“What is the biggest points difference between a top- and bottom-placed side? Has a team ever finished a season 100 or more points ahead?” asks Tom Solan.
The inequality of modern football means that a chasm between first and last is increasingly common. In the past it was rare, and not only because it was two points for a win until Jimmy Hill had one of his finest brainwaves from him. The leagues were generally closer, which makes Everton’s achievement in 1984-85 even more remarkable. They broke to the title with 90 points, which put them 73 points ahead of Stoke (17). And it would have been even more had they not lost three of their last four games after clinching the title with time to spare.
Real Madrid (100 points) matched that margin in La Liga in 2011-12, with Racing Santander (27) finishing bottom. This was the peak of the José Mourinho-Pep Guardiola era, when, in the words of our own Sid Lowe, draws were the new defeats. The rivalry created standards – and points totals – that were unprecedented in Spanish football.
If you want high standards, Antonio Conte is your man. there was a 77 point gap between his Juventus (102) and Livorno in Serie A in 2013-14, and Liverpool (99) finished 78 points ahead of Norwich (21) when they finally won the Premier League in 2019-20. As with Everton in 1984-85, the margin might have been greater: a previously rampant Liverpool dropped eight points from their last seven games after clinching the title.
The year before that, Liverpool pushed the champions Manchester City so hard that City ended up with 98 points – 82 more than Huddersfield (16). That margin was matched in Scotland in 2001-02, when Celtic won the title with 103 points and St Johnstone finished bottom with 21.
But the biggest points difference we’ve been able to find occurred in Wales. In 1996-97, Barry Town (105 points) won the League of Wales at a canter, and finished a spectacular 89 points ahead of the bottom club Briton Ferry Athletic.
The following season, they saw that 89-point margin and raised it. Barry were champions with 104 points from 38 games, going unbeaten in the process. That put them 95 points clear of Cemaes Ynys Mon (now known as Cemaes Bay, we think), who finished with nine points. Tidy indeed.
Record runners-up streaks
“After seeing Wout van Aert complete three consecutive second places on stages at this year’s Tour de France, I immediately thought: what’s the record for a top-flight team finishing second multiple years in a row? Or losing consecutive cup finals?” asks Joran Lamisse.
It’s hard to provide a comprehensive answer to this question, unless any of you fancy trawling through every league table and cup final in association football history, but Knowledge regular Chris Roe has got the English top flight covered.
“There are four instances where a team finished second in three consecutive seasons,” writes Chris. “Preston North End (1890/91-1892/93), Manchester United (1946/47-1948/49), Leeds United (1969/70-1971/72) and Arsenal (1998/99-2000/01).”
It’s worth dwelling on a few of those, and not only because we’ve got a word count to fill. For a start, they were bookended by invincible seasons. Preston won two titles from 1888-90, going unbeaten in the first of those campaigns, and Arsenal followed their hat-trick of silver medals with two golds in three years. In the second of those, as anyone over the age of a fetus knows, they were unbeaten throughout.
Don Revie’s Leeds were almost as famous for the things they didn’t win as those they did. They were runners-up five times in eight seasons from 1964-72, though there was some deliverance with titles in 1968-69 and 1973-74. Matt Busby’s Manchester United finished second in four of the first five post-war seasons, from 1946-51, before winning the league the following season.
Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea will hope for a similarly happy ending: last season, they became the first team to lose three FA Cup finals in a row. Borussia Dortmund endured a similar run in the DFB-Pokal from 2013-14 to 2015-16. But at least they beat Eintracht Frankfurt in the final to win the competition in 2016-17.
Vale of Leven lost three Scottish Cup finals between 1882-83 and 1884-85, though the second of those was a walkover when they didn’t turn up for the final against Queen’s Park due to what is generally cited as “bereavement, illness and injury”.
In Spain, Valencia have twice lost three Copa del Rey finals in a row, from 1944 to 1946 and 1969-70 to 1971-72. Finally, spare a thought for Torino. Not only did they lose three consecutive Coppa Italia finals from 1979-80 to 1981-82, but the first two were on penalties. The following season, a team from Turin did finally lift the cup. Alas, it was Juventus.
More hot dates in the names of clubs
In last week’s Knowledge we looked at clubs who were named after days or dates. Turns out we were only scratching the surface.
“There are three Brazilian clubs named after 15 November: Esporte Clube XV de Novembro de Jaú, Esporte Clube XV de Novembro de Piracicaba, and Clube 15 de Novembro, from the southern city of Campo Bom,” writes André Leme Lopes. “15 November is the date of the military coup that overthrew the monarchy and established the Brazilian republic (in 1889); one of our most important civic holidays. But all three clubs were founded on 15 November, so I simply cannot say if the clubs were named after the civic date or their foundation dates. Probably both.”
Nigel Stapley has another example from south-eastern Europe. “In 1947, KF Tiranë of Albania were forcibly renamed by the Hoxha regime to ’17 Nëntori’ (17 November) to mark the liberation of the capital from Nazi occupation on that day in 1944,” he writes. “The club reverted to its original name after the fall of communism in Albania in 1991.”
“We’re always told that friendlies don’t matter, particularly when we lose them,” wrote Rhian Hart in July 2014. “But is that true? Has any team won the Premier League title with a losing record in pre-season?”
Of the last eight Premier League champions, only one side – Manchester City last term (42.9%) – had a win percentage in pre-season lower than 50%. On average the league winners boast a 68% win percentage throughout the close season.
Conversely Alex Ferguson guided the Red Devils to an 11-point lead over second-placed City during his final year in charge (2012-13), despite his side winning only three of their six preparation matches. Similarly the Scot’s 2010-11 contingent emerged victorious in only 57% of their summer ties yet claimed the Premier League crown by nine points.
So a string of poor pre-season performances does not necessarily portend a shaky start to the season – as evidenced by City last year, when they blitzed Newcastle United 4-0 on the opening day, having lost to two South African teams in the weeks before.
Can you help?
“Growing up as a boy football supporter in the 1960s, I cannot remember coming across the term striker. Can anyone identify when or where this description of a goalscorer was first used?” asks Simon Warner.
“Pre-season friendlies always throw up some bizarre fixtures,” begins Jez Orbell. “Difficult to get a definitive answer but what notable differences have there been between consecutive opponents. For example, has a club played Real Madrid in one match followed by a Guernsey pub team in the next?”
“All the scorers in East Fife’s 3-2 win over Buckie Thistle were called Scott,” notes Gerard Flanagan. “Has this happened before? Have there ever been four goal scorers in a match with the same first name?”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism