“Fulham lead the league with a goal difference of +48. However, I’m fully aware of their ability to screw things up, so what’s the best goal difference a team has had that didn’t get promoted? asks Richard Hirst.
It’s looking good for the Cottagers right now, with a positive +16 goal difference in their last four games propelling them to the top. But if you’re looking for historical pointers elsewhere to justify your wariness, then here you go.
This is Richard Askham. “Huddersfield Town, 1980-81, Steve Kindon et al,” he wrote. “Goals for: 71; against: 40 … +31. They finished fourth behind promoted trio Rotherham, Charlton and Barnsley. It would have been +32 if the ball hadn’t penetrated the referee deep into added time at Hull. Promotion to the Premier League in 2016-17 with a -2 goal difference more than made up for in 1980-81, however. Again, teams have already qualified for Europe with negative goal differences… some have even won titles with them.
“Brentford finished third in the 2019-20 Championship with a goal difference of +42,” recalled John Curry. “They weren’t promoted. But in the old Third Division North, where only the winner was promoted to the Second Division, Stockport County finished second in 1929-30 with a goal difference of +62.
The National League also has a few recent examples, including Wrexham (+52, 2011-12) and Luton (+44, 2009-10 and +48, 2010-11). Worst of all, Hereford United finished second in 2003-04 with 91 points and a +59 goal difference, finishing one point behind champions Chester and losing to Aldershot in the play-offs.
Rough, but not as rough as in the Highland League. “I have two belts for you,” begins Mick McMenemie. “Formartine United finished second in 2016 with a +102 goal difference (32 better than winners Cove Rangers), but only the champions made it through to the play-offs for a league place. The previous year, Brora won the league with a +121 goal difference, but lost to Montrose in the play-off final. No promotion but at least they got a trophy. Formartine got nothing.
One, neck, three, four, five…
“Making his Aston Villa debut, Philippe Coutinho has now played for five European Cup or Champions League winners,” tweets Jez Orbell. “Can anyone do better?”
Coutinho’s loan spell at Espanyol sabotages his perfect record, but in terms of teams the original Ronaldo can match that, with his quintet of teams being PSV, Barcelona, Internazionale, Real Madrid and Milan. (he also played for South American champions Cruzeiro and Corinthians). Former Barnet star Edgar Davids can match that European mark too, having played for Ajax, Milan, Inter, Juventus and Barcelona.
But several readers have pointed to someone who has six. “Zlatan Ibrahimovic is an obvious candidate, writes Paul Fenton, having played for six European Cup winners (Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, Milan and Manchester United) and two vice-champions (Malmö and Paris Saint-Germain). All of his European clubs have made the final at some point, but he never did: his clubs racked up almost 50 finals without him reaching one. Is there another player who has played for so many players without actually playing in a final? »
Last week we looked at matches with TV score abbreviations in character from both teams playing. But there are more incidents to note…
Including this, from Michael Thomas: “When Dunfermline Athletic featured Dundee on TV some time ago the BBC made us ‘DUN’ and Dundee ‘DEE’. So he just said ‘DUN-DEE’. And returning to the mention of Crystal Palace losing on penalties at home to Colchester in the 2019 League Cup, Robert notes that “these are also the standard British Army abbreviations for two different army ranks: corporal and colonel. In this context, it was no longer a slaughter of giants, as the much higher ranking colonel defeats the lowly corporal (10 ranks apart). And then there is this.
“I taunted my colleagues in our ad-hoc quiz, asking who was the very first sub in Premier League history,” wrote Dag Fjeldstad in 2016. “I thought the correct answer should be Erik Thorstvedt replacing Ian Walker. My hunch was hard to prove, but it’s backed up to some extent by the Spurs Firsts website. How nice would it be if you looked into that and set the record straight time if necessary.
We identified the very first replacement in the English leagues in 2001 here. When it comes to Premier League substitutions, the taunts sadly have to stop. The newly renamed Premier League’s first season was 1992-93, and Thorstvedt replaced Walker at half-time in Tottenham’s second game of that campaign, a 2-0 home loss to Coventry, thus missing out on the Premier League title. first submarine of the new premium look by a considerable margin.
That honor instead belongs to Mike Phelan, who replaced Paul Ince seven minutes into Manchester United’s 2-1 loss at Sheffield United on the opening matchday of the season. The Guardian reporter at that game said the Mancunians’ disappointing performance demonstrated, uh, ‘Alex Ferguson’s propensity for questionable judgments’, ‘Ferguson’s need to learn the difference between a striker and a goalscorer’ and “Ferguson’s suspect ability to make the best use of what he has”, after which United won the league not only this season but also in six of the following eight, while Paul Ince – “rarely in form” – was runner-up in the PFA Player of the Year vote and Ryan Giggs – “he seems to have stopped taking players” – won Young Player of the Year, as well as third place in the main gong vote Anyway, that particular title was won by Phelan by a margin of 22 minutes, with the next substitution coming at Crystal Palace, where Blackburn brought in Chris Price to replace Alan Wright in the 29th minute of a game draw 2-2.
Can you help ?
“As a Blackburn fan, I value 19th century trophies more than perhaps I should,” writes Simon Elliott. “However, are Rovers the only ones to win major trophies in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries? Are there equivalents in other countries? In this regard, the 2002 League Cup is a major trophy.
“What are the oldest floodlight pylons still in use on a football pitch in the UK?” wonders Gordon Smith.
“When Morocco played against Comoros, it occurred to me that it could be the most ever recorded o’s in a first-class game (six, three each),” suggests Daniel Marcus. “Can anyone suggest more?”
“Has there even been, in a game in the UK, another pair of opposing captains whose surnames start with Z?” posed this commenter. “Katie Zelem (Manchester United) and Shelina Zadorsky (Tottenham) faced off on Sunday.”
“I was unpacking some deliveries to our store that arrived in an old copy of the Sun Sports Pages from around 2010,” begins Warwick Bassett. “In the results there was a team called ‘The South Coast Team’. Does anyone have any idea who they are or were?