in 46 games in 1997-98? How about Rochdale, who managed 11 points in 1931-32, including only one away from home?
Perhaps that’s enough trawling through Rothmans, though my choices as worst teams in the top division are both in there. When I was a kid, we couldn’t quite understand how QPR picked up only 18 points in 1968-69 (worth 26 today). Presumably two consecutive promotions left their resources rather stretched, but they had won the League Cup two years earlier and Rodney Marsh was still there, so it still seems a bit odd that they finished 12 points below the team second from bottom.
No such surprise the last time Stoke City were among the big boys. They are still in the record books for fewest points (17) and goals (24) in the top flight, but you don’t need to double-check that, or their playing personnel at the time, to remember them as a crap side, without a single really good player. Alan Hudson and Sammy McIlroy were in the squad but past it, Mark Chamberlain was inexperienced and didn’t get much better, and their top scorer in the league was Ian Painter with six, including four pens. They were bottom by early November and stayed there until the end, signing off with a flourish: ten defeats in a row. As so often happens in these cases, two of their three wins were against Man Utd and Arsenal, but they finished a whopping 33 points short of safety. Pride of place in a list like this.
In Scotland, you would be looking at the record points lows of Morton, Berwick and Stranraer in 1987-88 and St Johnstone in 1975-76 or Stirling Albion’s six points in 30 games in the mid-Fifties. I’ve still got a soft spot for Hamilton Academicals, especially their 1965-66 First Division vintage. We all had a chuckle at their name, their eight points in 34 matches (only one away from home), their 11-1 defeat by Hibs. They even lost twice to Morton, who finished 13 points above them in penultimate place. Four years later Accies cemented their place in our affections by finishing bottom of the entire Scottish League. Sad to see them go down again this year.
For the worst of all teams in British senior soccer, though admittedly not strictly from this century, I’m going to stick with another set of record holders, who started life as Orion Cricket Club but were invited to take part in the 1885-86 Scottish Cup. Don’t ask why, or why they agreed to turn up to play First Division Arbroath when they didn’t own any football kit, or why they changed their name to Bon Accord for the occasion. God knows what the scoreline would have been if goal nets had been around: the time spent in retrieving the ball after each goal saved them from a bit of a thrashing. As it is, 36-0 (a cricket score, they might have said) is a record for British first-class football, though Aberdeen Rovers tried to get in on the act by losing 35-0 to Dundee Harp on the same day. All done for a bet, perhaps.
The worst team in any of the European club competitions ought to be Apoel of Nicosia, who lost 16-1 to Sporting Lisbon in 1963-64, but let’s call that a blip: in the second leg, on the same ground, they went down only 2-0. So the award goes, again with breathtaking lack of originality, to Jeunesse Hautcharage, the village team who qualified for the 1971-72 Cup-Winners Cup by winning the Luxembourg Cup. Memory says one of their players had only one arm, another wore specs, and there were assorted brothers and cousins among the bakers and candlestick makers. Drawn against holders Chelsea, they were 6-0 down at half-time in the home leg and completed the mismatch by losing 13-0 at Stamford Bridge. One paper used the word “mercy”. Chelsea could have done with saving some of those 21 goals for later: they went out on away goals to unfancied Atvidaberg of Sweden in the next round.
If the heroic Hautcharageans have a rival, it might be CE Principat of Andorra, who lost 17-0 on aggregate to Dundee Utd in their first venture into Europe. And if the top team in Andorra are the worst top team in Europe, what does that make the team that finishes bottom of the Andorran league? In 1996-97 Spordany Juvenil lost all 22 of their matches, conceding 137 goals – this in a country with a population of 29,000 and a stadium with a capacity of 500. If there’s ever been a worse team in Europe, we’d like to know about it.
Of European national teams, Luxembourg once went 15 years and 80 matches without a win – but that was mostly against strong opposition, some of whom they held to a draw, so we’ll have to look elsewhere. At, say, the 11 Frenchmen who weren’t capped again after allowing Denmark’s Sophus Nielsen to score a hat-trick in three minutes and another in nine during a 17-0 mismatch at the 1908 Olympic Games.
Or at the very first Ireland team, who let England’s Howard Vaughton (“not a good shot at goal”) score five goals in a 13-0 defeat in 1882. Or the two worst teams in any World Cup finals. Not El Salvador in 1982, who followed their 10-1 humiliation against Hungary by losing only 1-0 to Belgium and 2-0 to Argentina, but the Dutch East Indies of 1938 and South Korea in 1954, both captained by men in glasses. Korea, who lost 7-0 to a Turkish side subsequently beaten 7-2 by West Germany, were so unfit they had to be given leg massages by the great Hungarians, who eased up on the way to winning 9-0.
Even the Koreans, though, might have put up a showing against the Maldives and their 150 registered semi-pro players. In the qualifying rounds for France 98, they lost 17-0 and 9-0 to Iran and twice by 12-0 to Syria. “I consider the situation not only unfair but irrational,” quoth their coach Romulo Cortez. “We are not ready for this standard of competition.”
But even this isn’t bottom of the international rock. It seems the very worst teams play on islands in oceans (though their rugby isn’t bad). American Samoa’s first taste of international football after being admitted to FIFA was the Oceania Under-20 championship in 1998, when they lost 21-0 to Australia. In the same competition, Samoa (formerly Western Samoa) lost by the same score to New Zealand. The Solomon Islands and Tuvalu have both been beaten 18-0 by Tahiti.
But let’s give the award to the real whipping boys of the region, the inimitable Cook Islands. When they lost 16-0 to Australia last year, it represented substantial progress. Back in 1971, they were caned 30-0 by Tahiti, obviously the sharks in a small pool. All attempts to unearth additional info on this match, including letters by sad anoraks to the respective FAs (yes, I regret it now), have proved fruitless. A shame, because all those kick-offs halting the one-way traffic must have been a sight to behold. It puts the Cooks so far down the bottom of the list even Bon Accord might have fancied their chances. If somebody lent them some boots.
From WSC 149 July 1999. What was happening this month