Which teams have endured the least successful seasons in football history? | The Knowledge (2023)

“Idly looking at league tables pre-match at the weekend, we discovered what we reckon was the worst season anyone has ever suffered: Airbus, in the Welsh Premier Division,” writes Andy Pechey. “Played 32, scored 18, conceded 100, points -4 (deducted 6). Can anyone find a grimmer campaign?”

This season’s misery is something of a comedown for Airbus, who won the Cymru North division last year to seal promotion to the top flight. It seems fair to say they have found the transition rather difficult.

Who topped the Premier League for longest without winning the title? | The KnowledgeRead more

But there are plenty of rivals for the tag of worst season ever. “In the top four English divisions there is one season that really stands out,” writes Chris Roe. “Worst overall goal difference, most goals conceded, one of only five instances of a team scoring fewer than 10 points and in the bottom 10 for goals scored … look no further than Darwen in the 1898-99 season. Accruing a mere nine points from 34 matches and scoring just 22 goals in the season, their overall goal difference of -119 is 32 worse than any other team in the history of the league. Their 141 goals conceded is also the most in an English league season.”

Fort William is perhaps best known as the gateway to Ben Nevis but amid the high peaks the football club has experienced some major lows. “Fort William’s 2018-19 Highland League campaign takes some beating,” offers Chris Matterface. “In 34 games they also achieved no wins and two draws, but they had nine points deducted for a final points tally of -7. While they did score slightly more goals than Airbus, finding the net 21 times, their defence conceded an astounding 245, for a goal difference of -224. They conceded double figures 10 times, including a 14-1 defeat away to Formartine United. It was the nadir of a 14-year spell in which the team conceded over 100 goals 12 times (in both of the other two seasons they conceded 98).”

Mike Meehall Wood points us in the direction of Tasmania Berlin: “In 1966, they got promoted to the Bundesliga by accident, after Hertha were relegated in a financial scandal and the higher-placed clubs refused to go up on the fairly reasonable grounds that they hadn’t earned it. Tasmania had been amateurs until their unlikely accession to the first division.

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“Tasmania won their opener in front of 81,000 at the Olympiastadion but ended up playing in front of nobody by the end: their record was two wins, four draws (eight points), with 108 against, 15 for. All of the records still stand to this day as the worst in German history.” Now deep in the regional leagues, “Tas” take pride in their record – fans were worried when Schalke got close to their run of winless games back in 2021.

Also worth a mention are Antigua Barracuda, who lost every game in the 2013 United Soccer League – the third tier of US football. Forced to play every match away from home and sometimes training in a hotel car park, they ended the season with 26 defeats and a goal difference of -80. Read more about them here.

Slow on the draw

​“Skelmersdale United, in the Northern Premier League North West Division, are one game from going the whole season without a draw,” noted Hannes Read a couple of weeks ago. “When was the last time a team managed this?”

First, congratulations to Skelmersdale, who have now completed a drawless season by losing their final game 3-1 to Leek Town. Mind you, congratulations probably isn’t the right word – despite finishing 11th in the table, Skelmersdale were relegated because of problems with their ground.

We did touch on this a few years back, including Aston Villa’s epic 51-game run which spanned three seasons in 1891 and 1892. But Jennifer Turner has been in touch with a more recent addition. “Strathspey Thistle finished the 2012-13 Highland League season with a record of P36, W5, D0, L31, placing them fourth from bottom,” she explains. “Also, the 2019-20 campaign doesn’t really count, but a dominant Brora Rangers were only six games short of a full season when coronavirus stopped play. They were crowned champions with a record of P26, W24, D0, L2.”

Tim Dockery offers something of a loophole: “Every team in the first four seasons of MLS (ending in 1999) went the entire season without a draw. That’s only because if games were tied at the end of regulation, a penalty shootout followed, the winner of which was awarded one point and the loser got none. The league tables for those seasons read W, L and SOW (for ShootOut Win). Only one team in those four seasons ended the 32-game season with wins and losses, but no shootout wins. In the 1997-98 season, Columbus Crew lost all four of their shootouts after drawn games.”

You again!?

“Sheffield Wednesday and Derby play each other on the last day of the League One season; if the table stays as it is, they’ll then play each other in the playoffs,” wrote James Murton last week. “I’m presuming this isn’t a first, but can anyone provide any examples?”

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The Rams ended up missing out on the playoffs thanks to their 1-0 defeat at Hillsborough but the question is still topical. Up in the Championship, Coventry and Middlesbrough will meet again in the playoff semi-finals after playing out a 1-1 draw on the final day.

Which teams have endured the least successful seasons in football history? | The Knowledge (2)

As David Hopkins writes in to point out, in 2005 Derby secured a playoff berth with a handy 3-1 win over Preston on the final day, only to succumb 2-0 on aggregate to the same opponents in the semi-final.

James Morgan and James Vortkamp-Tong both highlight Gillingham and Rochdale in 2008-09. Gillingham won 1-0 at Spotland on the final day of the season and that form held true in the playoffs, with the Gills winning 2-1 on aggregate.

“League Two provided a goal-laden example of this in 2016-17,” recalls Dan McVeigh. “Carlisle made the long journey to Exeter on the final day needing a win to seal a playoff place, coming back from 2-1 down to win 3-2 and book a semi-final against the Grecians. A 3-3 draw in the first leg at Brunton Park was followed by a reversal of the 3-2 score at St James’ Park, with Exeter’s winner coming in stoppage time for a 6-5 aggregate win.”

Which teams have endured the least successful seasons in football history? | The Knowledge (3)

Knowledge archive

“At a dull St Mirren match where proceedings were brightened even by substitutions, I noted the fourth official examining the oncoming substitute’s studs especially fastidiously wrote Alistair Meldrum in 2008. “Has there ever been an example in top-flight football where the referee has stopped a substitution due to illegal boots, or is this just a ritual to brighten up uneventful matches?”

Apparently there has been. Hans van Schijndel emailed with a story from the oft-overlooked world of 1970s Albanian football. In the opening round of the 1970-71 European Cup, Ajax travelled to Albania for a first-leg clash with Nentori Tirana. As kick-off approached, the odds swung firmly in Ajax’s favour when the Austrian referee, Paul Schiller, noticed that the studs of Tirana’s Josif Kazanxhi had been filed.

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In the absence of suitable alternative footwear – Kaxanxhi had not brought a spare pair of boots, and neither were any of his teammates able to help – Schiller prevented the influential forward from joining the fray until after the interval. Finally equipped with proper boots, Kazanxhi went on to score in a 2-2 draw. Tirana were beaten 2-0 in Amsterdam and Ajax went on to win the tournament.

Knowledge archive

Can you help?

“In Sunderland’s last game of the season at Preston, the team committed one foul (compared to 18 by Preston),” mails Paul Oakley. “Has a team ever recorded zero fouls and what are the fewest number of fouls recorded in any game?”

“I have a clear memory of Luciano Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma at half-time during a Coventry City home game in the late-1990s, but I can’t find any record of this happening. Can anyone else remember it, and which other superstars have provided half-time entertainment at unlikely locations?” wonders Nigel Moore.

@OfficialClarets have been involved in end of season play-offs during 10 of the last 20 seasons - once in the Southern Premier League, once in the Isthmian Premier League and the other 8 in the Conference South/National League South - and have failed to win a single one. Record?

— John Chubb (@JohnCphoenixfm) May 9, 2023

“What is the origin of the phrase ‘drop zone’?” asks Peter Terry.

“At 2am this morning I realised that all the semi-finalists in the Champions League came from a city starting with the letter M (I acknowledge that two come from Milan, though),” realises Ivor Leonard. “Has there been a major cup competition where all the semi-finalists have come from four cities starting with the same letter?”

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@TheKnowledge_GU My team Cambridge United won 5 of their last 9 matches to escape relegation by a single point.

What is the most wins in the last 9 matches by teams occupying relegation places? And did they survive?

— Simon Gleave (@SimonGleave) May 8, 2023

“Dundee won the Scottish Championship with 63 points: 58% of the total points available,” notes Stefan Arnott. “What is the lowest percentage of points won for a team to win the league?”

My annual effort to identify the Liverpool fan on the Wembley roof in 1986. One for @TheAthleticFC or @TheKnowledge_GU? #LFC #YNWA https://t.co/2yRzl8zcAy

— Jamie 🏳️‍🌈✊💙🏳️‍⚧️ (@mintcustard) May 7, 2023
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